Archive

saying no

I had a bunch of travel in July and never got that month’s version up. So, here’s another round of that thing where we answer people’s search engine queries like blog questions.

1 “Awkward coworkers who wont get hint

.”

Hints don’t work. They just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless people to splash around in while you get more and more frustrated. If you want your coworkers to understand or know something, you gotta say it, as briefly and directly as you can.

2 “Is it bad to break up with someone after a day

?”

It’s no fun for anyone to break up after a day, but it probably beats the alternative of continuing to date somebody you don’t want to be with and lying to them about it for more days. You get to change your mind! Do the kind thing and tell the other person now.

3 “Should you notify your estranged father of your wedding?”

I would say that if you’re estranged from your dad, you certainly don’t owe him an invitation or an announcement. If you do want to tell him, I would also keep my expectations very low about what he’ll do. Weddings and funerals and baptisms don’t fix the stuff that’s wrong in families (& often exacerbate it), so what are you really hoping will happen if you give him this news? I wouldn’t count on any of it happening.

Weddings are one of those things that really show it when “cherished fantasy of what a parent should be and do” and “actual parent” don’t match, and I’m sorry that a happy occasion is causing a new sting of grief for what was supposed to be.

4 “What to do if hubby abuses because of MIL?”

Ouch, what a gutpunch.

Whatever your mother-in-law has done or whatever she is like, your husband is still abusing you. Until he stops, gets some help, apologizes, and changes the behavior, it’s your husband’s fault and his responsibility, and offloading the blame or an explanation onto his mom doesn’t change the fact of what he’s doing. I hope you can talk to someone about getting yourself to safety. Here’s the number for the USA National Domestic Violence Hotline.

5 “What does it mean if a guy says I have a girlfriend at the moment.”

It means some version of “not you, not now.”

6 “My husband thinks I should work out more.”

Lots of people should probably work out more and wish they worked out more. Lots of people should also stop telling other people what to do with their bodies. Do you want to work out more? When and if you do, that’s when you’ll work out more. You are the boss of you.

7 “An sms to a boyfriend who treats you like shit.”

A. “Bye! We are broken up now. Leave me alone.” B. “New phone. Who is this?

8 “Why does my husband get mad when I touch myself.”

Who knows? Insecurity? Mistaking marriage for ownership of you & your body?

What I know is that you are the boss of your body, including your sexual relationship with your own body. You don’t owe your husband an accounting of your solo activities. They are none of his business.

9 “While using a dating site should you be upset seeing someone you’re talking to off the site.”

On the one hand, the people in the dating site don’t live in the site, hanging upside down like bats at OkCupid headquarters to sleep at night, and it is quite possible to encounter a potential date-friend in the wild. Sometimes the world can be very small.

The “upset” part comes from, how does everyone handle it when it happens? Do they act weird and overly familiar and talk loudly about where they know you from, like it’s your kid’s parent-teacher conference and the teacher is like “Kid, you didn’t tell me your mom was a babe! I totally swiped right on her!“? Or do they say “Hello, nice to see you” and act calm and relaxed and safe? That’s all good information to have.

Or, do you feel like they are trying to figure out where you work and live and hang out and you get a stalker-y vibe from it, like they were seeking you out, trying to run into you? That would make me pretty upset.

10 “I live in a condo and a neighbor constantly knocks on my door. How do I tell her to stop?”

Neighbor, please stop knocking on my door, let’s save that for emergencies where something is on fire or flooding or bleeding. If you need to reach me otherwise, please leave a note or use my email and I’ll get back to you when I can.” #hintsdontwork

Then, you don’t always answer the door, and if you do, jerk the door open and say “What’s wrong?” because you’re expecting an emergency.

11 “My boyfriend said he can manage my appearance.”

Your boyfriend appears to need a mannequin or Real Doll or a Barbie he can outfit as he pleases all the livelong day, and you appear to need a different boyfriend.

12 “My boyfriend is depressed and takes everything out on me.”

Depression is not your boyfriend’s fault.

Taking everything out on you is a choice he is making. Do you want to stick around to be mistreated?

13 “How do I make friends for my husband.”

If your husband wants friends, suggest that he try Meetup.com or take a class or find a hobby group or play a fun sport or volunteer somewhere. Then let him do 100% of the work of following through with that.

