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Reader Questions

Captain,

It might be selfish, but I need to break up with this guy. We’ve been going out for just about 4 months, and for over a month of this time, I have been on the receiving end of hearing about how terrible this guy’s life is and how I’m the only thing that makes him happy.

I have listened, I have offered advice when asked (and I have been asked a lot), I have…probably put up with this for longer than I should have. I am no longer having fun with him.

He goes on and on about how his ex (with whom he has a son) is working behind his back to take their kid to live abroad without his “permission”, or how his work is so hard and he just doesn’t want to go in any more.

On the rare occasion he does ask how I am, he makes it about him again (“I get you. That’s like when I…”). If I try to take a night off to just do me, I get a barrage of messages asking “Did I upset you? What did I do wrong?”.

He admits he’s depressed…and he refuses to get help because he doesn’t “believe in therapy, because therapists just sit there and nod”. I actually find this a little bit insulting, because I’ve had therapy. He keeps telling me that, no, I actually just worked it out myself because I’m so “awesome and strong”.

…No. I worked with a qualified professional for over two years, and I have worked hard to get to the stage where I realise that this relationship isn’t healthy, and I probably need to get out.

I need to break up with him, because on a good day I have just about enough mental health spoons to deal with me. But…I feel bad because, well, I’m his girlfriend. Should I be able to deal with some of his spoons, too?

I know I am not responsible for his emotional well-being, but…how do I tell him nicely that I can’t be with him because I don’t want to go into a spiral myself, but without feeling guilty about him maybe not sorting himself out?

Kind regards,

I’ve Been Through This, I Can’t Do It Again

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Dear Captain Awkward…

I started seeing a man who claimed he and his wife were ok to seek outside relationships. He said the friendship of those outside liaisons was important to him. Seemed on-board; I heard his wife mention one or two outside-the-marriage dalliances.

I fell into an emotional clusterfuck with him. I truly didn’t want to be his “primary”, I didn’t want to tear him from his family, but I was emotionally invested in him on some level. He could be utterly sweet and he initiated daily conversation, but it often felt all about him. I told him how it bothered me when he reached out and shared a bunch of info and then proceeded to act what I thought was dismissively to what I told him. He said it wasn’t intentional but it always happened again. Were we fuck buddies, I wouldn’t have expected anything but because of the “friendship”, I was stupid enough to want the support and consistency that I get from my closest friends. But when it was good…it was goddamn magical.

1 year in, I learned that we’d crossed a line. I never got a succinct explanation but it related to the fact that our relationship was emotional, not just physical; they weren’t that open. He wanted to continue, secretly. I was unwilling to forego my attachment, so I stayed, for the magic and the self-absorption.

One day, after he dropped plans with me in what I thought was a crass way, I had a come-to-Jesus moment that I just didn’t matter to him when he didn’t need a distraction. I left. It’s been months. I hear from him sometimes because he wants to remain friends, but he’s been respectful of my request for way less contact and he isn’t trying to be amorous. But I don’t know what to do. Not talking has been awful, but talking brings back memories and leaves me wanting. I miss the intimacy but I’m emotionally drained. I don’t want to cheat but I kind of do. I feel like a failure and an asshole and like he has all the answers. I torture myself with thoughts that he’s found someone else. And I love him, but I think it’s ego that is truly driving my consideration of staying in touch with him. I’m so fucked up (I know this letter sounds awful).

What is wrong with me? Why is it I feel sick to my stomach about not having him in my life anymore, but I feel sick to my stomach about some of our interactions? Please e-slap some sense into me. I hate this and I can’t seem to get myself out of this rabbit hole.

Dear Letter Writer In A Rabbit Hole:

No slaps for you. You crossed paths with a charismatic liar who toyed with your heart and you feel like a pathetic asshole. It happens. Now we do damage control.

Step 1: Write him a message that says some version of “It’s time to let all of this go, please don’t contact me anymore.

Step 2: Block his number. Block him on all social media platforms. Block his email. BLOCK HIM. It’s time to go cold turkey and stop wondering “what if?” about this dude. You can take complete control of this situation by choosing to end it. The thing that makes it all better is time and distance away from him, and you can’t get the benefits of those things until you take them for yourself.

Step 3: Here is a really good song, called Better Things by the late (eff you forever, 2016), great Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

Listen to it on repeat. How long?  All of 2017, probably. Listen until the words are true.

