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Reader Questions

Dear Captain,

I am a female self-employed professional in a male dominated profession in her early 30s. My friend is a female of a similar age who is also a self-employed professional in the same profession. This person was my closest female friend in the profession. We would socialise and when things were going badly for me a couple of times in the last few years we have been friends, I would open up with her, share my problems and occasionally have a cry in her presence. I felt that we were open with each other and trusted each other.

Friend has some boundaries that surprise me, for example, even though she would seek out my company, once I went to hug her after not seeing her for some months, because I had been travelling, and she told me she doesn’t like to be hugged because she doesn’t like touching. I was surprised and found that unusual. Friend also asked not to be invited to my wedding in 2016 as friend “Hates weddings.” Again, I considered this an unusual request. I did not invite her but otherwise might have.

Friend became pregnant and was excited. I shared her excitement. She went on maternity leave shortly before the baby was due. I texted her offering to visit her at home if she wanted company (she demurred) and that I was looking forward to baby pictures. She send she would send photos.

Friend shares an office with another female self-employed professional in our profession (lady). One night weeks later, around November 2017, I was socialising with professionals in our field and I meet lady. Knowing lady shares an office with friend, I asked her how friend was. Lady shared the devastating news that friend’s pregnancy spontaneously terminated at a late stage and her baby was stillborn. I was shocked and saddened and expressed this. I immediately asked lady for friend’s address so I could send flowers. Lady responded firmly “Friend doesn’t want flowers”. I was surprised. I asked if lady would give me friend’s address so I could send a condolence card. Lady responded, “Friend doesn’t want contact with anyone. All messages are to go through an email address operated by friend’s sister.” I asked lady to send me that email address. Lady said she would. Lady didn’t send the email and I felt uncomfortable chasing lady about it given the no flowers/no cards information I had been given. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of emailing friend’s sister, who I have never meant. I did not contact friend, or friend’s sister, out of respect for friend’s wishes, even though I very much wanted to share my condolences with her.

Finally, on New Year’s eve I texted friend saying that I was thinking of her, I had heard her terrible news, I was there for her if she needed support but that if she did not want ever to discuss the matter that would be okay with me. I wished her a better 2018. I got no reply.

Friend returned to work in January 2018. I work in a separate building and did not see friend for some months. I was waiting for her to reach out to me. She didn’t. I texted her a couple times offering to catch up for lunch or a drink. My texts were either ignored or she responded one word: “Can’t”. I let it go.

I saw her tonight at a networking event. It is now about 5 or 6 months since the still birth. I have not seen her since several weeks before her maternity leave. I approached her and she was civil, but not friendly. She barely smiled that evening. I was unsure whether her behaviour was directed towards me or whether she is just miserable. I made an effort to be friendly but to also give her space. I did not mention the still birth. She did not go out of her way to speak to me or say anything like, “Let’s catch up.” I left the event that night without saying goodbye to her, though it is possible she might have previously left without saying goodbye to me. Overall, friend’s behaviour was markedly cold.

I now feel like friend has placed me in an awkward position. I feel like friend has pushed me away. I don’t know if this is because friend felt like I was not there after her still birth, but I complied with lady’s “no contact” instructions. I feel like I can’t mention the still birth at this point because friend clearly did not want condolences at the time. It also feels deeply wrong to me to just smile and treat friend like nothing happened. I now feel like I’m walking on eggshells with friend and just wish that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do.

What, if anything, should I do? Should I accept that for whatever reason (and I have no idea why) friend no longer wants to be my friend? For the record I have no kids and am not currently trying, so there is no awkwardness about my family situation vs hers. It is now at the point where I am starting to feel secretly angry at friend for making me second guess how I should behave around her. My male friend has told me, when I have asked about it, to “just act normal”, but the problem is that friend is not acting normal towards me. I don’t know if I can, or should, try to fix it. I also don’t feel like continually putting myself out there to be rejected by friend. It is getting to the point where I am questioning whether to just let the friendship go, but it seems like a strangely unnecessary outcome. I have tried to be compassionate and respectful towards friend all along.

