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Dear Captain Awkward,

I did not grow up in a house that did conflict- I joke (but not really) that I wish my parents had fought in front of their children. Because there was never an emphasis on healthy conflict, all conflict equals bad conflict. While I feel that I can talk to my dad about issues, the real problem is my mom.

When my mom calls (every day/every other day), I go through a nerve wracking thought process. If I don’t pick up the phone (because I had a long day, because I don’t want to talk to her or anyone), she’ll become more and more anxious and escalate communication attempts. I find myself yelling to the phone, ““What do you need!?!” as it rings and before picking up. If I do pick up the phone, immediately she’ll ask, “What’re you doing?” in a tone that implies I’m doing something bad. When she calls, it’s rarely about anything time sensitive or an emergency- it’s mostly just to chat.

If she calls when I’m in traffic, and I pick up the phone and say I can’t talk, I’m dealing with driving, her tone is disappointed. However, sometimes driving is the best time to call her, because I can say that I’m home now so I have to go.

For example: I had a very busy day at work. My mom texts me a general “How’s your day going?” type of text. Nothing time sensitive, not an emergency. I see the text and ignore it because I’m in meetings all day and don’t have the brain space to deal with it right then. That evening, I go to a bookclub that my mom and I are a part of. She sees me, and immediately has a wide eyed expression, and exclaims, “Didn’t you see my text? Why didn’t you answer???” Then I have to reassure her that I was busy all day, and besides, I would see her that night.

Recently her most passive aggressive text: She posted in the family text chain, “Any recommendations for a Pandora running station?” at 5:00pm on a Sunday evening. No one responded that night, and the next morning, she posted, “Thanks fam!”

I feel that I’m good about getting back to her- I usually respond to a text within a couple of hours, and never more than 24 hours.

I’ve seen her and my dad every weekend for the past month (which is way too much in my books, but it included some family event things). When I’m at their house with my brother and sister, I find myself constantly making sure that she doesn’t feel neglected or teased. If she feels that we are not bonding as a family as she’d prefer, she lashes out and becomes mopey and angry.

I’d like to not go full nuclear and destroy the relationship, but I’m tired. I’m tired of constantly checking my phone, because if I miss a call I’m going to hear about her anxiety and how much she freaked out. If I miss a text and don’t respond for a couple of hours, I’ll get a “You ok??????” type of text and escalating from there.

What I really need: a way to tell my mom that her constant need for contact and communication is too much. Basically my mom has no chill and low boundaries, plus a heaping dose of mother anxiety. Help me!

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My brother died suddenly in an accident in May. He was my only full sibling. The only sibling I grew up with and lived with. I also have 3 older half siblings from my father’s first marriage- we’re not super close, we see each other at holidays and text quarterly updates. After the funeral, I had to plan my wedding happening just 8 weeks after my brother’s death. The trouble starts when I am texting with T (the oldest half sister) and say that I am having a hard time because my mother is emotionally unavailable due to her grief. T has a tense relationship with my mother and uses this moment to tell me how unreasonably angry my mother was acting when she last saw her. I am LIVID and stop responding. T says “sorry, it just made her sad.” I lose a day of wedding planning to being angry and trying to figure out how to respond. I give up and send no reply.

In the following weeks, T sends a message explaining her behaviour and then tells me that I am acting unacceptably. I tell her that I need some time and space. My other sister K is sent to get some answers and I tell her to mind her own business. T gives me 10 days and then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine. She doesn’t want to come to my wedding because she’s not sure if I even love her anymore. I tell her that needing space was about me not her. At this time she also makes a plea to my parents to get them to make me talk with her- they say she should just leave me alone. My father sobs and begs T to attend the wedding.

At the wedding, T shows up late and leaves early. I generally avoid them and have a fine time. After the wedding she blocks me and my parents on facebook and gets her husband and mother to do the same. I text T that I am available to talk now, but understand if she needs space. No response. I text K and say apologize for being snappy and telling her to mind her own business. She blasts back demanding I take responsibility for everything – for making my “wedding into a battle ground”, shattering all of the relationships, and “single handedly tearing our grieving family apart”. I’m at a loss. Am I selfish? Are they? How much of this is my fault? Should I just cut my losses? Help?

-One wedding and a funeral

(Preferred pronouns she-her)

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Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

Signed,
There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?

Hi Captain!

I’m going to be going on a vacation with my family soon. We are visiting multiple countries in Europe. I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does. No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them.

The problem is my mom. My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused- but I also feel very attacked and unhappy when she starts to criticize the things that I spent so much time researching so that everyone would enjoy them. When we went to Vegas she pitched a fit because she wanted to see ‘a show’ but didn’t want to go to any of the shows we offered to take her to. She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all. I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path. Now that we’re going to Europe, I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all. I put a lot of effort into planning these trips and I really want people to enjoy them. Do you have any advice on getting her to complain less or for helping me feel less anxious and attacked when she does complain? I know on a surface level that these complaints aren’t always directed at me, but I still feel very unhappy when I hear them.

Best,

Harried Planner

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Ghostbusters shooting their plasma guns

“Isn’t it about time we crossed the streams?”

Dear Captain!

My awkward problem is this: I’ve been dating this guy for about two and a half months. He’s nice! I like him! He seems to like me! I’ve stayed over at his place a few times and he’s been to my apartment. But he won’t introduce me to anyone in his life (and isn’t that keen on meeting anyone from mine) and it’s starting to weird me out. Am I overreacting?