14 “I love my professor how do I know her feelings?”

I asked her her feelings and she said that she doesn’t love you back. She wants you to enjoy her class and learn a lot from it and then go and have a great education and happy life.

15 “Dating a married man is hard. You cannot call him.”

It is known. If things like “regular calling” and “not sneaking around behind someone’s back” are important to you, consider the non-married as your dating pool.

16 “Can you masturbate if your roommate is deaf?”

Back to school time! It’s not all study tips and deals on extra-long twin fitted sheets, is it?

Masturbation is great and you should totally do it sometimes! However, if you share a bedroom with a roommate, wait until your roommate is not home to rub one out, ok? It’s just polite.

17 “Is it ok to just stop at a person’s house without calling first?”

But…you could call? “Hey friend, I’m in the neighborhood, any chance you’re home and want to hang out for a bit?

If you want to know if you have a “just drop by!” relationship with someone, here are three indicators:

  • They’ve told you to just “drop in, no need to call!” using words.
  • They also drop by your house.
  • You’ve asked “Is it okay if I just drop by sometime?” and they’ve enthusiastically said “Yes! Any time!”

Even if those three things are true…I would still call or send a text. Again, why wouldn’t you? Are you being chased and need a quick place to hide?

18 “Can a girlfriend influence your teen son to be a bad person?”

I’m sure it’s possible? And if your teenage son is acting like “a bad person,” it might feel better and be really convenient if there is someone else to blame for all of it who isn’t your precious-sweet-angel-baby-boy?

But, again, if your teen son is acting like “a bad person,” then he is making choices to do bad things, and I think any conversation you have with him needs to not displace his choices onto the girlfriend. Focus on his behaviors and the choices he is making, please. Don’t buy into the narrative that how he behaves is the fault of others’ influences, and don’t let him do it either. He’s responsible for his behaviors, and no girlfriend (or parents) can influence him to act like a jerk without his participation.

19 “New boyfriend who makes you feel sad.”

“Hey New Boyfriend, I like you a lot but since we’ve been dating I feel sad all the time, so let’s break up.”

20 “Can I date an insurance agent?”

Pro:

Insurance agents need love too!

Con:

Your insurance agent is at work and he/she has to be that nice to everyone. So I wouldn’t like, replace online dating sites with calling insurance agencies for fake quotes or anything.

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Are you there, Mayhem? It’s me, Captain Awkward.Image description: Dean Winters as “Mayhem” from the Allstate Insurance commercials. He is a white man in a suit slumped in the back of a very damaged car covered in seat stuffing.

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Hi, and thanks for an awesome and helpful site!

My situation: I’ve recently begun a new relationship, and am experiencing some…friction. I’m having trouble telling how much of the issue is incompatibility, and how much is me being “rusty”/ungenerous/inflexible, and I would love some outside insight!

A bit about me: I’ve never been a big dater, and being in a sexual/romantic relationship has never been a priority for me–I’ve been happily single for long stretches, including recently. I know that I have some real trust issues and some sensitivity around body image and bodily autonomy, probably stemming from “Stuff From the Past” (nothing deeply traumatic, but still stuff). I enjoy sex, but I’m not a big cuddler or casual toucher, and I am strongly anti-PDA.

My new date-friend is *much* more oriented towards physical affection: his actions make this clear, and he has straight out said that touch is his primary “love language”. The way this has been working out in practice is that we have fallen into a pattern where he is always instigating or escalating different kinds of touch, or talking about my body, and I am always shutting him down/pushing him away. Examples: we were in the midst of a conversation (that I thought was going really well! we were having an emotionally intimate moment) and he kissed me mid-sentence, before I could finish what I was saying…Or, he wants to rub my knee during the entirety of a hour-long car ride…Or talk about my “sexy hips” in a family restaurant at 2PM. Or make out in a public place. Even his “thinking about you”-type texts are always touch/body based–“Sending you big hugs”, “I wish I could see your pretty face”, “I want to tickle your tummy and give you kisses” (That last one I had a really visceral negative reaction to, and we did have a conversation about how tickling is NOT my thing…)

All these things make me *so* uncomfortable. I’ve tried to explain my boundaries/comfort levels, and I genuinely don’t think he is trying to make me uncomfortable, I think he just deeply doesn’t understand. To him, touch always feels great and is a sign of affection, compliments about my body are meant to make me feel good, etc. And he never makes me feel unsafe–whenever I have told to him to stop doing something, he stops right away. But I don’t like to have to keep saying “stop”! It feels shitty and mean.

