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The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC Shared by Thermos, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am currently having issues with a roommate, who is also a friend of many years. We had lived together once before for a short period, and while I had noticed his intense reactions to stressful situations then, I was given the impression he had developed strategies to cope with his anxiety since we first lived together. But now he is in a bit of a tailspin, and has been since our third roommate broke up with him and moved out four months ago. He is also incredibly stressed about work, and is worried about getting fired, and comes home every night with a new bout of anxiety to work out. Unfortunately, this takes the form of his unloading all his anger, disappointment and anxiety onto me as a listener. I understand expression of one’s feeling is super important, and his feelings are one hundred percent valid (work does sound awful and getting dumped blows), but I am feeling incapable of knowing how to help, or perhaps more importantly, how to get time to myself in the apartment. I am a teacher and feel “on” most of the day, so I do not know how to listen and get time to myself at the end of the day.

I feel like we have gotten trapped in a ritual where he will come through the door and tell me every terrible thing about his day for forty-five minutes, and I try to listen, but all I seem to be doing is reinforcing a cycle of negative thoughts. My roommate is feeling very unstable with his life right now, and I don’t want to shut him out, but at some point, it’s probably not good to allow him to fixate so much, yeah? At times, I feel like I am his only outlet for his feelings, and that I have let him take advantage of my listening ear. Often, he will seek me out if I am not in common spaces, not to check in on how my day was, but to unload. He did it just now when he ostensibly knocked on my door to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store, and then ranted at me for thirty minutes, despite knowing it was my writing time. I absolutely should have said, “Yes, it is my writing time, you are correct. I don’t need anything, I will talk to you later,” rather than hand-waving my scheduled time away and listening; I give him permission to do this. But what would be a good script to start a larger conversation?

I don’t know how to talk to him about this issue, given his stress level. I don’t want to give him more anxiety, but I feel this routine we’ve gotten into is creating bad habits. For me, I am not asserting my need for my own space and time. For him … well, it’s almost like he’s treating me as a girlfriend, like giving me all his emotional turmoil as if I am required on a partner level to help him carry it, which isn’t helping him move on or cope on his own? Even in one of my own crises (a cancer scare in my family), he spent all day with me, only to unload an intense amount of anxiety on me at the end of the day (which he had set up as a distracting, “let’s do fun things to get your mind off this cancer scenario” sort of day). This summer, I began dating someone, and my roommate started saying kind of mean jokes in my direction while the new boyfriend was around (though his humor runs more sarcastic generally), and I can’t help but wonder if this happened because I let him lean on me too much in the early days of the break-up and now he’s gotten our relationship parameters confused? He’ll invite me to events these days, and I will say no if I don’t feel like it, or that I have to check my schedule, but then he’ll repeat the invite three times after I have responded. I don’t know. It’s just a lot.

How can I be a good friend and understanding roommate while reinforcing boundaries? Do you have scripts for this, Captain?

Sincerely,
Tongue-Tied In A Two-Flat

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Mr. Collins & Lizzie Bennet from Joe Wright adaptation of Pride & Prejudice

At least they aren’t trying to get you to marry him…yet.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My problem boils down to this: can I say no, or do I have to be polite? 

I’m not a social person. I don’t have friends at the moment. The reasons for that are many –mostly boiling down to living at home again while I look for a job. At school, I had close friends I still talk to over the internet, but until I get a more permanent job with fixed hours I don’t have a pool of people I can talk to in a neutral space where I can happily make friends. I’m fine with that. But my parents believe friends = happiness.

My parents recently hired a 20-year-old decorator (I’m 23) and the three of them think that we should be friends. Apparently he saw my books and “knew” he could have an intelligent conversation with me, which he can’t get from his other friends. He also thought it would be nice for me to have someone who would ask how my day went. I said no.

From what I’ve seen and what my parents have said, he seems like a good guy. He’s intelligent, has had a pretty crap life so far, and what he’s made for himself despite that is impressive. He also has ADHD and a tendency to talk and talk and talk, which is exhausting. It seems like the biggest plus point in his favour with my parents is that they sympathise with him.

He calls me by my family nickname instead of my actual name, although I’ve asked him not to. He makes jokes about my quietness (usually the typical “you never shut up, do you?” and “can’t get a word in edgeways around her!”) that I can’t respond to with anything but silence. He phones once or twice a day; I refused to give him my number so he calls the house. He’s turned up on the doorstep unannounced twice. And I don’t know if this is normal behaviour or not. Very few of my friends ever came round to my house. But I feel unsafe when alone there. I’m constantly on alert in case he appears.

