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the gift of fear

i.e. “Your Old High School Friend Is Not A Pacifier”

Dear Captain,

I have a dilemma I hope you can help me with. I seem to have acquired an internet friend with needs a bit beyond my capacity.

I’ve struggled with depression all of my adult life. Fairly recently I decided to go on medication, and wonder of wonders, it’s helped so much. Because of that, I’ve been able to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

I wanted to share about my experience, so I wrote a Facebook post. It was overwhelmingly positive. Many people reached out to me to share their experiences as well, including an extremely distant acquaintance from high school. Call him Fred.

Fred has also had challenges with depression. From what I can gather, he’s having some challenges with drinking and drugs too. Ever since my post, he’s taken to checking in with me every couple of days.

At first I thought that was nice–people supporting people in their shared experience. But his check-ins have turned into demands. Call me! I’m triggered! Call me! I’m suicidal! Call me! I’m in trouble.

I know how hard it is to ask for help. I get that he’s not in a place where he’s going to be graceful at it. I would really like to be supportive. He’s in a lot of pain, and he’s isolated. However, he’s stressing me out.

When he contacts me, it’s with demands that I stop what I’m doing immediately and talk to him. We’re not on equal ground–he isn’t willing to schedule a call to talk to me at a time where I have time and energy to pay attention. And his check-ins aren’t about me, they’re about me asking how he is.

Last night I stayed up (far past my sleep time) trying to get a sense of the territory of his dilemma. Two hours in, I asked him a question to try to understand, and he responded, “Plz stop analyzing it. It’s not helping!!!! You can analyze on your own time.”

Of course I am open to hearing that what I am saying is not useful. However, I’m not his therapist. I’m not even his friend. I’m just a concerned fellow citizen. This was at 1 am in the morning, after I had spent the entire afternoon worrying when he told me that he was drinking and thinking about killing himself. It really bothers me to be told that I am on payroll.

I don’t want to be a bad human here. I want to be supportive as I can. However, I need a way to set some boundaries so that I don’t have to feel worried, guilty, and sleep-deprived all the time.

Any suggestions?

Impromputu therapist
(preferred pronoun she)

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A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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Ahoy Captain and Crew!

So I’m seeing a Dude. We’re very new; I started dating him about two months ago but one month in, I went to Spain for a month and just got back.

I like this dude. He’s handsome, smart, and seems to have his head together. The sex is great. But! There are some issues, already. He lives across the street from me. My last relationship was long-distance for five years, and I’m quite used to my independence and need a lot of space. My ideal relationship: I see him maybe once or twice a week! We have amazing sex and fun times! We also occupy ourselves with our friends and work! We get closer from there over several months naturally, as we discover more about each other and realize how much we like each other! Maybe we wind up practically living at each other’s houses, at some point!

His ideal relationship (as it seems to me): I am literally over at his place allll the time, spend the night allllll the time, and am very very intertwined with him unless he’s at work, allll the time, from the moment of meeting him on.

We’ve had some issues around this already. He asked me randomly (I think it was on our third date) when I was going to “make time for him.” (on a date, when I was literally making time for him as we spoke). I say something complementary about the décor of his apartment; he replies with a snarky comment about how if I liked it so much I’d be there more. On our second date, he said if we weren’t spending Christmas together we’d “better be spending Thanksgiving together” (I was still trying to decide between several different options for Thanksgiving, all of which were friends / family who were not him, as we’d basically just met). Later, he said he didn’t say that thing about Thanksgiving.

So I just got back from Spain. I called him when I got back, and he wanted me to come out to a bar to meet him. I didn’t want to, because I was jet lagged and had a headache (did I mention I started having chronic headaches shortly after we met? Unrelated to him—I swear). I said no to the bar, and he said “I’m coming home to see you then!” Anyway, I was headachy, jet lagged and tired, and at first I said yes (because I really did want to see him), but then thought about it and called back to ask if we could reschedule for the next day because really I just wanted to go to bed and recover from the trip. He seemed upset and hurt, and made some snarky comments about how I “seemed to have a set bedtime.” I suggested meeting up the next afternoon and he seemed irritated by the whole idea. Anyway, I guess we are meeting up tomorrow afternoon but now he seems to have some sort of feelings about that.

