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rejection

Scarleteen, that national treasure, has a guide for adults who want to help young people learn to handle romantic rejection with more grace (and less violence). Their “big five” principles for adults when talking to teens about their romantic and sexual lives and identities are also awesome reading.

Speaking of national treasures, here’s a perfect breakup anthem by The Womack Sisters (daughters of Cecil & Linda aka Womack & Womack, nieces of Bobby, and grandkids of Sam Cooke):

 

Hi Captain! I’m 22, she/her, and relatively inexperienced romantically, if it matters.

Last summer I met a guy on Tinder and we hit it off right away. He actually asked me to be his girlfriend the first time we met up in person (my friend insisted this was a serious red flag, but I didn’t see this as a huge concern as we’re both pretty young—at the time I was 21 and he was 22, so I thought he might just be a romantic and not necessarily a sign of emotional immaturity). We went out for two months, during which he told me he “really, really, really, really liked” me. But then he went through some really rough things financially and emotionally and started messaging me less. I asked if he still wanted to see me, saying I understood if not. He said he did but needed some space for a while. I told him if he was still interested by then, I’d be around.

He never got back to me, so I figured he’d move on, but I never really stopped thinking about him. A month ago I texted him, asking how he’s been. I swear I wasn’t expecting to rekindle things or even an answer, but he said he’d been thinking about me too and wanted to see me again. We were going to have lunch but later admitted we both wanted to have sex. We did, and after that, radio silence.

I know we weren’t in a relationship, but I’m hurt that he’d say he didn’t want it to be the last conversation and then vanish on me again. I thought he genuinely showed signs of interest: He was the first to say he missed talking and that he had been thinking of me, without me asking. Since he was at work when we reconnected, I asked if he’d rather talk on the phone later, and he agreed but added “yet I still want to keep talking” i.e. still keep texting. He called me as soon as he was done with his shift, while still at his workplace, then while going home he texted me saying even though it was only for a bit (meaning 18 minutes) he missed talking to me over the phone, and then he called me again when we got home. All our calls were over an hour. The day before we met up, he asked if I still wanted to have sex or do our original plans, saying he was fine with either—even after I asked if he was sure.

Also, I asked him if he had any problems from when we were going out. He said it was honestly great except one thing that was ‘mostly just his insecurities’ but that that was something better addressed another time. Maybe this doesn’t mean anything, but I can’t imagine someone saying something like that if they’re just gaming to get laid.

I really thought I had tried to be communicative and make sure we were on the same page, and I’d like to know if I had somehow misread the situation. Also I’m just sick of thinking about him. Any clarity or insight would be appreciated.

One more thing: days after meeting up, I discovered that he deleted both his Instagram and Facebook accounts. Not blocked, deleted. I saw him scrolling through Facebook when we met up, so he must have done this very soon after that. That made me wonder if something else is going on in his personal life or if I should be worried, but I’m not sure if I’m grasping at straws.

-Tired of Overthinking

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Dear Captain,

(Resend with better subject heading)

I haven’t seen anyone write in with a similar story, so sorry if this is a repeat.

Summary:

I’m having problems with a female friend that I previously had romantic feelings for. I told Friend about said feelings in late December of last year, and spent up to last week trying to get a “yes or no” on the question of reciprocated feelings, or interest to pursue things later (Friend made it clear she does not want to pursue romantic relationships until after university – we are both in Gr. 12 currently). After lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses, the answer was determined to be no, as of last week. I feel somewhat hurt that she didn’t tell me sooner, so that I could stop further romantic advances and save us both a lot of time and embarrassment.

Long version with additional context:

I’ve generally had trouble understanding my own emotions, to the point where someone had to point out to me that I probably had feelings for Friend. As a result, I spend a good month making sure that was the case, and then another week or so to work up to nerve to tell Friend about these feelings. The telling occurred just before Christmas Break.

Shortly after the break, Friend responds saying she doesn’t know if she feels similarly towards me. I understand this, because of earlier stated emotional issues.

My thinking was that she was afraid to say no because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so I assured her that that would not be the case. (Sure, it might sting a little, but once the band-aid is ripped off it feels better.)

In an attempt to sway Friend’s response one way or the other, I gave her a poem for Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t so much a love poem as a “hey I might be a potential romantic option” type of thing (I had composed the poem before any potential feelings for Friend had arisen, so it’s not I like I went out of my way to write a poem for someone who may or may not be interested in receiving it). If the reception to the poem was good, then yay! If not, well at least Friend will still be just that – a friend.

Still no change in response.

Fast forward to last week. After a long-ish talk and more reassurance that it doesn’t matter to me what the answer is, as long as Friend is honest about it, Friend finally said she didn’t see me as a potential partner.

(It’s worth mentioning that my romantic interest in Friend had diminished greatly by this point, due to other difficulties in my life)

On to the FEELINGS!

I’m not upset she said no. I’m upset she said “maybe” when she meant “no”. If she knew the whole time, and I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest, why couldn’t she just say so?

