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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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Dear Captain,

I am a (female) musician just starting out on a new duo project with a fellow (male) musician, and we’re just about heading for our first gigs and things. We’re both really excited — we get on well musically and personally, and we’re enjoying what we do and looking forward to sharing it with people. However, he has a girlfriend, who is (perhaps inevitably) insecure in one way or another about him playing music with “pretty young women” (she’s a fair bit older than us two, hence the inclusion of “young”). They have their own conversations to have about all sorts of things (not my business, of course), but the nub of it is that it makes him uncomfortable having to tell her about this new duo with me. He and I are both on the autistic spectrum, and established in a beautifully blunt moment that neither of us was interested in the other for the sake of getting the conversation out of the way, and he’s since referred to me as a “top bloke”, which to me makes the distinction perfectly clear. While it’s that simple for us, it’s not that simple for her, and I totally see where she’s coming from having been in her position previously.

My question is what can I do to help the situation? He said he will talk to her about the duo at some point soon when he can find a good moment (they live quite far away from each other so it’s not 100% simple), but in the mean time, it means that I can’t get excited in public too much about it because he thinks she shouldn’t find out from me or by seeing a random Facebook post (far from unreasonable). He’s already asked me not to tag him in posts about being excited about making music together for her sake, and while I can see that it’s a small gesture towards keeping things OK from his side (he’s my friend, why the hell shouldn’t I?), I worry that I’m going to do or say something stupid that’s going to cause problems for them or for us. He says it’s not going to get in the way of the duo working and being successful, but I can’t help feeling there’s an inevitable sticking point if his girlfriend is uncomfortable with him hanging around with me at the close quarters necessary to work in such a small ensemble. I haven’t met her yet, though our paths are due to cross in the coming months, but I’m nervous of making some mistake that means that her insecurities come out and cause problems.

In short, I play music with a guy in whom I’m not remotely romantically interested, but I think my being female and apparently not bad looking (who am I to judge?) might cause a problem, and I want to know what I can do to avoid sticking my boot in it. She sounds nice, and they are basically happy, and he and I are very happy with the music we make, and I don’t want it to get any more complex than that.

Yours,
Over-Optimistic Aspie Musician

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Hi Captain!

Husband and I have been married a year and to make a long back-story short, I have found your responses re: “dealing with difficult people” immensely helpful for dealing with my MIL.

So here’s the current issue: while my in-laws have very few lasting friends, they do consider themselves close to my FIL’s cousin, Rick- and by extension, his wife, Rena. My FIL’s father died last summer and we took the time/days off work/expense for all pre and post funeral gatherings. Rick’s mother died a few months ago, and as we’re both fond of him PLUS knew it was important to my FIL, we made that funeral too.

Right now, Rena’s father is very close to death.

Unfortunately, my MIL has been using the status of dying people as an easy manipulation technique. She sends strings of texts “updating us” on the status of various aging people’s diagnoses, operations, etc. and it is hard not to engage with these texts because of the subject matter. While we know she doesn’t have empathetic or even sympathetic (unless towards herself) abilities, it similarly seems inappropriate here to focus on that. But this has become a pattern and she clearly assumes we will attend Rena’s father’s funeral. She has also started claiming she is close with several other people who also don’t have long to live. (FYI all of the people involved in this Q live 6-8 hours away.)

Is the “right thing” here to attend Rena’s father’s funeral?

We have a tight budget, are out of bereavement days, and were saving remaining vacation days for a belated honeymoon. My husband will now have to use up a few unpaid sick days to attend any other events during the work week. He is worried at prospect of no real sick days, plus thinks more absences will reflect negatively on him at work. But he is also HIGHLY nervous at idea of saying no to his mother.

Rena is also a difficult and unpredictable woman who often provokes/creates drama seemingly just for the hell of it.. MIL tends to encourage this/holds us responsible when we are Rena’s target because it supports MIL’s own goals- so we both expect her to pull the “hurting Rena” card if we try to miss this funeral.

Am I being a huge bitch? I have a bank of rage/resentment issues re being a doormat in abusive relationships in the past and so maybe my feelings here are from a knee-jerk negative response, which isn’t appropriate here because death is involved?

Would love to hear your thoughts on what we “should” do in this scenario, what we should do when the other claimed close ones die, and what any scripts could be.

