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Overthinking It

Dear Captain,

I have been thinking about this one for some time now, and I’m stuck: What is a good response to “What are you up to tonight / this weekend / next Thursday?”

I loathe this question, and I’ve been getting it a lot lately. I get it from friends (who usually just want to find a time to hang and that’s not so bad), my cousin (who usually wants me to babysit), my mom (whenever she wants to invite me somewhere), and people I’m chatting with on dating websites.

This is why I hate the question:

1. I don’t want to give you a rundown of my plans. They’re private and you don’t need to know them. I kind of resent that you assume I will tell you.

2. I feel like it’s asking me to say yes or no to an invitation / commitment before I even know what it is (like, if you’re having a party I might be free, but my babysitting quota is full for the month so no to that). Ugh.

3. In the case of friends and dates, I feel like sometimes it’s a slightly manipulative way of getting me to do the actual asking / planning. Like, you want to hang out with me, but don’t want to ask me straight up. Why not? Just ask!

4. I don’t understand the point of the question. Usually, the asker will tell me why they asked after I answer, no matter what the answer is (busy, not busy, don’t know). No matter what I say it’s, “okay, well I was just gonna see if you wanted to [actual invitation / request]”.

I usually end up saying something noncommittal like “I might be doing xyz, but I’m not sure yet – why?” and waiting to see what the actual deal is. But I hate this because then I have to pretend to wait while I figure out if my original “plans” are going through before I give them an answer. Or, if I tell a potential date some generic things (oh, probably reading and writing a lot) and add that I’d like to take a break so they know I’m open, I’m engaging in the same coy behavior that’s bothering me in the first place.

It all feels like a gross, stupid game I don’t want to play. I know it’s a common question and I’m sure most people don’t mean anything bad by it. But it puts me on edge every time I hear it. Is it just me? Should I keep doing what I’m doing? Or is there a better way to handle this?

Thanks Captain!

Free for the Good Stuff

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Yo, Captain!

I have a friend who I care about dearly but he keeps sending quite rude (almost downright racist) messages over a group chat I have with all of my friends, often targeted towards me and my heritage. A recent example is that he sent a photo of a map from almost 200 years ago and said “Ha, look, your country isn’t even on this map! It’s not a real country lol.” Another was when he kept trying to explain and then lecture me (quite patronizingly) about this country’s history (with inaccurate information, if I may add that) although I have family from this country and have read books about its history. I have told him that I find this rude and I have heritage from this country but I grew up in the same country he has, so I don’t understand why he can’t accept me as at least both nationalities. I used to be bullied for having “foreigner” relatives and being related to said country and his behaviour is similar to how it started out when I first was bullied (by other people, to clarify) which is making alarm bells ring. As it is on a group chat and I struggle with anxiety and confronting my friends (he knows this), then I find it difficult to call him out on his behaviour and I try to ignore the group chat, however, I feel like if I constantly ignore it every time people accept this behaviour more and it hinders my ability to communicate online to my group of friends (also, they know I get upset about it but I don’t expect them to do anything).

My solution was to block him on Facebook so he can’t directly message me and to avoid him on the group chat, which worked except he found out that I blocked his messages and keeps trying to call me out on the group chat. Other friends keep messaging me saying “why have you blocked him?” and then they post screenshots on the chat (so far I’ve replied with “what? I think my messages are just messed up at the moment”) so I’m afraid to tell them because these kinds of jokes are often made by him so that’s partly why no one goes “hey that’s not cool, friend.” I don’t want to be seen as humourless by telling everyone, because then people treat me like they’re walking on eggshells. Am I being irrational? Are they entitled to an explanation? Are there any scripts you could possibly give me?

