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Overthinking It

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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Hi Captain!

I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while and it’s really helped me with getting better at Using My Words. This is a pretty low-stakes question but I thought it was definitely one for a university professor. (Sorry if professor isn’t the right term, I’m not American.)

I’ve been doing fine at uni for several years but I’ve recently hit a mental health roadblock. The process of getting (free) therapy is painstaking but I’m finally on a waiting list, so yay! However, it’s greatly impacting my studies. For the first time, I am taking half my classes online, and so I’ve never met my professors and can’t geographically organise to do so.

So my question is, how do I complete procedures like requesting extra time on assignments, when it has to be done entirely via email? I feel so awkward having to explain the “reason for extension” and not sure where the line between TMI and not enough info is.

Some bonus! advice about how to generally communicate with professors via email would also be appreciated. Do I say “hi” or “dear”? Can I ACTUALLY email them if I don’t understand something? Sometimes I wish there was an ettiquete rule book I could follow because I’ve ended up avoiding any communication and struggling in class as a result.

Thanks so much, Captain! And a huge thank you for just running this blog, because I really do love reading it.

Over-thinking Emails

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been dating this guy (he/ him) for about the past 5 months. Things are for the most part truly wonderful; there are various stresses about upcoming job changes and moves, but he’s really one of the best people I know, and we seem to be pretty damn good together.

I am struggling with being upset if I propose doing something together and he replies ‘no thank you, I would rather be alone tonight.’ I want to figure out a way to find this less distressing. Head-wise, I know all the sensible things: he is a person who needs alone time; he acts like a person who really likes me; different people can want different things in a given moment and that’s just fine. But I am still getting more upset than I would like to. I don’t want to keep having these un-fun nights over something that seems (even to me!) to be so small. Do you have any advice?

Thank you for your time- I’ve been reading CA for a long time, and it’s been very important to me.

I think five months in is probably right on schedule to have a little moment of BRAND NEW LOVE IS DEFINITELY AMAZING, BUT ALSO NORMAL BORING LIFE STILL EXISTS adjustment. Not a crisis, just a little reminder from the universe that all the New Relationship Energy (NRE) that’s been created during the stay-up-all-night-kissing-and-talking phase of dating isn’t a magical perpetual motion machine that rescues you from mundanity, boredom, or loneliness.

Ideally, we could find a way to help you mentally reframe “not hanging out with me tonight” as something other than rejection. You know that your guy doesn’t mean it as a rejection, wanting to be alone sometimes isn’t a rejection, rejection is a subtext that your jerkbrain is adding to the situation. Can you stop describing it thusly and see if that helps, at least a little bit?

More practically, it sounds like what he’s turning down are fairly last minute invitations (“tonight”). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong by issuing those, but I do think there is some work you can do to mitigate the “Hanging out with you, Lover!” vs. “SAD EVENING ALONE” dichotomy that’s happening if he declines. Namely, next time you’re ready to text him to invite him out, think of 5-10 other things you could do with a free evening to yourself.

For example:

  • Crafts, hobbies, creative projects.
  • Writing cards and letters or having Skype dates with far-away friends or family.
  • Movies, theater, concerts, lectures in your area.
  • A quiet restaurant, a book, a table for one, and thou.
  • Inviting friends to hang out with you instead.
  • Stuff that makes your body feel good, whether that’s exercising it or anointing it with various unguents.
  • Errands: They gotta be done sometime.
  • Boring but necessary household shite what needs caught up on.
  • Things you’ve been putting off for “when you have time.”
  • Taking a class.
  • Volunteering somewhere.
  • Dressing the house-pets up in costumes and taking photographs of them to send to your favorite advice blogger.

Before you ever met this dude, what did you do in your life that made you feel awesome? It’s time to reconnect with those things. If you start to make the list and it’s like “Wait I can’t really think of anything” then, well, that’s a project right there. Remind yourself that this dude is just one nifty facet of your nifty life and you have lots of options for how you spend your evenings. Then, if you want to invite him to do something, send that invite. If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for four months, though he has been a friend of mine for 12 years. He is intelligent, well-read, funny and very sweet. So what’s my problem? I feel like he is a bit of a man-child, for lack of better words. First
off. He lives with his parents still. He is 31. This is for the reason that he is in university, and his parents want him to “graduate without student debt”. They have never charged him rent. This isn’t because he needs his money to pay off school: they are
paying for his education in full as well. They make him meals, check up on him to see if he has packed a lunch for work, make his bed and clean his room. They recently bought him expensive new work boots because, not because he couldn’t afford it, but because
he doesn’t think it’s necessary to have footwear for work that isn’t falling apart.

