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Overthinking It

Hi Captain! I hope today is treating you gently. 🙂

Last year, I (twentysomething, they/them) moved across the country to be with my partner. The relationship is good and healthy! The town is friendly, walkable-ish, mild weather, etc. When I visited, I could see myself living here – and more importantly, working at this one specific business. (Uh-oh, right?!

I had worked in a specialized retail shop for years in my previous city. My entire life basically revolved around this particular lifestyle. I loved having conversations about shared ideologies all day and getting to explore products and methods that came up in the environment surrounding me. I’m going back to school to specialize in this field, and want to work in it for the rest of my career.

There’s only one business in this industry in my new, much smaller town, so I applied. They were hiring full-time for several positions to start in a few months and needed someone with my exact experience, so I thought I had a good chance. I had a bit of a time crunch with my lease, so I moved to this new town without securing a job first. (Yikes!)

I went through the lengthy interview process at Dream Business once and then was invited back. But the winter, repeated rejections elsewhere, dwindling savings, and not knowing anyone in town apart from my partner had really put me in a dark place, mental-health-wise. I stumbled through this interview, misspoke, wasn’t prepared enough, got so anxious I frantically emailed the interviewer in the middle of the night about a mistake I had made and had panic attacks about it for days afterward. Unsurprisingly, about three weeks later I got a curt email that basically boiled down to, “we didn’t think you were a good fit, don’t ask for feedback.” It was devastating – I didn’t see myself having any other options in town after this place.

Luckily, I’m now medicated, in therapy, employed (though not in my field), and going back to school – so things have looked up since then.

BUT. I miss this industry – socially, intellectually, ethically. Imagine you’re really into…specialty coffee. And this Dream Business is the only place in town where you can get your…organic, locally roasted, shade-grown beans, and everyone who shares your views and interests also shops here and talks about it constantly. I’m absolutely mortified at the thought of going back in. In my mind, I screwed this up so badly that I can’t ever go back! I’d rather MOVE TOWNS than go inside while my interviewers might be working, but I want to put my money where my mouth is, values-wise. And I miss shopping for my specialty goods, and this Dream Business is my only option locally.

What would you do? Do you or would any readers have any scripts, battle plans, suggestions for full-body disguises so I can go shop without panicking about having to interact with people I feel super embarrassed about seeing?

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m a grown-ass woman who has been through a few cycles of therapy that have (along with medication) helped my stress, anxiety, and ADHD. I’ve gotten to a point where I am financially self-sufficient, comfortable in my life and community, and blessed with a strong friends network. I’m not in a relationship and have no desire to pursue one. I’m ok.

Now I’m at the point where therapy always screws me up. It’s time to talk about setting long term goals. And…I don’t know what my long term goals are.

I’ve tried career counseling and I run into the same thing. I’d like to make more money. I can list things I’m good at. I don’t understand how to translate those into a better or different job and when I try to articulate this people tell me I have a lot of options and it depends on what I want to do. And there is nowhere to go from there. I have been at the same job for 12 years with no advancement even though as far as I can tell I am dependable and do good work. (I’ve applied for other positions in the same organization and never gotten one, and my precise job description is not one that transfers to another field or organization).

It seems like trying to do something else professionally is within my reach — a general overview of my accomplishments is greeted with ‘oh there are plenty of ways to use that’ but everything misfires at the point of ‘what do you want to do?’ ‘Oh I’m willing to try lots of [soft skills, writing and communicating, etc]’ ‘But what do you want to do?’ Very quickly I feel like a fool.

This doesn’t just apply to my personal life but creative work (writing, blogging) etc. The thing is I’ve been involved in some extremely fun and fulfilling projects and organizations but they always seem to result from serendipity. They’re not things I can ‘complete or ‘sell’ in the long term. Occasionally I’m jealous of people who have creative success or large audiences but generally speaking I don’t want the payoff enough to do it.

Basically, I’ve never had long term goals in my life and I don’t know how to start now. I don’t know WHY to start now, I just know that when I talk to my therapist in a couple weeks, I will cry and feel bad because I don’t have good answers (or I will make some shit up that I don’t really want to do.)

PS this has nothing to do with lockdown, I’m actually less stressed out working from home than I have been for a long time, and even before the economy tanked I felt the same about planning the future.

