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saying no

Is it me or is this cover of It Ain’t Me, Babe by Kesha the soundtrack for lots of the posts this week?

Now, a letter:

Dear Captain,

A friend that I’ve had for more than a decade recently said she wanted us to start dating. It’s not the first time we’ve done this – we dated at the beginning of knowing each other, and ended up splitting up because I wasn’t quite adventurous enough for her tastes, at the time. I didn’t hold a grudge, and we’ve stayed friends since.

I’ve known this person for a while, and I know that her life is not easy – she suffers from depression, and her life with her family has never been comfortable. She is convinced the family, and the fact that she’s had to move back in with them so often when things go wrong in her life, is the root cause of her depression – that her life would be better if she should just move out and away and stay in a constant environment. I have my doubts about this, but throughout our friendship, I’ve left open the option of her crashing wherever I was staying at the time, if she needed to get away from her family for a little while (because really, they ARE bunch of relentlessly negative humans, and while I don’t believe that they’re the cause of her depression, I definitely don’t think they help it.) She’s taken me up on the option a few times, for a weekend or a few days here or there… never longer than a week.

Since we started dating a few months ago, she’s become more and more strident about wanting to move in together (she’s been stuck living with her family for a year or so, since her last roommate/apartment situation didn’t work out), and start a family. As she puts it, if she doesn’t get out of there and get started on meeting her life goals, she’ll end up hospitalized. I’ve been… non-committal (not the best behavior, I know), saying I wouldn’t want to consider anything for at least a few months. That seems to have been taken as saying we would in a few months, and I now am getting forwarded house and apartment listings every few days.

To make all of this more complex, I have some personal history that makes me worried I’m reading more into the comments than is actually intended. My next relationship, after the first time we dated, was… not a particularly healthy one, and it ended horribly, with the other party in it sabotaging our (multiple) methods of birth control, in an attempt to get deliberately pregnant. Her theory was that when that happened, I would have had to marry her, and she could be assured of having a family at her funeral (she had a terminal illness). When I found out what had been happening and why (by having the first pregnancy test thrown to me with a ‘now you can’t leave me’ speech), that relationship did not end so amicably. It led to me having some huge trust issues around sex and dating – I’ve spent most of the last decade not being able to have romantic relationship with others, because of those issues.

The Once-And-Again Girlfriend doesn’t know about my issues. In the last decade, I’ve told a grand total of four people about what happened. Do I need to say something to her about how the comments are setting off my anxiety? How do I do that when I’ve known for a decade that I don’t want to go into the history of it, and her old opinions on the nightmare GF, and all of that with her?

Signed

-Uncomfortable With All The Buzzing

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Hi Captain!

Tl:dr – What do you say when someone needs you to tell them that you care about them more than you do care about them? Is there a way to be honest but not make them feel like you actually dislike them? Is there a way to lie so that they actually believe you? Is there a way to get them to knock off asking you?

Longer-then-400-words-version:

My partner has a long-time friend who is lonely, isolated, sporadically employed, and who has some mental health issues. Friend is smart, funny, usually well-meaning, and knows how far to push friendship and charity without pushing too hard. My partner gives Friend lots of time and occasional money.

None of this is a problem. Friend doesn’t intrude on our family time too much, and my partner’s friendships are theirs to manage. Partner doesn’t bring Friend into every conversation or insist that Friend is at all of our events. Friend doesn’t usually inconvenience me at all, and if they do it’s in ways that I’m happy to do to for my partner, and because I have goodwill to Friend and I don’t mind hosting them or hanging out.

My problem is that Friend will sometimes initiate conversations with me about what a burden Friend is to me, and how Friend feels ashamed to be included in events that are important to me when they are Partner’s Friend and not My Friend. I don’t think Friend actually wants to be my friend – they don’t usually ask how I am, or talk to me when my partner isn’t around, or seem to care about me except as someone to listen to them (although they are like that with my partner, too, because Friend is very self-absorbed). I think that Friend would like it if **I** really felt a true friendship-like connection to Friend that would cause me to **really** want to invite Friend to stuff not as a charity, and to **really** want to hang out and chat with Friend, even though I don’t think Friend feels that way toward me or wants to feel that way toward me.

Friend is very smart, and certainly is very sensitive to how people feel about them and react to them, so Friend knows that, in fact, I don’t feel those ways. I feel charitable good will, Friend isn’t an unbearable pain to have around, and I love my partner and don’t want to keep someone out of our home who matters to my partner. Friend also knows when I’m lying.

So when Friend asks me these things, I usually do some combo of lie and deflect. I say that Partner and I both brought lots of our own friends and family to the relationship, and that we each hang out with and play host to each other’s peeps. I say that it’s my pleasure to have Friend over. But even though both of those things are true, I’m not answering Friend’s real question, which seems to be something like “don’t you care about me,” or even “why don’t you love me.” I do think that my partner loves Friend. Love is a wonderful mystery, because I can see that Friend is not a very good friend in a traditional sense, but that if you love a person, you just do love them. I don’t love Friend, and I like Friend only in a casual way.

