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Dear Captain Awkward,

Okay, so I just typed my whole question and realized it is wayyyyy longer than 400 words. The 400 word question is:

My boyfriend gets defensive and dramatic when we have a conflict. While I try to offer solutions and compromises to our problems, he gets to a breaking point and responds with, “Well, then let’s just break up then,” or, “Well, then I don’t want to hang out with you tonight/you made me not want to hang out with you.” This doesn’t seem fair and I have told him often that it’s not okay with me to just drop a bomb like that in order to end what could be not a big deal. These kinds of terrible conversations usually end poorly, then he smokes some weed, then he comes back and apologizes and says he won’t do that again -> the cycle begins again. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there?

The whole fabu story is:

My boyfriend (male, he/him) and I (female, she/her) had a classic meet cute in 2015. Me: flat tire. Him: AAA truck driver changing the tire. I asked him out and we had a great first date where he revealed that he would have asked me out if he had not been working, but he wanted to be professional (applause break). This made me feel better about his desire to go on the date. I also, as I do on all first dates, asked him if he smoked, because I refuse to date people who smoke any sort of anything. He said that he used to, cigarettes and weed, but that he had quit “a while ago” to focus on his goal of entering the military (he was 24, no college degree; now 27, and me 28) to better his life.

A few things happened next, in this order and from my perspective:
– Two months later he was rejected from entering the military due to his psoriasis.
– He went from very communicative and sweet via texts and calls to aloof and almost avoidant. It was like pulling teeth to get him on the phone or to make plans.
– He focused a lot of time on hanging out with his cousin. Cousin is in his 30s, is hiding from a felony(ies?) in Oregon, and lives with his mom in California. Boyfriend was, when we met, living with them in a town about a half hour away from me.
– Because he spent more time with Cousin, Boyfriend began smoking weed again, though it seemed to be occasional, once or twice a month.
– Four months into the relationship, my roommate left in a dramatic fashion. Boyfriend offered to move in. He did move stuff in, purchase a TV, and pay rent, but he still spent majority of his time at Cousin’s house.
– Six months later we decided to find a different place because he wanted a garage to work on cars and I wanted a more peaceful town. We found one and moved in. I did the work beforehand of, “Let’s make sure we don’t stop dating each other. You’re not around much in this current place, and I’m not clear how that will change in a new place. Are you sure you don’t want to get a studio for yourself or live with a friend before making this commitment? We are now going to make decisions as a team. Are you in this for building a life together?” He said he was on board.
– I had fallen very much in love and was trying to be patient with the new smoking habit and poor life decisions. I agreed to move in as long as no smoking happened inside of the house. He agreed.
– Many, many things happened after the shine wore off (or that wore the shine off) such as he smoked in the house while I was on vacation and then turned it around on me when I asked him why and could he please not do that again and to respect my/our space (apparently that makes me controlling), but what it all boils down to is that smoking marijuana slowly went from once in a while to every day all day/can’t function without it/is using phrases like “I need it” and also smoking cigarettes and also getting faded on weed and alcohol often.

We have had many fights about the marijuana because I am concerned for his wellbeing. He and I disagree on whether the drug itself is beneficial, and so with him I mostly focus on the fact that not-oxygen is entering his lungs, shortening his lifespan (and his Married Friend is concerned about the getting faded). I have told him that I really prefer him when he’s sober and asked him to please lessen his usage, for example, only on weekends. Whenever I try to have calm talks about this with him and explain that a compromise is not an order, and that if he does not like the suggested compromise, he can counter-offer, and if we try that compromise and down the road it is not working, we can come back to the table and re-assess and adjust, the conversation quickly devolves from calm (mostly devolving on his side, though in early convos I will admit to engaging in teary emotional warfare) as he becomes defensive and combative, tells me that I am controlling, that no one can tell him what to do, that I am unreasonable, etc.

Then he smokes some weed and 20 minutes later he is apologetic and everything I say is correct and he loves me and he will try not to treat me that way again.

Welp. I think you know where this is going.

