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Overthinking It

Dear Cap’n Awkward!

I have a weird one, I’m hoping you might have some insight. I had a not great childhood, a turbulent teenagehood, and then spent my entire 20s with an abusive husband and a major drug problem. I got out when I was 30, did years of therapy, got clean, got stable, and now have been in a great relationship for a few years.

So what is my problem? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t have opinions about a lot of things and it’s really starting to wear on my BF as the years go by. I grew up very poor, and then of course when you’re a giant dope fiend, you’re not spending your money deciding on what couch to buy, or where to go for dinner, or… And my ex made it clear that my opinion didn’t matter, even when he asked for it first. So I guess the first 30 years of my life, I was trained/training myself not to have opinions on things because why bother?

And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?

Not Even Sure How to Sign This

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It’s time for the monthly ritual where I answer the questions that people typed into search engines to find this place.

1 “I have a crush on a guy who treats me badly.”

Crushes can be fun, but unlike what you’ve seen on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and every other show/movie/comic, love doesn’t turn assholes into acceptable boyfriends. My recommendation: Fantasize darkly about dirty-hot-hate-sex with him at your leisure, but save your actual affections and time outside your head for people who are kind to you.

Now more than ever we must hold the line and not waste our time with charismatic assholes.

spike

Admire my cheekbones from afar. Do not waste your precious life trying to turn me into an acceptable person to date.

2 “Talk about sexual relation first time.”

There is a site called Scarleteen. It is a national treasure, and while it was built so that teenagers could get non-judgmental, scientifically accurate, kind and sensitive sex advice, adults should read it, too. This topic is covered amply in their archives and forums.  The creator of the site, Heather Corinna, wrote a book called S.E.X. It’s great. They also have volunteers who answer questions confidentially.

While we’re on the topic, here are some other good books about sex:

Probably more recommendations in comments.

In the movies, sex just, like, happens. People stare at each other intensely and then grab each other and kiss and suddenly clothes are off and it’s all seamless and softly lit.

In real life, it’s important to talk about things with the person you plan to have sex with, especially when one or both of you is new at it. Everything from what consent looks like to “What are we gonna do about contraception (if that’s an issue in your pairing) and safer sex?” to  “I think I’d like it if we….” to “Definitely please do not ever….” to “That doesn’t feel good, please stop!” to “That feels really good!” Real life sex is awkward, and vulnerable, and that’s part of what’s great about it. Get thee to Scarleteen.

Happy talking! And everything that might come after!

3 “Working with the person you had an affair with now its awkward.”

Aw, buddy.

Without knowing the particulars (relative power structure in company, how it ended, what the feelings were and still are, how much time it’s been, did anybody know, what was the fallout, how much each person respectively likes/needs this particular job, etc.), some smart steps that you can control might be:

  • Keep your distance. You probably work in somewhat close quarters, which is how the whole thing started in the first place, and you can’t fix that or at least fix it right away, but you can start to mentally work on keeping your distance. Stop keeping track of the other person – their moods, quirks, likes, dislikes, what they ate today, who they talk to, where they go, reading their horoscope, etc. Stop fixating on them. Use the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to distract yourself, if necessary, or just say to yourself , “We broke up, it’s not my business, la la la” when you find yourself getting obsessed.
  • Step up your professional game at work. Pay attention to the “little things,” like tidying your workspace, paying attention to dress & grooming, making sure you’re on time every day, being reliable & correct in your communications, keeping your boss updated on your projects, keeping small talk with coworkers very light and not revealing of personal life. I don’t think there is shame in crying it work – it’s a natural human response to stress and anger, and we shouldn’t be as dismissive of it as we are as a culture – but if you’re someone who is trying to keep an intra-office breakup private, try to do your crying in private. Put your best foot forward, even if you don’t feel like it right now. If you look to others like you have your shit together, it can sometimes help you keep your shit together.
  • Polish that resume. Look for another job, or an assignment in another department. I know, it’s not fair that you should have to leave your job, but it might be the simplest way to cut the cord of awkwardness. Join a networking organization for your profession if there is one. Make some new connections. Take a class and boost your skills in something. Maybe you feel like you can’t or don’t want to leave your job right now, but reminding yourself that you have options can’t hurt. Anything that reminds you of your own value is gonna feel good right now.
  • If there is stalking or harassing behavior of ANY kind, document & report it if you can. Whatever happened happened, but you don’t deserve to be terrorized or retaliated against professionally.
  • Give it time. Like the pain of all breakups, this too shall pass.

