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As promised…more “If you’re ‘not allowed’ to say no to someone, they are not acting like friends” content. I have kept the Letter Writer’s subject line as the post title so that readers too can have the “Wait, where is the part where this person is an actual mom” “Oh wait, phew, this person isn’t anyone’s actual mother, that would be even more horrifying” realization that The Goat Lady (my trusty inbox sorter) and I did.

Dear Captain,

I (she/her) have a friend, “Mary” who is, by her own admission, a “mom” friend. Mary is very kind– but emotionally overreaching. She feels responsible for making sure her friends are well cared for. Mary has even joked that if it weren’t for her, her friends would buy nothing but junk food and toys at the grocery store, instead of groceries. When we get together, Mary will insist on cooking, even when somebody else volunteers to cook instead. If one of us DOES cook, Mary will hover, or “help” by essentially taking over the cooking–adding ingredients and more or less pushing the other cook out of the kitchen. Mary will consistently cite any accident or mistake any of us have made as an excuse to swoop in. Then she will complain that she is always the one stuck with the cooking.

Mary also feels very much–if she thinks her friends are upset or potentially upset, she will become upset for them. (For example, I have been very stressed at work and with personal projects, and Mary started crying because I “am going to burn out” and that I am “such a perfectionist that you are going to hurt yourself!”) If I complain to Mary about anything, be it annoyance over traffic to a problem with a coworker, it becomes a “problem” and Mary is quick to give me unsolicited advice, get defensive for me or otherwise volunteer to help me solve this “problem.”

If she knows I am struggling with something, Mary will constantly bring it up (probably in an attempt to reinforce what she thinks is the “positive” message), or turn even a casual comment (“I wish could sleep for five years,”) into a big referendum or discussion on my mental health. If we have a difficult conversation or discussion, it will end with Mary crying, clutching me like I am some sort of child and even kissing the top of my head while I am just feeling frustrated. If I try to establish boundaries (“This isn’t a topic I am willing to discuss with you, let’s talk about something else”), my boundaries are immediately overridden. In fact, it seems as if my attempts to establish boundaries are interpreted by Mary as a further excuse to involve herself in me and my life!

I know that Mary is coming from a place of love and care. What reads to me as “manipulative” and “immature,” aren’t necessarily that–it’s just that it is to me! (Ed. note: IT’S NOT JUST YOU) I care very much about Mary but I am reaching the end of my rope. I understand this is part of the “mom” friend aspect, but Cap, I HATE being mothered. My own mother doesn’t even “mother” me. It has never worked on me, and will never work on me, no matter how many times Mary tries to become my surrogate mom. I’m trying hard not to become a hallmark-movie-style troubled teen and start yelling “You are not my real mom!” at her.

Sometimes, I just need to vent or talk about my issues without needing a “solution” or it turning into an “argument.” I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around Mary because even a casual joke (the kind that everyone in our generation and friend group makes!) becomes an emotionally exhausting exercise where I am left feeling emotionally infantilized and I start to resent Mary’s lack of maturity.

On top of this, Mary is attending therapy and seems to think herself the authority on all matters now–she declares herself an expert on conflict resolution but her form of “resolution” is to cry until she gets what she wants or can manipulate the narrative to seem like she was correct (in case it wasn’t obvious by now, Mary has an INTENSE martyrdom complex.)

I don’t want to lose Mary as a friend, and I can’t really get away from her for now. I don’t know how to explain to Mary that I don’t need a “mom” or a “mom friend,” and that her “mothering” is making it impossible to just be “friends.” How do you get a “mom friend” to stop “mothering” her friends?

I don’t know how to ask Mary to emotionally detach herself from me and my problems without making it seem like I am asking her to get out of my life. I also don’t know how I could possibly have these difficult conversations with Mary without it turning into an emotional meltdown on Mary’s part that she then projects onto me, as further evidence that I “need” her. Can you help me find a script to deal with Mary?

Thanks,

She’s not my mom (friend)

Optional P.S. Neither of us are parents, apologies if it was confusing!

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Yo, Captain!