After a lot of these, he moved out and back in with Felon Cousin. This was not my favorite decision because Boyfriend said that he needed to move out to grow up and find himself and have independence. This is what I had tried to see if he needed pre-move in, and I guess maybe he had agreed to move in on wishful thinking? I don’t know. I can respect that impulse to want space, but I personally don’t see how moving in with Felon Cousin and Felon Cousin’s Mom who smoke weed together and play video games when Mom is not at work is conducive to Boyfriend getting his life together. I tried to say this more tactfully and respectfully. I told him I can’t make him stay, but that I hear his goals (wants to do something in the music industry, wants to build his own house someday) and that I’m not clear on how this step achieves them, etc. He considered this, but he still moved in with them. (This is a big deal for me because he now lives an hour away, I do not have a car, and I am not interested in being there anyway since the house CONSTANTLY smells like weed. I did express that also, albeit politely and not in a, “If you move there I’M NOT VISITING YOU/DATING YOU,” kind of way, just in a, “No thanks, not my scene,” kind of way.)

Believe it or not, we are still “dating”. The headspace I am in right now is that there is a piece of him that cares about me, and a piece of me that cares about him, and that a substance abuse problem is getting in the way. Because we will have been together three years this March, I am doing my best to navigate this new phase where we do not live together. There is no sex right now, and I have made it clear that I am going to be treated VERY WELL. Sex will re-enter when he’s ready to have adult conversations about commitment. And Captain, you will not believe this. He is a better-ish boyfriend after moving out. I went East to family for Christmas alone to heal while he moved out, and when I returned, he picked me up from the airport with flowers. He has been calling me daily and responding to texts and Snapchats. He has made plans to take me on a dates and then been on time for those dates. He has been more responsive to his mom and interested in hanging out with his more immediate family, whom I adore. If we had just met at the beginning of the month, I would be smitten.

Except there is one thing that is not going VERY WELL.

He still does the poopy treatment -> weed -> everything is great. I have been in therapy for a long time, even before I met him, and have now made it to a point where I can stay completely calm and objective in an argument with him. It’s like I have an out of body experience. When we lived together, we’d be in an argument and he would often pull the, “Well, then let’s just break up,” card. I explained many times how that is NOT okay, and he stopped doing the break up version of it, but he still pulls a version of that threat. In our most recent fight about whether or not he would smoke on our date, he was like, “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore tonight.” It made me stop mid-sentence, which is what he wanted, and then I said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would still like to hang out with you. I don’t think this problem we’re having right now is insurmountable and I’d really like it if you could tell me how you’re feeling so we can move on and have a good night.” He continued to be surly/defensive/give me the silent treatment. He started smoking. He let me have it (I was glad for this actually since he has such a hard time opening up) and said that I am so pushy; that he often says he doesn’t want to talk about something and I just keep going and keep pushing, and that’s frustrating for him, and no wonder I am so isolated from friends and family.

Okay. He is not wrong. When he shuts down, I do try to come at the issue from different angles to get him to open up, and I should respect if he doesn’t want to talk. However, too often he doesn’t want to talk as a verbal slap in the face to me, not because he has nothing to say. Additionally, I am an entire coast away from my home base, and I have two very, very close girl friends, and I am emotionally satisfied but also don’t hang out with humans that often. So in this instance, it felt like he was implying that I was so combative and disruptive that my friends and family have purposefully distanced themselves from me. I asked my best friend and she said she loves me and this is not the case for her with me, and I trust her. (Family is a different story and I actually think we should all communicate MORE but that’s a question for another day.)

In truth, I suppose I really should be respectful if he says he does not want to talk, even if it’s because he is being rude, but I really do not feel like it’s fair to make a judgment call about my character in order to end an argument. It puts me in the position of defending myself instead of focusing on how to resolve the current issue. Well, I guess in this case, his own separate issue was, “How do I get her to shut up?” So I guess it succeeded.

There’s a lot of problems in this “relationship”. I get that. On the whole, I try not to let it bother me to the point that I fixate, and I am active. I go to the gym. I go to therapy consistently. I just got a new job as a substitute teacher. I am taking an improv class. I am pursuing freelance photography. I adopted a cat. I contacted a neighbor about fostering more kittens. I am doing my best to live my own life. As frustrating as everything I just said above is, with my support team I can handle what he throws at me.

However, I am fixated enough on the “I’m going to leave” bit that I felt like I needed the Captain’s perspective. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there? Feeling quite gaslit lately and like I am holding him at arm’s length due to this … emotional abuse? Do we call it that?

