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Dear Captain,

I’m a woman in her mid-30’s who’s been dating a man a few years older than myself. We’ve only been together for about 6 months. Neither one of us has a very extensive dating history; he’s only dated one other woman, and I’ve only dated two other men. At first he seemed like the perfect match for me – we have the same quirky sense of humor, we share some similar interests, and we usually have a good time together. He’s also been very considerate of the fact that I’m extremely introverted and require a good deal of alone time.

I do have a major concern, however, and that is that we seem to have different ideas as to what our relationship boundaries should look like. For example, I’ve been saving up for the past two years to take a trip to Europe, and I finally have enough money and vacation time saved. I’ve been planning this trip long before I met this guy, and this is something that I’ve been looking forward to doing by myself. Also, I knew that he wouldn’t have enough money or vacation time saved up (his job gives much less vacation time then does mine). When I told him about the trip, however, he basically tried to invite himself along. When I tried to stress the fact that this was something that I had planned to do alone, he argued that we’re in a relationship now and we should be doing things like this as a couple. He went home and talked to his friends and his therapist, and apparently they told him that he shouldn’t be so upset that I want to go on this trip without him. So now he’s saying that I should go by myself, and have a great time – but he expects that we’ll talk on Skype every single day. I’m not entirely sure how open to compromise he’ll be on this – I was pretty upset about the whole thing – but I certainly don’t plan to call him every single day from across the globe.

(I had some concern about this a few months ago, when he basically invited himself over for Thanksgiving dinner when my parents were visiting. However, I wanted my parents to meet him, and everything worked out fairly smoothly, so I kept my mouth shut at the time).

I’m just having a lot of trouble with the fact that a) he tried to invite himself along in the first place, and b) the fact that now he thinks he can decide how often we’ll talk while I’m gone. I’m also aware that he’s going through a really rough time right now (he’s dealing with the recent death of one grandparent and taking care of another grandparent with Alzheimer’s, and his job situation is also not very good). So I’m trying to cut him a lot of slack. I’m also aware that I might not be communicating my expectations for our relationship as well as I could – I just never dreamed that he would react like this. I could really use some advice on how you think I should proceed from here.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a really great relationship with a really great person. She can spot a logical flaw in an argument at fifty paces, picks up new languages for fun, and has a hobby of organizing elaborate theme parties. I like her lots. But.

She is bad at at time.

Like, really bad. She cannot accurately estimate how long something will take or when she’ll be free to save her life. She always succumbs to optimism and substitutes what she wishes to be true for what is true.

This shows up in two main ways in our relationship:
1) We often end up spending less time together than she promised, because her life is kind of a jenga tower that needs constant maintenance to not fall apart.
2) She’s often late for our phone calls

(Our relationship is long distance)

This has gone on for two years of dating. It felt like there was progress in the first six months, but now it’s stagnated. It seems like weekly she’s half an hour or so late to a call with very little (or no) warning, leaving me standing around, my night in disarray. The time zone difference means that I’m often giving up prime social hours to talk with her, so this is pretty upsetting.

When we last saw each other, it was for much less time than we planned. It was pretty upset and told her that I was tired of excuses and apologies and promises to do better. It’s been two years and it all just feels like empty words.

In the month after, she was really good about time. Then she was really late, but gave me good advanced warning. I told her that I’d appreciated all her efforts and then everything went to poop. She managed to be late or suddenly change our call four times in the space of a week. One of the times, she changed it to when she was in a car with friends, a thing I’ve previously asked her not to do.

I feel really sad. I can’t help but parse this as her not caring about my feelings at all. Meanwhile, she’s too depressed by other things to even apologize or take any sort of responsibility.

I’m tired of being unable to do stuff because all I can think about is how hurt I am and how much she probably doesn’t care about me. How do I get my brain back? Do I have to end the relationship?

Sincerely,
-BlueAlien

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Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

The whole fabu story is:

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

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

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

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

Welp. I think you know where this is going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love,
Exhausted

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Hi Captain,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Between A Rock And A Hard Place

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Hello! Long time no blog! I traveled to Texas for Christmas break, since my in-laws live in the Fort Worth area and Amarillo. It was lovely to see family and catch up with some old friends who have relocated and meet some nifty new people. I did not take a computer with me or do anything resembling work. Instead I read many, many books and sat on recliners under warm blankets and ate enchiladas and other wondrous things. It was an excellent and much needed break from everything. Today I’m back, with the problem of unreciprocated love.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a recurring problem in my living situation (and relationship) that never seems to get resolved.

It might sound silly but it causes quite a bit of tension in my otherwise happy twosome…
I work two hours away from home which involves a long daily commute and means dragging my tired self home at 7.30pm at the very earliest. Anyone who works this way will understand that there is little time for much else other than dinner, a tv show and a shower before it’s time to get to bed and do the whole thing all over again. Luckily, I love my job.

My partner works 15 minutes from our house alongside his two very best friends. Sometimes, this gets on his last nerve but generally he has no problem spending that much time with them. One guy in particular will sit on after work at our place for the entire evening. He’s still there when I get home late and tired.

The problem is my boyfriend expects me to sit, smile and socialise until this guy decides to go home. They are usually stoned and my boyfriend hasn’t bothered to think about dinner (I find myself buying and making it most weeknights). On nights like this I become enraged but silent and he says I’m selfish not to be more welcoming to his friends. TIMING, dear TIMING!!!

Usually, this friend just talks to my boyfriend as opposed to me anyway but if I try to disappear until he’s gone home, I’m the SheDevil!

I feel that because he gets so much free time with his buddies (sometimes he goes to their houses… I am all for this!!) he could just give me a reprieve from their bro-time in my place. Give my head peace!!

Any thoughts?
Am I a SheDevil?
Cranky Co-habiting Commuter

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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.