So I avoid him and then feel bad, because he’s just very enthusiastic and he can’t help his ADHD. Why should I judge him for that? I think I’m being paranoid, picky, or a sullen, uncommunicative, ungrateful cow towards a young man who just wants to be friends. I know I’m probably abnormal for not wanting to make friends right now, and I shouldn’t be so fussy, but I really, really don’t want to spend time with this man. 

So – what can I do?

Probably In The Wrong

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Darth Vader pointing at Princess Leia with text "MY FINGER. Pull it."

Darth Vader: Not really that fun at parties.

Ahoy Captain!

My boyfriend grew up around people whom he describes as ‘hateful and angry,’ who would call you [insert slur] if you pointed out their racism and misogyny. Later, he fell in with some really scary addicts. When I met him, the hard drugs and more violent people were gone, but he’s still friends with the non-violent ones.

My problem: Boyfriend’s BFF, ‘Jerkface.’ In no particular order:

1) He’s racist.

2) He’s fat-phobic.

3) He hates anyone who’s not an atheist.

4) He’s sexist. When I call him out for telling rape jokes, he says I’m overreacting. 

5) He mansplains. A friend once told him “Don’t be so condescending,” and pushed him through a window. Bystanders shrugged and said, “To be fair, he is really condescending.”

6) He used to hit on me constantly, in front of Boyfriend. He’d angrily mention how he called dibs on me, tell obscene jokes about me, ask me out, and lie about hooking up with me.

7) He encourages Boyfriend to drink WAY too much.

Much of this happens when Boyfriend is drunk, and he (a) does nothing and (b) doesn’t remember anything afterwards. Many people avoid Jerkface whenever possible; one even asked, “How does he get invited places if no one likes him?” I’m afraid people will assume Boyfriend is also a horrible person and avoid us too.

I confronted Boyfriend, and he acknowledges that Jerkface is a bigot, but says he’s just a product of their environment. If they were to meet for the first time today, he wouldn’t become friends with Jerkface, but they’ve been friends for 15 years and he’s like family.

However, Boyfriend also said he wants to be an ally. He’s been very receptive to the reading material I’ve given him. I told him I don’t want to be around Jerkface, and if Boyfriend wants to be with me, he needs to go to counseling and learn to confront Jerkface and his ilk.

Consequently, I haven’t seen Jerkface in months, Boyfriend spends much less time with him, and drinks much less. However, Boyfriend has admitted that he still can’t find the words to confront Jerkface because he’s worried about derails, like “You didn’t mind before” or “Girlfriend is just like Yoko Ono.”

Our relationship depends on Boyfriend’s either African Violet-ing the asshole or learning how to tell him off. So,

1) Can you suggest a script my boyfriend can use to talk to Jerkface?

2) Jerkface is engaged, and Boyfriend will be their Best Man. I don’t know if I’ll go to the wedding. I don’t want to cause stress on their big day, or put Boyfriend in the middle. What do you think?

Thanks so much!

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African Violet, photo by Jeff Shaumeyer, used under a Creative Commons License.

Photo by Flickr user Jeff Shaumeyer, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I need a good way to stop being best friends with my former best friend. I don’t want to hurt her feelings any more than I might have already have, but the relationship is seriously not working out for me in a bad way.

Brief recap: Former best friend (FBF) was in a poly relationship which ended explosively and which because of various reasons (her reactions to the situation, namely) tore up the entire social circle (all ten people I consider close friends in Boston and six of whom I live with). She and I and her boyfriend live in the same housing situation numbering seven in all. There was lots of drama for four months. Then things got more-or-less resolved. Now she is trying her best to turn us back into “bestest buddies ever” and I just can’t do it. This is because I genuinely feel like she doesn’t care about my feelings or my needs at all if she has any sort of need or upset. She always comes first, even if it means she has to disregard my stated needs for sleep, for boundaries, for “I don’t want to talk about it, I can’t talk about it because I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown”.

Recently, she told me that she would get depressed and paranoid if **I** didn’t make the effort to chat her up every so often. It doesn’t count if she initiated the conversation other times, the clock doesn’t get reset unless I seek her out and talk with her.