I am sure that as this relationship has evolved I have not been a perfect partner, and I hope this letter doesn’t read as, “I am great and he sucks, how do I get him to stop doing this stupid thing,” but at this particular juncture I do feel as though I am doing work, especially emotional work, that he is not doing. That doesn’t necessarily make me better, but it does put us on an uneven playing field. Personally, I feel like if he quit the weed, he would be more emotionally available to participate in … everything. However, he has made it clear he is not up for that and so I don’t even broach the subject anymore. When I have strong moments, I feel like I deserve a non-smoker, or at least a smoker who doesn’t pull that emotional nonsense. When I have weak moments, I am definitely pulled in when he is treating me well and thinking that if he can have some more corrective emotional experiences where we have a fight and he stays through the fight to its resolution, he will see that when you love someone you don’t just leave. I feel like I need to say that if he does not stop with that emotional nonsense, I will not be available as any sort of version of a girlfriend, however, he seems to be just as in denial about his terrible emotional behavior as his substance abuse.

When he wants to get physical now and I am rebuffing him, he moans something along the lines of, “I just want to please you,” into my ear, and it takes all of my willpower not to retort, “I WILL HAVE A SPONTANEOUS ORGASM WHEN YOU CALL ME AND SAY, ‘I just went to therapy for the first time,’ BUDDY.”

*Sigh* I don’t know. I give up and give to [insert deity].

Much love,
Exhausted

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Hi Captain,

I’m dealing with something that is new to me and I’m kind of seeking someone who can tell me whether or not my expectations are way out of line, or if I need to compromise them; my concern is that it’s a problem where any compromise I can think of leaves everyone miserable.

My longtime boyfriend and I (pronouns = she, her, hers) are getting married. He proposed with my own key ring because the moment was so right and the location so deeply meaningful for us that he went for it sans ring. He also knows I’m not a super girly person and have said many times that I don’t need a ring. When he proposed, however, he fell over himself apologizing for not “doing it right” and having a ring. I said whatever, we can discuss that later, right now all I’m focused on is this commitment I cannot wait to make official with the person who matters most in my world. I put the key ring on a necklace and proceeded to wear it nonstop, because I was damn proud of his ingenious substitute and loved what it symbolized.

A few weeks later, the key ring disintegrated in a mineral hot spring. (Pro tip: when they tell you silver will tarnish and you should remove all jewelry, believe them.) I balked at the loss of my symbol and he said we would go out and get a real one together. At this point I became very excited at the prospect of going out as a couple and hunting for something special from an antique store. I’m not a big “real jewelry with real rocks and metals” kind of person, but that has made me excited by the prospect of my one “real” piece being the most meaningful thing I will ever wear.

I found a jeweler in our city who specializes in antique rings and found a beautiful art deco one from the 1930’s for $1k — according to Google this is a bargain basement price for an engagement ring today. People spending money on me makes me a little queasy, so I was really excited to have found a place that had beautiful, unique rings that were ‘affordable’. I guess it may help to point out we live in the Bay Area so our work takehome is higher than other regions. Price expectations across all money-related things are skewed and insane here by default.

He did not see it this way. “That’s so much!” “Well I have no idea how much they cost.””I didn’t realize we were actually going to go get one.” All of these responses have me in flames. My problems as I see them:
– He has said several times now over several months that he has no idea how much they cost. Why then hasn’t he done any research in between saying this? In between saying we will get one?
– His attempt to say he didn’t know we’d actually get one is bullshit, per this letter so far.
– It’s NOT too much in my research. What makes this worse is that I make more than him but this entire time I was under the impression he has a lot of money in savings and is a good saver, barely spends. As of our fight last night, apparently none of this is true! In defense of his “too costly” assertion he stated he doesn’t have enough saved up; my eyes almost fell out of my mouth.

Clearly we have a bigger financial discussion looming on the near horizon. What really irks me is that now I feel like I’m forced to insist he be a man of his word, which means him spending money on me he apparently doesn’t have. And now I feel like even if he had the money, every time I looked at my ring I’d be reminded of the reminding and the nagging and the pushing to get him to even get one. I’d rather not have one at all, but I’m still really pissed off that he apparently doesn’t do any follow-through on what he says or promises.

He’s an idea guy, and always comes up with great vacation plans. He does zero follow-through, so I’m the one who always has to do all the reservations and pay upfront, even though I work 9-5 M-F and he doesn’t have to be at work until 4pm each day. It’s been the same with the wedding at large: we want it this year so I’ve been doing shit tons of venue research and sending him tons of emails filled with links to ones for him to vet. I asked him to start doing the same and you’d think I asked him to grow a uterus and give birth.

