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the art of no

Hi, Captain!

I’m really suffering for my inability to say no. I’m pathologically afraid of refusing people or hurting them or letting them down, and so I keep ending up in situations where rather than being able to say ‘I am very uncomfortable with the direction this is going’ I pretend to be just as into it as they are. Actually, quite often I end up leading the way into something I know I don’t want to do, just because I can tell that’s the kind of person someone wants me to be (and I’m pretty much always right about their wants, afaict, but it does mean it’s definitely on me not them). I keep reminding myself it’s a problem and I need to stand my ground, but it’s like I’m trapped in my body while it goes through the motions. So by the time I manage to admit that I’m not ok with doing X, the person I was doing X with is almost always upset and confused because I seem super into it right up until I’m super not.

How do I break this habit, and learn to be true to what I want and am comfortable with, rather than dragging myself through this bullshit? The only advice I ever get boils down to ‘just don’t do it’ which is not the most helpful. How do you force yourself to stop something like this (which I’m 99% sure is a preemptive defence mechanism, like, ‘DON’T HURT ME, I’M SO NICE’)?

Thanks,
Suffering From Advanced Cool Girl Syndrome (pronouns she/her)

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Dear Captain

I live with my partner (W) and we have a lodger (H). W has a friend who lives abroad (M). M is an alcoholic with a coke problem (not addressed). He has just lost his licence for driving drunk which has also lost him work as he is a self employed builder. M is from same BigCity that W and I live in and M’s mother (also an alcoholic with lots of health problems) is going into hospital at Christmas, so M is coming home to BigCity for the holidays. W, H and I all had a conversation months ago where (I thought) we agreed that it was ridiculous for him to come and stay on our couch when he can stay at his own family home while in BigCity but that of course we would see him while he is in the country.

Fast forward to last week. I am working up until the Friday before Christmas. W tells me (on Wednesday) M is arriving in the country and will stop by to see us Thursday. Great! I get home from work Thursday and M is there. With his bags. M is staying ‘for a couple of days’. I am upset. W and I talk, I use my words to say Christmas is important to me, I wanted to spend it just us together and M has to be gone by Christmas Eve. When I get home from work on Friday, M is gone. Yay! I used my words and problem solved. Except…

M arrived on the 27th. M is only going to stay ‘a couple of days’ by which he means 3rd Jan. And M is only leaving then because his dad (just outside BigCity) has offered him a weeks work but M plans to return to us the following weekend. M has no return ticket to his country. I found all this out when M was already sitting in my front room. In fact, when he arrived I still didn’t know how long he was planning to stay (because a couple of days to me is two days) and it only became clear when he mentioned New Years.

I do not want to spend New Years with this man. I do not want him in my home. M has already in one day drunk all the wine in our house. I had planned to take the first week of January off for a much needed break. I have been working a stressful full time job at the same time as finishing my PhD which I only just submitted last month. At the same time W and H decided this would be the perfect time to start home renovation project which has been ongoing and very disruptive since the summer (sanding, painting, moving furniture boxes stuff everywhere). This year has been loooooooong. Now I’m thinking I should just go back to the office and not waste my leave with M in the house.

W thinks I said I did not want house guests over Christmas, meaning literally the 24th and 25th so he has not done anything wrong and I am being unreasonable, asking M to leave now is really rude and how come W is not allowed to have people stay when last year I had my friend stay for New Years so how is this different (she stayed two days, it was planned beforehand, I ASKED him if it would be alright), and M is his best friend. M is now making sad noises that if he’s in the way he can go stay all alone at his moms place while she is hospital. H is happy with him staying because M can help out with home improvement project, so I am on my own. How do I get W to understand why I am upset? Am I being unreasonable? How do I get M to leave?

Please advise,

Unhappy Party Pooper (She/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I couldn’t find anything like this in your archives, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for advice.

I’m a 23 year old woman and I’ve never been in a relationship. It just doesn’t particularly interest me, and I identify as an aro-ace and I feel satisfied by all my platonic relationships. I have dated in the past, which has clued me in to things I like and don’t like, and I’ve also come to realise that dating people I don’t know makes me really uncomfortable with the thought that they will want things I don’t.