-Not Ambitious and Why Should I Be
(She/her)

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My inbox has at least 40 questions with the theme “Dear Captain Awkward, how do I stay productive right now?” stacking up in it right now.

Maybe…you don’t?

We are living through a collective trauma on a massive scale. People are dying. The right wing government in the USA is making it worse and gaslighting and abusing us daily. Every routine and touchstone that we used to count on is being upended, many of the things we took for granted to make life easier and more convenient (and free up brain space to be “more productive”) are unavailable, as in, it sometimes takes me about four days to figure out how to safely and ethically get groceries.

My executive function is sketchy at the best of times, and please know that sometimes when I open these emails about productivity I am roughly four days away from a shower at any given time and have just had to reset my email password – again – because I keep forgetting things I used to know handily. And I am a relatively lucky person who can stay home and make choices about what I do with my time and mostly in what order, since I’m not doing exhausting shift work, nor am I not trying to provide round-the-clock childcare or suddenly become a one-room-schoolhouse teacher responsible for multiple grade levels like many of you are.

I do propose a method for you to try to try to regain some control of your days, if you are willing to take advice from a naturally disorganized person. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds, since advice from competent, organized people who make goals and then make lists about those goals and then diligently do the lists to achieve those goals has never really worked for me (if any of it worked it would, like, work already?). No,  I need the advice from people who are like “Here is how to maybe claw your way out of the depths of your own failure and outrun your self-sabotaging urges at least some of the time, godspeed little doodle.”

The process has distinct steps and it’s actually important that you do each step on its own without combining them or peeking ahead. You’ll need some blank paper (or a blank spreadsheet or word processing document) and something to write with.

Step 1: Make four columns.

Step 2: Label the first column “What”

Step 3: Ignore the other columns for now. We’re doing this one at a time.

Step 4: In the “What” column, write down everything you need to do, have to do, want to do, think you should do, wish you could do, aspire to do, or worry that you’ll forget to do over the next month.

It is okay to mix work, home, personal, parenting tasks up in any order. Do not attempt to prioritize tasks or organize them logically at this time, I promise you will get to do that later. It’s actually important (to my thinking) that this be a brainstorm where you have permission to write things down in the order they occur to you without having to triage or feel anything in particular about them at this stage. Work fast, you can always add more things later if you forget something.

I realize that freaks some of you out a lot, and if you are one of those people, a spreadsheet or table (vs. a sheet of paper) is going to be your best bet because at the end of this process you can add a fifth column for “work” “home” “body/health” “kids” etc. and use that to sort later.

Stop reading until you’ve done this part.

I realize it is going to make some of you feel insane to start designing something without knowing what the end product is, but I promise you that “one column at a time” is important and it will make sense later and that I will not leave you hanging with this mess.

Got your list?

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We are overdue for the blog feature where I answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are questions. Let’s do it!

First, as is traditional, a song:

 

RIP to one of the coolest, realest artists I was lucky enough to share the space-time continuum with.

:cries for the 100th time this week and it’s only Tuesday:

:cracks knuckles:

Let’s do this.

1 “How to tell someone you don’t like talking on the phone.”

I’m not a phone person – can we take this to [text][email][chat] instead?”

“I can’t do a phone call right now, can you text/email/message instead?”

It’s okay to have strong preferences and needs around how you best communicate, and it’s also okay if those preferences are flexible and negotiable depending on who you’re communicating with, your mood and energy levels at any given time, what people in your life has access to, their strong needs or preferences, etc. You absolutely don’t have to have one blanket rule for everyone in your life or strive to be fair about this.

I wasn’t the biggest phone person before, but it turns out I prefer it vastly to Zoom (there’s a reason for that), and I’m enjoying catching up with people like it’s 1991 again, flat on my back with my feet up, twirling the charging cable around my finger like it’s an old spiral phone cord.

2 “Is it normal to hate talking on the phone when dating?”

It’s normal – or at least not uncommon – to not enjoy the phone or prefer different means of communication (see above).

I think the necessary follow-up question here is: Is it the medium or is it the conversation partner? If you don’t usually like talking on the phone, but your companion makes a normally difficult thing fun and easy, that’s a good information. If you don’t usually like talking on the phone and this person makes the prospect even less appealing, or if you do like talking on the phone with friends and family but not with this person, that’s interesting information about chemistry, compatibility, communication styles, etc.