Step 4: Get in touch with nice people who love you and who you can count on and spend time with them. Remind yourself that there are lots of kinds of love in this world and that you are connected to many other people who think you are important and value your time and who don’t suck you into weird cheating dynamics.

Step 5: Do some good stuff for the world. Bug your elected officials about things that are important to you. Find a neat volunteer gig that brings you in contact with new people. You need to distract yourself from texting some crap dude and the world could frankly use the energy you’re spending on thinking about him right now.

Step 6: Be nice to your body, whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s getting a massage, or a really great haircut, or culling your closet of things that don’t look or feel right, or getting enough sleep, or stretching for 10 minutes every morning. Maybe it’s dancing your ass off with friendly strangers for a few hours. Find a friendly not-creepy feminist sex shop and stock up on accoutrements and go to town on yourself.

How this dude made you feel in your body felt addictively good, I’m thinking. But he’s not the only source of that goodness – your body and its goodness belongs to you. Reclaim it.

Step 7: When you think of him, and you will think of him, acknowledge the moment and then move on. Don’t linger – distract yourself with something else. “I miss (Darth Vader). I’ll probably miss him for a while. Not gonna text him though. Oh look, kittens.

Step 8: What plans and dreams were you putting on hold while you dallied with this guy? Work plans, study plans, art plans, travel plans, daydreams? It’s time to dig back into that stuff and throw yourself at it as hard as you know how. DO THE THING.

Step 9: Forgive yourself.

Step 10: Forgive yourself.

Step 11: When you’re finally feeling like yourself again, these exes have a way of coming out of the woodwork back into your sphere of attention. I don’t know why, they just do. Be ready, ignore whatever bullshit he says, don’t respond to any messages from him, don’t hug him or “get coffee” and catch up with him. Sing along with Sharon. Laugh at the insipid stuff he says to try to get back in your pants. You’ve got better things to do than spend any more time thinking about that dude.

Step 12: Let time do its work. You WILL heal and you WILL get over him.

All love, no slaps,

Captain “I have been there” Awkward

*They’ve got a holiday album, btw. It’s so great.

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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Dear Captain,

This is a bit messy, please bear with me… One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie. Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship. She says she is not jealous, but she’s mean to me every time we meet, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to her. I’ve made several attempts to build bridges, and she’s burned them every time. At this point Katie has stopped talking to me altogether, which is kind of a relief, I guess. I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.

John and I never really got over our almost-relationship. The other day we finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: that we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that. To summarize, John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge. I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately. I have no love for Katie, but I don’t want to hurt her and I don’t want to be responsible for a breakup… But I care deeply about John and want to be his submissive, even if it is in kind-of-secret… I’m in such a tangled web I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Yours,
Lovelorn Sub

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Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

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Hi Captain!

Longtime reader, very rare commenter but I think you generally give excellent advice so I’m giving it a shot. I’ll try to keep this relatively brief – I’m having an existential problem surrounding life milestones, etc. I’m 25 and have generally been pretty successful in my life – I’ve been academically successful, I have a law degree and a good job, and I have a really good group of friends, most of whom have been in my life for many years.

What I haven’t had is a whole lot of romantic relationships. This is generally fine with me. I really value my personal space and don’t generally crave the kind of constant companionship that comes with serious relationships. I’ve dumped people for “liking me too much” (ie, coming on too strong, wanting a kind of closeness I wasn’t comfortable with, etc). I’ve had one relationship that I would classify as “semi-serious” with a much older man that I met several years ago (we are still close and sometimes physically involved but not currently “in a relationship”). This relationship used to cause me a lot of emotional pain but I’m at peace with it now and don’t consider it a source of stress in my life. Additionally, I am kind of wary of men (I haven’t been raped or abused, fortunately, but have had the same experiences as a lot of women – sexual harassment, etc, lots of friends who are survivors) and am generally not one to give men “benefit of the doubt” when I’m uninterested or uncomfortable.

The problem is, certain family members seem to consistently insinuate that I need to “fix” my dating life. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning that I eventually might be interested in marriage/kids, which has apparently given these family members permission to ask about why I’m not dating, give unsolicited advice about my dating life or lack thereof, and critique the way I interact with men. These family members did not approve of my previous relationship (and I understand why, although it’s truly none of their business) and seem to be motivated by a desire to see me “move on” from it. I always feel like they’re trying to tell me there’s something wrong with me for not being all that interested in dating; I’m also a pretty private person and don’t tend to talk about people I casually date/am interested in.