During school, my friends told me that a guy at a party had been hardcore flirting with me and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve been messaging him on and off since and we’ve gone on two dates, and I don’t know him well enough to want to go on more – I want to know him as a friend before we try more dates. The problem is, one of my friends is meddling to try and push me into a relationship with him, and I just want to run the other way. Despite not hanging out in five years of school, she’s asked me twice in two weeks to hang out and if I decline to save money, changes plans conveniently so that I don’t have to pay anything. I know she’s meddling, and another friend has admitted as such. All she’s doing is making me want to duck my head and hide – the more she pushes, the less I want to know this guy at all.

I don’t know how to tell this guy that I want to know him as a friend before we progress without hurting his feelings, and I really need to tell my friend to stop meddling because it makes me really anxious and uncomfortable, but I have no idea how. Do you have any advice or scripts that might help?

Thanks,
Happily Single and Being Pressured

Dear Happily Single:

Be blunt and let them know where you stand. It’s actually the respectful, friendly thing to do. You can do it!

“Friend, stop meddling. I will work things out with this guy in my own way and at my own pace. You’re driving me bonkers right now and making me feel pressured and annoyed. Knock it off!”

“Guy, I like hanging out with you and I’d like to maybe be friends. I don’t think I want to go on any more DATE-dates for the time being, though I will let you know if that changes. Is that cool?” 

“I’m happy being single.” (Repeat as necessary, to the point where the conversations become very boring because you default to saying this every time the topic comes up). “But won’t you give him a chance?” “I’m happy being single.” “But he was flirting with you!” “Cool. I’m happy being single.” “I just want you to be happy.” “Good! I’m happy being single.” “But I thought you liiiiiked me.” “I do like you as a friend. I’m happy being single.” “I just want to help you.” “But I don’t want help. I’m happy being single.”

You already know what I’m gonna say: I’m happy being single.

Guy and Friend(s) will feel whatever they feel. Maybe Guy won’t be interested in hanging out just as friends. Maybe Friend(s) will deny their meddling or be offended that you don’t want them to do more of it and be miffed for a while. Maybe they will get it and apologize and stop pressuring you. You can’t magically prevent people from doing stuff that annoys you, but you can have a conversation where you let them know how you feel about it. Stop silently accepting their annoying behavior. You are not “being mean” or “causing trouble” by stating your needs and boundaries. 

You got this!

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband, “John”, is currently studying for a graduate degree. He has exams coming up so is spending all day every day in the library and then when he comes home he just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. It sucks and I miss him but we are dealing with almost never seeing each other properly because these exams are important right now.

My husband has a friend, “Martha”, who is doing the same course. Martha is taking the same exams. Martha lives in the building across from us. And I just wish Martha would fuck the fuck off and leave him alone.

Martha is incredibly psychologically needy and seems to have latched onto my husband as a target for her emotional vampirism. She doesn’t have a boyfriend or may other friends here. I am all for my husband having friends and for him sometimes needing to be there for them, but Martha wants his attention all the time. She messages him constantly about trivial chatty things and ‘needs’ him to reply immediately. They go to the library and spend all day there together, and then when they get home he feels he needs to invite her in for a drink or even sometimes for dinner because she’s “so lonely”. Then five minutes after she leaves (which is always well after I thought she ought to have left) she is messaging him again. This happens all day every day.

The thing that kills me is that my husband will come home and say how tired he is of Martha and how he wishes he didn’t have to see her again all day tomorrow. So I say, “You don’t! Just say you’re not going to that library and go somewhere else to work! Or when she makes her sad face and talks passive-aggressively about how she’ll just go and spend the evening alone again, just let her go! The world is not going to collapse if you ignore her stupid messages!”

But he doesn’t. He says how fed up he is of her (and I think he really is) but then nothing changes! He still gets guilted into spending all his time with her and getting sucked into her emotional neediness. I don’t want to turn this into some huge drama when he’s focused on his exams, but I cannot stand to hear about Martha one more time, I cannot stand to see Martha ever again and I cannot stand to know that she’s stealing his time and energy that he needs for himself right now (let alone for me!).