Social distancing means that in-person dates are on hold for now and people can’t rely on non-verbal chemistry so much so figuring out how and whether you can have a comfortable, connected, enjoyable conversation with somebody is front and center for the time being. I think it’s always good to pay attention to your own enjoyment and comfort levels, especially when first getting to know someone, and “am I actually enjoying this” is perhaps a better question than “am I weird for not enjoying this as much as I think I am supposed to.”

3 “It it appropriate to put a sign on door to let neighbors know you’re resting.”

I love looking at a posted sign – especially a highly-specific rule – and wondering “What’s the story that prompted this?”

This question is a bit like that. There would be no need for a sign if these specific neighbors weren’t prone to interrupting during rest periods, right?

In that case, a sign that’s like “I work nights, please do not disturb” or “Don’t wake the baby” and then redirecting anyone who would be tempted to knock or ring a bell to another means of communication (email, text, leave a note on one of those dry erase boards people hung on their doors in the dorms) might work. “Leave your calling card on the silver tray in the hall, Jeeves will see to it.” 

Sometimes people see general “To Whom It May Concern” notes and think, “Ah, but they don’t mean me,”  so consider having a conversation with said neighbors along the lines of “Please text or email vs. just stopping by and I’ll get back to you when I can, or leave whatever it is on the mat, I’m often resting during the day and would prefer not to be awakened unless it’s a true emergency.” 

4 “My husband teases me always about my health problems.”

NOT COOL.

If you’ve already had one sincere “Stop it, that’s off limits for jokes” conversation and he’s still doing it, your husband could be afflicted with Irredeemable Asshole Problems.

Post-quarantine I’m envisioning a National No-Fault Divorce Day, with flower crowns and maypole dancing like in Midsommar as everyone celebrates being freeeeeeeeeeeeee. There will be pro-bono lawyers working the crowd, and judges at kiosks throughout the park, and in the parking lot a giant swap meet for household items as everyone tries to rebuild a functional kitchen from their half of what’s left behind. “I’ve got two blenders and a bread machine I never use, trade you for a cordless drill and a decent cutting board?” “No cutting board but there are three jars of coriander in my spice cabinet, I can throw in the drill, some placemats, and a home brewing kit?” “Done!”

Maybe see you there?

5 “Grown men who only want to smoke weed and play video games.”

If you meet an adult man who likes doing this *and only this* with his free time, probably assume that this is pretty much how he is. Weed is relaxing and video games are fun and there’s no upper age limit where that’s not true of the people who find that to be true. Assume that he has chosen freely and leave him to it!

If this is not how you are (just guessing from the “grown men” phrasing), look for partners, friends, housemates, co-parents (!!!), etc. who do things that you enjoy (or at least don’t find stinky, ridiculous, and annoying).

How a person actually is at their current age > How you think a person should be by a certain age, so select for current compatibility, not imagined future potential. You will be so much happier if your relationships aren’t ones where you see yourself as the responsible, permanently irritated parent sniffing everyone’s hair to see if it smells of concerts and view the other people in your life as permanent Large Adult Sons with bloodshot eyes who need to be motivated and molded into something else.

6 “My parents text me too much.”

If you’ve tried asking them to cut this down and it hasn’t worked, or if the pandemic is bringing out old anxieties and old habits that you thought were settled, try responding pleasantly at regular, predictable intervals when you have the energy and capacity to reply, and completely ignoring non-emergency communications from them the rest of the time. They may not like it (and may temporarily increase the flurry or test your resolve) but they will very likely adapt to it if you stay consistent.

You might slightly reduce conflict even further by changing any conversations about this from “You text me too much! Jeez!” to being more about you and your own self-care habits.  “Oh, I’ve been putting my phone on silent so I can read in the afternoons.” “I’m trying to not be glued to the news and social media, so I’m logging out for big chunks of time every day,” “A good window to reach me is between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, if I don’t respond right away I’ll try to check in around that time every day.”

My folks are not frequent texters but this seems like a good time for the story of how I was in class & meetings all day with my phone off and then went to the movies without checking messages since I just needed quiet, and the dark, and solitude, and Thor: Ragnarok on the biggest loudest screen I could find.