In the past I had issues with boundaries (mine and other people’s), so it’s kind of a big deal to me that I respect people’s boundaries as best I can. It feels like to me, by not saying no earlier, that she didn’t tell me about a boundary she had, and I crossed that boundary multiple times. It hurts me to know how uncomfortable she must have been during my advances. And oh god the poem. It’s a mistake to give someone a Valentine’s poem if you don’t know how they’ll feel about it, and an even bigger one when you know they probably won’t appreciate it.

I tried to have a conversation with Friend about FEELINGS, but ultimately it was a monologue. It was a pretty short monologue, as I didn’t want a FEELINGSBOMB to go off. Friend’s response was along the lines of “conversations with a high emotional content make me uncomfortable so I just shut down and hope the problem goes away on its own.”

The conversation did not help things.

This letter is getting very long, so on to the point:

How can I communicate FEELINGS without it getting out of hand? How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation? Am I getting too worked up over this?

— Hurt, Confused, and Overthinking Everything. [Male pronouns]

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Hi Captain!

Tl:dr – What do you say when someone needs you to tell them that you care about them more than you do care about them? Is there a way to be honest but not make them feel like you actually dislike them? Is there a way to lie so that they actually believe you? Is there a way to get them to knock off asking you?

Longer-then-400-words-version:

My partner has a long-time friend who is lonely, isolated, sporadically employed, and who has some mental health issues. Friend is smart, funny, usually well-meaning, and knows how far to push friendship and charity without pushing too hard. My partner gives Friend lots of time and occasional money.

None of this is a problem. Friend doesn’t intrude on our family time too much, and my partner’s friendships are theirs to manage. Partner doesn’t bring Friend into every conversation or insist that Friend is at all of our events. Friend doesn’t usually inconvenience me at all, and if they do it’s in ways that I’m happy to do to for my partner, and because I have goodwill to Friend and I don’t mind hosting them or hanging out.

My problem is that Friend will sometimes initiate conversations with me about what a burden Friend is to me, and how Friend feels ashamed to be included in events that are important to me when they are Partner’s Friend and not My Friend. I don’t think Friend actually wants to be my friend – they don’t usually ask how I am, or talk to me when my partner isn’t around, or seem to care about me except as someone to listen to them (although they are like that with my partner, too, because Friend is very self-absorbed). I think that Friend would like it if **I** really felt a true friendship-like connection to Friend that would cause me to **really** want to invite Friend to stuff not as a charity, and to **really** want to hang out and chat with Friend, even though I don’t think Friend feels that way toward me or wants to feel that way toward me.

Friend is very smart, and certainly is very sensitive to how people feel about them and react to them, so Friend knows that, in fact, I don’t feel those ways. I feel charitable good will, Friend isn’t an unbearable pain to have around, and I love my partner and don’t want to keep someone out of our home who matters to my partner. Friend also knows when I’m lying.

So when Friend asks me these things, I usually do some combo of lie and deflect. I say that Partner and I both brought lots of our own friends and family to the relationship, and that we each hang out with and play host to each other’s peeps. I say that it’s my pleasure to have Friend over. But even though both of those things are true, I’m not answering Friend’s real question, which seems to be something like “don’t you care about me,” or even “why don’t you love me.” I do think that my partner loves Friend. Love is a wonderful mystery, because I can see that Friend is not a very good friend in a traditional sense, but that if you love a person, you just do love them. I don’t love Friend, and I like Friend only in a casual way.

Friend’s need to be loved and to be reassured both touches me and also annoys me. Friend is not good with social conventions like “don’t make people choose between lying or saying mean stuff,” and when they ask me these things I usually fall back on really strict social conventions like, “I am at best saying empty nothing right now and at worst lying because That’s What We Do,” but I don’t like it. Moreover, it doesn’t give Friend any of what they need – it’s neither honest nor kind.

Is there a better, more honest, kinder way to respond?

– Not Your Friend, But Not Mean About It Either

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Hi there,

I’m 36, my (ex)gf is 25. Met in August last year. Fell in love. Never met anyone like her and ticks all the boxes. I felt set for life (love, kids, the lot) and when she was there, there was no one else in the room (not something I had felt before).

We fell out over something stupid and then spent the next two weeks kinda reconciling but not really making progress.

Short version: she thought I deliberately misunderstood and belittled her, didn’t like it when I would storm off in some situations (it was completely unacceptable) and was upset that I didn’t ask her about her past. I hadn’t asked because it sounded horrible and I didn’t want to put someone I love through that again. I made the wrong call. Our sex life was strained due to an pre-existing psychological ED issue, which was exacerbated by her reactions.

On the other hand, I refused to be judged by the incredibly low standards her mentally and physically abusive, serially cheating drug dealer ex had set – she called me out about an innocuous photo on insta which kicked things off. I didn’t feel heard in the relationship and I had started to feel more and more peripheral to her life, despite the fact I’d looked after her through illness and post-operation.