I’m at an age where a lot of my friends are in serious relationships and some are married, and the pressure is starting to get to me. Eventually, a relationship would be nice. I love kids and would like to have some of my own someday. But I need to do it on my own timeline, when I’m comfortable, when I figure out what I want and what I need. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m not bisexual. Scripts like “I don’t want to talk about my dating life/relationships” have only been interpreted as an invitation to “push” harder from these family members, and this lack of respect for my boundaries seems to be fraying my familial relationships that are really important to me. I want to be close with my family but I’m also an adult and need people to mind their own business, and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?

Best,

Single and Stressed (she/her)

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Oh captain, my captain!

I have been with my partner for 5 years and our families get on well. For the past year we have been living in his parents house, but up until about two weeks ago his parents were living abroad and we were looking after the house while trying to save money. Now we’ve found a home and are moving in very shortly.

My partner says his parents love me and for the most part they have been great to us, helping give us a head start in our adult lives.

There is however, one point where me and his mother really butt heads; she was raised in a predominantly catholic country with anti-choice laws and is anti-choice/pro-life, I am pro-choice and work for an abortion provider.

We have gotten into some hot debates about this before (all initiated by her) and I have purposely dodged the subject and not bought into it when this subject has come up. When I first started working where I work I told my partner not to tell her where I work, and was perfectly prepared to never tell her as I was worried about her reaction, somehow she figured out where I worked and hasn’t made an issue of it though(until tonight).

But just a couple of hours before writing this email we had a pretty bad one.

It started with us having a nice chat about general topics including family. She bought her pro-life views up a couple of times and I either ignored it or moved us to a slightly different subject because I could feel the topic moving in that direction and desperately didn’t want it to. At one point she said ‘we wont get into a debate again’. Guess what happened.

She accused me of having no emotion about the issue, of not having the facts, of misunderstanding the women I’m trying to help, of not providing the sort of help they really need, of buying into propaganda, of being passive aggressive, continually interrupted me, firing questions while not answering mine, raising her voice, continually said “your lot” and “you people”, insinuated that the post-partum depression my friend suffered from was due to an abortion she had 10 years earlier, telling me she’s done her research on the issue and knows what she’s talking about whereas I haven’t (ironically when I suggested asking one of our nurses a question on development on her behalf she said that they would just tell me what I wanted to hear) and basically just telling me she’s right, I’m bad at my job and don’t know what I’m talking about.

She at one point pointed out that I was “getting nervous” because I was being faced with “the facts” I told her I don’t like confrontation and she insisted this wasn’t a confrontation. (Actually the reason I was shaking is the outside door right next to me was open and I find it noteworthy that she didn’t back off despite noticing nervousness in me).

At another point I said, somewhat lightheartedly hoping to salvage the conversation, “you said we weren’t going to have a debate” and she accused me of back pedaling because I was being faced with questions I couldn’t answer.

It ended after a particularly hot point in the argument where she refused to accept the answer I gave, she went quiet for a moment and it seemed to end so I said “can I go to bed now I have work tomorrow” and she said “there you go, passive aggressive, you lot are always so persecuted aren’t you, I wasn’t keeping you here love” and left the room.

I think in many ways my possible-future-MIL is a tremendous woman and I respect her very much. But I don’t ever want to have this sort of conversation with her again. I am fine with accepting that we will never agree on this issue, i’m not the sort of person who needs everyone to agree with me. I do not like confrontation and up to a certain point someone having a different stance on an issue is something I can deal with just fine. But tonight it felt like she hates me. Once I got upstairs I felt angry, sick and kind of like I was going to cry. It felt like sheer contempt. I have an anxiety disorder which doesn’t help the whole confrontation thing and I feel like i cant bare going downstairs tomorrow. Because I was raised to respect my elders and she’s possibly-my-future-MIL i’m sorta scared of her (p.s. this is the same woman who told me if I got pregnant with ‘her grandchild’ she would “let” me have an abortion or put it up for adoption) and don’t know how to/want to bring this issue up with her.

Do you have any scripts/survival tactics for my situation?

Thanks,
Not up for a debate

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