4How to break up your daughters gay relationship.”

Try these search terms instead:

“How do I show my daughter I love her and accept her?”

“How do I stop being a homophobic asshole?”

 Okay, speaking of affairs:

5 “What do you say to a married man’s wife who you have an affair with when she confronts you?”

Start with “I’m really, really sorry” and DO NOT try to justify or explain. The aggrieved spouse has probably saved up some things to say, so, just listen while they speak their piece. You don’t have to answer questions – “You should ask your spouse about that” is a good script if you start getting an interrogation, and if at some point you gotta end the conversation say, “I’m so sorry” again and refer the person back to their spouse, like, “I’m so sorry, I hear you, I know I hurt you. I don’t have answers for you, you should talk to (spouse) directly about this.

There’s nothing GOOD you can say, so, focus on not making it worse.

6 “Husband doesn’t believe his mother hates me.”

What if you said, “You don’t have to believe me, but when we’re around your mom and (this specific behavior) happens, I do need you to (defend me/shut it down/back me up/leave with me).

Focus not on the emotion (she hates you) but on the behaviors (the specific things she does that hurt your feelings or annoys you), and give him an idea of how he can best support you when those specific behaviors arrive. Choose your battles, and do what you can to minimize time with her. Annual Reminder: Nobody HAS to go home for the holidays.

7 “What to say in a Xmas card to a sister you did not talk with in five years.”

“Merry Christmas! I hope you’re doing well. Here’s [email/phone/the best way to contact me], can we catch up sometime in the new year?”

Take the pressure off to come up with something eloquent. This moment is literally what greeting cards are for – short, non-emotionally-charged communications. Give her a way to contact you and then leave it in her court. She’ll call/write or she won’t.

8 “Boyfriend does no chores and never wants to spend his free time with me.”

You could dump the boyfriend and get a cat. It wouldn’t do any chores, but least the cat would be cute and hang out with you sometimes.

male-model-cat-1

9 “Happy birthday to a friend you had a misunderstanding and now friends again.”

Say/Text/Facebook Wall: “Happy birthday!

Do you really want to rehash the misunderstanding? In someone’s birthday greeting? No. You don’t. Bake them a normal cake, not a shame-cake, and be glad that you mended fences about whatever it is.

10 “Boss upset I quit and I feel guilty.”

Your boss will get over it. Or they won’t, but you won’t work there anymore, so you don’t have to care.

11 “How to start the baby conversation with partner.”

“Partner, I’m thinking a lot about having a baby, and I’m pretty sure I want to start that process soon, with you. What do you think about that?”

Or, “I’m pretty sure I don’t ever want to have kids, so I wanted to see how you feel about that.”

Full disclosure, here’s how this conversation goes in my house:

We hang out with Commander Logic’s freaking adorable smart amazing children, aka, The Gateway Babies.

Spouse: “Someday, you know, my/our kids will….”

Me:

Repeat for a few weeks.

Me: “You keep mentioning these kids that will be doing stuff someday. Are these real kids or hypothetical kids?”

Spouse:

Me: “So, hypothetical. Ok.”

Spouse: (lots of stuff about parenthood and money and anxiety)

Me: (corresponding anxiety-brain-vomit)

Me: “If you really want kids, I’ll have your kids! I’ll have kids with you.”

Spouse: “That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.”

Me: “It’s what I got. I can be happy either way.”

Both of Us:

Me: “Talk again in six months?”

Spouse: “Sure. Good talk, everyone.”

12 “What does it mean when a guy tells you ‘I cant ask you to wait for me’?”

