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the gift of fear

Dear Captain,

A bit over 3 years ago, I (she/her) went out with a guy (he/him) I met through an online dating site. We had some drinks, slept together, and then I basically ghosted him – ignored a couple of texts, then moved out of the country, changed my number, and never thought about him again. I’m not proud of ignoring his follow-up messages and wish I’d handled the situation differently – but at the same time, our date was very casual, I made it clear that I was not looking for a relationship, and he knew I was moving out of town the next week.

Flash forward to today, when I hit “accept” on a request from an account that’s been trying to message me on a social messaging site – usually I only accept requests from friends, but I decided to see what this was about. What I got was a trove of messages from this guy, dated from last year through last week, ranging from your garden variety emojis to several super intense declarations like “the thing I regret most in life is not spending more time with you.” UM.

Captain, if I had seen the first of these messages I would have sent a “Thanks but not interested, wish you well!” But I’m feeling completely overwhelmed by this backlog (for the record, the tone of all his messages is flattering / wistful / a little deferential – not pissed off or threatening). I know I behaved somewhat badly towards him – I wish I’d been more kind and direct when we went out, or when he later tried to contact me. Back then I was a pretty inconsiderate casual dater, and since then I’ve been really trying to treat people more carefully, and default to Using My Words. But does this level of, what – oblivious persistence? – on his part (again: it has been three + years) make that no longer my responsibility? Has this become the kind of thing where I *should* cut and run? I’d appreciate some help thinking through who’s owed what here, and when someone else’s weirdness means I don’t have to own up to my own.

– More Than Moved On

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It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

My sister and I need some help with a potential situation this Christmas. My mother’s extended family has Christmas at her house every year on Christmas day and my sister and I usually stay with my parents in the days leading up to Christmas.

However, at Thanksgiving we ran into a situation. My cousin Amy’s husband Dan is demonstrating inappropriate behavior. In the past, he has come up and hugged us without asking or anything like that which we have dealt with by staying away from him. However, at Thanksgiving he thought it was funny to flick his lighter on and hold it under my sister’s arm. When she told him to stop, he did it again. She told him to stop a second time and he did but then he tried to hug her like he hadn’t just attempted bizarre act against her. I am apparently the only one who saw this and I got us out of there quickly. I mentioned it to my parents but as far as I know, no one has done anything about it.

In the past, anytime we have said something against any type of behavior, everyone shrugs it off as harmless and “he was just playing.”

We know we are going to be sharing the same space with him for a couple of hours on Christmas day, do you have any advice on what we can do?

Thank you,

Worried Sister

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m Luke from #728. (The Solo family is fine, no worries.) I got a lot of mileage out of the suggested scripts then and I find myself in need of some completely unrelated scripts now.

I am not usually a dating-type of person. I’m not anti-dating. I’m dating agnostic, if you will. But I’m over 30 and don’t date and get a lot of “Your biological clock is ticking, dear” from *everyone* because hell is other people. Anyway, a dude I’ve known forever asked me out and we went on a handful of dates over a three-month period. I thought we were fine! Spoiler: We were not fine.

I have a dog named Crybaby. I mostly call her “Babe” or “Baby.” This has never been a problem before, because why would it? But this dude came over to pick me up for a date and went off on a four-and-a-half minute MAXIMUM VOLUME FEELINGSBOMB in the middle of my kitchen about how calling the dog “Babe” was disrespectful to him (??), calling her “Baby” was disrespectful to our future children (!!), and disrespecting him and our future children was disrespectful to his mother (?!?!). I just stood there and stared over his shoulder at the clock on the wall until he finished blowing up. Then he walked out, slammed the door, and got in his car.

I got a baseball bat, dialed 9-1 on my cell, and stood at a window with my thumb hovering over the “1” until he drove away. Apparently, I was supposed to run after him and apologize? I changed into sweats, gave Crybaby a treat, and ate a pint of ice cream for supper because that was upsetting.

The problem is, my entire family knows his entire family. My dad and his dad and his uncles all belong to the same hunting club. My sister and his cousin are besties. Our grandmothers go to the same church. I am in a book club with his mother. My options seem to be (a) quit society and move to a cave and eat worms, or (b) spend the entire holiday season explaining why I won’t return this dude’s calls *at Christmas*. I don’t want to eat worms! I want to strike a balance between “He doesn’t like my dog so he’s dead to me” and leaning into the other person’s space and saying, “He stood this close to me and SCREAMED LIKE THIS for four minutes because he doesn’t like my dog’s name.” This is so bizarre. I am at a loss. If you could suggest any kind of scripts for this clusterfudge, I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you,

Luke

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Dear Captain,

I have a colleague, “Peter”, who I’ve known for several years. We first worked together at a festival, and added each other on facebook/phone for organisational reasons, as he was the crew leader. Over time we have become friends, although I do see him as more of a colleague as he is 20 years older than me with a kid, and I’m a student. I worked with Peter again this year, and during the festival he split with his girlfriend. Naturally he was upset, and I was sympathetic – at first.

Recently, he has been pestering me on social media, and on the phone when I ignore his messages. I shouldn’t ignore him, but he frequently sends me random unsolicited updates on his life/ weirdly personal accounts of his break up, often at 2am, and I don’t know how to respond. Sometimes I will commiserate, but then he will turn on me and ask these loaded passive aggressive questions like “you really ok with this?” or “am I being obtuse”, so I have stopped responding as I don’t have the time or emotional energy to deal with him right now.

I think he is just looking for a friendly ear, but I’m struggling to deal with someone who is so emotionally vulnerable and so different from me. When I do respond, we get our wires crossed, so I try and keep my replies neutral. For example, he had been trying to recruit my young best friend to his crew, and even after I said she wasn’t interested multiple times, he added her and starting talking to her on social media. I got annoyed at him over boundaries and he got in this huge strop about how he could do what he liked. Then he eventually apologised, but the rift keeps widening.

Peter constantly questions how deep our friendship really is, and to clarify, I have always seen him as a friendly work colleague. From my point of view, him pouring out all these emotions on to me seems very strange, as surely he must have closer confidantes his own age? I probably sound quite cold, but I don’t think he should be discussing the legal issues and horrible drama of his break up with me.

I want to maintain our good working relationship, but don’t know how I can enforce boundaries, particularly on social media. Help!

She/her pronouns please. 

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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