I want to give him a chance, but I really don’t like this pattern. The headache situation is pretty bad; I’m very worried about it and am proactively trying to address it (lots of doctor’s appointments; I’m getting health insurance next week, etc.) In this situation, I seem to have less capacity to deal with relationship demands.

I’m not sure how skewed my perception is though; I’m not sure if a). my last long-distance relationship messed up my idea of what a “healthy” relationship or getting-to-know-you pace is, or b). if my headache is basically making me unable to be in a relationship; or c). if he’s being wayyyy clingy (or more accurately, would be more comfortable if I was wayyyyy clingy) and wanting to push this relationship along faster than I’m comfortable with. My instinct says c, but I guess I just need to see what others think.

Thank you all!

You’re welcome.

Sorry for what I’m about to tell you:

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My friend told me a creepy story this weekend. A clean cut man with a clip board knocked on her door and asked her questions about one of her neighbors. He asked my friend if she knew the neighbor, and when my friend demurred because something about it felt off – “I just moved here, don’t know anyone that well” – he pulled out a picture of the neighbor from a manila envelope and was like “are you sure?” My friend held fast and eventually he went away.

She asked the neighbor (who she does know) about it later, and the guy is a stalker. Fun!

So, safety reminder time:

  • Just because someone knocks on your door it doesn’t mean you have to open it or engage with whoever it is. If you’re not expecting anyone, and they sort of catch you out as being home, “It isn’t a good time!” + ignore.
  • People who have some legitimate reason to be there will show you an ID, and (esp. for utility company) if you say “Mind if I verify that?” will be okay with you looking at their ID, writing down numbers, and hang out without protest while you call the company. Someone who gets squirrely about this is bad news.
  • Stalkers like to glean information anyway they can. Don’t give out information about your neighbors and/or coworkers to strangers. We are socialized to tell the truth and to be nice, and that’s hard training to overcome especially when someone catches you off guard, but “I don’t know” and “Why don’t you leave your information” are good stock phrases.
  • If you live in a multi-family housing situation, be a mensch about security. Lock doors and gates. Don’t randomly buzz people in. Walk downstairs and greet the pizza delivery person, don’t prop the gate or door open or let strangers into the building.
  • Creeps will often manufacture very good reasons they need to get into the building. “Your downstairs neighbor knows me, I’m early, can you let me in to wait for her?” or “I’m friends with your neighbor, and she said she was leaving a key out, but I can’t find it, and my cell phone battery is dead, can you help me find it” = NOPE. You don’t have to let anyone in. “Sorry dude, there’s a diner down the street where you can wait. What did you say your name was?

Signed,

A woman who used to be plagued by a dude who would drive to her house in order to look into her windows and jack off (true story!)

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m newly single, and getting back into dating. I went on a date last night with a guy I met on OKC. We met up at a bar, and he seemed cute and smart, and as we talked it seemed like we had lots in common! But about twenty minutes in, it seemed clear he wanted to do the touching-kissing thing. I had just met this person, and I wanted to get comfortable around him before I let him put his hands on my body (even though he was cute and promising!). So I was sitting kinda sideways and he was sitting facing me, legs apart, physically accessible, etc.

He said something like, “You’re very guarded. I’m in the restaurant business and we read people quickly and I can tell that you’re very guarded.”

I felt weird, but there was this voice in my head saying, “You never let yourself just flirt and have fun!” So I sat facing him and let him touch my leg, and we kissed and had drinks, and the conversation was good! And we had a lot in common! And he was a good kisser!

Then he told me about a male friend of his in the military who got falsely accused of rape. Apparently the guy was going down on the woman, and she told him to stop, and he didn’t. She made a rape accusation and then later said she was lying.