I have also been second-guessing myself and my own feelings: I’ve definitely had the thought of “Don’t put your hands on my body in public like you own me” but I think that has more to do with my own current political rage, and less about him as an individual, and that seems kind of unfair? And then another part of me wonders whether I should be trying harder in general–maybe I’ve been single too long, maybe I’m too guarded, maybe I should learn to be more affectionate, maybe my hangups are getting in the way of me having something really nice, maybe my discomfort with touch is not a true preference but a result of all my past issues and it would be “good” for me to work through that a bit. Maybe it’s really sad that compliments about my body make me cringe, maybe it’s weird and cold and ungenerous of me to be like “touch me during sexy time, please, but omg can you just keep your hands to yourself when we are watching Game of Thrones?” Or, maybe we are just straight up not compatible and we will only make each other unhappy!

What do you think? (she/her pronouns are fine)

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Hi there,

This is maybe oddly specific and I imagine fairly low-stakes, but I genuinely have no idea how to handle it. My boyfriend and I are both busy people, and planning time together can take some doing. We live together, so while we do see one another a bunch in passing, it’s rare to have a genuine night in or a date. He is also a lot more spontaneous than I am; I’m a planner, mostly because I work a lot more hours than he does and also in part because having a rough sketch of what my next week looks like helps me manage my diagnosed anxiety.

Here’s the issue – oftentimes, I’ll really be looking forward to spending some time with him (may be structured or unstructured) but he will, at the last minute, essentially ask to cancel. Oftentimes it’s stuff that I’m invited to, too, but here are some examples:

1. At the last minute, his sister called and could we go have dinner with his family that night? Bonus points if I’ve already started cooking dinner for us (“can you just freeze it or use it tomorrow?”)
2. He got a text from the softball team he subs for, and they urgently need one more tonight or they need to forfeit.
3. His friend is in town for the weekend unexpectedly and he wants to hang out – since we’re just chilling at home/the corner bar is it cool if he and his girlfriend tag along?
4. His coworker ended up with an extra ticket to [sport/concert] and he just has one but it’s tonight only.

Like I said, in all but the last example he does invite me to tag along, but it really throws me. I’m not exactly introverted, and I do like to socialize in groups, but it really changes the character of our plans and can be a major re-adjustment of the dynamic – group vs. solo, going out vs. staying in, getting a chance to talk to him vs. spending most of the night watching him play a sport. Sometimes I feel like the third wheel to my own date night. I also feel like it’s a lot of extra effort to re-arrange things at the last minute and I usually shoulder that.

To be clear, it’s not a double standard. He is really laid-back and rolls with the punches, and any time I do have to change plans for my own reasons he takes it totally in stride. Also, it’s super apparent through our years of relationship that this is the way he was raised. His family seldom plan anything more than a day in advance, usually less. 

Here’s the issue:

1. His position is that, since we live together, we can *always* reschedule or easily spend time together whereas the things that come up are usually time-sensitive or urgent (friend is in town just one night! team is in danger of forfeiting!). My position is that this happens often enough that I feel like I’m constantly being moved down the priority list and taken for granted. Also, I don’t have time to make a back-up plan for myself so if I beg off because the new plan doesn’t sound especially fun I’m effectively ditched.

2. His additional position is that, well, he is just asking and I have ultimate veto power. If I say no, he won’t do it. My position is that, by putting out there that he has this unique and time-sensitive opportunity and asking to do that instead, he’s putting me in the position of having to tell him “no, don’t do this thing you’d rather do – hang out with me, which you can do anytime.” It’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather not have the weight of his experience on my shoulders.

The (very!) few times I have said I’d rather we stuck to our original plan, to his credit he hasn’t complained or sulked or made me the bad guy to his friends. He’s taken it pretty much in stride.

But I still don’t like it, and I’m having a hard time finding words for why this feels unfair and crummy. He’s right that he’s just asking, and he’s also right that we see a lot of each other albeit incidentally. But what I’d like to see if occasionally for him to just say, “hey, sorry – we have plans already” to his friends without putting it on me. I’d like him to feel like our time together is an important enough commitment that it’s not on the same tier as “free time” in his calendar.