Thanks,

Puzzled

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Captain Awkward,

I’ve found myself in a really damn sticky situation. I’m polyamorous. I just recently told my partner, we’ve been together for 18 months this June, we’re engaged, and we have a kid together. (For anonymity, I’ll be referring to my partner as Darin and our son as Ash.) I love Darin, and I love our son, before they came along, I didn’t know that kind of love was possible. I want to grow old with them. But I’ve recently figured out I’m polyamorous, and I told Darin, and he had said, ‘If you wanna go out with other people you do realise that we’d break up, right?’ And obviously, that’s the last thing that I want. But I feel really strongly that if I don’t explore my polyamoury, I’m doing myself a disservice. I feel like some part of me is saying, ‘You have to do this, if you don’t, you’re killing yourself.’ And there’s this guy, who I’ll refer to as Fireball, who I like and who likes me, and I did our natal chart for compatibility and we’re basically made for each other, unlike me and Darin’s which was 3/4 negativity and challenge.

My question is really, I feel like I need to do something about my polyamoury, like if I don’t, I feel like my Soul is dying, but my partner isn’t cool with it, and I have no idea what to do.

Thanks,
–I Don’t Want to be a B*tch to My Fiancé

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Hey Captain,

I spend most of my tender youth in an abusive relationship that really fucked with my sense of what is normal. I’ve had lots of therapy to come to terms with it but honestly, I think at this point that it’s just going to be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, so there isn’t really a “when I’m better” timeline I can look forward to. And yeah, that sucks, but I’m handling it as best I can. That’s not what I’m writing to you about.

After that relationship, and a couple of flings here and there, I met with a wonderful man I’ll call John. I originally intended to keep it casual but John was just such a lovely person that I quickly found I didn’t actually want that. He deserves a whole heart, and I wanted to offer it to him, so we got serious.

John was patient, understanding, supportive, honest, and loving to me. I tried my best to skirt the line of caring deeply for him and trying to protect myself from flinging into the terrifying bottomless pit of love without restraint that ate me alive before, and I don’t think I completely succeeded, because after about a year of dating he dumped me. It was a few things. I wasn’t as emotionally available as he deserved, he wasn’t as upfront about his insecurities as I deserved, and there was a maturity mismatch (John is a little bit younger than me, and I’m jaded as all fuck). He also said he had a “list of pros and cons” about dating me that just… does not compute in my head. I just can’t think that way, so his words on it really cut me deeply. We parted with a lot of crying and hugs, but I think he was right, and it was for the best.

The problem is this: I miss John terribly. I think I might still be in love with him because after all that I still can’t think of anything substantially negative to say about him. And he asked me if we can get together for coffee. I know closure is a myth, but mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)

Part of me is terrified that one look at that suave grin of his will have me head over heels all over again. Part of me is certain that there’s nothing he can say that will get me to hook up with him again. Part of me thinks that even thinking about it is just a terrible idea altogether. And part of me wants to prove to myself that I’m not unlovable, that I’m not destined to make every ex hate me forever, and that I can stop fucking someone and still be good enough to be cared about.

So…. how do I know when/if I’m ready to see him again?

Hopefully,

How do I human? (She/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Howdy. I’m 26 and currently living with my mother. She likes to buy gifts for people. Sometimes I come home from work and there will be a little present on my bed, like a little stuffed pug. It’s cute, and I appreciate the thought, but I have no space for a stuffed pug. What am I going to do with it? I literally don’t have room for it on a shelf or something.

A few months ago we were shopping together and she wanted to buy me a suitcase. I told her the trip I had been going on in a year had been canceled. She showed me a brightly colored suitcase with elephants all over it that cost $80. I said it was cute, but not my style. The next week, she had a surprise for me. She had bought me that suitcase.

Today I came home from work and she had several gifts for me. She had bought me a clothes hamper. I already own a clothes hamper, which I showed to her. She said she didn’t see it there, but anyway this one is bigger. That means it wouldn’t fit where I keep my hamper. She said this one has wheels on it. I live up a flight of stairs. She also bought me a big metal tumbler to take to work – I don’t carry refillable tumblers because I always forget them places, and they make the water taste weird, and my job actually just gave me one with the company logo on it this afternoon – and a portable phone charger – I already own one. I did not list the Reasons I Don’t Want The Things. I just thanked her for all the things.

I love my mom, and I know I’m so lucky to have someone who cares enough about me and has the funds to buy me presents at Target while I’m at work. But I do not want the things she is giving me. I can’t use them. I don’t have space to keep them anywhere. And I can’t give them to people who would want them because I live in her house. How do I curb the gifting without hurting her feelings?