I came out of the movies, went to a solo dinner, and finally turned my phone back on to find a bunch of texts and voice mails from my mom along the lines of “Please call when you get this.” “Still trying to reach you, get in touch when you can.” It’s like, 8:30ish my time so 9:30 pm on the East Coast, everybody should still be up, so I call my mom’s cell back. No answer. I call my dad’s cell. No answer. I call the house line. No answer. I leave voice and text messages everywhere, and start to worry. There is zero chance that they are not home at 9:30 on a random Tuesday unless something’s up, so what’s up?

I call my older brother’s cell – is there an emergency? – no answer from him. Now I’m really worried.

Does my aunt know what’s up? She at least texts back that she knows of no emergencies but she’ll check.

When I finally hear from Mom, she tells me she called and texted because she has a question for me. Oh? Ask away! I’m dying to know!

The question? She wants to maybe buy a machine to convert Dad’s extensive VHS collection* to DVD or computer files as a holiday present and did I know which one was good? Otherwise maybe we’d have to find him a new VHS player on eBay because his most recent one gave up the ghost and he had nowhere to watch his stories. And sorry about not picking up phones, they’d both fallen asleep on the couch watching TV as had my brother.

When my heart rate returned to normal, we made a family agreement that thenceforth A LITTLE CONTEXT with any “please call me” texts or messages was ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY.

*Lest you thought I was the most intense cineaste in my family, my dad’s deep attachment to his VHS collection tells a different story. ❤

7 “My husband is not re-evaluating his life at all since the corona but I feel that I must leave because he has shown me that he has no empathy at all.”

There are going to be a lot of divorces in the next two years and that’s probably a good thing and I promise am not making light of how painful that is with all my party planning earlier in the post. (“Two, no make that three, working can openers…who’s got a bread knife?”) 

People get married for lots of reasons, one of those reasons is “You are the person I’d most like on my team when the rough parts of adulting come for us” (sometimes summed up in vows as ‘…or for worse’ ‘In sickness and…’ and ‘…and for poorer’). A partner who knowingly and uncaringly makes a crisis harder on you? Somebody who shows you that they are not on your team? Isn’t the right match for what comes next, even with the best of hopes and intentions. I’m so sorry, I hope whoever searched for this is staying safe and being very kind to yourself and making solid plans for a safe landing.

8 “My partner wants to go everywhere with me is that healthy.”

Pandemic life is making it so nobody is getting a balanced, preferred, comfortable, safe, ideal mix of alone time and togetherness, but in general,  if you’re dating someone who wants a different amount of togetherness than you, it’s 100% an issue of compatibility and 100% worth discussing, like, “You seem to want to do everything together, but I need a certain amount of alone time and one-on-one time with my other friends and family to be happy. Can we agree that I’ll be more proactive about inviting you along when I want to do stuff together, but if I just say ‘I’m going for a bike ride,’ it’s neither an automatic invitation nor is it a rejection?” vs. “Hey, I have a lot of anxiety about being invited, included, excluded, and not reading the room about that stuff so can you make it really really clear when you are inviting me and is it okay if I ask what you mean? I promise I’m not trying to pressure you if the answer is no, I just can’t always tell, and everybody who has ever told me they ‘need space’ broke up with me within a week so it would reassure me a lot if you could be way more specific than that.”  

Maybe from there you can figure something that works for everyone, but “Nope, together, always, or else you don’t love me right!” definitely isn’t the default setting.

Insisting on constant contact and togetherness with a partner (which often goes hand in hand with excessive monitoring of their activities) is a means of control. If this applies to you, I recommend looking at the resources the good people at LoveIsRespect.org have put together as a way to start planning a safe way out of a relationship where this is the norm. 

In either case, “Healthy,” “normal,” etc. aren’t reliable markers of what you’re allowed to need and expect. If someone convinced you it was perfectly normal and healthy to want to do literally everything with you, and this is how all other couples everywhere interact, like “We’re in love now, Google it” and you didn’t want that? Then you’re the boss of you and your needs are important whether or not they match a template. ❤

9 “How to respond to a guy on online dating who asks ‘what are you looking for on here?'” 