Thank you,

from,

I Just Want To Talk To My Friend And Not Get Upset (she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Okay, so I just typed my whole question and realized it is wayyyyy longer than 400 words. The 400 word question is:

My boyfriend gets defensive and dramatic when we have a conflict. While I try to offer solutions and compromises to our problems, he gets to a breaking point and responds with, “Well, then let’s just break up then,” or, “Well, then I don’t want to hang out with you tonight/you made me not want to hang out with you.” This doesn’t seem fair and I have told him often that it’s not okay with me to just drop a bomb like that in order to end what could be not a big deal. These kinds of terrible conversations usually end poorly, then he smokes some weed, then he comes back and apologizes and says he won’t do that again -> the cycle begins again. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there?

The whole fabu story is:

My boyfriend (male, he/him) and I (female, she/her) had a classic meet cute in 2015. Me: flat tire. Him: AAA truck driver changing the tire. I asked him out and we had a great first date where he revealed that he would have asked me out if he had not been working, but he wanted to be professional (applause break). This made me feel better about his desire to go on the date. I also, as I do on all first dates, asked him if he smoked, because I refuse to date people who smoke any sort of anything. He said that he used to, cigarettes and weed, but that he had quit “a while ago” to focus on his goal of entering the military (he was 24, no college degree; now 27, and me 28) to better his life.

A few things happened next, in this order and from my perspective:
– Two months later he was rejected from entering the military due to his psoriasis.
– He went from very communicative and sweet via texts and calls to aloof and almost avoidant. It was like pulling teeth to get him on the phone or to make plans.
– He focused a lot of time on hanging out with his cousin. Cousin is in his 30s, is hiding from a felony(ies?) in Oregon, and lives with his mom in California. Boyfriend was, when we met, living with them in a town about a half hour away from me.
– Because he spent more time with Cousin, Boyfriend began smoking weed again, though it seemed to be occasional, once or twice a month.
– Four months into the relationship, my roommate left in a dramatic fashion. Boyfriend offered to move in. He did move stuff in, purchase a TV, and pay rent, but he still spent majority of his time at Cousin’s house.
– Six months later we decided to find a different place because he wanted a garage to work on cars and I wanted a more peaceful town. We found one and moved in. I did the work beforehand of, “Let’s make sure we don’t stop dating each other. You’re not around much in this current place, and I’m not clear how that will change in a new place. Are you sure you don’t want to get a studio for yourself or live with a friend before making this commitment? We are now going to make decisions as a team. Are you in this for building a life together?” He said he was on board.
– I had fallen very much in love and was trying to be patient with the new smoking habit and poor life decisions. I agreed to move in as long as no smoking happened inside of the house. He agreed.
– Many, many things happened after the shine wore off (or that wore the shine off) such as he smoked in the house while I was on vacation and then turned it around on me when I asked him why and could he please not do that again and to respect my/our space (apparently that makes me controlling), but what it all boils down to is that smoking marijuana slowly went from once in a while to every day all day/can’t function without it/is using phrases like “I need it” and also smoking cigarettes and also getting faded on weed and alcohol often.

We have had many fights about the marijuana because I am concerned for his wellbeing. He and I disagree on whether the drug itself is beneficial, and so with him I mostly focus on the fact that not-oxygen is entering his lungs, shortening his lifespan (and his Married Friend is concerned about the getting faded). I have told him that I really prefer him when he’s sober and asked him to please lessen his usage, for example, only on weekends. Whenever I try to have calm talks about this with him and explain that a compromise is not an order, and that if he does not like the suggested compromise, he can counter-offer, and if we try that compromise and down the road it is not working, we can come back to the table and re-assess and adjust, the conversation quickly devolves from calm (mostly devolving on his side, though in early convos I will admit to engaging in teary emotional warfare) as he becomes defensive and combative, tells me that I am controlling, that no one can tell him what to do, that I am unreasonable, etc.

Then he smokes some weed and 20 minutes later he is apologetic and everything I say is correct and he loves me and he will try not to treat me that way again.

Welp. I think you know where this is going.

