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This is the last day of the Summer Pledge Drive, where I post the links for making a (non-tax deductible) gift  through PayPal or  via Dwolla.  Your generosity so far has been amazing and I am so humbled and pleased with the outpouring of support. A new computer will be within reach when this one goes. I will be able to pay down some debt and have a little bit of an emergency fund. And, I bought a ticket to see Janelle Monae at the Vic on October 21. Yes, YOU made it possible for me to see my dream show with my dream artist. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These two letters are representative of many I have gotten in the inbox over the past few years, and I think a lot of you will recognize yourselves somewhere in here. I think I finally have a way to frame this discussion that is maximally reassuring and honest. Please allow me to suggest some background reading before you dive into this post: The Dirty Normal on Attachment Styles.

Hey Captain!

I have a male co-worker who I am friends with outside of work. A few months ago, his wife’s work schedule changed and since then my husband and I have been hanging out with my co-worker and his wife “Clara” frequently. I like them and they’re good people, but his wife is the kind of person I enjoy best in small doses; I am shy and reserved, she is very outgoing and can be overbearing. 

Lately Clara has been inviting me to do stuff with her 2 or 3 times every week. Usually it’s a 6+ hour event with a group of 3 other girls. She frequently talks about how close we are and how great it is that we’re such good girlfriends. The thing is we’re not that close yet. We’ve only been hanging out for a few months and I actually am much better friends with their husbands & boyfriends, all of whom are my co-workers (I work a heavily male-dominated engineering field).

I do like these girls, I appreciate being included in these plans, but it’s just too much! So, I’ve started to decline every third invitation or so. The problem is, Clara bends over backwards to accommodate me. If I say I can’t make it, she’ll suggest 3 other days. When I decline those, she’ll try to squeeze the event in between my morning rock climbing club meetup and my date night, for example. I find this very stressful because she obviously is trying hard to include me and I end up having to refuse the same invitation 4 times! I can tell it hurts her feelings when this happens.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I definitely want to cultivate more female friendships in my life, but I feel like I’m being forced into some kind of weird Sex In The City fantasy of Clara’s instead of the more casual way I prefer friendships to form, where different people make the plans every time instead of one person being the Designated Event Coordinator.

How can I kindly get Clara to back off a bit without burning bridges?

Thanks,

I’m Not Carrie Bradshaw

Dear Not Carrie:

This is a “classic” advice question that perfectly fits the paradigm of many questions we have around here:

Dear Captain Awkward:
A person is making me uncomfortable and doing stuff that violates my boundaries.
How do I stop them without hurting their feelings or making them feel uncomfortable?

And you guys are all so nice, and kind, and considerate, and working so hard to be fair to the other person! But the fact remains, if the behavior is making you uncomfortable, things are already uncomfortable. Often to the point that you might have to scorch the earth of the relationship if whatever it is keeps continuing, but you’re still looking for a way to let the other person down easy. There is a perception that speaking up for boundaries is somehow introducing conflict into a situation, or at very least, escalating it in an unkind way, like, everything was fine until you spoke up for your needs and now you made it weird.

So I’d like to perform a bit of a mind flip.

  • When your shoulders are going up around your ears…
  • When you are spending a lot of time strategizing about how you deal with a person. “I will accept every third invitation…
  • When you are avoiding someone you are theoretically supposed to be friendly with…

…things are already uncomfortable enough to speak up about them.

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Dear Captain,

I’m in a very happy long term relationship. The biggest problem we face is we’re both introverts, and have some social anxiety along with it. It’s hard to make friends, but we’re trying. We’re very geeky, so we’re trying to get involved in geek spaces.

Next comes the big hurdle, we have diet issues. He has really bad food allergies, and I’m vegetarian. At home we’re fine, we can work around our issues, but…

Social gatherings almost always involve food. We barely eat out anymore because it’s not worth the risk of being so sick afterwards. The local cosplay group meets inside a pizza place, the local crafting group meets at a BBQ place. Going to someone’s house means feeling like entitled jerks for having to grill them on labels and cross contamination, or hoping they’re cool with us packing our own food.

There’s a cosplay meet-and-greet at a con coming up, at a restaurant where we can tell ahead of time nothing’s going to be safe. Is it rude to request it be held on the patio if that’s an option?

What are some scripts for turning down food invitations? Is there a polite way to suggest social gatherings that don’t take place somewhere that could kill him? Right now we’re both so worried about coming across as Entitled Jerks that we tend to just avoid all the gatherings that involve food, which means we don’t get out much at all. We want to make friends, but we also don’t want to get Frequent Flier points at the ER. How can we compromise?

We’re already learned that saying the specifics of the allergy means people will generally lecture us that there’s no way whatever food could contain that allergen, even if we already know it does, so it’s best to stay vague when declining invitations.

Healthy Hermit

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Dear Captain & Friends,

A while ago, I had a falling out with a lover I’d had for a relatively short time. They are in the habit of not speaking to people when displeased with them, and my last contact with them was to say that I would contact them when I felt like I was in an emotionally good place to talk again. I also made it clear that they could contact me before then, and I’d be open to scheduling a talk at that time.