It means, “don’t wait for me.” You have been or are about to be broken up with.

13 “A guy likes and comments on everything on Facebook stalker.”

You can: Set your posts using privacy filters so he can’t even see them.

You can: Unfriend his annoying ass.

You can: Block him so he can’t even know you exist on Facebook.

When/if…okay probably when…he contacts you through other channels to ask “Are you okay?” or “Did I do something wrong?” here’s your script:

“I wasn’t enjoying our online interactions so I stopped them.”

Monitoring a person’s every online breath is stifling and creepy. You don’t have to tutor him as to why.

14After party with my former students sex stories.

twitchy

No.

15 “My toddler seems lonely but I hate playdates and playgroups.”

From what I understand from my friends who are parents of young kids, EVERYONE HATES PLAYDATES. The other parents hate it as much as you do. They are going through the motions because they want their kids to have friends and be socialized. They are something you suck up and do until you find some other parents that you a) can stand to be around while the kids are very small and drop-off/self-play isn’t possible b) can trust with your kids as they get older so you can take turns dropping off the kids and getting a few hours to yourself.

Do you have a co-parent? Can they take some of the play-date and play-group pressure off? Like, if you both hate that, can you take turns sucking it up for the sake of the kid?

Can you find more structured stuff – craft things, a local children’s museum, story time at the library, swim/dance classes – that allow your kid to interact while you check out and read your phone in the bleachers?

You’re a good parent because you’re noticing your child’s loneliness. You’ll do the right thing. And this won’t be forever.

Dear Captain,

I’m in my early 30’s. Having spent my 20’s doing the ‘right’ things (college -> law school -> office job), I have now recognised what was clear all along, namely that this is not for me at all, and that maybe that’s okay. I’ve also realised that maybe it’s okay to not be making the maximum amount I possibly could be, and okay to say ‘no thank you’ to the budding career I have zero interest in in favour of pursuing my passions.

Passions, of course, don’t pay very well, certainly not at first and possibly never. If I quit right now, today, I would be living hand to mouth with virtually no safety net. If I hold on for another 22 months, then I would have a very substantial safety net, enough to cushion me for a decade or more to come (I would still need to work to feed myself, but I would be able to absorb a good number of unexpected financial blows before going into crisis mode), plus put me in a better position in old age. There is no in between here.

Herein lies the quandary: I could die in six months’ time, in which case I would rather quit now and take my chances. On the other hand, if I did quit now and then didn’t die shortly afterwards, 2020!Me’s life is likely to be significantly more precarious and uncomfortable than it would be if Present!Me stays for the 22 months. I should add here that I tend to be a lot more productive in the creative area I want to pursue when I feel immediately secure, so this isn’t even just about my own comfort, but potentially impacts the quality of the work I want to do (and of course the point of this whole exercise is to give myself a better chance of producing quality work).

Knowing myself, I will probably do the 22 months. I don’t hate my job, have no reason to expect my imminent demise beyond the fact that it could happen to anyone, and the job comes with a fixed end date at the end of the period, so I’m less likely to fall into the trap of just putting it off and putting it off until it becomes too late. I’m just having a hard time reconciling myself to the ‘what if’ part right now right now. Help please?

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Hey Cap,

I have a really close friendship with “Nathan”, who I’m also In Love With. We met on Twitter and talk throughout the day most days, and a long-standing online friendship and flirtation turned into a close offline friendship and flirtation and a gradual but big escalation of my feelings. Long story short, despite mutual expressions of attraction and romantic interest things never went anywhere due to what he frames as general fear and ambivalence regarding sex/intimacy/relationships. He’s essentially said that fantasising about romantic scenarios brings him solace instead of torturing him like they do me – anyway my torch still burns painfully bright, I’ve been open with him about this and he’s been understanding, so several times I’ve taken breaks from communication/hanging out to focus on sorting myself out. It’s still an issue but less so than it used to be, and we remain close friends in constant contact and we see each other when we can (we now live in separate cities).