So this guy (my date) said, my friend didn’t penetrate her—it was just oral sex! She didn’t physically resist! She made that accusation about three other people! She said she was lying!

I was thinking, 1. That was rape. 2. Wouldn’t be surprised if three other guys also didn’t listen when she said to stop, because that isn’t uncommon. 3. Women retract these accusations under pressure all the time. Warning lights are going off in my head. But I didn’t want to get into a fight about rape with a stranger. So I redirected the conversation.

Then after a while he said “I would really like to kiss you in a place other than here.” I took this as “I am ready for you to invite me to your place now.” I was caught off guard. So I said, “I don’t think I’m ready to sleep with you yet.”

So he said saying, 1. I just want to make out! I never said anything about having sex! 2. We should do this soon because the attraction is here now and if we wait it will fizzle out. 3. Are you worried about being a slut? I feel pressured and uncomfortable. He asks what’s wrong. I say, 1. You told me about how you think things that are rape are not rape. 2. Now you are pressuring me to take you home with me.

He was immediately horrified. He started saying “Calm down! Relax! You shouldn’t be so anxious!” I felt more and more uncomfortable. Finally we parted ways. I went home and sobbed. I have no idea why. I think I missed how easy it was between me and my ex, and now it’s like, ahhh, weird dating is my new reality!! Plus I just felt sooo uncomfortable.

My questions are, 1. Is it weird that I really don’t like being touched or kissed within 20 minutes of meeting someone? I Is that what’s expected these days? It happens to me a lot. I think everyone is reading Neil Strauss and think they have to “kino escalate” immediately.

2. Is there a script I can use when someone tries to touch me before I’m ready? One that is friendly?

3. I’m looking for my next meaningful relationship, ideally, but I wouldn’t be against having a fling. But I feel my idea of “casual sex” and most guys’ is different. Mine = we go out! We flirt! We go to art galleries and museums! We have sex sometimes, once we’re ready! But not very often / we date other people. Theirs = I expect sex immediately when we meet, and thereafter whenever I text you even if it’s 2AM, I expect you to come over and service my needs.

Does anyone have experience expressing what their idea of casual sex is and guiding the other person’s expectations toward that, provided casual sex is something they want too? I feel like what happens is I run into this “We must have sex right now!!” expectation and then I flee.

And finally, 5. Should I have calmed down? Was I overreacting about this guy’s creepy rape story? Intellectually I don’t think so, but there is a loud voice in my head saying “You ruin everything by overreacting all the time!!”

Thanks for your thoughts!

Awkward Dater

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A big guy touches a little guy who shrinks away and says "No Touchy!"

Captain Awkward,

I just found your blog an hour ago, and haven’t really found anything fitting my situation.

I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date. I don’t see him often, only every few weeks at work. But he touches me – every time, the whole time. Too-long hugs, rubbing my back, touching my arm, sitting next to me instead of across from me in the cafeteria, and the most uncomfortable of all – saying I love you every time I say something slightly witty or funny. When I used to go after work for food with him and others, he would always pay for my meal. First time I literally did not have enough money for a meal. Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way (What?).

Yesterday he crossed some line in my head. I said goodbye, I need to clock in, and you should go home since you’re off. He followed me outside to the clock in area and just kept hanging out there even though I was technically working. I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue, and I do not want him to follow me around, touch me, or pay for my food. Ever.

Unlike similar situations I saw you answer, I’m not making excuses for him, I don’t care to keep his friendship if he doesn’t stop acting like this, and while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me. He seems very nice, we’ve worked for the same company over two years, but I wouldn’t say I know him well enough to keep making excuses. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop.

I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop. He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. I don’t care one way or another about losing this “friendship” but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

I am sick of worrying that he will be working the same shift as me, and need help on how to say something without being my normal blunt-edging-into-mean-self.

Desperate for advice,

Stop Touching Me

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