I feel like I have to do all the emotional labor and literal actions to see things through. I’m sick and tired of having to make an adult understand that you can’t just say something like “i want you to have a ring” and then not follow through or attempt to change my mind. True I’ve always been fairly indifferent about having one, but now that we’re engaged and he has time and again SAID he wants to get one, I’m super excited and really want one! But now I’ll feel like a greedy nag if I push for it.

He’s the kind of person who tries to change what I want by pointing out things he disagrees with or thinks could be done differently (his way), because he doesn’t like change and doesn’t want to confront having to do something he doesn’t want to. I’m sick to death of this, it’s insulting and I’m not an idiot and will NOT be gaslit.

This is probably insanely long and I’m not even sure anymore what my question is. I guess I am hoping for advice as to whether or not my expectations for a ring are worthy of pursuing, or if I need to just drop it. I’m prepared for anyone to tell me I’m being stubborn and selfish — if this were a letter from someone else I’d probably say as much myself, but now it’s me and it’s just how I feel. The not keeping his word is the core frustration here — it’s like I can’t trust what he says and that he’ll do it without me reminding him or him changing his mind and reacting like I’m insane for bringing it up again.

Anyway, feel free to tell me this is all par for the marriage course and that communication is key as well as compromise. I already asked him to come straight home tonight so we can talk more and try to get to the heart of it. This whole letter makes him sound like a trash monster but I hope the internet can trust that I love him and he is more than just this debacle. Debacles, plural? Probably.

Sincerely,
Between A Rock And A Hard Place

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Hi Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.

I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:

Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]

Me: I’ll just change!

Her: Why?

Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.

Her: But why?

Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?

Her: Whyever not?

Me: . . .

Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.

I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?

– At a Loss

(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)

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Hi,

I’m hoping you can help me with some coping mechanisms for jealousy which will help me feel less like the shittiest friend in the universe. 

Long story short, a friend got a job I wanted, and I’ve spent months failing to not let it affect our friendship. The whole story is long but the important details are these:

She got an early start in the “big leagues” of our industry because of connections I didn’t have, beating me out for jobs before I even knew her.

A mutual friend promised me I’d be his first call on a job I really wanted, but then hired her.

I had a hard autumn, and overwork combined with personal insecurity culminated in me, in tears, while she tried to console me over the job she was (very rightly!) excited to start the next day.

She’s just gotten the reiteration of that job I really wanted. I’m still angling to get them to hire me too, at a lower title than hers.

Last fall I tried really hard to be supportive and excited for her and mostly failed. I’m afraid to spend the rest of her time in our city (she plans on moving… eventually) watching her get jobs I am equally qualified for because her resume is better. I also don’t want to look forward to the day she moves, just because it means I won’t have to compete with her for work anymore. I don’t want to feel like a terrible friend anymore because I can’t be happy for her, and I absolutely don’t want to force her to console me on big happy occasions.

I think her fiance dislikes me and I worry she confides in him that she feels uncomfortable in our friendship, or that she thinks I’m an incompetent artist. I will never actually know without damaging the friendship by pushing the issue, but it bothers me anyway.

I have read your “focus on yourself and what you like” advice, and the “back off and gently let reconnection happen” advice and that has been helping, but I’m worried that watching her have a job I wanted will disintegrate our friendship, or worse, if she doesn’t, or isn’t able to hire me. I need a way to restructure what’s happening in my head so I’m not feeling overwhelmingly betrayed by this friend who hired her, and jealous of her all the time.

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Hi Captain,

This is a Facebook Etiquette question. I have a friend who is really more of an acquaintance; we have met face-to-face and worked semi-together on a project a looooooooong time ago, but I haven’t seen him in years and only follow his life on social media. He is a musician in a mid-sized city where we both live and is not blowing up the charts or anything, but he’s fairly well-known.

He recently announced that he and his wife of several years are getting divorced. He did it like this: He tagged her in the post and then asked everybody he’s connected with on Facebook to share their thoughts about their divorce (with the assumption being they would all be like, “that’s bullshit!,” I guess?). Since then, he’s written a few more posts that seem to be intended to hurt or embarrass her. The tone is very much, “She doesn’t know how great she had it/I was too good for her anyway,” and his friends are mostly supportive … of him … and no one (yet) has asked him why he is airing all this dirty laundry in public if he’s such a great guy. I’m really tempted to be the first.

