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saying no

Hey Team Awkward,

This is a quick one. 

I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!

That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.

So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way. 

Thanks in advance,
Awkward Alcoholic 

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Captain,

My partner (he/him pronouns) and I (she/her) have been together for 7 years and are getting married this summer. Our wedding will be a week away in a different state than we live, and we are so excited to spend the time with our family and friends. My partner’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict with many coexisting conditions. She is abusive to my partner when she feels he isn’t “there for her,” and he went no-contact a while ago and told her to get sober if she wanted a relationship with him. She tried to kill herself on a camping trip with us one summer, and someone nearly drowned trying to save her. We cannot have her at the wedding. She is a danger to herself and others when alcohol is involved, and we do not trust her not to drink. She has made no efforts towards recovery and just last month got a DUI. She has been hospitalized multiple times in the last year on involuntary mental health holds, and was arrested for attacking a nurse. In our state, she has gotten off relatively easy. The state we plan to marry in is much less forgiving. If anything happened over the week the family is staying, she would be stuck very far from home and possibly imprisoned. She trashed her last apartment and was evicted, but was taken in by their mother. Due to her living with mom, we have seen her on rare occasion. At the last family gathering, she spoke as though she was coming to our wedding, and not wanting to rock the boat at their mother’s engagement dinner, we did not correct her. I feel some degree of manipulation is involved, as she was *not invited to the wedding*. Now we plan to write a letter to her laying out the reasons she can’t come along, but she will be crushed and angry. We intend to word it in the most respectful terms possible — on one hand we are dealing with a textbook addict, but on the other we have a family member with severe mental health issues that we want to be sensitive to. I am also afraid of the fallout. Mom wants to do a family sit-down and give it to her, but that seems cruel to me as there is nothing up for discussion. I would rather she process our decision on her own. How do we break it to her?

Signed,
Just want to relax during my wedding

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m afraid I might be walking into an Alice situation (a la letter #247). My boyfriend’s family is very conservative and even though he is an adult, he not only lives with them (which is fine) but lives by their rules, curfews, and puts up with their interrogations over who he is spending time with, who his friends are, etc. They don’t know I exist, but he’ll be telling them within a month. He hasn’t so far because due to conservative culture reasons he can’t tell them he has a girlfriend, but rather that there is this girl (me) he wants to marry. And I’m terrified because they’re going to hate me (his mother especially) and I need scripts on how to deal with that when I meet them.

From everything he’s told me (and I take his word for it) I will be considered all wrong because I’m older than him, have been married before, am bisexual (here’s hoping his family needn’t find out, at least initially), am from a different culture (and don’t speak the language he speaks with his family, and his mother doesn’t speak English fluently), I’m not conservative and certainly don’t fit the mould of what a stereotypical wife would be like (I have no intention to just pop out babies, cook and clean, etc., which Boyfriend is fine with but his family won’t be), I’ve already vetoed the idea of us living with his family when we get married, and I’m expecting there to be body shaming.

Boyfriend has said that he expects his family’s displeasure about all of this to be voiced to him, and not to me and I know I can’t force them to like me. Boyfriend is also scared himself about their reaction to his upcoming conversation with them about wanting to marry me. I have tried to direct him to this site so he can read up some great advice about setting boundaries and making it clear what shit he will put up with and what he won’t, but he says that sort of thing is not done in his culture and apparently I just don’t understand (it’s true, I don’t), and while he sees that I’m trying to be helpful, it’s not helping because boundaries is just not the done thing.

How can I support him with this difficult conversation coming up for him (which will be more of an extended series of fights/arguments) while respecting his decision to not have me encourage him to set boundaries, while also being able to set boundaries myself? What am I meant to say to his family when I meet them (and yes, I’m trying to learn the language so I can at least exchange pleasantries with his mother)? (And yes, social anxiety and severe depression is making me overthink all of this, and yes, I am in therapy, but any scripts would help a lot!!).

