Okay so this is going to be a little complex, but I hope that you could maybe provide some insight on the situation.
I met a guy online (a long-distance situation) and we’ve been in contact almost daily for a year and a half now. We’ve gotten to know each other and it turns out that we’re on the same wavelength and get along so well. In the past I had asked him if he had a girlfriend because I didn’t want to get in the middle of anything (we have “intimate” moments), and he said no and that he used to but that he wasn’t happy. But just recently, he messaged me that he had finally broken up with his girlfriend! So my questions are actually:
1. Initially I felt hurt that he lied, but approaching the situation calmly, it’s difficult not to comfort him, I mean we ARE friends and we do feel a little more than what friendship feels like. When he told me I politely thanked him for telling me and asked if he wanted to talk about it.
When he opened up a little about it, he said that he thought that it would make him feel better, but after doing it, he felt sad. But he also kept telling me that it had been a long time coming, and that he had been wanting to do it for so long. I’ve never had happy breakups even when I was the one to break it, so I told him that sadness for a while is normal, and that if he had wanted to do it for so long then, there’s a fundamental basis for it that’s obviously important. So now, how do I actually comfort him?
2. I’m confused about the situation. At times he tells me that I make him smile, that he wants to be with me, and I believe because if I didn’t, then we would’ve stopped talking ages ago. The connection and attraction that we have are both pretty strong, and I actually want him and want it to work, and I have plans to see him in a few months. I don’t know what to make of it – him telling me that he’s now free, how he initially feels about it, and so on. So Cap’n, can you please help me make sense of it? Thank you Cap’n!
You asked for my take on “a complex situation” (from your email subject line).
Whatever this guy is to you and however you feel about each other, he lied to you about having a girlfriend all this time. And it’s not like he never mentioned it and you never asked. You asked him directly because you were not comfortable doing “intimate stuff” if he was involved with someone else, and he said no. And then you talked almost every day for a year and a half. He didn’t “forget” that he had a girlfriend or “forget” to mention her.
It’s also highly possible/probable that he lied to his girlfriend about having an “intimate” friend who he had attraction and “almost daily” contact with. Like, maybe they had some kind of agreement or open relationship and everything was cool, but since he’s describing himself as now being “free,” I think it was…not cool?
You’re asking how to comfort him and he seems to want you to comfort him. Okay? Who’s comforting you about the confusingness of being lied to all this time? What is he doing to make you feel better about being hurt?
For a while in my life I was the queen of the long-distance sextual relationship. I’m really good at longing and storytelling and someday, and because the Internet is magic I kept finding people who were also good at those things and together we’d spin some tales and build up all this anticipation and then we’d finally meet in person and…
…one by one…
- …”I’m single. Well, actually I’m divorced. ‘Separated’ is more like it. Well, we will be separated soon, just, not yet. It’s just not the right time.” (These people are definitely still married to each other).
- …Told me he was 45, was really 55.
- …Was at least 15 years older than any photo he’d posted on line or showed me.
- …He was not all that into me once we met in person.
- …I was not all that into him once we met in person.
- …Good on the phone, selfish and annoying in bed.
- …Bad with consent and careless about safe sex.
- …Or, sexually AWESOME, bad with everything else.
- …I was but one of the sympathetic and imaginative ladies in his harem of long-distance ladies.
- …Or, I was now “his only friend” and/or “only reason to live.”
- …In one case the “harem of ladies” AND “you’re my only real friend” situation were both true? (Ugh.)
- “She’s just my roommate, I swear.” (She was his girlfriend.)(Who was working her ass off to support him through a crisis.)
- …Showed up to my city for a visit with no money and expected to move in with me…the first time we met. (NOPE!)
- “Hey come to my son’s birthday party I want you to finally meet my friends and my mom and my son…bring your video camera and take some home movies for me…oh, also, I will treat you like the hired videographer and my mom will treat you like the caterer/party planner because my real actual girlfriend who I’ve never mentioned is also here and nobody knows about you.” (TRUE STORY, Y’ALL)(I ACTUALLY PUT ON A CLEAN SHIRT AND WENT TO THIS DUMPSTER FIRE OF A “PARTY” AND TOOK VIDEO AND PUT SNACKS ON PLATTERS AND SMILED)
Me, Aged 24-33 = A MESS. A mess with a big phone bill who sent novels worth of sexy and attentive instant messages and emails to verbal, imaginative, interesting men in far-off cities.