After a lot of these, he moved out and back in with Felon Cousin. This was not my favorite decision because Boyfriend said that he needed to move out to grow up and find himself and have independence. This is what I had tried to see if he needed pre-move in, and I guess maybe he had agreed to move in on wishful thinking? I don’t know. I can respect that impulse to want space, but I personally don’t see how moving in with Felon Cousin and Felon Cousin’s Mom who smoke weed together and play video games when Mom is not at work is conducive to Boyfriend getting his life together. I tried to say this more tactfully and respectfully. I told him I can’t make him stay, but that I hear his goals (wants to do something in the music industry, wants to build his own house someday) and that I’m not clear on how this step achieves them, etc. He considered this, but he still moved in with them. (This is a big deal for me because he now lives an hour away, I do not have a car, and I am not interested in being there anyway since the house CONSTANTLY smells like weed. I did express that also, albeit politely and not in a, “If you move there I’M NOT VISITING YOU/DATING YOU,” kind of way, just in a, “No thanks, not my scene,” kind of way.)

Believe it or not, we are still “dating”. The headspace I am in right now is that there is a piece of him that cares about me, and a piece of me that cares about him, and that a substance abuse problem is getting in the way. Because we will have been together three years this March, I am doing my best to navigate this new phase where we do not live together. There is no sex right now, and I have made it clear that I am going to be treated VERY WELL. Sex will re-enter when he’s ready to have adult conversations about commitment. And Captain, you will not believe this. He is a better-ish boyfriend after moving out. I went East to family for Christmas alone to heal while he moved out, and when I returned, he picked me up from the airport with flowers. He has been calling me daily and responding to texts and Snapchats. He has made plans to take me on a dates and then been on time for those dates. He has been more responsive to his mom and interested in hanging out with his more immediate family, whom I adore. If we had just met at the beginning of the month, I would be smitten.

Except there is one thing that is not going VERY WELL.

He still does the poopy treatment -> weed -> everything is great. I have been in therapy for a long time, even before I met him, and have now made it to a point where I can stay completely calm and objective in an argument with him. It’s like I have an out of body experience. When we lived together, we’d be in an argument and he would often pull the, “Well, then let’s just break up,” card. I explained many times how that is NOT okay, and he stopped doing the break up version of it, but he still pulls a version of that threat. In our most recent fight about whether or not he would smoke on our date, he was like, “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore tonight.” It made me stop mid-sentence, which is what he wanted, and then I said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would still like to hang out with you. I don’t think this problem we’re having right now is insurmountable and I’d really like it if you could tell me how you’re feeling so we can move on and have a good night.” He continued to be surly/defensive/give me the silent treatment. He started smoking. He let me have it (I was glad for this actually since he has such a hard time opening up) and said that I am so pushy; that he often says he doesn’t want to talk about something and I just keep going and keep pushing, and that’s frustrating for him, and no wonder I am so isolated from friends and family.

Okay. He is not wrong. When he shuts down, I do try to come at the issue from different angles to get him to open up, and I should respect if he doesn’t want to talk. However, too often he doesn’t want to talk as a verbal slap in the face to me, not because he has nothing to say. Additionally, I am an entire coast away from my home base, and I have two very, very close girl friends, and I am emotionally satisfied but also don’t hang out with humans that often. So in this instance, it felt like he was implying that I was so combative and disruptive that my friends and family have purposefully distanced themselves from me. I asked my best friend and she said she loves me and this is not the case for her with me, and I trust her. (Family is a different story and I actually think we should all communicate MORE but that’s a question for another day.)

In truth, I suppose I really should be respectful if he says he does not want to talk, even if it’s because he is being rude, but I really do not feel like it’s fair to make a judgment call about my character in order to end an argument. It puts me in the position of defending myself instead of focusing on how to resolve the current issue. Well, I guess in this case, his own separate issue was, “How do I get her to shut up?” So I guess it succeeded.

There’s a lot of problems in this “relationship”. I get that. On the whole, I try not to let it bother me to the point that I fixate, and I am active. I go to the gym. I go to therapy consistently. I just got a new job as a substitute teacher. I am taking an improv class. I am pursuing freelance photography. I adopted a cat. I contacted a neighbor about fostering more kittens. I am doing my best to live my own life. As frustrating as everything I just said above is, with my support team I can handle what he throws at me.

