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rejection

Hello Captain,

Two years ago, a friend paid me to critique her novel because I studied writing and know the publishing industry. I agreed to read three drafts of the work. We did not sign a formal contract.

Then I got the manuscript, and it’s terrible on all levels, from prose to plot. I’ve tried addressing the issues tactfully. I’ve suggested good examples in her genre to emulate. She is unwilling to analyze WHAT makes stories good and apply those lessons. From unrelated conversations I know she doesn’t respect people who think about why they like what they like (i.e. my partner). “They take the fun out of things.” She also thinks “time invested=value to others” regardless of the quality of her efforts.

To date, I have read 1.5 drafts and given one in-person, intensive critique session. I have (unprofessionally) delayed talking with her about the work because I suspected (correctly) that even saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m not finding improvements or good technique,” would upset her. I’ve been there, and I know how much it hurts. However, she tunes out anything she doesn’t want to hear.

In my professional opinion, the manuscript is unpublishable and her attitude/ego will not lead to success.

When I finally was direct, like I would be with a non-friend client, she became upset because in her words, I don’t “like” the work. I’ve explained that it’s not about “liking,” but whether or not the work communicates effectively (It doesn’t). I’ve asked what her ideal outcome is, and how she wants me to handle feedback I think she won’t like. When I did, accused me of not taking the project “seriously,” again, because I don’t “like” it.

I realize that delaying so long has eroded my credibility/professionalism, but I feel like we’re at an impasse. I’ve told her I care and want her to succeed, but I can’t help her do that if I can’t be honest.

At this point, I think the best I can do is offer her a partial refund for the incomplete work, with the latest marked-up manuscript and an apology for the delay, then walk away. I don’t know that our friendship will survive. I’m not sure if I want it to.

How should I resolve this, Captain?

Sincerely,
Never Crossing the Streams Again

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Hi Captain,

I (she/her) am 39 years old and haven’t had a real friend since I was 23. Due to numerous instances of abandonment and rejection before and since, I’ve developed a form of Social Anxiety where I panic whenever I think someone important to me might, well, abandon or reject me. I’m working on this with a lot of self-help and meditation, but I need some help with my current situation.

Two years ago, I met a guy my age at work, who is very successful, a young executive at our very large, you’ve definitely heard of it company. Upon discovering that we have a lot in common, and I was struggling with a miserable job situation at the time, he quickly became my mentor, and from there, we’ve become friends.

Here’s where it gets weird. Despite the fact that we talk about deep, personal, obviously non-work related subjects, including things like God, anxiety, self-doubt, spiraling down into dangerous depression, etc., he has refused to meet me outside of work. These deep meaningful conversations occur in 30 minute scheduled meetings once a month in his office. He won’t even give me his personal cell phone number, using his work mobile instead. (P.S. it’s not because I’m a married woman and he’s a married man. We had that conversation. Also, most of my invitations have been for us to do things with our spouses in tow, and my hubby is fully supportive.)

Background on him, he was formerly a soldier in Iraq, and his best friend was killed there. It messed him up pretty bad, and he did go to therapy. He has stated he has no friends (and supposedly he likes it that way). I suspect he erected these walls to protect himself from ever experiencing that kind of pain again. I think he is struggling because I’ve managed to get through his defenses, and he cares about me. He always genuinely appreciates me being a good friend- checking on him when he’s sick, sending him goofy memes to cheer him up when he’s stressed out (which has been a lot lately), etc. The verbal and written work/life barrier has been thoroughly crossed. He just won’t cross the physical work/life barrier.

Anyway, it’s been taking him longer and longer to say no when I invite him out, and it’s obvious to me that responding to my invitations causes him tremendous anxiety. It’s like he really wants to say yes but talks himself out of it. At our last meeting, after turning down my latest invitation (with a “probably not” following a full week of deliberation), he said that he was now willing to meet outside of work, but it has to be something really small, like lunch (which is impossible with his schedule). So far I haven’t found anything small enough, and he’s made no suggestions.