Don’t get me wrong. His parents are the most wonderful people. But he’s 31, and will be in school another 2 years. Which means, he will be living rent-free with his parents
until school is done. He works, but only has to pay for his car and phone. He also seems emotionally immature. Everything seems to have an excuse or be my fault. He hates conflict, so whenever anything comes up that is important, he shuts down. I feel I am
always the one to initiate apologies, conflict solutions, and conversation in general. I feel like I am the one carrying the emotional workload, and constantly having to explain the “real world” to him, because he is so sheltered. I need him to step up emotionally,
and for him to learn how to continue growing as an adult while under his parents roof. I don’t know how to bring this up without upsetting his parents (he tells them everything I say) and hurting his very sensitive feelings.

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Dear Captain,

I’ve (27F) have been dating my boyfriend (33M) for about 6 months and things are wonderful. We’ve talked seriously about a future together and he’s a great partner. He has invited me to spend Thanksgiving week with his dad, brother, and sister-in-law on the West Coast. *However*, his mom passed away suddenly earlier this year (before we met) and this will be their first big family holiday without her. I’m worried about my BF. I’ve noticed him drinking more than usual this past week and just seeming a little down.

I’ve heard that sometimes the weeks leading up to a big holiday or anniversary after someone dies can be even worse than the day itself, but I’m not sure how to talk about this with him without pushing him. He’s very stoic and doesn’t like to talk about himself or his feelings in general, and although he’s mentioned offhand Thanksgiving is probably going to be hard/different, he doesn’t seem to want to open up beyond that. My heart is breaking for him and I want to help him however I can, but it’s almost like he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s grieving at all.

Spending five whole days with his family (whom I haven’t met before) is pressure enough, and on top of that I’m not sure how to be understanding of what they’re going through without intruding, if that makes sense. We have some activities planned but I’m not sure how/if I should give them space when I’m there, or how to be supportive during an emotionally-charged time. Would you be able to give me a script for asking my BF about how he’s dealing with his grief leading up to this holiday? Do you have any tips for being a good houseguest and partner during an emotionally-charged holiday?

Thanks for your help,

Worried GF

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Hello Captain,

I’m in a bit of an emotional pickle and I was wondering if you had any advice.

It’s kind of a long story but I’ll simplify as well as I can;

For 5 years I was in a relationship with a very good man. He was supportive and loving throughout some incredibly difficult times and although we certainly had our problems (both of us bought our family and mental health drama into the relationship) we were not just boyfriend and girlfriend but each other’s best friends for all those years. Living in a town we hated, in a university that was draining us, and surrounded by people we didn’t like, it was like me and him against the world.

However, last year around November we broke up. He ‘pulled the trigger’ as I put it but it had been something that had been on the cusp for a while. I had been questioning my sexuality for a while and shortly after our break up I came out as a lesbian. He was surprisingly supportive throughout all of this although I’m sure it was incredibly hard on him. Aside from my sexuality we had other problems as well, we were fighting more and laughing less, his anger which had been a problem in our relationship since the beginning was still a problem I had near completely lost patience with.

We both promised each other we’d do what we could to be friends. We’d only a couple of months earlier moved in together (we needed to get out of our previous living situation and I had hoped that moving in together might ‘fix’ me) and at first it seemed ok. We still laughed and went out to dinner, he’d point out girls he thought I’d find cute, we’d joke and make fun of each other the same way we always had. It seemed too good to be true. Well you know what they say…

After not too long a time that stopped, I’m not sure exactly why, but things became distant, and then hostile. There had been tiny glimpses of this before, (for example, I mentioned to a friend that he’d been the one to ‘pull the trigger’ and he said ‘yeah well you had the gun shoved so far down my throat that I didn’t have a choice’. He later said this was a badly worded joke) but nothing huge and whenever I’d ask he’d play it down.

