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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been in a relationship with a kind, caring man for the past two years. This is my first serious relationship (yay!) and his second. I’ve had some experience with casual dating and casual sex prior to meeting my boyfriend, but he hasn’t had as much, so his previous relationship is his main point of reference. “Stephanie” was his first kiss, his first sexual partner, his first girlfriend, the first girl he introduced to his family…and they still work together, 7 years later. I’m trying to be understanding since anyone’s first relationship is a formative experience, and they also have to get along because they work together. I’m monogamous but generally not jealous; I’m friends with most of my exes and I assumed he’s friends with at least some of his. However, I don’t understand what’s going on here.

Just a couple weeks after we started dating, he broached the subject with a text message: “I can’t wait to see you…I had a rough day. big fight with my ex/coworker. I was upset all day.” This was the very first he had mentioned her, and I thought it was inappropriate but he was trying to express affection, so I ignored it. Soon after he started explicitly comparing me to her really often and drunkenly told me that I had “stiff competition” from her. Now and then when the subject of exes came up in conversation in a group of people, he would say that she had made him come alive, that she taught him how to feel emotions, she opened his eyes and changed his life, etc. I think that’s the kind of puppy love stuff that people say while they’re in a relationship, but not 7 years afterwards. Certainly not in front of their current significant other. On the other hand, their relationship was a rocky one, so whenever he was gaslighting me (another issue we had) he would compare me to her and say, “Don’t cause drama. That’s the kind of thing Steph would do. I thought you were better than that. We don’t need drama.” She was simultaneously an angel whose example I could never live up to, and the epitome of a terrible girlfriend. Another red flag was that during their relationship they did a shit ton of drugs together, and I’m not comfortable with the amount of drugs he uses now. Last summer she sold him a bunch of LSD which he later pressured me into taking, and I worry that his nostalgia for her overlaps with his nostalgia for his crackhead phase.

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A scene from the movie gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman looking up at a flickering lamp.

Why is the light flickering? And why did I marry this abusive fuckstain?

Hi Captain,

I am a twenty-something girl who has absolutely no clue how to act in social situations. My partner of 5 years refuses to take me to restaurants or pubs, because I always ruin the mood by saying something stupid or embarrassing. I’m big on social media and connecting the conversation to recent events, which is what I presume most people do. I know myself to be very childish and young-minded, I do prefer the company of children, who don’t judge, than to adults.

Whenever my partner and myself are invited to attend one of his work functions, I usually sit quietly at the table and enjoy my food and wine, not talking unless someone directs a question at me, which is rarely. We also attend a ‘work holiday’ once a year, which is paid for by my partner’s boss, and which all members of his work attend. Again, I mainly stay clear of everyone, as my partner does not want me to embarrass him in front of his work colleagues. This usually leads me to sitting alone in the hotel room with a book, while everyone is out at a bar or exploring the sights. This is not a choice, it is what I do to keep my partner happy. I always try to make people laugh, but my jokes come off too offensive sometimes, and I have no filter between my brain and my mouth. I am horrible in interviews and even chatting to people in the checkout queue. I have never been good at social interactions, and I am desperate to know what to do, other than keep my mouth shut.

It’s official: Your letter breaks my heart.

You may in fact be really socially awkward. You may have a diagnosable condition that makes it hard for you to read social cues or causes you social anxiety. You may be too hip for the room sometimes. You may be a practitioner of the ancient Japanese art of Fart-jitsu. Whatever’s going on? You just found your people. Come inside where you don’t have to ever make small talk and we already like you and think you’re great. Because you? YOU ARE GREAT. And the way you deal with social situations, by being quiet when you don’t know what to say but responding when people engage you shows some basic good manners and a decent level of self-awareness. “I don’t have anything to say right now so I will be quiet and listen” is like the pearls-and-conservative-tasteful-dress of behaviors: Sometimes a little stiff and boring? Rarely inappropriate.

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