After some time and hearing some of the hurtful things they said about me to my primary partner, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to talk to them. Some of my actions and habits were clearly misinterpreted, and while I don’t think this former lover is a bad person, I also don’t think they use their words enough for me to feel comfortable around them. I use my words A LOT, and I’m pretty direct about discussing what bothers me, why, and if I think it needs to be changed or it’s something I know I need to relax about. They didn’t choose to communicate their boundaries or feelings to me, except for a little bit at our falling out, when it was already too late for us to talk about fixing things. That’s not the kind of (lack of) communication style I want in my life. I’ve already started taking a look at how I was misinterpreted and deciding what I want to do differently in the future, with other people, to avoid that issue the best I can.

There are two problems with this.
1) I feel guilty because I said I’d say something when I personally felt like the rest of my life was going smoothly enough for me to talk. I don’t care for going back on my word.

2) We share a (large, to be fair) social circle, which they’ve been in far longer. I get anxious when considering going to events I know this person will be at, not knowing what they may have said about me to other people (they spoke poorly of one person they were *still sleeping with* when I was seeing them) and also fearing what people will think if they notice me and this person avoiding each other/not speaking.

What do you think? Should I offer to schedule that talk, or at least say I don’t care to? What kind of script could I use? And how can I deal with going to the same events?

Thank you for your time.

Going for Calm & Responsible

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend and I have been going out for about a year and he is the best and I hope we stay together for a very long time. Lately (being about half a year) I’ve been dealing with feelings of jealousy. And not toward other women, he has never given me a reason to doubt his faithfulness. But I do get jealous of his time. We spend a lot of time together, and often when we’re not together we’ll chat over Skype. He feels very strongly that he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping, making a back and forth conversation difficult. And I understand and am sympathetic to his need for personal space. But when it comes right down to it I end up feeling ignored and rejected. I want his attention to be on me when he’s with (or “with” in the case of Skype) me. I always promised myself I wouldn’t be one of these clingy, jealous girlfriends, and I try to fight the feelings when they arise but I can’t stop myself. 

And so, on an almost daily basis, I’ll start feeling a little abandoned. I will then say something or do something to try to get his attention. When he catches on he insists that I back off a bit. This leads to me feeling more abandoned than I did before. And then, in the most childlike fashion, I will throw a fit, which usually ends in tears until he comes to comfort me. And lately, he’s been getting so fed up with my antics that he refuses to comfort me, leading to greater fits, the most recent one almost ending in a panic attack.

I know that he is frustrated by my behaviour, and I am frustrated by my behaviour, especially as it drives a deeper and deeper wedge between us. And I always end up blaming myself which only adds to my already enormous anxiety. And I know that I am the one over-reacting in this situation, but I do wish the he would maybe be more sympathetic to how I feel and more willing to share his attention. I think his fear is that if he gives in an inch then I will take a mile (which, in all honesty, is possible). 

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Thanks to everyone who came to yesterday’s gelato-eating and gab session. The best part was sitting at the table and being able to identify who was there for the meetup by their 1) excellent fashion choices 2) friendly demeanor and 3) carrying-of-books. I’m sure we’ll do other Chicago-based events, though as a reminder, you don’t have to wait for the team of Logic/Awkward/Machine if you want to plan something.

Today’s questions involve some gross bathroom problems so they are going behind a cut in case you’re reading this at lunch.

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Ahoy there, Captain, and fellow Awkward Army.

Sad Keanu sits on Fry's dog

Artists’s depiction of how sucky things are right now.

As I am typing this, work has been massively stressful and busy for me–I work at the busiest gas station in my city and despite being part time, I consistently get 40-hour/at least 30-hour work weeks; the end of the summer semester is drawing very near, and next semester (which I only have a week break in between the two) is going to be even more hectic, with twice as many classes; because I am so busy, I very rarely see my main core of friends, who live 45 minutes away from me; I am in a very bad place mentally, dealing with lots of anxiety and general sad feels; and to top it all off, I have now split up from a boy I didn’t want to break things off with, because I’m still emotionally invested in him, even though we were on the opposite ends of “Displaying Affection and Something Resembling Caring” Spectrum and I was hoping to talk to him about it but we had a snit about him never hanging out with me that eventually accumulated into breaking up.  Read More

Dear Captain Awkward, 

My wife has contributed so much to my life.  In college, I made a difficult transition from developmentally-challenged homeschooled Evangelical missionary wannabe to Libertarian to a proto-value-actual-people-and-outcomes-and-recognize-cognitive-biases-and-reject-satisfying-internal-consistencies-ist.  The latter doesn’t actually have content; I was shattered and adrift, trying to find my voice.  Hell, discovering the phrase, “find my voice” was actually a huge win for me.  I was painfully undersocialized to the point where I was leaving huge cash tips to avoid having to asking waitresses for change.
 
And then I met someone.  She was smart and knowledgeable and funny.  My company delighted her.  She taught me all kinds of things.  She created a space wherein I was able to develop emotionally in ways I’d been fundamentally lacking.  Due in no small part to her, I have become awesome.  And life is so good.  We read together.  We take long walks together.  We watch interesting films together.  My heart still leaps when I come home to her.  I am happy.
 
What’s the problem in this picture?  Well, she has an atypical emotional framework.  Outside of well-established routines, she has difficulty with the idea of me not being with her.  Even my cleaning the apartment causes distress.  The last time I really tried to push hard against this, I went to hang out with some friends, and she called me while I was on the highway, sobbing, wailing, and begging me to come home.  I turned my car around.  This was years ago.  She doesn’t like this about herself, and under her initiative, she’s been seeing a psychiatrist for years.  I think she’s a lot better with this kind of thing now, but at this point, I’m pretty well conditioned, and we reinforce each other.