I’ve answered versions of this many times before, whether sincerely (Be very honest about what you are looking for, including “I don’t actually know” or “I’m hoping I hit it off with someone who will want to get married and have kids someday” and “I am looking for a bag-pipe playing sex unicorn with large feet and a larger trust fund” if those are what’s true for you) and jokingly (“I’ll know it when I see it.” “A willing patsy for a Double Indemnity-type situation.” “Hmmm, you seem like you have an answer prepared, so what are you looking for?”)

Can we be very, very honest today?

I haven’t online dated since 2012 but I did a ton of it before then and I’ve done a lot vicariously through my friends and all of you in Awkwardland.

“So…what are you looking for on here” is a very basic question, an obvious question, and it should be a fairly neutral, easy question with an obvious answer (“I’m looking to…date…people?”). I shouldn’t be mad at it. People are testing the waters, it’s understandable, it’s like “so…what do you do?” in the pantheon of American small-talk. The oatmeal of questions. Not everything has to sparkle, goddamnit.

And yet, I’m pretty sure I’ve never once had an actually good date where I wanted a second one with anyone who has ever asked me that. Just seeing it in my search terms month after month makes me want to yell SWIPE LEFT at it.

Theories as to why it bugs me so much:

  • I didn’t use online dating to meet women (browsing in feminist bookstores while sporting a strong shoe-and-glasses game worked for that), so my online dating experience is 99% with straight cisgender men and this immediately reads to me as a question that a guy asks every single person they write to right off the bat whether or not he’s read your profile. The dude who was just playing a numbers game of sending the same message to everyone to see who bites? That dude had nothing for me, nor I for him.
  • It’s not a connecting sort of question, it’s a weed-out sort of question that makes a flirtation suddenly and immediately feel like a job interview.
  • I feel like there’s always a secret question in that question, and it’s never a cool secret question, it’s more like:
    • “I can’t think of anything else to ask and I have no idea what I’m doing.” Honestly, fine, this is the most benign, salvageable version of this, let’s just get through this in one piece.
    • “Let me zero in quickly on whether you are looking for the same stuff I am, but in a way that makes you put it out there first.”
    • “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for so I can pretend that’s what I want, too, just long enough to possibly have sex with you with the minimum effort on my part.”
    • “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for in a way that makes you try to guess what I’m looking for and tailor/audition your wishes to what you think I want.”
    • “I get more casual sex when I pretend that I’m looking for a relationship and less when that becomes apparent so I like to keep my wants ambiguous until I know what I’m dealing with.”
    • “If I know what you are looking for, I can selectively edit my life correctly to seem like I fit the bill long enough to entice you to overlook the sketchy stuff like how ‘separated’ means ‘I absolutely intend to tell my wife someday that I want to separate, once I’ve met the right new woman’ and ‘single’ means ‘separated.'”
    • “Let’s not waste time with small talk, a total stranger I just walked up to in a virtual bar. Are you going to try to trick me into making babies with you right away or are you going to be cool and let me date you for 8 years while I wonder if parenting is really right for me and then leave you when it’s too late for you to make babies because I got my 23-year-old assistant pregnant on last quarter’s sales retreat and now I think it’s time to really follow my dream of being a dad?”
    • “You’re not going to try to gold-dig my $27,3000/year salary like all those other lying vultures who couldn’t appreciate a REAL MAN who is NICE, right?”

It’s an obvious question so the answer should be obvious, too, right? So why is it a constantly recurring question in my inbox and my search data?

I think at least some of the anxiety about answering it is about sensing there some kind of a test being administered by someone who is already showing they haven’t put much thought into things. Like, there is clearly a right answer, something they are looking for, so why won’t they just say? Or, it gets asked so often, like one of those job interview questions like ‘what is your greatest weakness’ so surely someone has written a guide to turning it around, like ‘my greatest weakness is actually how awesome I am,’ so can someone put out the cheat codes already?

“It’s just efficient for figuring out if you’re on the same page or not.” You know what’s efficient? Actually reading people’s profiles and only messaging the ones who seem like they might like you and vice versa. See also: Leading with what you are looking for.

If you have asked this question in the process of dating, or love someone who did, I don’t think you are inherently boring or bad. “Do we want the same stuff y/n” is an important question for finding someone who is compatible with you, so please do not feel the need to share examples of how this is good, actually, I blanket-believe you and blanket-support you in your happy love story and I will die content in my theory that it worked out because you quickly skipped past this awkward question the way people fast forward past “so what do you do” and found something meatier to talk about when the formalities were over.