But after a short while the living situation became very difficult. For a while I was scared I would be homeless because he said he wanted to move out and I wasn’t sure I could cover rent and everything all by myself (things we’d previously halved), I tried to explain this to him that I needed more time to figure a living situation out as i have no family in the city where we live and no where else I could have stayed. He got very angry and didn’t seem to care about the homeless possibility. We were in his car having a chat when this happened and he screamed at me, getting very angry as I had seen 1000 times before, and at one point when I got out and walked away he screamed “times running out”. He moved back in with his parents (something he blames on me because he says I made the living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice but to move out) and thankfully I can cover rent and bills, though I don’t exactly have much left over afterwards.

Very shortly after he started dating a girl I know and although it felt weird at first, I’m glad he’s found some happiness, and the girl is a very sweet person who I’m sure won’t hurt him.

One of the last times we spoke I asked him how he felt about me. I told him that I can take him going from my boyfriend and best friend to my ex who i have a friendly or casual relationship with, but I couldn’t take him going from being the centre of my world to someone who seems to hate me and isn’t in my life at all. He told me that he never thought I’d hurt him, and the way I’d handled coming out and everything after hurt him and he has to protect himself. That broke my heart. We might not be together anymore (I have a girlfriend myself now), but I’d take a bullet for that guy. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him, I certainly didn’t mean to, and I cant believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against me of all people.

I’ve been wondering what, if anything, i can do about this situation for a while. The trigger for this letter was two dreams I had in a row (I’m not the type to read into dreams but these are a little on the nose). In the first his girlfriend had a baby and my ex told me that I needed to pay child support for some reason, he seemed very annoyed with me when I questioned why I had to give him money. In the second (that I had just last night), he asked me to get something for him but I couldn’t do this, I was late to meet him and tried to explain that I couldn’t get what he wanted just yet. At first he seemed fine with this, then he took me somewhere else (his mom was in the background telling him he ‘should have done this to begin with’) and started saying horrible things to me. I asked if he hated me and he yelled ‘of course I fucking hate you, you deserve everything you get’. There are currently concerns that I have a swelling in my brain and in the dream I asked ‘what about the tumour?’ and he said ‘I hope it kills you.’ I woke up crying.

I messaged him the other day but didn’t get a response and this is par for the course pretty much whenever I try to speak to him now.

Do you think I should tell him about these dreams? Ask him again how he feels? If not, how do I deal with these very painful dreams and feelings?

Any advice would be appreciated,
I didn’t mean to hurt him.

P.S. His parents have caused more drama by insisting that I owe them money for things they bought us as a couple (his mom even wants the mattress back that she bought us), I have tried to be civil and offer them money. They’ve even argued that I should give my ex our fridge even though I paid for half of it. This does not make our situation any less tense.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a woman who met a guy online a month ago. He is really good looking, funny, shows interest in learning more about me (sadly uncommon!), and gets along with my friends. It hasn’t been perfect so far. Because I live in the city and he doesn’t, I have planned all our dates, so I don’t feel like I’m learning what he likes to do. Physically, he is moving much slower than I would prefer. He stares at me a lot when we are together and it makes me feel uncomfortable, like he is waiting to kiss me instead of enjoying time hanging out together.

We already had a talk about where things are going, and I told him his nervousness was making me feel uncomfortable and I wanted him to relax. He responded that it didn’t matter because I must like him since I’m hanging out with him. He also said he hasn’t gotten this far with a date in a long time, and he has “reasons” for being so awkward. He brings up his awkwardness quite frequently.

The real problem is that all this talk about being awkward makes me feel extremely angry and panicked. I find it very presumptuous that he assumes his “reasons” or trauma are worse than mine. That’s not how trauma works. I am also angry that he won’t be patient and give the relationship a chance to unfold. I feel like he is already emotionally committed, and that he doesn’t want to “screw it up.” It’s putting a lot of pressure on me. And, finally, the “I am really a nice guy” act sends up a big red flag for me.

Why am I so angry? How can I make him stop? Is our relationship doomed?

Thanks,
Triggered by Awkward Guy

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