I have a friend who I care about dearly but he keeps sending quite rude (almost downright racist) messages over a group chat I have with all of my friends, often targeted towards me and my heritage. A recent example is that he sent a photo of a map from almost 200 years ago and said “Ha, look, your country isn’t even on this map! It’s not a real country lol.” Another was when he kept trying to explain and then lecture me (quite patronizingly) about this country’s history (with inaccurate information, if I may add that) although I have family from this country and have read books about its history. I have told him that I find this rude and I have heritage from this country but I grew up in the same country he has, so I don’t understand why he can’t accept me as at least both nationalities. I used to be bullied for having “foreigner” relatives and being related to said country and his behaviour is similar to how it started out when I first was bullied (by other people, to clarify) which is making alarm bells ring. As it is on a group chat and I struggle with anxiety and confronting my friends (he knows this), then I find it difficult to call him out on his behaviour and I try to ignore the group chat, however, I feel like if I constantly ignore it every time people accept this behaviour more and it hinders my ability to communicate online to my group of friends (also, they know I get upset about it but I don’t expect them to do anything).

My solution was to block him on Facebook so he can’t directly message me and to avoid him on the group chat, which worked except he found out that I blocked his messages and keeps trying to call me out on the group chat. Other friends keep messaging me saying “why have you blocked him?” and then they post screenshots on the chat (so far I’ve replied with “what? I think my messages are just messed up at the moment”) so I’m afraid to tell them because these kinds of jokes are often made by him so that’s partly why no one goes “hey that’s not cool, friend.” I don’t want to be seen as humourless by telling everyone, because then people treat me like they’re walking on eggshells. Am I being irrational? Are they entitled to an explanation? Are there any scripts you could possibly give me?

Thank you,

from,

I Just Want To Talk To My Friend And Not Get Upset (she/her)

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Hi Captain,

I could really use your help with a situation I’ve been dealing with at work. My job is at a small marketing firm, and I have a lot of daily contact with our customers, both over the phone and by email (not in person). One of our customers, whom I’ll call Jim, has always been a bit of a weirdo. He has a tendency to get hung up on small details that are really unimportant, so he’s much “needier” than most of the people we serve, and everyone in my office suspects he has some sort of neurological or mental health issue, based on the way he communicates. For instance, on the phone, he’ll say one thing in a very friendly, “normal” way, and the next time he speaks, his voice will sound completely different and curt, almost as though somebody else has picked up the phone.

Anyway, my co-worker “Lindsay” and I have worked with him on a couple of projects since I started working here this spring. Recently it became apparent that he was getting us confused, probably because we have similar job functions and will trade off on work, and because we are both female and might not sound that different over the phone. At this point, Jim went and found pictures of both of us on the company website and saved them onto his computer, so he could “tell us apart” (which makes no sense, since we’ve never met). He also sent me an email individually telling me I was pretty, and he should have guessed, because I “sound so pretty over the phone.” He also emailed Lindsay and I jointly to comment on our appearances, and included winky faces and LOLs and the like which were not the norm for the professional tone we like to take in our emails. My (male) boss initially offered to speak to him about it, then changed his mind and said he’d let us decide how to handle it. We both ignored his emails and hoped that would be the end of it.

He called me earlier this week and immediately told me he was smiling because he had my picture up in his email and was looking at my pretty face. I completely ignored this comment and asked him a business-related question in a very serious tone, but he kept up the flirty comments throughout the call. Because I was flustered that he did not seem to understand professional boundaries, I could not think of anything to say to change the tone of our conversation, and giggled nervously a few times, which probably did not help his apparent impression of my willingness to participate in his flirtation. Now, every email that does not CC anyone within his own company is filled with the LOLs and declarations of how he “lives for working with [name of my firm].” I feel that each passing incident makes it that much harder for me to speak up and put him in his place. I dread talking to him.

My company is tiny, tiny, tiny, and we do not have HR. I have documented each of these exchanges, and have joked around about it with Lindsay and my boss. Now I don’t feel so jokey about it, I want it to stop. I think my boss could still address this for me, but I would much rather try to take care of it myself first. At this point, I’m at a bit of a loss, especially since the guy can be so Jekyll and Hyde, and was already weird to work with before he started with the creepy comments. Any ideas for me, that would minimize any damage to the business relationship? I’m not sure he’ll stop even if asked to directly, so I’d love some follow-up lines to reinforce my boundaries after the line is drawn.

