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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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Dear Captain,

I’m not sure whether my partner is happy in our relationship, and I’m hoping for scripts to help us to talk about this. I only want what’s best for her, only I don’t think that’s me. I know it sounds like a silly thing to say, but I think she’s only going out with me to please her family/friends by going out with a man when she possibly prefers women. I knew she was bisexual before we started dating, but I’m starting to think that she has a strong preference for women (if she finds men attractive at all). I know I may have the wrong idea and she just doesn’t like me, but this is what my thinking is based on:

  • She only watches lesbian porn as she doesn’t like the men in it. (Understandable).
  • She’s scared of penetration so much that I can’t put a finger inside her (could be a number of medical reasons).
  • With our sex life, it’s usually me getting her off with her not reciprocating. She’ll ask me to go down on her but she doesn’t seem interested in my body. (She may just be a selfish lover).
  • She’s so scared of sperm: we’re not having sex, she’s on the pill, I wear a condom and she still insists on being fully clothed when she touches me (just in case).

I’m thinking with all her hangups with getting with a male, she may be better off in a relationship with a woman. Obviously, I may have this all wrong and this isn’t really my decision to make. What’s a good way to get her to assess our relationship, to be honest with herself and to see if it’s what she wants? If this is what she wants and she’s just having a hard time opening up sexually, what’s the best way I can support her?

Thanks,

Wanting to be supportive

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Dear Captain,

I’ve been with my partner Dave a long time (10+ years). I love him dearly and I feel profoundly loved in return. We’ve built a life and a home together. He is unfailingly supportive and loves/tolerates all of my various quirks as I do his. We have friends in common, but also understand and encourage each other having separate interests and friends. Our values and life goals align perfectly, and he’s my best friend and the first person I’d normally turn to about anything. On paper we are perfect for one another, and our relationship is as wholesome and comforting as a bowl of hot soup in front of the fire on a cold day. But for all that I love Dave deeply, I’ve often had a nagging doubt that in some way I’ve ‘settled’ and over the last year or so I’ve wondered if we’re beginning to drift apart a little. Having said that, to answer Sheelzebub’s question: I can very easily still see us together in five or ten years’ time, much the same as we are now. So I’m not in the position of LW #603.

Last week I was staying away at a conference. I sat next to Steve, a colleague, at dinner. His role has just changed, which means we are no longer working together directly, though we move in the same circles. Our paths will cross again, fairly regularly, and it’s likely we’ll have to work together closely again in the future. Over dinner he made a pass at me. The way it was done showed planning and forethought, and it was done with subtlety, so that I could decline and we could both pretend it never happened. Later in the evening, he tried again, much more obviously. I let him down gently both times. We parted on good, friendly terms, with me making sure he understood I was touched and flattered by his attention, and didn’t intend to treat him any differently as a consequence.

I am intensely flattered. Steve is interesting, clever, funny and great company. He is very successful in his field and I respect him and his opinions tremendously. We clicked from the start and work really well together. I had been half-wondering if he might try something that night. I’ve been particularly careful not to let friendly banter edge into anything that could be read as flirting precisely because I thought he might be feeling more and I didn’t want to lead him on. But, banter aside, he’s always been so scrupulously professional that I was never sure if he actually was attracted to me or not. Ironically, what happened has cleared the air (for me at least) and I feel a lot easier around him than I did. I’m confident we can move forward as colleagues.

In some ways, Steve has given me a gift. For a brief while I’ve seen myself through his eyes: an intelligent, witty, successful and attractive woman that he desires and wants to spend more time with. I like being that person he sees. I don’t have pantsfeelings for Steve, but I’ll freely admit I’ve enjoyed being the object of his desire. And while I feel and am loved by Dave, I rarely get that thrill from him. So, while my head is firmly saying “nope” to Steve, my ego is saying, “hell yeah!”. My heart agrees it was right to reject Steve’s advances, but is left wondering whether that awesome woman Steve tried his luck with should take a shot at a less secure, but potentially more exciting life.

So, Captain, have I ‘settled’ for Dave, or does the grass just appear greener? How do I tell which it is?

Yours,

Awesome

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Spoiler note: I reject this “boyfriend,” and all his works, and all his empty promises, and all his creeping on young women destroying their self-esteem.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been seeing the same guy for almost two years now. We met when I was living in Colorado, shortly after we met I moved away, and our relationship there wasn’t ever really too serious, but I feel like both of us felt that we wanted it to grow stronger, so when I moved away we continued to see each other and have a long distance relationship, but we aren’t truly in a relationship because he says he doesn’t want to claim me as his girlfriend until I am 21. He is 29 and I am 19. I know that is quite an age difference, but I am very mature for my age, and I feel like he acts more as if he is 24/25 than a 29 year old. So after going to visit him in Colorado a few times, I actually found out that the first time I went back to see him he had a girlfriend, this really upset me because I felt lied to and betrayed, but he thought it would make me feel special to know that he cheated on his girlfriend to be with me. They ended up breaking up right after I saw him, and that was that.