However, I am fixated enough on the “I’m going to leave” bit that I felt like I needed the Captain’s perspective. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there? Feeling quite gaslit lately and like I am holding him at arm’s length due to this … emotional abuse? Do we call it that?

I am sure that as this relationship has evolved I have not been a perfect partner, and I hope this letter doesn’t read as, “I am great and he sucks, how do I get him to stop doing this stupid thing,” but at this particular juncture I do feel as though I am doing work, especially emotional work, that he is not doing. That doesn’t necessarily make me better, but it does put us on an uneven playing field. Personally, I feel like if he quit the weed, he would be more emotionally available to participate in … everything. However, he has made it clear he is not up for that and so I don’t even broach the subject anymore. When I have strong moments, I feel like I deserve a non-smoker, or at least a smoker who doesn’t pull that emotional nonsense. When I have weak moments, I am definitely pulled in when he is treating me well and thinking that if he can have some more corrective emotional experiences where we have a fight and he stays through the fight to its resolution, he will see that when you love someone you don’t just leave. I feel like I need to say that if he does not stop with that emotional nonsense, I will not be available as any sort of version of a girlfriend, however, he seems to be just as in denial about his terrible emotional behavior as his substance abuse.

When he wants to get physical now and I am rebuffing him, he moans something along the lines of, “I just want to please you,” into my ear, and it takes all of my willpower not to retort, “I WILL HAVE A SPONTANEOUS ORGASM WHEN YOU CALL ME AND SAY, ‘I just went to therapy for the first time,’ BUDDY.”

*Sigh* I don’t know. I give up and give to [insert deity].

Much love,
Exhausted

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Hi Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.

I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:

Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]

Me: I’ll just change!

Her: Why?

Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.

Her: But why?

Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?

Her: Whyever not?

Me: . . .

Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.

I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?

– At a Loss

(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)

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Hi,

I’m hoping you can help me with some coping mechanisms for jealousy which will help me feel less like the shittiest friend in the universe. 

Long story short, a friend got a job I wanted, and I’ve spent months failing to not let it affect our friendship. The whole story is long but the important details are these:

She got an early start in the “big leagues” of our industry because of connections I didn’t have, beating me out for jobs before I even knew her.

A mutual friend promised me I’d be his first call on a job I really wanted, but then hired her.

I had a hard autumn, and overwork combined with personal insecurity culminated in me, in tears, while she tried to console me over the job she was (very rightly!) excited to start the next day.

She’s just gotten the reiteration of that job I really wanted. I’m still angling to get them to hire me too, at a lower title than hers.

Last fall I tried really hard to be supportive and excited for her and mostly failed. I’m afraid to spend the rest of her time in our city (she plans on moving… eventually) watching her get jobs I am equally qualified for because her resume is better. I also don’t want to look forward to the day she moves, just because it means I won’t have to compete with her for work anymore. I don’t want to feel like a terrible friend anymore because I can’t be happy for her, and I absolutely don’t want to force her to console me on big happy occasions.

I think her fiance dislikes me and I worry she confides in him that she feels uncomfortable in our friendship, or that she thinks I’m an incompetent artist. I will never actually know without damaging the friendship by pushing the issue, but it bothers me anyway.

I have read your “focus on yourself and what you like” advice, and the “back off and gently let reconnection happen” advice and that has been helping, but I’m worried that watching her have a job I wanted will disintegrate our friendship, or worse, if she doesn’t, or isn’t able to hire me. I need a way to restructure what’s happening in my head so I’m not feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this friend who hired her, and jealous of her all the time.

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Dear Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog!

This might be banal and is probably a case of Overthinking It. But it is something that I repeatedly seem to worry about recently.

Do you have any tips/guidelines on how to deal with the situation where you have said something that could be taken the wrong way. Where you realize, after the incident, that it might have been received in away you did not mean, and also remembering that the reaction might have been a bit off. Yet, bringing it up and apologizing might risk making something big and weird out of something that was small to begin with.

Best wishes!

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Dear Captain,

This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.

I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.

I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.

I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?

Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter

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