But my answer to the general “how should I answer this?” is, now and forever:

Answer it literally however the fuck you feel like answering it at the time. Do not worry about giving a “right” answer, secret or otherwise, because there isn’t one. There’s only what you actually want and how it intersects with what the other person wants.

However you answer, it will either lead to a fun conversation where you learn something true about each other (because everybody starts asking & answering more specific questions), or it won’t and you’ll probably never have to talk to the person again.

If you fail a total stranger’s boring secret test? OH WELL, GUESS YOU WANTED DIFFERENT THINGS FROM LIFE.

Please never, ever worry that you will get this wrong somehow or that there was some magical, maximally palatable way with just the right mix of reassuring and fascinating and sexy but unthreatening way – like the hot girl taking off her glasses at the end of a 1990s movie about prom dates and becoming the Objectively! Hot! Girl! for a moment and then putting them back on and becoming accessibly hot once more-  that  you could have answered  that would guarantee that the person would have fallen in love with you if only you had known what it was.

Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.

10 “What to say when someone says ‘why should I date you.'” & “What does ‘Give me one good reason I should date you’ mean in online dating.”

I had just typed the answer to #10 and then dipped back into the search terms to see if there was anything else, and found…this. Okayyyyyyyyy.

Why should I date you?” 

SWIPE LEFT

Why should I date you?” 

Sounds like a you-question.

Why should I date you?” 

Sir/Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.

Why should I date you?” 

SWIPE FASTER. LEFT! ONLY LEFT!

“Give me one good reason I should date you.”

You…messaged…me? I don’t actually know who you are? Wat?

“What’s one good reason I should date you.”

Lol, I’m not going to date you, but I’ve got five minutes, so be honest – does that actually ever work? Do people actually start listing reasons like they’re trying to convince you that you should take a chance on them? Tell me all about that!

Look, there’s an outside chance that “what are you looking for in a relationship/ on this site” is a sincere question with no hidden messages or tests, we all start somewhere, basic is always better than mean.

“Why do I actually want to date this person” is a question to ask oneself, definitely explore that.

“Why should I date you?” is what you ask when you think Alec Baldwin is the hero of Glengarry Glen Ross and you practice the speech in the mirror to yourself in the morning when you think no one is looking but hope that at least one of your housemates is awake enough to overhear how hard you nailed it today and you jerk off in the shower to the tantalizing prospect of a worshipful secret audience while your housemate desperately googles “Best earplugs for total silence.”

“Why should I date you” is for when you are actually contemplating becoming a contestant on The Bachelor and you know that the dullard-of-the-month-club is 100% going to ask you that on camera and you need to find the right mix of charm and smarm to snag your rose and the opportunity to go on a humiliating hot air balloon ride “solo date” while America watches you resist your impulse to toss this polo-shirted absolute void out of the basket like excess ballast and rise, rise, rise forever into the sky, victorious and alone like some avenging Valkyrie, in which case, carry on.

“Why should I date you” is a “neg”, in my opinion, which is a gross, pathetic pick-up-artist strategy designed to manipulate you into auditioning for being worthy of someone who would ask you THAT instead of wondering wait, why the hell am I auditioning for this person’s approval? Can’t they see I’m hot and cool and nice? Is this actually a job interview? I don’t actually want to be on The Bachelor?

Friends don’t let friends reward negging. Never answer this question. It’s a trap.

Comments are open. Be gentle. Be gentle specifically with me, I’m rusty. ❤

Dear Captain,

I’ve looked in the archives for something like this, but I couldn’t find anything. What do you do when you apologize and it seems to upset someone even more?

I (she/her) have an ex (he/him), and we have recently reconnected after a breakup and period of no contact and are trying to be friends. He was the one who ended the relationship, if that helps, and I was the person who asked for space, and recently reached out. We broke up mostly because he wasn’t the best communicator, and when I brought it up he said it was easier to break up. (He is a Geek Social Fallacies carrier)

I live in an area under shelter-in-place, and after that started he started texting and messaging more frequently, and then occasional phone calls. I wasn’t sure I wanted this much contact, but was feeling a little lonely with the SIP, and figured he was as well, we could support each other a bit. I have a wide ranging circle of friends that I have been virtually in contact with, I wasn’t focusing on him.