Friend’s need to be loved and to be reassured both touches me and also annoys me. Friend is not good with social conventions like “don’t make people choose between lying or saying mean stuff,” and when they ask me these things I usually fall back on really strict social conventions like, “I am at best saying empty nothing right now and at worst lying because That’s What We Do,” but I don’t like it. Moreover, it doesn’t give Friend any of what they need – it’s neither honest nor kind.

Is there a better, more honest, kinder way to respond?

– Not Your Friend, But Not Mean About It Either

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Dear wonderful Captain,

I’m coming to you with a question you’ve answered several versions of before, but not quite for my exact circumstances. So I beg your indulgence.

I’m a mid-thirties woman, and my problem is that men hit on me. All the time. And I’d like to change my behavior, if doing so is reasonable, in order to make that happen less.

My looks are thoroughly average. What I have going for me, though, is charm – or charisma – or magnetism – or whatever you call it. I’m confident and funny and I listen well and I’m truly interested in other people. I get along easy with just about everyone. Illustrative incident: a great new cafe opened up near work, and I have been there every day this past week meeting various people (a friend, a first date, a volunteer coordinator, my writer’s group). On Friday, the barista came up to my table and said she’d really like to get to know me because she loved the interesting conversations I had with so many people, and she doesn’t even care that that sounds creepy. We laughed our heads off. We exchanged numbers. It was fun.

It’s not so great when many men I know either hit on me or end up developing feelings for me, and I keep having to do the rejection dances and often losing people I like and/or need. I was shielded from this for a long time because I was married. But I’ve recently gotten divorced, and this THING just keeps on happening.

When it’s a stranger or a low-key interaction of some kind, it’s easy for me to smile and say “That’s really nice, thank you, but no,” and keep going.

But sometimes it’s inconvenient. Like, my contractor, who is fully 25 years older than I am, says flirty things all the time and texts me that we should run away to an island together. IDK how to get him to back off without risking losing this thing rarer than unicorns – a good, affordable contractor.

Sometimes it makes me angry, like when a coworker asked me out, and after I politely said no, claimed he hadn’t been asking me out in “that way” at all, and then stopped talking to me, which makes me peevish because what the hell. What if it had been someone I actually need to work with?

Sometimes it’s genuinely uncomfortable. A casual friend who happened to go through a divorce at the same time as me tried really hard to get with me just because it was happening to us at the same time. I told him no, and he didn’t back off, so I had to stop talking to him.

Sometimes it’s just SAD. A beloved friend whom I only know online through my writer’s group confessed today that he’s caught feelings, “I’m a little bit in love with you.” This is actually what’s making me write to you. I hate this shit, Captain. What the fuck even. This guy is sweet and kind and as two people who are working on memoirs, we know some deep shit about each other. This guy is sound, so I know I won’t lose his friendship just because I say no. But it’s different now. I can’t share my writing with him anymore, not least because I’m writing about dating these days, and obviously it would be unkind to him to have to read that.

I’m just so sad today. And I think I’ve been sad about this for a long time, just never acknowledged it because as long as I could “deal”, I could not justify feeling bad about it to my feminist conscience.

But now I won’t deny it. This makes me sad, and upset, and I want to change this pattern if I can. What can I do to stop sending out these vibes, Captain?

There are wrinkle to this story:

1. I grew up with extremely repressive and abusive parents who hated it if I ever had friends and disowned me when I told them I had a crush on a boy. Not kidding. I was 18. A few years after that I married a man who was verbally and emotionally abusive, just always angry with me for whatever reason, punishing me with endless silences or yelling etc. For 30-something years of my life, I lived with people who have disliked me. I’m sure that messed with my head. It feels weird, weird, weird to realize people like the real me. Therapy helps, but it’s still a process.

2. While I always did have SOME friends through both childhood and marriage, I had much fewer chances to socialize. I feel like since my separation two years ago, I’ve finally come into my own. I can finally be myself without my mother calling me a slut or my asocial ex accusing me of being “fake” friendly.

3. I’ve had this problem with unwanted male attention since I was 11 years old. As a child I was blamed for it. IDK why I share this, except to say I’ve always had this issue, and I think I have felt bad about it for a very long time.

Anyway. That’s my super long question. As a good and faithful Captain Awkward reader for years, and also by dint of being a mouthy bitch from the day I learned to speak, I don’t believe I have boundary issues. What I have are maybe personality issues? Or something?

I just… I don’t know anymore. Can you help me?

– The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Here’s an awkward situation for you.

Backstory:

My acquaintance gave me a mattress in the summer, because it wasn’t working for her back.

I paid $260 for the movers. Unfortunately, they turned out to be creepy and unprofessional.

She’s convinced they stole things from her. At first I believed her, but now I doubt. They allegedly took a hard drive she had in storage, as well as her car keys. She’s sure they took more, but “can’t remember what.” She claims that she saw them come back 4 months after the move to attempt to go through her car…hmm. A great number of her complaints were regarding the fact that they didn’t speak English in front of her, so I had kinda been thinking she was having challenges with racism.

Current situation:

She contacted me a week ago, convinced that they swapped out the mattress in transit. I reassured her that this was not so.