We see each other a couple of times a week, usually. He won’t hang on weekends, because he goes to visit his family in another city. Though sometimes, he has said he is going to visit his family and then tells me he changed his mind and stayed home in this town and hung out with his brother all weekend, but he never suggested I meet his brother. It’s like he is Mr. Secret Squirrel about his life. This week he is hosting a friend/ colleague from his company’s office abroad so he told me we can’t see each other as much because he has to work/hang out with this guy until fairly late every day.

At no point did he suggest that I come meet this person and say hi and we have coffee or something low key, though he did discuss with me tourist places he should take this guy. I felt too awkward to ask directly, “hey, your colleague buddy sounds cool, I’d like to meet him”, because he was so cagey (he has not even told me the guy’s name). They are spending the weekend on day trips and I understand why he might not want to invite me to those — he wants to spend time with his buddy & colleague, that’s all cool. But not to introduce me at all seems odd?

I have wanted to introduce him to my friends (I am an ex-pat in this country and my friend pool is fairly small because a lot of people have left (we live in a war zone) but he is a bit dismissive of the things we do – boardgames, Cards Against Humanity etc. Not openly hostile, just “oh that seems weird”.

I have no clue why he doesn’t seem to want me to meet people from his life, and I know it’s pointless to speculate. He is very introverted and maybe it doesn’t occur to him that people can socialize? Is that making excuses for him? Or am I overreacting?

How can I raise this with him without sounding weird or pushy or something? I’m getting really tired of it!

Thanks for any wisdom and insight,
C.

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Beyonce asking" Why are you so jealous?"

We haven’t had a gif party or a “Yo, maybe you are way cooler than that person you are dating” thread in a while, so, here you go.

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner of 5 years moved 200 miles away last week for a job. I’m sad he’s gone and I’m missing him, but I really support what he’s doing —  he was having a hard and stressful time finding work in his field in our city and has been unhappy for some time. We agreed that, for now, we want to keep our relationship exclusive and revisit that decision in a few months. 

On Saturday, I went to the corner store and one of the workers — I’ve seen him many times, but we’ve never really talked — initiated a conversation with me. I felt a little forced into it (“Hi there, lady who never talks to me when she comes in to buy cigarettes”) but he’s a part of my neighborhood and I wanted to be polite. He turned out to be a big talker and amusing storyteller, and we had a 15-minute conversation about his family, his country, and so on. Very innocuous and kind of sweet; I tend to be reserved and don’t necessarily get to know people I see daily. He asked about my partner, and I told him that he’d moved.

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Hello! First, a reminder from Kate in Bristol:

Hi all – just a quick reminder that Bristol UK is meeting up at The Canteen on Stokes Croft this Saturday, from 11am to 3pm.  I will be wearing a rainbow tie.  For further info please see the original announcement:https://captainawkward.com/2013/09/30/bristol-uk-is-meeting-up/

Hope to see you there!

Griffy Kate

Second, there is a Washington, DC-area Meetup in the works:

Hi! I’d like to announce the next DC-area meetup:

Date: Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Busboys & Poets @ 14th & V (2021 14th St. NW) http://www.busboysandpoets.com/

The venue is accessible by metrorail, metrobus, Circulator bus, and Bikeshare; seehttp://www.busboysandpoets.com/about/14th-v for details. Street parking may be scarce; there are a couple of garages within a block of the restaurant where you can expect to pay $6-10 for the evening.

Busboys & Poets has a variety of well-labeled vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free items, and it’s wheelchair-accessible.

Find our group by looking for the red balloon I’ll bring with me. So I can ask for the right size table, please e-mail me atbokunenjin@gmail.comif you’re planning on coming or have any questions or suggestions.

-Bokunenjin

Eat, drink, and be awkward.

Next, a question.

Hi CA,

My close friend S is generous, kind and supportive.  She is also very picky (she describes herself this way and tells stories where she was picky and it caused trouble/stressed her out).  S is good at stating her needs/boundaries.  Because of this, I often agree to do/eat/see what she wants.  I have preferences but they don’t seem as important as her needs.  However, this has been going on a long time and I feel like the decision making is lopsided.  When we do things my way, she sometimes seems uncomfortable or complains.  Also, there are times when she asks for things in a way that makes it hard to say no.
 
Example:  We have plans to see an exhibit after work.  When we meet up, S says she is too tired to walk around looking at things and wants to do dinner/drinks instead.  I don’t want to make her do something she doesn’t want to and at that point it would be weird to cancel or go alone so I agree.  Later, when we go to the exhibit, she is stressed by all the people there and asks if we can rush through the last two rooms.  I’m not happy but don’t want to make her keep doing something stressful or pay to go see it again alone.
 
Another one: I’m in charge of buying tickets for a concert.  We want the cheapest seats so I can get them either very close or very far.  I prefer sitting close, so those are what I buy.  S prefers sitting far away and at the concert she refers to the fact that we’re too close or complains multiple times.  She paid for her ticket so I feel she has a right to complain.  However, I usually try to enjoy things even if they aren’t what I would prefer to do.  I make an effort to be easygoing and try to focus on the fact that we’re spending time together, not specifically what we’re doing. I don’t complain when she changes plans and try to mention something good about it (“Well, I needed to eat anyway.”).  However, I don’t want to make her feel like she has to be cool all the time – enough pressure to do that.
 
I’ve recently tried to be good about stating my disappointment (while still agreeing to the change).  The last couple times I’ve done this, S looked at me with some panic and started apologizing and explaining profusely.  I told her it was fine but felt like I was in charge of managing her emotions.
 
Any scripts/suggestions of things to do?  I’ve taken some breaks when I was really annoyed but it’s an important friendship.