But it’s not getting through, and I often end up sounding like I want him to read my mind (“how was I supposed to know you wouldn’t want to without asking you?”). How do I articulate this in a way that still leaves room for who he is as a person (to be clear, sometimes I love his spontaneity!)? How do I manage this without being too high maintenance? To be fair, I can see how sometimes I say yes when I mean no and then end up resentfully picking a fight, which isn’t especially cool of me. 

Thank you for reading my letter. She/her pronouns, please.

Hello!

It’s easy in a long-term relationship where you live together to fall into the pattern of “Why should we gotta make the plans when I can see you any old time?

It’s also easy to fall into the idea that Group Social Time counts as Together Time if he is there and you are there, and I know I’ve personally had to make it clear that “Hey being invited to be a spectator at your band practice is not the same thing as a date, hard pass btw, call me when you’re actually free.” Go in peace, hot-yet-oblivious-bass-playing-almost-boyfriend-of-1997!

My first suggestion is I think you should start taking your dude at his word and saying “I’d prefer we just continue with our solo evening, is that cool?” when you don’t want to change plans. At least sometimes! Like, family dinners are great, and family dinners can also come with 24 hours notice or else he might have to miss one because he has other plans (plans with you). If his claim is that he’d be cool if you said no is true, then see if he’s actually cool when you say no. You say he usually is, and if he continues to be, that’s good information. If he starts “resentfully picking a fight” when you say no that’s also good information.

My second suggestion is to ask him to clarify his question when he asks. “Are you asking me if I’d like hang out with your friend who is in town or telling me that you really want to hang out with your friend who is in town?” Get him to own the fact that it’s not just a simple question. Depending on how he responds, you can respond with what works best for you, like, “Can you and I have dinner together, just the two of us, and then you can peel off afterward and meet them?” or “Hey, I’m out, but go and have fun!” or “Sure, the more the merrier!

I think the thing that’s bugging you is that he’s checking in with you to ask you what you think when it’s clear that he wants to go do the other thing. He says it’s a real “ask” situation but you don’t feel like it is, and right now, “Love, is it cool if my friends join us for drinks tonight?” = “My friends will be joining us for drinks tonight.” It would be more honest if he said “Babe, I can’t make dinner tonight, I gotta go play softball or we’ll forfeit” rather than going through the rigamarole of asking you thereby putting you in the role of Chief Timecop and Funkiller.

You say sometimes you feel like a third wheel to your own date night and you sometimes get resentful and pick fights. My third suggestion is, when date-plans turn into group plans, don’t go. You know you don’t like it except on rare occasions, so, turn “Sure, it would be cool if we all went together…I guess” into “Not for me, but you go and have fun!” and then stay home and do something else.

Fourth suggestion: If you do say yes to changing plans, can you add a request to reschedule right then? You say that you’re doing a lot of work of re-accommodating things, so, can you explicitly place that work on him? “Okay, cool, have fun. When you get home tonight, can we put something else on the calendar for just you and me?” His logic is that you can always reschedule something with each other, and yours is for that to happen on the actual space-time continuum it needs to be scheduled.

Fifth suggestion: Your letter is crying out for a regular, sacred Date Night, something where you both agree that On Tuesdays We Hang Out Together Come What May, and you both agree to say “that sounds great but I have plans” about any other plans that come up during that time window unless it’s a true emergency (involving a hospital) or a fun emergency (“I know we said dinner at home but I have Hamilton tickets, meet me at 7“).

The script for asking for a reset is “I am happier when I know that I will get at least one evening/week where it’s just you and me at home together and when I can put it on my calendar in advance as a done deal to look forward to. And it does bug me when we carve this out and then you want to bail. I feel like the bad guy who is holding you back from a fun thing if I say no, but I get annoyed if I say yes and now my evening that I looked forward to and carved out of my schedule to spend with you is shot. I want to make room to be flexible and spontaneous, but it would mean a lot to me if you would treat x, y, z as pre-existing plans that we have together that can’t be ditched so easily.”

And then ask him what he thinks would fix it. “Do you have any ideas for how this can work better?” “In a perfect world, how could we fix this so there is some room to be spontaneous but we also make sure that we put each other first?

