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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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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!

Signed,

Window in my Heart

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It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”

Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!

My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”

==>

DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:

  • You can become a patron at Patreon. At the next funding goal, I release an e-book of columns once every year, free to patrons, a few $ to download for non-patrons. When/if we hit $2000/month, the blog goes ad-free. 
  • Monthly contributions not your thing? Paypal Cash.me and Dwolla also work. Whatever’s convenient for you!

Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.

 

 

Hello. It’s Pledge Drive Week here at Captain Awkward Enterprises, the week where I rattle the tip jar and ask readers who are willing and able to contribute to keeping the lights on and the moderation queue running.

Ways you can contribute:

I really, really appreciate your support, as does the 33.333% of my brain capacity now occupied by planning a wedding.

And now, a question:

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Hi Captain & Goat Lady,

My husband is a wonderful, smart, well-educated and hard working man.
We both have careers and make about the same amount of money at
separate jobs, but it might be worth it to note that I used some
connections to help him get the job he has today. He used to enjoy his
job very much, but over the last two years has come to loathe it
thanks to a terrible boss.

The problem is that he doesn’t think he can find another job. He’s not
very confident in himself and keeps pointing to how I “had to” help
him get this job in the first place. Yet he’s been promoted twice and
is clearly an asset to the company.

He’s hardly applied to anywhere, and the last time he sent out
applications he declined 2 of the interviews he got because he really
just wants to stay where he is, but have it get better.

It’s not getting better.

I love my husband and admire how dedicated he is to his work, but now
his hostility toward his job has become toxic. Every day he complains
about it, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to hear the
same things over and over again.

I want him to quit, to find something else — ANYTHING that will make
him happy. Even if it’s staying home for a while and job hunting. But
I know he feels a lot of pressure to contribute to the household,
while I’d rather tighten our belt for a while and make everyone happy.

He brings his negative attitude home, and it’s becoming difficult to
be around him sometimes. I’ve suggested therapy, but he shot that
down. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

How do I show my husband what a great person/worker he is? How can I
handle the constant negativity?

Thanks!

It’s awful that your husband is in this situation and it is also okay for you to hit your limit of how much you can be listener/cheerleader/career-coach around this one topic. Your husband doesn’t have to go to therapy, but he does have to find an outlet that is “not you” to deliver the daily download of complaints & process his feelings about his work situation. Whether that’s calling a friend, writing a diary made of Strongly Worded Letters that he never sends, a career coach, an online community where he get anonymous peer support, a daily run or swim or bike ride or after-work kickboxing session where he pounds out his frustrations, a hobby totally unrelated to work, or a daily session of cathartic blowing things up with a gaming controller is totally up to him. I don’t know what will make him feel better, but we do know that telling you about it all day every day is not making the situation at work better and it is also draining the life out of the time you spend at home.

Nothing’s going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a couple of serious talks and then some day-to-day boundary-setting  & reminders (& the ongoing discomfort that goes with that) before it gets better.

You’ve had Serious Talk #1, but if you want to try it again, it might look something like this:

You: “[Husband], you are so competent and talented & I believe in you utterly. I know you feel very stuck and frustrated by work, and I want you to know that if you need to [leave your job and take some time to regroup][work with a career coach][take a class to upgrade your skills][have some more time, space, & resources to pursue a hobby or side project] I will do anything I can to make that happen, including carrying the financial responsibilities for a while. In fact, let’s cut back on [expenses] for the next month or so and build up a financial cushion so that we have some peace of mind if you end up taking some time off later this year.

 

Husband:You are so good to me but in fact I suck also if I could just figure out how to to [change the thing that’s obviously not changing] it would be so perfect” (In other words, he will start to cycle through his current grievances and reservations in an all-too-familiar way).

You: [interrupting the cycle before it gets going]Okay, I just want you to know that the offer is open. Can you put some time into thinking about it? 

Serious Talk #2: 

The way this has gone down in my house in the past couple years only less coherent and with a lot of crying:

Me, to him:Babe. BABE. Did you realize that you come home every day and rant for hours about work, sometimes using the exact same words in the exact same order as the day before? I have never seen you so unhappy and also the ranting is freaking me out and making me super anxious – I DON’T EVEN WORK THERE, WHY DO I HAVE TO HATE EVERY SECOND OF YOUR JOB WITH YOU? I can’t take it. You have GOT TO find someone else to talk to about this and another way to manage it, because I CANNOT listen to this every single night.

Him, to me:I don’t care what you do next, but you have GOT to quit that job. I have been listening to the same rants about adjuncting for 4+ years now and it’s not going to get better. It grinds you down and makes you crazy and you have to stop. Just stop.” 

He has long since quit that job and I’m still an adjunct professor so the end results have been mixed here obviously but the message WAS delivered that there is a limit to how much we can each listen to the same exact cycle of complaints about work. Either change the situation or find a way to put up with the situation; whatever you decide, find another outlet for processing the situation.

If you want to adapt this in a less “freaked out/at wits end/YELLING!” way, try this:

You:[Husband], I know work is terrible lately and I’m sorry your day/week/sleep was ruined by [AssBoss] again. But right now, we’re not at work, we’re at home, and I need us to set some limits on how much we talk about work at home. Is there [a friend you could call][ a way you could write down your frustrations and try to get them out of your system?]” 