Hello:

Curbing the gift-giving will almost certainly hurt, or at least bother, her feelings, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You’re not obligated to live your life under a pile of her stuff/feelings. And there are potentially a lot of feelings here, from wanting to mother and care for you to wanting to choose things based on her idea of you mixed with wanting an excuse to buy things and telling herself that it’s for her kid gives her license to shop (I will not even hazard a guess as to the ratio in play here).

Next time she buys you something, you could say “Mom, thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t use it.” 

She will explain how it’s great and you totally can use it either now or “someday.”

“Mom, let me rephrase: I like the one I have now, and I don’t want or need this one. But if you can use it, you should keep it.” 

This will be very awkward and hard. You will be under a lot of pressure to keep/take/hold onto whatever it is. She might get very agitated and accuse you of being ungrateful for how much she cares for you. You might have to say something like, “Mom, I understand it means a lot to you to give me things, but I know that you also taught me to be thoughtful about space and money and to be honest with you. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I also don’t want another [elephant suitcase/laundry hamper that doesn’t fit my room]. How can we resolve this?” 

She’s probably hearing “I don’t need an insulated soup mug” as “I don’t need you, Mom.” That can be both true and not your fault at the same time. It’s okay to be really honest with her about how all of this makes you feel. “You are so thoughtful and loving, and when you buy me presents I know you want to communicate that you were thinking of me and are taking care of me. But what I need right now is for you to listen to me and to respect me – I don’t need or want more stuff right now. I’d rather…

  • …see you buy nice presents for yourself!”
  • …spend that money on experiences we can enjoy together – a theater or concert subscription, or save up for a nice trip we can take together.
  • …find a charity that’s doing good work and buy all the stuff on their wish list.” 
  • …pop a little more money into savings so that when I’m ready to get my own place you can help me deck it out in style!”*
  • …have you write me a sweet note or card instead.” 
  • …pick out my own [suitcases, etc.]

Whatever she says, to make this work long-term, you’re going to have to have a plan for what to do if she just won’t take whatever it is back or stop buying you things. It’s fine to communicate that you have a boundary, but if you don’t enforce it the other person will ignore it. You say “And I can’t give them to people who would want them because I live in her house” but I think it’s time to reexamine that, because you also can’t keep it all in your room! Repeat after me: Once a gift is given it is yours to do with what you want.

I recommend returning the item to a space that is primarily your mom’s and leaving it (and her feelings) there. You might have to let things awkwardly pile up there for her to either absorb into her life or return to the store. Or you can return it to the store for cash or store credit (that you should feel free to quietly hold onto), or absolutely re-gift it/donate it somewhere it can be used. And you will have to be consistent, like, a thing you can’t use => say “thanks, but I can’t use it/don’t want it” => put it in the usual place you put stuff you can’t use. If she doesn’t like seeing the hall closet fill up with stuff she bought you, or she gets mad when you donate that elephant suitcase to someone who can use it, maybe over time she will stop buying you stuff you don’t need? We can hope.

*If gift-giving is your mom’s favorite way of showing she loves you, if you get your own place eventually it will be both a relief and a new front in this battle, as she starts trying to fill your new house up with stuff and your tastes and wants are pushed aside in favor of hers. If you have kids someday, get ready for giant inconvenient gifts to them that fill up your house. I think you are going to end up donating a lot, and I mean A LOT, of housewares to local charitable organizations or taking them back to stores for a refund.

Good luck with talking to her. “I know you love me, but you’re not listening to me/seeing my actual needs” is a difficult, primal conflict to have with a parent and it’s bound to get a little bit messy for a while. This kind of thing is also hard to push back against, because to people who don’t know what it’s like to not be listened to or respected in the face of someone’s chosen style of showing love it sounds like good problem, like, “Oh, I wish my mom bought me presents! You’re so lucky!” You don’t have to listen to those people, or just keep accepting piles of stuff – it’s okay that you don’t like this and want it to change. Hopefully if you stay consistent you can curb at least some of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear wonderful Captain,

I’m coming to you with a question you’ve answered several versions of before, but not quite for my exact circumstances. So I beg your indulgence.

I’m a mid-thirties woman, and my problem is that men hit on me. All the time. And I’d like to change my behavior, if doing so is reasonable, in order to make that happen less.

My looks are thoroughly average. What I have going for me, though, is charm – or charisma – or magnetism – or whatever you call it. I’m confident and funny and I listen well and I’m truly interested in other people. I get along easy with just about everyone. Illustrative incident: a great new cafe opened up near work, and I have been there every day this past week meeting various people (a friend, a first date, a volunteer coordinator, my writer’s group). On Friday, the barista came up to my table and said she’d really like to get to know me because she loved the interesting conversations I had with so many people, and she doesn’t even care that that sounds creepy. We laughed our heads off. We exchanged numbers. It was fun.