Any help would be much appreciated,

Scared of future in-laws

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Hello,

Preferred pronouns: they/them

I found out a few weeks ago that my grandmother was in the hospital due to an illness. This surprised me, but I also knew she was getting older. I decided I needed to start thinking if I wanted reconciliation.

When I was around 12 or 13, I purposefully discontinued all contact with her. This was for a lot of reasons. She had never really been involved in the life of my brother or me. She’d drive hours to see my cousins, but would never even call us on our birthdays.

The point of no return for pre-teen me was when I heard she had been speaking badly of my mother (her daughter) over my parents’ divorce (which happened when I was 10). I had heard this a few times, but it hit me especially hard since my mother had finally taken the time to tell me about the physical abuse she’d endured growing up.

My only act of discontinuing contact was to be the one to stop calling. For more than a decade, she has never once called. I had planned on telling her that I no longer wanted to speak to her when she finally called, but it never once came.

Over the years, my mother sought reconciliation and gave forgiveness to my grandmother. I know there’s still issues, but she is grateful for the relationship they have. Still, I’ve never forgiven my grandmother or looked back. Her relationship has, frankly, never been that important to me. It has been important to my brother, he took the time to invite her to his high school graduation and graduation party. She never showed up and it broke his heart.

With the news of her sickness after a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week, I made the mistake of posting a general sort of complaint about my week on social media and added a single sentence of “I found out this week an estranged family member is ill and may need to think about reconciliation”. I was trying to be vague given the sensitive nature of her hospitalization, but my family knows that I haven’t spoken to her since I was young, by choice. (I am not friends with my grandmother on social media.)

I found out a half an hour later that the diagnosis had come: cancer. It didn’t look good, either. Between calling to comfort my mother and brother late into the night, the whole post slipped my mind.

The next morning, my cousin replied very inappropriately and we spoke over messenger about the situation. I knew she was just upset over the diagnosis and tried to be gentle, but firm. I wasn’t going to let her hurt me because she was hurting, but I certainly didn’t want to kick someone who was down. My aunt called my mom later and said she had just been grieving and hadn’t meant to be cruel to me (as I guessed).

During the conversation, however, I realized that actually, I definitely did not want to forgive my grandmother and that I would not regret that decision. I obviously did not vocalize this to my clearly upset cousin, but it struck me then.

Since then, my family has been passive aggressively trying to show me she still cares about my brother and me (such as sending me a photo of my grandmother’s shelf with old photos of us still there and gifts we gave her). I’m worried they told her I was considering calling.

On the one hand, I have never needed her in my life because she’s never tried to be in it. On the other hand, she’s a dying woman who has brought joy and love to at least some of my family and seems to want the comfort of family during what may be the final months of her life. I don’t want to crush any hope she may have for that comfort, but I also don’t want to be insincere or lie.

I know that if I tell my mom, she will communicate my decision to my family (she has always understood my choice and never pushed my brother or me one way or the other). I’m trying to be there for them at a difficult time in their life, but I’m not sure I can be there by coming to some peace with my grandmother that I just do not have (and probably never will).

I’m hoping for advice on how to talk to my cousins about this decision without making their process of grief over the illness of a loved one worse.

Regards,
Not Sorry

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Ahoy Captain and Commentariat!

I feel horrible for writing in with this question because Fiancee and I are supposed to be getting married in roughly 20 days. This was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and the most serious, but I’m so stressed out I’m about to snap.

We met two years ago, started dating formally at the end of 2015, she asked me to marry her in March 2016, I said yes even though it felt a bit rushed.

Problems:

1) Fiancée has a small dog that shits and pisses everywhere in the apartment. When we moved in last June she assured me this would stop now that it was away from her abusive stepdad. NOPE. I’ve told her several times how much it frustrates me and asked her to please clean it up and train the dog, but she just acts frustrated or depressed with me for asking and defensive of Dog. Though she does clean the carpets maybe once a week, Dog is still not housebroken. I am so done dealing with this creature. I want it gone.