Communication was poor and we had both made mistakes. A bit of regrettable game playing on both sides ensued, but throughout everything, I always thought that it was all temporary and we would get back on track. We just needed to talk it through and listen to one another.

She had given me the silent treatment on a few occasions and I was reaching out to try to reconcile. Then she sends me a message effectively ending it. I tried to message, I tried to call. Nothing. I wrote her a letter in which poured my heart out and gave it to her when she came out of work. She promised to read it. Nothing in reply. I sent her cacti (sentimental symbol for us), one each day for a week, each with a sentimental note. Nothing in reply. It’s been nearly a month since her last message.

I’ve effectively been ghosted, but from a relationship that was six months of love and plans and fun and joy.

I know she’s the one. And I know we can easily overcome the things we argued about. But we can’t do that if she won’t talk. What can I do, to either win her back (as unlikely as it seems) or move on with such little closure? I’m sad, angry, lonely, frustrated, scared, confused, desperate and utterly heart-broken. I still love her.

Any help here would be most welcome.

Thank you.

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Hey Captain!

I’m a single straight cis woman.  Some time ago I joined a new hobby group, and it’s been great!  There are lots of men in the hobby group and a number of them have asked me out on dates.  This isn’t the problem – I appreciate people who take the chance to ask me out outright and I am good at turning them down politely but firmly when I’m not interested. 

My problem is with the people who clearly appear to be romantically interested in me, but instead of asking me on a date they just kind of weirdly hover around me.  For example, they might suddenly take an interest in all of my Facebook posts, even when they have nothing to do with our shared hobby.  Or they might just keep starting chats with me online.  They might also try to engineer hangouts that are very clearly stealth dates, or they might focus all of their attention on me even when there’s a whole group of us and we are all doing the hobby together.  I find this very off-putting but I don’t know how to address it.  Since nothing is explicitly being said I feel somewhat paralyzed in these situations and tend to just act friendly but also kind of evasive in hopes that they will get the hint, but this doesn’t always work.  Is there a more effective way I can deal with this?

Thank you,

Evasive

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been dating this guy (he/ him) for about the past 5 months. Things are for the most part truly wonderful; there are various stresses about upcoming job changes and moves, but he’s really one of the best people I know, and we seem to be pretty damn good together.

I am struggling with being upset if I propose doing something together and he replies ‘no thank you, I would rather be alone tonight.’ I want to figure out a way to find this less distressing. Head-wise, I know all the sensible things: he is a person who needs alone time; he acts like a person who really likes me; different people can want different things in a given moment and that’s just fine. But I am still getting more upset than I would like to. I don’t want to keep having these un-fun nights over something that seems (even to me!) to be so small. Do you have any advice?

Thank you for your time- I’ve been reading CA for a long time, and it’s been very important to me.

I think five months in is probably right on schedule to have a little moment of BRAND NEW LOVE IS DEFINITELY AMAZING, BUT ALSO NORMAL BORING LIFE STILL EXISTS adjustment. Not a crisis, just a little reminder from the universe that all the New Relationship Energy (NRE) that’s been created during the stay-up-all-night-kissing-and-talking phase of dating isn’t a magical perpetual motion machine that rescues you from mundanity, boredom, or loneliness.

Ideally, we could find a way to help you mentally reframe “not hanging out with me tonight” as something other than rejection. You know that your guy doesn’t mean it as a rejection, wanting to be alone sometimes isn’t a rejection, rejection is a subtext that your jerkbrain is adding to the situation. Can you stop describing it thusly and see if that helps, at least a little bit?

More practically, it sounds like what he’s turning down are fairly last minute invitations (“tonight”). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong by issuing those, but I do think there is some work you can do to mitigate the “Hanging out with you, Lover!” vs. “SAD EVENING ALONE” dichotomy that’s happening if he declines. Namely, next time you’re ready to text him to invite him out, think of 5-10 other things you could do with a free evening to yourself.

For example:

  • Crafts, hobbies, creative projects.
  • Writing cards and letters or having Skype dates with far-away friends or family.
  • Movies, theater, concerts, lectures in your area.
  • A quiet restaurant, a book, a table for one, and thou.
  • Inviting friends to hang out with you instead.
  • Stuff that makes your body feel good, whether that’s exercising it or anointing it with various unguents.
  • Errands: They gotta be done sometime.
  • Boring but necessary household shite what needs caught up on.
  • Things you’ve been putting off for “when you have time.”
  • Taking a class.
  • Volunteering somewhere.
  • Dressing the house-pets up in costumes and taking photographs of them to send to your favorite advice blogger.

Before you ever met this dude, what did you do in your life that made you feel awesome? It’s time to reconnect with those things. If you start to make the list and it’s like “Wait I can’t really think of anything” then, well, that’s a project right there. Remind yourself that this dude is just one nifty facet of your nifty life and you have lots of options for how you spend your evenings. Then, if you want to invite him to do something, send that invite. If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.