It’s not so great when many men I know either hit on me or end up developing feelings for me, and I keep having to do the rejection dances and often losing people I like and/or need. I was shielded from this for a long time because I was married. But I’ve recently gotten divorced, and this THING just keeps on happening.

When it’s a stranger or a low-key interaction of some kind, it’s easy for me to smile and say “That’s really nice, thank you, but no,” and keep going.

But sometimes it’s inconvenient. Like, my contractor, who is fully 25 years older than I am, says flirty things all the time and texts me that we should run away to an island together. IDK how to get him to back off without risking losing this thing rarer than unicorns – a good, affordable contractor.

Sometimes it makes me angry, like when a coworker asked me out, and after I politely said no, claimed he hadn’t been asking me out in “that way” at all, and then stopped talking to me, which makes me peevish because what the hell. What if it had been someone I actually need to work with?

Sometimes it’s genuinely uncomfortable. A casual friend who happened to go through a divorce at the same time as me tried really hard to get with me just because it was happening to us at the same time. I told him no, and he didn’t back off, so I had to stop talking to him.

Sometimes it’s just SAD. A beloved friend whom I only know online through my writer’s group confessed today that he’s caught feelings, “I’m a little bit in love with you.” This is actually what’s making me write to you. I hate this shit, Captain. What the fuck even. This guy is sweet and kind and as two people who are working on memoirs, we know some deep shit about each other. This guy is sound, so I know I won’t lose his friendship just because I say no. But it’s different now. I can’t share my writing with him anymore, not least because I’m writing about dating these days, and obviously it would be unkind to him to have to read that.

I’m just so sad today. And I think I’ve been sad about this for a long time, just never acknowledged it because as long as I could “deal”, I could not justify feeling bad about it to my feminist conscience.

But now I won’t deny it. This makes me sad, and upset, and I want to change this pattern if I can. What can I do to stop sending out these vibes, Captain?

There are wrinkle to this story:

1. I grew up with extremely repressive and abusive parents who hated it if I ever had friends and disowned me when I told them I had a crush on a boy. Not kidding. I was 18. A few years after that I married a man who was verbally and emotionally abusive, just always angry with me for whatever reason, punishing me with endless silences or yelling etc. For 30-something years of my life, I lived with people who have disliked me. I’m sure that messed with my head. It feels weird, weird, weird to realize people like the real me. Therapy helps, but it’s still a process.

2. While I always did have SOME friends through both childhood and marriage, I had much fewer chances to socialize. I feel like since my separation two years ago, I’ve finally come into my own. I can finally be myself without my mother calling me a slut or my asocial ex accusing me of being “fake” friendly.

3. I’ve had this problem with unwanted male attention since I was 11 years old. As a child I was blamed for it. IDK why I share this, except to say I’ve always had this issue, and I think I have felt bad about it for a very long time.

Anyway. That’s my super long question. As a good and faithful Captain Awkward reader for years, and also by dint of being a mouthy bitch from the day I learned to speak, I don’t believe I have boundary issues. What I have are maybe personality issues? Or something?

I just… I don’t know anymore. Can you help me?

– The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had

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Dear Captain Awkward,

How do I respond to the ‘what are you looking for’ question? It feels like no matter what I say it’s never the right answer. If I say I want a relationship I feel like that reads as ‘I’m desperate to get married and have babies’ which I’m not (been there, done that). And, if I say I’m open to something casual then it reads as ‘I have no self-worth, this is an open invitation for you to use me for sex without any regard for my feelings or basic human decency’ (100% nope). I also hate that I might unintentionally give the other person certain expectations or drive them away before I’ve had a chance to get to know them and figure out what, if anything, I want from them.

Personally, I don’t go looking for a particular type of relationship. I just look for someone I connect with and hope that we are both on the same page. Sometimes it leads to a long-term monogamous relationship, sometimes it leads to something more casual but equally fulfilling, sometimes it leads to a whole lot of drama, and sometimes it doesn’t lead to anything.

Personally I’m open to a range of relationship options – depending on who the other person is, what our chemistry is like, and what else is going on in my life at the time. The only things I am 100% not open to are BS drama and being treated like crap.

So how do I answer the question in a way that helps me filter out the jerks and time wasters whilst still keeping my options open?

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