Reader Questions

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner and I have been together for 6 years and we recently moved to another country where I know the language and have some friends. My partner has been focused on jump-starting his freelance career and doesn’t have many friends in our new country, nor does he know the language very well. Over the last few months, there has been some major conflict culminating in a moment when I made him feel stupid and blamed for us leaving an event my friend was having. This was all accidental on my part, but I have taken ownership of my words and actions. Since then he has made it clear that that moment has colored the relationship and he can no longer move forward. He is still here until we go back for a visit to our home country in a month and during this time we have been acting like normal – planning future trips, being in love. I had asked him to give me a chance to show him that I can balance out the past with our future. Today, I asked for an update and although he says that he sees me being a more supportive partner, he still feels like he can’t continue this relationship. What can I do in this next month to “re-color” the relationship? He is giving me this chance because he wants to be with me, but he feels “burnt out”. How do we heal and move forward? Is it possible?

Partner with a Past

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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:

A girl I’ve been seeing for 5 weeks broke up with me and it hit me really hard. It took me a night to realize that I had attributed a lot of emotional weight to staying over at her place on week 4, when she asked me to come over and stay the night . So when we had the break up talk the week after that, I felt completely blindsided.

In my mind, staying the night means we are Officially In A Relationship. I was already imagining meeting her friends and hopefully eventually her family, stuff like that. In the days following that night, she invited me to a gathering with her friends and also to a dinner her friend invited both of us to, so it seemed like my expectations of what that night meant were holding true; up to that point I hadn’t met any of her friends. And then a week later she wanted to break up.

I told her my feelings about that night during the breakup, and her response was the typical “you built up too much of this relationship too fast, maybe slow it down in the future.” But I really don’t think I can change how I feel about staying the night with someone. Based on talking to some friends, it seems like people my age don’t attach nearly as much weight to this as I do, as it’s just one of Those Things You Do in a new relationship. Is there anything I can do to resolve this disparity in the future when dating someone new?

Basic background: I’m 28 years old and I didn’t start dating until I was 25. The longest relationship I’ve been in was 6 weeks. I’ve read about attachment patterns in adults and I solidly fall into the anxious-preoccupied model.

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Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,

I recently accepted a position in a line of work that is brand new for me, exciting, mentally stimulating, and will enable me to finally be financially stable. This is all great.


Except for one co-worker, a trainee who was hired on at the same time as me and is in the same stage of training.

This co-worker has a bad habit of openly watching me and waiting for me to screw something up. Then she loves to make a big deal about it and “correct” my errors. Laughs loudly and points it out to the senior techs.

I realize that this is not a big deal. But, I have some issues with being watched. Growing up, my mom threatened my siblings and me with hiding cameras in the house to make sure we weren’t “sinning” or doing anything wrong while both parents were gone (we were latchkey kids, and I was the authority on site, as oldest kid). She was just off enough that we believed her. It created an environment of deep suspicion and paranoia growing up.

I was recently diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder as well. So being watched with the obvious intent to catch me screwing up + being around strange people in general= a perpetually nervous me. I am very competent and have historically received high reviews on my work… as long as I wasn’t being micro-managed or stared at.

Obviously I don’t want the anxiety she gives me to translate into actual poor performance. I really enjoy this job. It involves animals, who are naturally more receptive to hyper-aroused states in their human handlers. I don’t want my anxiety translating into anxiety for them.

I’m working on the anxiety and self esteem issues with my therapist, as well as dealing with the weird shit left over from my past.

What I need help with is a script or scripts for dealing with this co-worker. Polite requests to allow my trainer to train me and correct any errors have been met with complete brush-offs and stories of what an amazing manager/student/daughter/sister she is, which clearly makes her more qualified to police me.


Visibly Anxious

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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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Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

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Dear Captain,

My husband is suddenly moving abroad. Unilateral decision. Expected me to follow with the teenagers even though I said, before he made plans, that I had no intention of moving abroad and that it was terrible timing for the children. I have many, obvious, practical reasons to not move abroad (like a business) that he glossed over with wishful thinking. He made no practical considerations. Just got a job and a plane ticket. In the space of three weeks. He leaves in a few days.

I’ve been too stunned, confused, full of various emotions, busy with practical considerations, and uncertain of their responses to want to tell my friends. Our long-standing marriage troubles and previous attempted solutions, such as therapy and mini-separations, have been kept private. Except once when I tried to mention something minor to one friend who was rather unexpectedly and hurtfully self-focused, dismissive, and judgmental.

Well, now he’ll be gone, I can’t hide that, I would love moral and practical support, but I expect they’ll have some questions and I don’t know many answers. Nothing is certain about future plans. (We will have a legal agreement concerning finances and such that I’m happy with.) I’m not sure how friends will react. I’m not too worried about acquaintances at the moment, but I don’t know what to say to my closest friends. (None of us are on Facebook and one of us isn’t online at all, so social media and mass email announcements are out.) Can you help me with a script and ideas for when to deploy it?

Thank you, Captain!


Window in my Heart

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