The issue is that Nathan is very, very, very attractive and he has many, many other online admirers, many of whom run in similar Twitter circles. Our friendship/flirting is well-documented publicly on there and a lot of our thirst followers have filled in their own mad libs about our relationship or at least see me as someone safe to talk to who knows him well and regularly try to probe me for (sensitive/creepy) information about him and his availability. This brings up a lot of knee-jerk Bad feelings of sadness, regret, jealousy etc and I would like to find better ways to ward off these kinds of questions entirely. I tend to maybe go all-in with my response describing my history with him which might do the trick in getting them to shut up about it but comes off as highly territorial which is something I don’t want to be. He’s a private person and I want to protect him but I also want to protect my sensitive, foolish heart and set up some kind of flag in conversations that says “Don’t Ask Me About Nathan It’s Creepy And It Hurts”. Any scripts for how to do this? I feel like I’m stuck in a Jane Austen situation.

– Lovelorn Go-Between

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Dear Captain Awkward:

The academic institution where I work has a counseling center, and offers appointments for staff members at a slightly discounted rate (they’re open for the public, not just people connected to my institution). I’d been seeing one of the counselors there for a little over a year, though I’d make appointments week by week; I didn’t set up a standing one or anything. Well, my last appointment was set for mid-November, but she had a sick kid and canceled, and I said I’d get back to her about rescheduling and well, now it’s 10 months later……
I’m not seeing anyone else, and though I think maybe I should it’s just hard to start. and it’s hard to want to go back to my original counselor. [ I’m not sure we had the same goals, and I’m not sure if that’s okay. Like do the client’s goals always trump, or should I be listening to her cause she’s the expert?]

Anyway, all that aside, I see her a few times a week pass my office, and I feel bad for just stopping and not saying anything and it’s not a bridge I want to burn, but maybe it’s fallen down now? Can I send an email? What should it say? Just, “sorry I ghosted, but I’m okay-ish”? Or “I just haven’t been able to make the time/financial/emotional commitment this year”? “i hope you found someone else to make up that income”?
Don’t know how to end
(Female pronouns for both me and my counselor)

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Every month (thanks to nice Patreon supporters!) we examine the things that people typed into search engines to find this place.

1. “My bf is younger to me by two years and is half bald..but still he criticizes my looks.”

Criticizing your partner’s looks is not a good dynamic. What would it take for both of you to decide “I like the way you look and will say only nice things about that“? Because that’s what you deserve.

2. “My husband hates when I masturbate.”

Has he explained why it bothers him? How does he know when you do it? Does he masturbate? What’s your sex life like together? What would happen if you masturbate anyway?

I think that the relationship you have with your own body is your business and even if he is uncomfortable with it you should still do it! But before anyone issues ultimatums or makes “rules” for the other person, it’s worth getting to the bottom of what this is really about. Control? Envy? Feeling left out?

3. “Tried to be friends after relationship but it didn’t work.” 

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Here’s a poem:

Friendship After Love
After the fierce midsummer all ablaze
    Has burned itself to ashes, and expires
    In the intensity of its own fires,
There come the mellow, mild, St. Martin days
Crowned with the calm of peace, but sad with haze.
    So after Love has led us, till he tires
    Of his own throes, and torments, and desires,
Comes large-eyed friendship: with a restful gaze,
He beckons us to follow, and across
    Cool verdant vales we wander free from care.
    Is it a touch of frost lies in the air?
Why are we haunted with a sense of loss?
We do not wish the pain back, or the heat;
And yet, and yet, these days are incomplete.

 

4. “How can I make my make my male crush whom we’ve been been chatting come visit me?”

There is no making, there is only asking. “Would you like to come visit me?”

5. “My boyfriend keeps following me wherever I go.”

This is creepy and smothering. What would happen if you told him you didn’t like this and asked him to stop?

If the thought of asking him to stop is scary to you – you can imagine him being furious or refusing to stop or “punishing” you somehow – think about calling a trained person and talking through some ways you can safely get away from this guy and his behavior.

6. “How to write a long overdue apology.”