These Gentlemen of Mystery I got tangled up with often had a lot to recommend them at the beginning. We had great chemistry, they made me feel important and sexy in a way I hadn’t before, they allowed me to spin out a fantasy life over time and distance and distract me from the mundane day-to-day, there was an inherent drama in traveling to meet them or them traveling to meet me, I got a lot of excitement out of each ping saying I had a new email or text message or IM and those methods of communication were fertile ground for a charismatic and wordy person like myself. Long distance romance spins out in words and you can collect those words and re-read them and go live inside the story you’re making and have actual evidence of the other person’s thoughts and feelings and fill in the spaces in those lovely, lovely blanks. Plus, I got to say “I have a boyfriend” without having to deal with the reality of an actual boyfriend up in my space and business all the time. I liked the version of myself I could create with these men.I liked being In Love. I liked practicing being In Love…from a safe distance.
Long distance relationships are real relationships, relationships that start online and grow over time are real relationships, and they can work – My Facebook wall is covered with too many cute pictures of the offspring that resulted from cross-country flights and leaps of faith and love to ever say that they can’t.
That said, if you’re planning a long-term future with someone, proximity eventually matters. Seeing a person’s living space, seeing how your intended love interacts with the people around them, seeing them in their milieu and day-to-day life, having the evidence of your own eyes and ears and other senses to guide you about whether this person is good for you, whether they are compatible with you, whether the picture they presented to you is congruent to the picture you observe, learning how you are together when it’s not just the adrenaline rush of a quick few days or some texts between classes or those late night phone calls…it’s important. It’s part of this and you can’t skip past it to happily ever after. You have to reckon with boring real everyday life.
Besides meeting online from a distance, the men I met during that period of my life all had two very important things in common:
1) They all *lied to me* about something really important early on in the relationship.
2) Being long-distance made the lie harder to spot. This meant that it took longer for the truth to come out, during which time I became very invested in the relationship and it was much harder to leave than if I had known what was up right away.
In all cases, I found out about the lie and I chose to believe the explanations and justifications they threw at me, usually some version of “I didn’t want to hurt you,” “I knew you would hate me when you found out and things were going so well between us that I was afraid to ruin it,” or “I lied initially when we first met because I didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with you, and then it was never a good time to undo the damage.”
In 100% of these cases, I would choose to “be the bigger person,” look past the red flags, demonstrate how empathetic and chill and forgiving I could be, and, 100% of the time, a situation that was about *a lie they told me* would turn into *me reassuring and “comforting” them.* For how they hadn’t meant to hurt me.
The Mediocre Dude With 1,000 Faces: “I understand if you hate me now” or “You probably hate me now.”
Past Me: “I could never hate you!”
Current Me: “Pssssttt hey you don’t have to hate him to know that you deserve better than this. You could say ‘I don’t hate you but I don’t think this is going to work out, sorry, bye‘ and hang up the phone now.”
Mediocre Max (Mike/Milton/Marvin/Martin/Merle/Matt/
Past Me: “It’s okay! I forgive you! I know you love me and we can make it work.” (i.e. My emotional labor can solve anything!)
Current Me: “He said a lot of words but none of them were actually an apology. Huh. That’s interesting. What if you told him, ‘I don’t want to make you feel worse right now, but I also don’t want to keep talking about this. I wish you all good things, but I just can’t be with someone who doesn’t tell me the truth. Let’s end this now before we both get more entangled and hurt?‘”
My dear Letter Writer, forgive me, probably 50% of this blog is me trying to yell through time to my past self – “Run away! He’s not worth it! You deserve better!” Let’s bring it back to you.
Your dude isn’t necessarily like the dudes I met and your experiences won’t necessarily be just like mine. People fuck up and make mistakes, not every relationship ends or begins cleanly, and maybe this friend you have is genuinely sorry for lying to you about his romantic situation for so long while you were doing whatever intimate & sexy stuff you had going on. You want this to happen and I want to be optimistic for you and give everyone the benefit of the doubt here. So what I have are questions:
- Has he told you he’s sorry?
- Has he used words like “I’m sorry I lied to you about that, I shouldn’t have done that, that wasn’t okay, I understand why you’d be upset” without trying to self-justify or make you feel sorry for him or comfort him?
- Have you said (or do you feel like you’re able to say): “Hey, sorry you’re hurting, but can we talk for a second about how I had no idea you had this girlfriend until just now? That’s messed up and it doesn’t make me feel good.“
- Does he try to “rules-lawyer” his way out of a difficult conversation, like, “We weren’t technically together when that happened, so it doesn’t really count as a lie”?