Unfortunately, this opened conversation. Since giving me the mattress, she has discovered that she has stain protection insurance. She is having back issues again, and doesn’t like the new mattress she purchased.

She wants me to stain this mattress, have it cleaned, “discover” that the stain won’t come out, then have insurance replace it so that she can have the new one and I can get the one she’s using now.

It’s a completely different firmness. I’ve researched what she’s offering, and it’s entirely unsuitable for people of my weight and sleeping style.

Although she has assured me that she doesn’t blame me for the mover situation, she’s now exerting some significant pressure on me. She’s outlined in great detail how much money the situation has cost her, and has told me that the reason she’s pushing me is that she’s “fighting for her health.”

I feel sympathetic to her back issues, and I want to be a good human in this scenario.

But I’m currently unemployed and can’t afford to purchase another mattress if the one she’s offering doesn’t work. And I’d rather not commit insurance fraud.

We have many mutual friends. I feel like I’m stuck with her plan if I don’t want her to badmouth me.

More importantly, I don’t know the right thing to do.

No Such Thing As Free

(she/her pronouns)

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Hi Cap’n. 

Here is issue: My partners’ ex, and boundaries.

I have great relationships with my exes, I think it’s healthy and awesome. This is a new and different world, apparently.

My partner’s most recent ex is in our lives a LOT. There are good reasons for this that go beyond their ongoing friendship, but the upshot is that Ex has visited and stayed at our house approx. 1 week out of every month for the last four months. Ex and I get along… mostly. But we would likely not be friends in real life. She’s great in lots of ways but also incredibly different from me. To be honest I find her exhausting and sometimes horrible: a vain, high maintenance, superficial, demanding, selfish Regina George type. She calls other women “ugly”… a lot… she keeps everyone waiting for Makeup Reasons. She wants us to go to clubs and wears shoes she can’t walk in. Etc.

She also has radically different ideas about appropriateness from me: the first time I met her she walked topless past my partner, dropped trou with no warning and peed in the bathroom right next to me, etc. It’s not just her, they fall into these patterns together- he carries her purse, invites her to sleep in our bedroom (and bed!) to “be courteous to our roommate”, keeps me waiting at the house while they eat nice lunches, delays our special two day mini-break (for my birthday) for hours to do her sudden huge favors.

He knows this is shitty when I calmly (or occasionally shakingly) point it out. But he doesn’t anticipate it, and doesn’t predict the cumulative awfulness of it or why it means he should cool it on inviting her along on trips with us. He does feel terrible, and is incredibly patient and loving when I have an “I’m now an awkwardness alien who can’t fucking Person anymore” freakout. Never does annnything resembling deflection or gaslighting.

At this point I need a big, fat break from this person. And to take approximately ten thousand baths.

So tell me, how do I stop feeling like I have to constantly be the Boundaries Police, and do you think that’s even going to be possible?

(Not pictured: frequent references to their past, all their orgies and predictably boundaryless sex life. I’m all for fun group things, but I need to soberly discuss them before they happen. Again, he gets this, but has yet to demonstrate that as a practical behaviour before I find myself in a position of awful panic.)

Halp.

Ps, he is otherwise a dream, best partner I’ve ever had, no question. Just, ack. This is not nothing.

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Dear Captain,

I have been thinking about this one for some time now, and I’m stuck: What is a good response to “What are you up to tonight / this weekend / next Thursday?”

I loathe this question, and I’ve been getting it a lot lately. I get it from friends (who usually just want to find a time to hang and that’s not so bad), my cousin (who usually wants me to babysit), my mom (whenever she wants to invite me somewhere), and people I’m chatting with on dating websites.

This is why I hate the question:

1. I don’t want to give you a rundown of my plans. They’re private and you don’t need to know them. I kind of resent that you assume I will tell you.

2. I feel like it’s asking me to say yes or no to an invitation / commitment before I even know what it is (like, if you’re having a party I might be free, but my babysitting quota is full for the month so no to that). Ugh.

3. In the case of friends and dates, I feel like sometimes it’s a slightly manipulative way of getting me to do the actual asking / planning. Like, you want to hang out with me, but don’t want to ask me straight up. Why not? Just ask!

4. I don’t understand the point of the question. Usually, the asker will tell me why they asked after I answer, no matter what the answer is (busy, not busy, don’t know). No matter what I say it’s, “okay, well I was just gonna see if you wanted to [actual invitation / request]”.

I usually end up saying something noncommittal like “I might be doing xyz, but I’m not sure yet – why?” and waiting to see what the actual deal is. But I hate this because then I have to pretend to wait while I figure out if my original “plans” are going through before I give them an answer. Or, if I tell a potential date some generic things (oh, probably reading and writing a lot) and add that I’d like to take a break so they know I’m open, I’m engaging in the same coy behavior that’s bothering me in the first place.

It all feels like a gross, stupid game I don’t want to play. I know it’s a common question and I’m sure most people don’t mean anything bad by it. But it puts me on edge every time I hear it. Is it just me? Should I keep doing what I’m doing? Or is there a better way to handle this?

Thanks Captain!

Free for the Good Stuff

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