2) She acts entitled toward my money (apparently it became “our” money when she moved in), her constant spending has run me $1,000 in debt, and she won’t stop even when I tell her we are out of money and to give me back my cards. (I am the only one currently employed.) I’ve raided my savings account to cover expenses so many times it’s practically empty. I have also brought this up several times to no avail. Her spending habits have me so stressed I have contemplated suicide.

3) She is so messy: dirty clothes all over the bathroom, bedroom, and closet; dirty dishes in the bedroom with moldy food on them; piles of garbage covering her side of the bedroom floor; and dried food left on the kitchen counters and stove after cooking, to name just a few. I have OCD and anxiety, and the mess is driving me insane. I’ve asked her to please clean up after herself several times, but nope. She literally screamed at me last night for bringing it up. She later apologized, but that’s not something I want to deal with forever.

4) We originally planned our wedding for Earth Day 2018, but in January she woke me up in the middle of the night — when she knows I won’t remember anything — and convinced me to bump it up to this coming Feb. 27. When I didn’t remember, she got angry and hurt (at least I think she did; her favorite way of being playful and joking is to act offended by something I did or said, so I have a hard time telling the difference), questioned my commitment when I was hesitant about keeping the new date, and claimed we had to because same-sex couples might not have that right given Trump, and I caved in and agreed.

This is not actually okay with me, but I’m too scared of hurting her feelings (she has a past history of suicide attempts), really dislike emotional confrontations, and don’t know how to deal with the potential fallout, since we live together.

5) I’ve got the feeling more than once that she’s just using the relationship to get out of her stepdad’s house, get more financial aid for when she decided to go back to community college, and to get on my health insurance. But I also have PTSD and depression from past abusive relationships, so this could legit just be paranoia.

6) Finally, she doesn’t have a job, doesn’t go to school, and we don’t have kids, and spends most of her days in bed watching Netflix, outside working on various projects watching Netflix, or playing video games. I’m honestly tired of bankrolling her extended vacation from the real world while I’m stressing out making ends meet and have very little free time.

Despite all this I love her very much and would love to make it work; she is kind, funny, talented, and smart, tells me often how much she loves me, that I’m beautiful, that I’m her muse for art projects and the love of her life, is physically affectionate, and does small things like bring me food when I’m busy or make me gifts from the raw materials I buy.

On the one hand I really want to spend my life with her because the good stuff is so good! But on the other, I often daydream about being single with just my cats in a clean, organized, dog-free home. We love each other a lot, but after almost a year of living together my opinion is that we don’t have compatible living styles.

Aside from breaking her heart and possibly forcing her to move back in with her abusive stepdad, my main concern with breaking up is who will get the kitten we rescued and raised since she was a day old. I honestly think I should get to keep her because I have income and can care for her, plus her step-dad hates cats and her mom is allergic. But Fiancée got to spend more time with Kitten when she was really young because I couldn’t stay up with her all night due to my job.

Can you please give me some scripts to 1) ask that she fix the above problems or I’m gone (without sounding like an asshole), 2) if she agrees, scripts to postpone the wedding to make sure the fixes stick and aren’t just lip service; or, if she doesn’t agree or she does but the problems continue unabated, 3) scripts to call off the wedding and break up?

Thank you in advance!

~Would I be dodging a bullet, or losing the love of my life?

PS: Please, no How to Train Your Dog tips – I do not like Dog and do not want to waste any more of my very limited free time dealing with it more than I already have to.

[She/her pronouns]

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Dear Captain,

I have a school friend, “Susan.” We met last year when I started the program. Around the time this school year started, I started therapy to address Issues, and I came to the decision that Susan should become a Small Doses Friend.