Thank you so much for your advice. I wouldn’t normally be this shy about telling someone to STFU, but I’ve never had a customer get creepy with me before, and it’s obviously different than a random creeper encounter on my personal time.

Sign me —

My Appearance is Irrelevant

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I am trying to not make this question sound like a pity party, but will probably slip up somewhere. Apologies in advance and gratefulness for making this the space you do.

I feel like I am just plain mean a lot of the time. 

It’s confusing because I try to be really caring and positive and encouraging to my friends, there’s just this fucking mean streak too. I also work in Profession where Being Kind and Supportive is a huge part of my job and I don’t have any trouble there. The few times my friends have been my clients (which is ethically fine in this field) I have felt lucky because I feel like they finally got to see me at my best.

But outside of that I feel like there’s just this continuous stream of negativity that slips into conversations even with people I love, and I dig at people in subtle and not-subtle ways and don’t even notice it until the words have already flown out of my mouth. 

I think it is a defense mechanism because I don’t do it as much when I’m around people I feel comfortable with, but when I’m in a new social setting or around people I’m not sure like me I am just like…negative thought machine word vomit spout. It used to be way worse, but it is still often enough to sting and be totally inappropriate. 

I avoid getting involved with people who I can tell are no-bullshit and have good boundaries because I feel like they would automatically dislike me because of it, which sucks because I really respect people who have those skills and I am working on them myself. Simultaneously, I try to avoid becoming close with people who aren’t necessarily good at standing up for themselves, because I’m afraid of hurting their feelings.

I’m also really hard on myself, like 24/7 negative self-talk, which I know is my stuff to deal with, and I’m working on getting back in therapy. I guess what I’m wondering about is how to deal with Jerkbrain: Externalized so I’m not always hurting people I care about and feeling like I have to avoid social situations so I don’t ruin them for the people who are there to enjoy them, not be insulted.

I already know that what I’m doing is shitty and I am trying to find tools to be able to stop, because shaming myself about it is, surprise, totally ineffectual. Tips? Tricks? Personal red flags to look for? Mantras to repeat under my breath in bathrooms at parties? 

Thanks,

Jerk but Trying

Dear Trying Jerk:

The negative self-talk and the negative other-talk are connected. So yes, please go back to therapy.

I’ve been in the headspace you describe, for sure. I believe the clinical term is “total misery.”

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Darling Captain Awkward,

Most of your writers are adults. They deal with adult men. I, a female in high school, come to you with a even worse malignancy… teenage boys.

Oh, but you say: teenage boys? They’re perfectly harmless except for the stray sexual innuendo or the occasional Death Ray Pimple. But I’m also a scientist and mathematician, and I’ll let XKCD summarize what I usually deal with on a daily basis: http://xkcd.com/385/. Maybe add a few more pimples to the guy though. And maybe have, say, a guy to girl ratio of 10 to 1. And maybe fill up that page with sandwich jokes. 
Ignoring them is difficult during activities and labs because we work in teams. I’ve tried standing up for myself but I don’t really do well in panic situations and I’ve ended up gotten in some physical scrapes (nothing bad, but I’m kind of weak). The school has made it clear that they will only slap these guys on the wrist because they’re “honor students.” Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to just tells me that this isn’t a big deal and that I should just let it go. I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to figure this out, and I feel (and have been told) that I bring this onto myself by not laying low and batting my eyelashes. Am I overreacting?  How do I deal with this in the future?

I try to make light of what happens but, really, I am brokenhearted. I’m upset that most of the guys are going to top colleges and that I might not get in. I hate myself for not being able to let this go even though most of them have graduated, and I hate the social standard that I’ve noticed– when talking to my guy friends, they always talk about something productive; when talking to my girl friends, all we talk about is guys and other trivial things, and they don’t want to change. Mostly I’m just sad, lost, and afraid (and that’s not helping me deal with any of this). 
So, thanks, and I would love to hear your input.
Sincerely,
Pi Squared