Because of my anxiety, every time he tells me no, I freak out and spend a day or two crying, unable to sleep, etc., until I’m able to get a handle on the negative thought train and shut it down. I’ve considered giving up on him numerous times, but I can’t do it because he gives excellent advice, I feel so comfortable talking to him, he understands my pain, he makes me feel good about myself, basically I need him to talk to, and I feel like he needs my help too. Everyone needs a friend, and I might be the only person persistent enough to keep trying with him, BECAUSE of my anxiety. And he’s SO CLOSE now. Admitting he would go out was huge. But I’m also frustrated and tired of the roller coaster ride of emotions (as is my husband.) To make matters worse, I turn 40 in two months and all I wanted was to be surrounded by friends, but I can’t even get one friend and his wife to go somewhere fun for an hour and have dinner after. I’m having a hard time staying positive. What should I do?

-Best Friend by Default

Dear Best Friend by Default,

I preserved your email subject line, for the most part. There is…a lot…going on here, and I am going to try to be as gentle and helpful as possible, and I am going to turn off comments (you…do not…want to read them, trust me), but I do not think you are going to necessarily like anything I am going to say.

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Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!

To ask a question, patrons can post to this thread and anyone can reach me on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which point I’ll answer as many as I can between then and 1pm.

Comments are open! So many great questions! Thanks everyone.

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Dear Captain,

Nearly 2 years ago I joined a MMORPG community for the first time. Through a series of events, I met a guy who has become one of my best friends. We are bizarrely similar at times and he’s really been there for me. It started out just online but we now have each other’s numbers and text A LOT throughout the day. He has never had a girlfriend and I was raised in a religious, sheltered household and have never had a boyfriend either. (For context, I still am religious and I would NEVER be intimate before marriage and would never marry outside my religion. I admit I’m not doing everything right spiritually but this is not “just my parents’ religion” to me. My only close friend is also of this religion and I feel I cannot talk about this with her because I’m sure she would encourage stopping all contact.)

He’s been there for me so much and really understands me. But I think he’s in love with me…and it’s not mutual. I care about him as a friend but I don’t feel that way about him and some of his comments are starting to make me concerned. In the year since we started texting, he has told me about a ton of dreams about me (including one where he was my date at that friend’s wedding and after I caught the bouquet, we were at the altar – he described this dream as being especially vivid). He has asked me, very embarrassed, to not casually mention if I’m getting in the shower because it “gets him excited”. He’s also mentioned that he’s going to start saving up money to come visit me, which my parents are EXTREMELY not okay with. They have mostly hesitantly accepted the friendship but are very wary and my mom is really worried about it turning into something more. I’ve hidden behind my parents not wanting him to visit but the truth is that I don’t want to meet him. I’m good being texting buddies. But when he mentioned this plan and I said “I don’t know how my parents would feel about that” he responded “what, me saving some money?”. (He once also mentioned he believes he “accidentally found” my address somehow. I was afraid to ask how and did not ask him what he thought it was to confirm or anything. My parents don’t know this. I was very clear that he cannot send me anything.) His family teases him and calls me his girlfriend, and while he tells me he denies it, I worry hearing that from them isn’t helping.

We are both overweight and have incredibly low self-esteem. I don’t know how to clearly tell him I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship because this kind of attention is brand new to me. While I’ve tried to head some of it off, I feel like every text I send him is leading him on and making this worse. I know him well enough that I know it would break him if I cut this off and I don’t really want the friendship to end either. I’m afraid there’s no way I can be painfully clear that I don’t want more and not ruin everything.

(As a freaky side note, there’s another weird side to this: he has a lot in common with my dad. Not really personality-wise – though they’re both pretty big know-it-alls – but they have the same first name, birthdays 2 days apart, and middle names different by just 1 letter. I still call this friend by his (female) character name from the game because of this. Just in case you were wondering if the situation could get even weirder…)

Please help me,

I just don’t feel that way

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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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