Besides telling me that we can’t be together until I’m 21, he also tells me he can’t be with a girl who doesn’t have, in his words, “a perfect ass”, so he constantly is harassing me about going to the gym and working out, he will check in with me and asked if I worked out today, which is really upsetting to me because, I eat very healthy and I go to the gym daily, and it is because I like being healthy and feeling good about myself. I am not overweight or out of shape by any means, I’m [height and weight redacted by Captain A.], I wouldn’t call that out of shape, but he constantly is harassing me about the way I look. It is so bad that I don’t even want to show him my body because he always has something negative to say. The things he has said to me have really hurt my self esteem, and make me feel like I am not good enough in his eyes. He will say terrible things about my body and my looks but then the next day tell me how beautiful I am. It is hard for me to understand.

When I get upset at him for critizing my body and putting me down he will tell me I need to toughen up and that he is only trying to make me better, but it’s not because he is worried about my health, it is because he wants me to look a certain way, like some model he sees online. He has even said to me, “I see other girls and I just want to f–k them”..I just don’t know how you say that to someone you love, and he says he’s just being honest, and that he’s a guy and every guy I meet will think that about other girls. Bottom line is, he just makes me feel terrible about my looks, and I wonder will I ever find a guy who can love someone that has all of the flaws he points out in me, I know I will never be a bikini model, but I am in very good shape, and he acts like he is a bodybuilder or something, meanwhile he doesn’t even have a gym membership, eat healthy, or go to the gym on a daily basis. I have never, and would never try to change him, even though he is 29, doesn’t have a job and has no clue what he is doing with his life, I always encourage him and tell him he will figure things out. I never bring him down, or make him feel bad about himself, and he will say the only reason I don’t is because I think he is so perfect already, and it’s not that, it’s just that I love him for who he is and all of his flaws or imperfections make him who he is..I just really don’t know what to do anymore. He also, came to Florida, where I live now and went on a cruise with another girl, before I found this out he told me he was coming to Florida to visit me, but around this time he told me he met someone else and he never really loved me, that we were just friends,and that maybe one day if I was in better shape we could be together, so I was confused as to why he was coming to see someone he felt this way about, then the day before he came he told me the real reason he was coming to Florida was to go on a cruise with another girl, and he wanted to see me after..After that I blocked his number, but ended up forgiving him a week or two later. But even after all that he still disrespected me and treated me poorly when this should’ve been a time he was amazing to me.

I asked him if I could spend New Year’s and go to a concert with him and he told me I didn’t look good enough to be seen with him there..but Later on he said he needed me there and was so happy I came. I just cannot keep being put down so harshly, by the one person that is supposed to bring me up, I just don’t understand what is wrong with him, or what is wrong with me. obviously he can be good, and sweet to me and we have had some amazing times together, which is why I love him, but hearing him say such hurtful things makes me question his love for me. I just don’t know what to do.

Dear Lovely Letter Writer,

Your email subject line was “Does my boyfriend actually love me?

No. He doesn’t. He may say that he does, or have feelings inside his head that he calls “love,” but the way he treats you isn’t how love works.

Question Time:

Is this the kind of treatment you want from a boyfriend?

Are you okay with it when he criticizes your body and makes you feel ugly?

Are you okay with him constantly lying about his relationships with other girls and women?

Do you think that “girlfriend” is a role that you must constantly audition for and prove you deserve? Over the course of multiple years? At the cost of your well-being and self-esteem?

I don’t have any scripts that will make him behave better or turn into the boyfriend you need and deserve. He won’t ever change or stop these asshole behaviors. He has been grooming you since you were 17 to accept his warped version of love and what your body should look like and how people treat other people (and he likely grooms and mistreats all his other “not quite girlfriends” too). He is an emotionally abusive asshole who picks on you to make himself feel better.

You end your letter with: “I just don’t know what to do.”

You DO know what to do and you already tried to do it (block him forever). You just gotta make it stick this time, and I’d love to help you do that.

Right now, you could text him and say “I am breaking up with you, goodbye.”

Then (also right now), you could block him on all possible forms of communication and delete his number from your phone. It doesn’t matter what he thinks or feels or says – once you decide to break up, it’s over.

Then, you could let yourself get really, really angry about how he’s treated you.

Next, imagine your ex-boyfriend as a flat piece of paper.

I want you to mentally crumple that piece of paper.

Make it really tiny and dense.

Did you crumple it? Can you feel it crushed very tight inside your fist?

Good.

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