Anyway, we were talking about what we’d been doing since the SIP began, and I mentioned I’d been working on my writing, and he expressed interest in it, and I asked if he’d be willing to give me some feedback. This wasn’t unusual, it had been something he’d done for me when we’d been together. So I emailed it to him, he emailed some feedback (which was good feedback!), and I got caught up thinking about it and how the writing worked with his feedback, and I guess I hadn’t responded or said thank you, quickly enough? Because a few hours after receiving it he texted to ask if I’d gotten it. And I realized I hadn’t acknowledged it, apologized and thanked him.

And then a few days later I asked if he would read over an article I’m working on, and he said yes. He read it and sent me feedback a day or so later, but I was caught up in work when the email arrived (SIP and working virtually means I get SO MUCH MORE EMAIL than usual, and I got a lot before!), and I just didn’t get a chance to respond. Partially because I felt that he deserved more than a, “thanks, got it” email.

But the next morning beforeI got a chance to do this I got a text saying it was “weird,” I hadn’t acknowledged his messages. I emailed back, apologized, and thanked him. He then asked if we could have a phone conversation, which we did that evening.

Prior to our phone conversation, I realized he was probably feeling unappreciated, and made a point of acknowledging that when we talked, and said that he was also probably trying to show that he cared for me by doing me a favor, and that was really nice, and when I didn’t respond quickly enough he felt ignored or rejected or vulnerable.

And by saying that, he seemed to get really annoyed. Claimed I must be feeling resentment for our breakup, and that it wasn’t any “psychobabble” about feeling vulnerable or rejected, he’s obligated to help out any friend that asks for help. And ranted in this general vein at me for a bit. While also saying, as he ranted, that we didn’t have to have this “whole talk” about this, but he…kept talking? And talking, and talking. I tried to acknowledge his feelings, but I also didn’t want to keep discussing it, and basically listened until he wore down.

We ended it with him feeling better, I guess? But I felt worse. More so because I felt like I was trying to give a sincere apology and recognize his feelings and then we could move on, but it turned into him becoming more annoyed, and that line about being “obligated” really hurt, I thought he was just being friendly, but it now that gesture feels tainted somehow.

Captain, I don’t think it would be helpful to talk to him about this, I think I have to accept that this is just my friendship with him. But I’m confused, why did he get so annoyed? Is there a way I could have apologized better?

Confused Navigator

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Answer 1: On Crushes

So, you have a crush on a friend.* But everything is terrible/uncertain/stressful.

Send the love poem. Say the thing that’s in your heart. If not now, when?

What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t love you back, i.e. the status quo?

What’s the best thing that happens? They do!

The thing you’re torturing yourself about – “Do I do it in a phone call? Do I send a text? Do I yell it from 6-10 feet away?” – You know this person best and you know you best.  Your way is going to be the right way if they feel that way about you. If they don’t love you back, they don’t love you back. It’s not because you said it wrong. (Read this poem). If your instincts are telling you now is not the time, then you are probably right about that and having just the right words won’t change it.

Practice Round: Tell the people you don’t want to smooch how much you love and care about them, too. Yell “thank you” to the trash removal people from the window. Tell the grocery delivery person and the pharmacist what a good job they are doing. You’ve got excess love so give it away.

Answer 2: On Closure

Hey remember that friendship/relationship that ended very badly and they told you not to contact them again and to stay away?

You were doing okay, you were taking your feelings to the gym or the bike trail or the knitting project or the social circle.

But now the world feels like it’s ending and you’re suddenly obsessed. What if you could talk to them just one more time and make yourself understood and focus on “what’s really important?”

“Fix this,” your jerk of a brain whispers, “And maybe you’ll fix the world.” 

“You can’t fix the world,” your absolute dillweed of a brain reminds you. “But what if you could fix this one tiny thing?” 

Beloved, write the letter where you get to say everything you want to say. Get it all out on the page. Do not send this letter, but do write it.

Now, write yourself the letter you wish they’d write back. Imagine them saying everything you most want to hear, imagine them telling you “I am sorry” and “I miss you, too,” and “I love you” and “I forgive you.” Spare no emotional expense. Include every good and kind and loving thing remember this person ever saying to you, every compliment, every private joke, every happy memory you can think of. Write the happy ending to the story that you wish you had.

Burn the first letter.**

When you feel obsessed and lonely read the second one back to yourself.