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I have been meaning to write you for a long time. I had a really long dilemma that turned into a really short dilemma over the last weekend. Basically, husband and I were friends with a couple (I’ll call them Marjorie and Lance) who were completely stressing us out. The abridged list of the issues includes: demanding/using, boundary-crossing, super clingy and needy, always mired in self-created chaos, on the brink of financial ruin, manipulative, jealous, competitive, kind-sharking and trying to make others responsible for their emotions. I’ve been trying to do a slow fade over the last six months, but my efforts at distancing myself were having the opposite effect on Marjorie, whose behavior started escalating into stalker-type stuff. 

It’s so perfect! The kids can play while we gossip and drink! BLISS!

Things came to a head recently, when she “caught” me out at a public place with a mutual friend and threw a tantrum because she hadn’t been invited. There was screaming, sobbing and foot-stamping. For me, after swallowing two years of increasingly unacceptable behavior, it was the last straw. I spent the entirety of last weekend crafting an African Violet letter and asked for a break in what I hoped was a direct and humane way. She responded once, was pretty gracious about it and says she is really sad about our friendship ending. For that matter, I am sad too, but also very relieved. In the past, when she’s had altercations with my husband, Marjorie’s reaction falls into a pattern where the first phase is sadness, the second phase is guilt-tripping and the third phase is overt hostility and making scenes. 
 
This brings me to my dilemma: my children are best friends with her children. Like, best-best friends. The girls are all young (4 and 8), and their friendships are healthy, with a good dynamic. I thought really long and hard about giving the African Violet because of this, and because of the fact that it’s impossible to avoid this family over the course of my daily life. I see these people everywhere – the kids are in the same classes at school, signed up for the same activities, and we live in a small, rural community where everyone knows everyone else. At a minimum, my husband or I are forced to interact with them three times a week, in environments like dance classes, birthday parties or waiting on the playground, where I am stuck watching/waiting for a predetermined period of time and can’t just walk away if things get uncomfortable. I would like to try to continue to sustain the friendships between the kids, they are very attached to each other.
 
Up until now, I’d been suggesting get-togethers that didn’t take place at my house (among other things, Marjorie and Lance had a tendency to drop their kids off and leave them with me all day, often). But meeting at the park requires spending extended amounts of time with Marjorie, and I desperately need some space. My husband loathes Lance, so I can’t ask him to shoulder this either. I also want to be compassionate toward the kids, none of this is their fault. 
 
Any strategies on how to handle this would be very much appreciated!
 
Yours truly,
Playdate of Thrones

Hey Captain Awkward.

I love your column. I think I found it through a link at Feministe (???)in the comments. Anyhoo, here is my problem that I will try to explain as simply as possible:

I have had a couple of very rough years. My partner of 15+ years  had a horrible legal battle against his former business partners, which left him with what seems to be Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He became very emotionally abusive, depressed, and is now barely able to function in any aspect of his life. We have separated, but this cast a giant shadow over my life, as you can probably imagine. I was left doubly traumatised by the awfulness of his legal situation, and by his increasingly hostile aggression towards me, especially as I had been very supportive of him throughout the legal battles, and never doubted that he was being wronged. He is now on his third therapist, who does not seem to be helping him at all. I sought counseling and support through a clinic for domestic violence, which helped me. Throughout this time I had reached out to people that I thought were my friends. One by one I discovered that their underlying attitude towards me, after I had disclosed the abuse, was that somehow I was responsible for letting this abuse happen to me ! I was told by one friend that “I wouldn’t let someone talk to me this way”. I was told by another, after she talked to him and me separately that “she and B. both noticed that I seemed to have lost my confidence”(who wouldn’t after being yelled at for months about things that weren’t my fault that pertained to his case after it was settled out of court?). Another claimed that I was “enabling” his abuse towards me ! No one seemed to “get” the dynamics of emotional abuse, or how messed up he had become. It really shook me how unsupportive my so called friends were, which added to my anguish and isolation.

I had been friendly with my neighbor S. , who lives across the street from me, for six years. She is about 15 years older than me, but we had some similar backgrounds and attitudes. We would talk on the phone once in awhile, and did some social things together. I knew some very personal stuff about her, and she knew about me as well. We had been invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas at her house for the last five years, and were included in social invitations. I did not think she was my best friend, but I thought she was a good friend. She knew about my situation with B. and how bad it had become.

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