Or: “[Husband], that sounds really frustrating, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that. I’m going to stop you there, though, because you’ve told me all of this before and you already know what I’m going to say. I’m so sorry, but I’m out of bandwidth for talking about work stuff today.”

After you say stuff like this, it will very likely be awkward for a little while. You will have just violated the unwritten rule that partners should be each other’s sounding boards, and you will have disrupted a ritual that has become “normal” in your marriage. It might provoke a shame cycle [I am not good at anything/why are you even with me/I can’t do anything without you] or a why-can’t-you-be-more-supportive cycle [I listen to YOUR work issues/sorry if I’m boring you with my LIFE/you are being selfish].

Try to ride out whatever the immediate reaction is without getting drawn deeper into a discussion about work you don’t want to be having – by which I mean do not argue the specific points that he brings up, even if they are really unfair or problematic. Picking a fight about a side issue, or being manipulated into hearing about work YET AGAIN because you want to prove you’re not “selfish” or reassure him of his value is the thing we are trying to avoid. So if he comes back with “You’re so selfish! Can’t you see I’m hurting?” or “You’ll probably leave me because I’m not good at anything, ” try to de-escalate:

You: Sweetheart, I know that’s not the answer/support/response you wanted from me today, but I want to [watch some dumb TV with you][go for a walk together][read quietly and unwind from my hard day alone for a little bit][have sex with you][beat you at Soul Calibur]. I’m not saying I don’t care about you, or the situation, but I am saying I need a break from processing every work detail with you at the end of every day.

In other words: “I’m sorry you are hurting/frustrated, you’re not doing anything wrong by wanting to tell me about it. You need someone to talk to!  Totally fair! But I need a break from hearing about it/I need a break from spending every evening & weekend talking about this/I need this to not be the central thing we talk about when we spend time together.”

That’s a fair request, made lovingly. You can’t control whether he’ll get a new job or how he feels about himself at work or in his career. You can’t control whether he goes to a therapist. But you can say, “Hon, I’ve reached my limit for the day” and “My dear, I really think you’d benefit from talking to someone besides me about this. I know you’ve vetoed a therapist, but can you call your brother/a friend/your work’s EAP support line/your D&D group/your old mentor from grad school and get a good sounding board?” and “Hey, we said ‘no work talk’ remember?” + [plays “zombies” on a triple word score].

I hope it gets better soon.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

Met this girl through her uncle, have known her for
Over 20 months, we’ve met a couple of times, nothing much happened, but used to keep ourselves updated over texts, she asked me out for dinner or lunch a couple of times, I had important things to address at that point of time, nor was I sure about my feelings towards her, it’s been six months since she moved to Australia for her education, that’s when I realised she’s the one, i’m not active much on social media, don’t keep my profile updated, and I did confess to her about me liking her, she said it was overwhelming but she isn’t into anyone now and wishes to focus on her career and has a lot going on her plate now, and since then she says she’s busy with all her things back there, but i see she’s got a pretty happening life making new guy friends and isn’t as busy as she’d told me that she is, with all her assessments and assignments, according to her social media updates, when I’m back here in India, wasting my time thinking about her, she’s back in town but hasn’t kept me informed, got to know this through social media too, and I have no idea what she thinks about me, because the moment I told her I like her, she tried avoiding, when I stopped completely she checked on me a couple of times by leaving me texts and when I replied acting like nothing ever happened, I feel she’s brushed me off, saying she’s got her semester exams going, and is currently in town meeting all her friends here, and we’re twenty years old, please do not ask me to refer a forum!😛 Thank you.

Regards,
R.

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I know we just talked about this, but this showed up in the box this morning and I want to show side-by-side how PREDICTABLE and DELIBERATE this kind of emotional abuse is. A partner who harps on you about your appearance is not a good partner. In other news, it’s about to get very crowded in the center of the sun.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My partner is worried about my overweight. It’s their most important issue, to the extent of regular arguments. One sided arguments, since they are right. I am overweight, and should be thinner. All our friends are thinner, so my partner is less attracted to me. My partner will not know what to do without me when I die early because of my overweight, so is only arguing for my benefit. Anything I could say is just an excuse. Including that I am the one with a job. That my partner isn’t any thinner. That I get up every day an hour and a half earlier to play with our 3 year old, quietly, so as not to wake my partner, until day care opens and I bring them there, so my partner can sleep late. That when I come home from work, my partner hands over the kid, while they rest by watching television. That after I put the kid to bed, I am asked to bring my partner food in bed, usually sweets, or fats which I am asked to fry. Those are just excuses, because my partner is unique in wanting to sleep late, and the kid is charming so playing shouldn’t make me tired, and my partner’s eating shouldn’t make me eat, and a few times in the past when my partner did let me go to the gym some mornings or evenings or weekends it didn’t have a major effect, and I should be able to get my exercise when playing with the kid anyway, and weight loss really is more about not overeating than about exercising. And anyway I shouldn’t be be blaming everyone else in the world for my problems instead of taking responsibility for them myself. So I don’t say any of that (which is a problem in itself, because then I am either behaving like a wall, or just agreeing to make the argument stop, but not getting any thinner). I do occasionally ask my partner to exercise with me, but they had a hard day, so I shouldn’t nag, and it’s not their job to fix my overweight. And since I know how important my weight is to my partner, whenever I overeat or eat sweets or carbs I must do it for spite, not because I need comfort for myself.

Any advice?

Heavyweight

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