The good times you and this person shared were real. They still happened to you. What shone then shines now. The things they loved about you are still in you. That’s all still yours, even if this one person is no longer in your life. They are not the boss of how you get to be loved or whether you deserve love, just as you are not the boss of whether you get to keep trying to demand it specifically from them. We can wish people well and send love in their direction and still follow separate paths.

After you re-read the good letter, channel the feelings into action that doesn’t harm anybody or further obsess you. Do something that is physical, mundane, and and an act of care for yourself and the others in your home environment: Scrub the bathroom down, clean out the bottom drawer of the fridge, dust the baseboards. Call your elected officials. Find something you’ve been putting off and do it.

Finally (do not skip this step), get in touch with someone who always does want to hear from you, someone who is always glad to let you in, somebody you don’t have to work at. The absent person isn’t the only love or friendship you will ever have in your life. You have excess love right now, so give some away.

 

*Advice does not apply to crushes on an employee/assistant/student/a roommate you are quarantined with/somebody you have power over, or any person who has to be nice to you because of where they work or because they can’t get away from you. Leave your barista/pharmacist/grocery worker alone. 

**Safety first! Shredding it into tiny pieces or making elaborate paper snowflakes is also a dramatic and symbolic act of destruction.

 

Dear Captain,

I had a friend I first met about 15 years ago. We got on amazingly well: mutual friends called us “one mind in two bodies” because our personalities were so similar. We understood each other almost perfectly and could talk and laugh for hours about things nobody else quite got. We then had an extraordinarily intense romantic relationship: we were ridiculously in love and had an incredibly deep connection. It ended because I was super needy and honestly wasn’t ready for that sort of relationship. We were both heartbroken and intended to get back together one day, but life took us in other directions. We tried to stay friends but I wanted too much from him; he felt he had to keep me at arm’s length. I told him I had too many messy feelings to have a healthy friendship, he begged me not to go, I said I hoped to be back one day, there were tears on both sides and we went our separate ways. This was in 2008. Resolving to take something positive from what happened, I worked hard on myself, addressed the co-dependency issues that had driven ALL my previous partners away, and now I’m married to an awesome guy I’ve been with for 10 years.

This January, we finally got back in touch. I apologised for some hurtful things I’d said when I was in a lot of pain over losing him. I told him how I’d changed for the better. I said if he forgave me for being a jerk I would love to rekindle that awesome friendship if he wanted to, now Other Feelings weren’t an issue any more. He replied to say it was a lot to take in (naturally) but he would answer via email, not to worry if that took him a while and, in the meantime, how was I?

Since then we’ve exchanged several messages but often he takes days, even weeks to reply so we haven’t really got a good conversation going (except one night when we texted about random stuff until 2:15am, which showed we still have that great connection and same weird sense of humour). Because communication has been so sporadic, it’s hard to gauge what sort of friendship we might have if at all. When he does reply he’s warm and affectionate, laughs at my jokes and sends me cool stuff he knows I’ll like. But because of our complicated history I’m unsure how well I can walk the line between “yikes, co-dependent ex-girlfriend is messaging too much!” and not having enough contact to re-establish a friendship.

I’m trying to give it time – maybe he’s just not ready and could be navigating A Swamp of Unexpected Feelings himself. But I feel with this sort of situation it’s important to be honest and open from the start about what you want, like I was in my first message to him. I gently reminded him he said he’d email me and while he didn’t have to, I’d appreciate knowing where things stood between us. He said he was busy but could do it next week… which was several weeks ago now and don’t feel I can ask again. Me badgering him when he needed space was why we stopped being close in the first place.

I’m feeling a bit lost about how to handle this situation. At the moment I’m playing it by ear, replying to messages when they come, trying not to send too many back, giving him space when he doesn’t reply. But while I’m thrilled to be back in touch, there’s this elephant in the room, it’s…uncomfortable, and I don’t believe he’s going to send me that email – it’s been nearly 2 months. How can I figure out what the relationship is between us without making him feel pressured to talk about things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about?

Hopeful Friend

PS I searched for similar letters but the closest I found was you advising not to reach out to an ex for friendship until your feelings reached the point of “oh yeah him, I wonder how he’s doing, would be fun to catch up.” Which is what I did… but now I don’t know what to do next.

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