I find Susan kind of draining to interact with, and I feel like she has a hard time respecting my boundaries. She often brings up subjects I’m uncomfortable with, and I feel like when I ask/ remind her that I’m not comfortable talking about X, it becomes a big production. I’ve also tried to explain to her that because of Issues, I don’t like to say “I love you” to friends because it feels smothering to me, but she often seems to “forget.” It also seems like lately when we hang out there’s a lot of complaining, nosy questions, and little honest enjoyment of each other’s company.

So, all of this considered, I thought it best to just enjoy her company when I can and detach when I can’t. We’ll both be graduating soon, I might be moving really far away, and I imagined we’d kind of naturally drift apart, as people do sometimes.

Just about the time I figured this out, though, she got engaged. She’d been talking for a while about how she wanted to get engaged and married Very Soon, so when she told me I was of course very happy for her and imagined that the wedding would be this spring or maybe summer at the latest. She asked me to be her Man of Honor, and I was really touched. I said yes.

A few weeks later, I asked her if she had an idea of when the wedding might be (thinking which month). She said they haven’t yet settled on a year, and the earliest possible date is a year from this summer. When I think about having to keep this up for at least another year I want to run away screaming.

I think I need to tell Susan I can’t be in her wedding, but I don’t know how to do that. I keep meaning to ask my therapist for help sorting this out, but then when I consider that I only have an hour each week to work on Issues with a professional, there always seem to be more important things to deal with than how to get out of a wedding. I’m wondering: is it wrong of me to want to ramp down this friendship? And how can I get out of the wedding commitment, since that seems to be what needs to happen?

Thanks so much,
27 Issues (he/ him)

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Hi there,

I have a bit of an odd quandary. I am divorced, and I divorced young. My relationship was a very bad and abusive one, and that was a dark time in my life. I have gotten therapy, learned a lot about myself, and I think I’m doing well. It’s daily work to deal with lingering issues, but I typically feel most comfortable addressing those to my therapist or close family who knew me then. It’s intensely personal to me, and revisiting it in casual conversation isn’t something I’m interested in doing. I have PTSD, and it coming up usually sets me up for a good day of feeling anxious and awful.

I’ve since moved across the country and none of my new friends really know much about my divorce or that I was ever married. I don’t hide it, and a more in-depth peruse of my social media probably holds some clues, but I don’t proactively bring it up. I’m an age where many of my friends are getting married and navigating serious relationships for the first time, so it’s very plausible and even likely that none of this ever happened. People assume that (I never lie), and I don’t correct them.

That said, I’m fortunate that some of these relationships are becoming closer, which raises two issues:

1. It is normal to not tell a minor acquaintance your life story, but it is starting to feel like a purposeful omission to people whom I see often and confide in me. I know I’m not obligated to share it, but occasionally they’ll find out and when they do there’s a bit of “whoa, that was a pretty big thing to leave out.” I stammer and ineffectually mumble some sort of half-apology, but I have no idea how to even start. I don’t feel like I need to apologize, but I always feel like I kind of lied, even though I didn’t.

2. I’ve been asked, directly, a few times – “were you once married?” and I don’t want to lie. I also, however, want to be clear that it isn’t something I enjoy talking about without disclosing more about the relationship than I’d like to.

I want to set a boundary, I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want to sensationalize. I feel like I need to give a reason why I never said anything, but that gets into self-disclosure I’d rather avoid (“Yes, I was, but it was a difficult and painful time and not something I talk about” generally creates pity and curiosity and gossip and more prying, all awful.) Not giving a reason or changing the subject generally creates a weird, stilted conversation or doesn’t adequately communicate that it’s off-limits so then it comes up again.

I need a polite way to communicate that this is not a secret but not something I talk about without making it into a bigger deal than it is and not making anyone feel as though I’ve slighted them by leaving that out. I’d love to have scripts for either of these instances because right now I’m just floundering, it’s awkward, and it’s starting to become the elephant in the room, and I’m sad I can’t think of something better to say.

Thank you so much. She/her pronouns.

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