Keep it simple. “I realize this is long overdue, but I want to tell you how very sorry I am for (what I did). I hope you are well. Sincerely, (you).”

Don’t ask the person for anything, don’t justify, just say you’re sorry and be specific/take ownership of what it is that you did to hurt them.

7. “How to say no after you’ve already said yes.”

“I know I said I would (do the thing), but I thought about it more and it turns out I won’t/can’t/don’t want to/won’t be able to. So sorry for the confusion/inconvenience/change of heart.”

8. “Husband always asking if I’m okay.”

Some questions come to mind:

Are you okay? Is everything okay?

Is there a question you wish he would ask instead?

Is there an elephant in the room?

Does he think that you seem tired/sad/down in the dumps/cranky/not quite yourself/are you behaving in a way that would make it seem like something is not okay?

Is HE okay? Like, is he asking you if you are because he wants to talk about something but doesn’t it want it to seem like his idea? Is he a particularly anxious person?

This could be an annoying tic he has or it could be that he’s observing something about your health/happiness and wanting to check in. Figure out the subtext of what this question really is.

9. “How I can creep sex my friend.”

a) Watch this video. Put on your Halloween costume. Ask your friend to put on their Halloween Costume and if the two of you can have sex with you while you both have your Halloween Costumes on. Creepy, right?

b) Go to Scarleteen. Read every article on the site. Especially look at anything about “consent.” Don’t have sex with anyone until you fully understand consent.

10. “Short story on boss seducing his junior wife for promotion.” 

I think the site you are looking for is called “Literotica.” It should have come up on the first page of search results, but, anyway, you’re welcome.

11. “Why does my mom find something negative in all my boyfriends?”

I don’t know, maybe but it’s worth asking her this directly. “Mom, why do you find something negative to say about all my boyfriends?” It could be she thinks that you have terrible taste, it could be that she thinks that you want her opinion, it could be a control thing. Has she noticed this pattern? 

12. “Staying with him just because he was your first sex.”

Staying with someone maybe needs more/better reasons than that? Ongoing, current reasons, like being in love and having a healthy, good relationship that makes you feel great in the present day?

13. “A guy who is still on dating sites after he proposes to you.”

This is definitely worth talking about. “Why are you still on dating sites even though you want to marry me? Can you help me understand?” Make sure you both have the same needs & assumptions around monogamy, commitment, what “cheating” is and isn’t, transparency, flirting, etc. and that you’re both comfortable and on the same page with this before you get married.

If he says he’s just looking for “new friends,” please remember: MeetUp.Com exists. There are ways to find new friends that are not dating sites and that don’t make you feel suspicious and uncomfortable.

14. “How to tell your son his girlfriend is not right for him.”

Realize that you only really get one shot at this, and that the end result might be your son distancing himself from you instead of leaving her. Is she mistreating him? Is your worry for him worth the risk of having him turn away from you?

Son, I know you love (girlfriend), but ever since you have been with her you seem really unhappy. There seems to always be conflict in your relationship, when I’ve seen you together she doesn’t seem to treat you with kindness or respect. I know as an outsider I don’t have the whole picture, but as someone who loves you and wants you to be happy, I don’t feel right staying quiet when I can see that you are suffering. I love you, and I’ll try my best to accept (girlfriend) for your sake as long as she’s in your life, but I hope you’ll think about what I said. You deserve to be with someone who treats you well.”

15. “9pm to 4am sexing”

Change your dating profile name to “Diligent Night Owl”?

16. “When a boyfriend wont introduce you to anyone in his life.”

This is never a sign that things are awesome, is it? Either something is fishy, like, he has another partner or spouse and you are a “side” relationship, or something is really messy with his family & friends and in trying to “spare you” the “drama” he is making you question his commitment and your place in his life, or he wants to keep you a secret for some reason. If you aren’t a Capulet and he isn’t a Montague and your families aren’t mortal enemies bent on mutual death and destruction, ask to be introduced. If he won’t introduce you, ask him directly, “Why not.” Maybe stop seeing him if he refuses or if the answer does not satisfy you.

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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