I’ve never actually met this woman and she has no idea who I am. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s musical career has expanded his friend network to the point where there are probably lots of people like me who don’t know them as a couple but who are familiar with him and his work. (And I am a female, in case that matters or changes things.)

But I am unsettled and bothered by what he is posting, and I wonder what would be the most ethical thing to do in this situation.
– Ignore him and his posts until it blows over
– Unfriend him and let him follow his course
– Point out that a “nice guy” who’s actually nice wouldn’t do this to a significant other, soon-to-be-divorced or not

Would there be any sense in doing that to show his almost-ex-wife that not everyone who reads it is swallowing this nonsense, or is that just wishful thinking on my part? I’m almost positive it’s just wishful thinking but I thought I’d ask anyway. She seems like a nice person and she isn’t responding at all to what he’s saying/doing online (probably a good move on her part), but I feel like someone (maybe a therapist?) should tell this guy he isn’t being classy or awesome right now, he’s being emotionally manipulative and possibly even emotionally abusive.

What do you think?

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Dear Captain Awkward and friends,

Due to frequent moves both by me and by many of them, the seven or so people I consider my closest friends are scattered across three countries on opposite sides of the globe. (And most of them don’t know each other.) Nevertheless, I keep in frequent contact with them – we communicate at least once a week, often more. I’ve known them all for years (several of them for decades), they’re all very important to me, and they’ve been there for me in tough times, so I don’t think this problem indicates a major break in our friendships or anything like that, but. Yesterday was my birthday, and not one of them remembered it.

My birthday isn’t public on Facebook because I never liked the hollow “hbd” posts from people who I don’t really interact with. So the lack of a Facebook reminder is almost certainly a factor here. But I know that these seven friends know when my birthday is, and all of them have sent me birthday messages unprompted in the past. I didn’t even expect messages from all of them this year – it’s just that not receiving even ONE hurt a lot more than I thought it would. Especially because it’s not a secret that my birthday is important to me, moreso now that I have stopped celebrating most major holidays. Maybe it makes sense that more of my friends wished me a merry holiday-they-know-I-don’t-celebrate-anymore than wished me a happy birthday, but it still sucks.

And I don’t think I’m being a hypocrite here! I try hard to remember my friends’ birthdays, whether or not they have them on Facebook, and I make sure to send them birthday greetings. Which was all I wanted in return. One birthday text from a friend and I wouldn’t be writing to you!

Anyway. Any thoughts on how I should handle this? Do I bring it up with them? Do I admit how much it hurt? Should I obnoxiously remind them next year? Or should I focus on the nice messages my family sends me and the kind words from the friends I’m making in my current location, and try not to worry about my friends elsewhere? Do I just need to accept that if I don’t let Facebook announce my birthday, no one will remember it?

Thank you,
Birthday Girl
(she/her)

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Hi Dear Captain,

I’m an 18yr old just on the last legs of high school. I’ve got this Huge! Life! Affirming! Exam!(equivalent to SATs) coming up on April, and I am so not prepared.
So, I’ve got a family that’s lowkey hellish to live with.My siblings are all nearly a decade older. My mum is diagnosed with a mental illness that manisfests in instability and extreme anger.I rarely get to see my dad. Growing up in this household surely messed something up, because I have low esteem and anxiety. Pair that up with subtle put downs and remarks about my intelligence and vague body shaming from my sisters, my feelings for my family are mostly contemptous and distrustful now.A big part of my life plan is GET FAR FAR AWAY THIS IS NOT HEALTHY RUN.

Unfortunately, to fulfill my escape plan, I’ll need to study well enough to land a scholarship to uni. Or else it’s forevermore being stuck in this place. As it currently stands, I’m officially unable to give a crap. About anything. Being overly sensitive and fragile,I tend to shut down and be an unresponsive zombie in the face of conflict of any sort. In previous letters you’ve said you have never been as unhappy later on as once a kid, I’d genuinely like to get to that stage from where I am right now. But it’s either running away or uni for me.

It feels like I know the starting position, I know where the finish line is, but I can’t muster enough willpower to work towards my goals. It just doesn’t register in my numbed brain that I need to study my butt off. I just can’t care about anything. It took me six days just to write this email.

I don’t know how to get out of this funk.Time is running out,I can’t afford to be depressed or I’ll be in even of more a clusterf**k.

So in short,how do I stop being a zombie and care about my future and everything else?
Sorry to dampen your holiday spirits,Captain. Merry Christmas to you and your awesome cat.

Fingers Crossed

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