Please help me before I do or say something I regret!

Yours,
Hateful Wife

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Ahoy Captain,

Several years ago my fiance and I started hanging out with a guy named Devon*. At the time we started hanging out with Devon he was having a lot of personal problems. He was living in a hotel that he could barely pay for, slept all day and stayed up all night, and seems to have had a minor drug problem. Fiance and I, seeing that he was in a difficult situation, invited him to come live with us for a few months.

It’s been two years.

I like Devon, a lot, and I enjoy hanging out with him. He’s a sweet guy and being around him is simple and fun. I don’t necessarily want him to move out, which I guess is good for me because it doesn’t look like he’s going to any time soon.

Devon is now has a job, doesn’t do drugs, and kinda sorta pays rent *sometimes*.

My real problem, though, is housework.

I think it’s only fair that Devon take some responsibility for the house work. I’ve tried to talk to him about this so many times I’ve lost count. He always brushes me off, says he’ll do it ‘later’, he’s tired from work, or that the dishes in the sink aren’t ‘his’.

These excuses are childish the point of hilarity. I don’t argue about whose shit stain is whose on the toilet when I clean it, why does it matter whose dishes they are??. I brought it up again last night and he said “well I keep my room clean”. Well yeah, that’s all fine and dandy, I don’t expect him to clean my bedroom. I DO expect him to help with the kitchen and bathroom, which everyone uses every bloody day.

I’ve tried multiple tactics:

I’ve tried telling him what is expected of his as a member of our household

I’ve tried gentle encouragement

I’ve tried reasoning with him

I’ve tried yelling at him

I’ve tried explaining that it’s not fair for all the housework to fall on my shoulders since I’m not a damn maid

I have even tried boycotting all chores in the hopes that the revolting state of the house would encourage Devon to pitch it. The only outcome of that is, after a few weeks, the house (especially the bathroom) became so disgusting I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cleaned it myself.

What am I supposed to do about the cleaning short of kicking him out? I feel like I have tried everything. It’s driving me completely batty. In the past few months I don’t even bother doing more then a perfunctory clean because everything is always messed up 5 minutes later anyway. Sort of like in that episode of The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” where the kitchen door opens on a clean kitchen, swings closed, and opens messy (sorry couldn’t find the gif) [Ed note: FOUND IT]!

Kitchen from Bart Gets An Elephant

Evocative.

I can hear him cooking in the kitchen now and just dread the stupid mess of discarded vegetable parts that will be everywhere in about 20 minutes.

I have been very explicit about my expectations but he just doesn’t hear it. I’ve even asked my fiance to speak to him about it in the hopes that maybe he would be more inclined to listen to an older man. Nothing. Same brush off.

Help!

Molly Maid

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Dear Captain Awkward:

There is an elderly man in his 80s, who I will call Fred, who I have known for almost twenty years. He is known by almost everyone in the community as a grandfatherly figure and was voted Citizen of the Year. He likes to hug people, and I used to give him a hug whenever he asked, never thinking anything of it.

However, last spring I was put in an awkward situation. Fred knocked on the door to my apartment and I invited him in to talk. I was showing him a new book and he asked me to read to him. While I was reading, he suddenly slipped his hand under the back of my shirt and started massaging my shoulders. I was so stunned by this breach of boundaries that I did not know how to handle it. It was entirely inappropriate and I finally moved away but did not say anything.

For the next few months, I tried to avoid running into him around town. But twice during the past two weeks, Fred has run into me and asked for a hug. I gave him a quick hug, and both times, he jokingly complained that he didn’t want a “side hug” and he wanted me to give him a “full frontal hug.” He made a comment about noticing that I was “running away from him.” I am a large-chested woman and I think this is why he wants to hug me in this way. I like Fred as an individual, but his inappropriate touching behavior and pursuit of me makes me feel uncomfortable. How should I handle this?

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