Sixth, I know I say this a lot, but make sure you are getting some time for yourself and that you have time & room to nurture your other social relationships. If you institute Date Night Taco Tuesdays over time you can also institute Go Have Fun & Give Me The House To Myself Fridays or Saturday Morning Best Friend Pancakes. It sounds like you’re busy and as a result a lot of your social units are couple social units. Make sure there’s something in there just for you.

Seventh, do what you can to delete the idea that having needs and desires inside a relationship makes you “high-maintenance.” What can survive without maintenance? “Boyfriend, I feel like I work hard to set time aside in my schedule for you, and when you keep rescheduling me or telling me that we can always hang out later, it hurts my feelings, can we figure this out together” is not the utterance of some witch-harpy-fury-gorgon-insert the scary mythological being of your choice*- hybrid, ok? These are normal human feelings and they are important because they are yours and they are real. ❤

*Friend-of-Blog Jess Zimmerman is writing an awesome series about female monsters at Catapult these days. Collect them all!

 

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend, who is a wonderful person and who I love hanging out with, but she stresses me the hell out. My issue with her is she constantly changes her mind and changes plans, which drives me crazy – which I realize is partly a personal issue, and I’m working on being more flexible, but she goes above and beyond what I think I’ll ever be able to deal with. Right now there are two main issues with her I’m grappling with:

1. I’m a planner by nature, and am the type of person who, when I make plans with someone, put them in my calendar and schedules other things around those plans. This friend CONSTANTLY changes plans, which irks me because then I’ve planned my day /week around our plans that then get changed or cancelled. I know this about her, and have basically told her twice now, “It stresses me out when you change our plans. Please don’t.” Each time she apologizes and says she’s going to be less flaky, but it never sticks. I’m to the point now where I avoid making plans with her unless it’s something I intended to do anyway – i.e., I’ll invite her to an event I’m planning to go to solo anyway, or invite her to group things where I know other people are going, so if she bails it’s not a big deal. But I feel like it’s affected our relationship, as I’m turning down invites from her to go do stuff because it may or may not actually happen, and thus don’t see her as often.

2. In a more recent development, this friend got engaged. I was asked to be a bridesmaid. Reluctantly, I said yes, after deciding saying no and probably damaging our relationship wouldn’t be an outcome I am okay with. But with wedding planning comes, well, planning, and again she is constantly going back on decisions that I think are set decisions, and it drives me nuts. For instance, when I said I would be a bridesmaid, she said she was buying our dresses. Then she said her dad said she couldn’t buy our dresses, and we had to buy our own. Fine, whatever. Then she texted all the bridesmaids that she had decided on an outfit and told us to order it, and to coordinate with each other if we wanted to go a group order (they do discounts on group orders so it would be financially advantageous for us to do so.) But she didn’t help coordinate a group order other than suggesting it. Then the next day she said she was still looking at other dress options. Then a few days later she sent us a text saying she made up her mind, order the first outfit she sent, do it in the next week, and if need be she’d pay for the group order and we could pay her back. THAT SAME DAY, like literally three hours later, she said no rush on ordering dresses, she was still looking. This entire exchange and the fact that I can’t take her at her word stresses me out to no end, and I know this is just the start – there are still many wedding logistics to work out that I will be involved in, such as the bachelorette, and the rehearsal dinner, and the day of the ceremony itself, and I don’t know if I can handle a year of this. Also she’s told us she’d pay for other things, like our hair and makeup, but I don’t know if I can take her at her word or if she’ll change her mind and I’ll be responsible for paying for those things too.

So my questions are this: What are some scripts I can use to reiterate, once again, that changing plans stresses me out? And how can I explain to her that I feel like I can’t take her at her word with the wedding decisions, and she needs to put a stop to that too if she wants me to be a part of her big day?

Please Help!
Reluctant Bridesmaid

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.

Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.

Sincerely,
Troubled Teen

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I recently moved with my partner to a very popular area for tourists. We’ve encountered an issue with friends and acquaintances who visit to view the area, not necessarily visit us. We end up financially supporting their visit… including parking costs, gas money, wear and tear on the car, and groceries. They don’t seem to be genuinely interested in us or how we are doing. How do we approach accepting visitors into our home, without ending up as their personal hotel and valet service?

Thank you,
Lisa

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