Thank you!!
Ragey (But Want to Retain Relationships)

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Stinkor from He-Man, a humanoid skunk in an orange costume.

This is Stinkor, from He-Man. What would the action figure for Clingor look like?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner has told me that he is afraid that he’s boring and that he has an irrational fear that my ‘self-improvement’ means I will leave him for somebody “more exciting”.

A few years ago I was feeling really down, and during that period I decided to really work on myself by changing my lifestyle. I took up a sport, started eating better and got involved in my community. Now I can hardly imagine life before – the improvement in my life and moods has been significant.

It is now to the point where he’s jealous if I have too engaging a conversation with one of his friends, and has insisted that he comes along to anything I do that runs the risk of me so much as talking to men who aren’t related to me. I find this behaviour anywhere from irritating to suffocating.

I am not sure where this fear of his has come from, I don’t think I’m just ignoring my boyfriend and getting annoyed when he wants to spend time with me. I think the problem is that he has low self-esteem and that this feeling of low self-worth has turned into a fear that I’ll leave. In the past he has said he likes me because I ‘make [his] boring life interesting’, which I find extremely concerning. To me it sounds a lot like ‘I am making you responsible for making my life interesting’. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but I am frustrated that he has enough free time to latch on to my plans, but apparently not enough to go find something to do by himself.

He is a great guy when he’s not being gnawed on by the hounds of insecurity, but I cannot carry on like this – I don’t have a problem with telling him where I’m going or who I’m with, but sometimes I just want to do things without having to justify why I want to be alone. I am at a loss – what can I do? I’ve suggested therapy and a hobby, but he doesn’t seem to understand that his attempts at keeping me close are pushing me away.

Thanks,
Pushed not pulled

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Dear Captain Awkward:

About ten months ago, I started a relationship (a really-long-distance relationship with someone I met on a website). At first, and I have to be honest here, I was just fooling around, I couldn’t believe that you could actually fell in love with someone you don’t even know.

He was a “good guy”: sweet, romantic, funny, smart; I could say I had a crush on him. Eventually, he said he loved me. I was truly shocked, mostly because I was only fooling around and the guy was not. I’ll admit that I started having feelings for him, a crush, like I said. We started texting each other, talking over Skype, when I realized, I was in love. But there was one problem at that time: He doesn’t know my real name. Due to very personal reasons (related to my family), I never use my full (or real name, sometimes) on the internet.

I admit I let things go too far. So when he started taling about us being together in the future, and how I was the love of his life, and the future mother of his children, I started freaking out. I felt, and I still feel, like the worst fucking person on the face of the earth. I mean, how could I let things come to this? Why didn’t I walked away when it wasn’t too late?

So I broke up with him, about five moths ago, I couldn’t tell him the real reason, so I used my family crisis as an excuse to break up; I wasn’t in a good place, I couldn’t focus on a relationship (I really coudn’t focus on a relationship, anyway, but still…). So that’s when the whole thing got even worse.

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Patty Hewes and Ellen from Damages, in the breakroom drinking coffee.

Sometimes what we learn from our mentors is how not to be.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I live and work at an isolated location with six other people. We are nearing the end of our work rotation and everyone is wearing a little thin emotionally so that might be partially where this problem stems from.

I have a really good relationship with the woman that I spend the most time working with. She’s about twenty years older than me. (I am twenty-three.) She says shocking things sometimes and it has never bothered me before. She says that she lacks a “filter” and that she always keeps going when other people stop. Anyway, she never seemed mean and her outspokenness was kind of refreshing but today she really knocked me through a loop. Another coworker was in the kitchen with us and we were joking and talking and I’m not even sure what the topic was but someone said “young and a virgin.” She looked at me and said “you’re two for two there.” I was shocked because I had never said “I am a virgin” to her before and I wasn’t aware that it was that obvious. I also have feelings for the coworker that was there with us and it was embarrassing to have that said in front of him.

I am bewildered why this comment hurt so much. I had to fight back tears for the rest of the day and was pretty much incapable of talking to anyone. I know that she felt really bad and she apologized. I didn’t want her to feel bad so I tried to act normally but I really wasn’t able to. The coworker whom I have feelings for knew that something was wrong because I wasn’t talking to him. I wished that I could just tell him which comment specifically bothered me but I really couldn’t because I was afraid I would start crying.

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