- Is there a vibe where you’re like “Ok technically he has a point, so why do I still feel so crappy?“
- Which is more important – you feeling good, safe, able to trust – or him winning the point?
- What does he do for you?
- What has he done for you lately?
- Do you trust him to tell you the truth from now on?
- What would happen if you took a couple of weeks off from talking with him so much?
- Another version of the above question: What’s That Thing in your current, day-to-day life that you’re ignoring or avoiding or putting off while you dream about Someday, When You’re Together?
- Could you work a little more on That Thing and a little less on This Sexy And Complicated Dude at least for the time being?
You don’t have to dump him as a sacrifice to my younger self, but you also don’t have to comfort him through any of this. You don’t have to overlook the hurt you’re feeling in the name of being a good friend right now. If he’s good for you, and a good friend to you, maybe let him do the work of showing you that goodness before you invest more of yourself in his comfort?
A Publishers Weekly review is, or was (probably still is), considered rather a coup for an aspiring writer. I remember how excited my agent was for my first one; she mailed me a clipping, which should give you an idea how many years ago.
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on June, 24
My distant friend Sally and I went out to dinner and she started asking me about my past relationships. I’ve known Sally for over a decade and she’s never pried into my dating life. I told Sally I wasn’t interested in dating anyways as I am looking for a job and like to online date or meet people through work. She tried to reason me out of all of this which seemed troubling.
A couple weeks ago Sally had a birthday party. She had put the event on Facebook. After our dinner, Sally texted me that her friend John saw me on the invite list and became “interested” in me. She said he might hit on me at the party ( he did not show up). This made me uncomfortable as I hate flirting with strangers. It’s odd but I’ve never even flirted with someone who’s become my boyfriend.
I also don’t trust Sally’s judgment at all. To be blunt I’ve met her friends and they aren’t horrible but they’re the “I don’t suffer fools gladly” type.
John has also been asking Sally about me. He wants to know when I’ve found a job and want to meet him. I have never indicated I want to meet John. I’m refusing, there’s something odd about a person in their late twenties being this invested in someone because of their FB profile. I rarely if ever post on FB. He is also asking me out through my friend which seems manipulative.
Do you have script suggestions?
– No thanks stranger ( female pronouns)
Dear No Thanks, Stranger!
I do have script suggestions! And other suggestions!
Step 1: BLOCK that John dude from Facebook and then go ahead and find him on all social media platforms you use and preemptively block him there. Not unfollow, not unfriend, not “hide feed” – BLOCK. Also, consider temporarily changing publicly visible avatars to something other than your face, and locking down security/visibility of any photos of you that are out there. Make sure there is nothing out there to feed his fantasies.
If that seems mean or harsh or unfair, let’s remember: You’re not interested in him at all, you’re already vaguely creeped out by his attention, you are losing nothing from your life by cultivating your internet garden as you see fit. The way he’s monitoring you, asking for updates about your life, and trying to get Sally to set the stage for him but not talking to you directly is odd and he needs to stop it right now, so, help him out with that.
And if this is all projection/matchmaking by Sally, oops, you blocked a total stranger who doesn’t actually know who you are. Not a big deal at the end of the day.
Possible Reaction: John will get the message and leave you and the entire topic of you alone. Good news everyone! This Choose Your Own Adventure Story ends here!
Probable Reaction: John will notice what you did immediately and he will contact Sally to see what happened. Sally will then ping you to talk about John and his Johnfeels of rejection. (If this happens, please keep reading Step 2)
Step 2: Tell Sally that the whole John thing made you really, really uncomfortable and you don’t want her to set you up for any more “hitting on” scenarios or act as your romantic go-between. Also you’d prefer to keep your information completely private where John is concerned, so, you’d appreciate it if she didn’t update him on your job search or your life or pass on requests from him.
Possible Reaction: Sally will say, “Oh wow, sorry for making you uncomfortable, I get it, don’t worry about a thing.” If this happens, keep enjoying whatever you enjoy about your “distant friendship” with Sally! Here endeth this Choose Your Own Adventure Tale! Yaaay!
Possible Reaction: Sally will be hurt that you didn’t appreciate her matchmaking efforts or feel bad for John and think you’re mean for rejecting him and she’ll double-down on John advocacy. If this happens, please continue reading Steps 3 and 4.
Step 3: Do not give Sally reasons for your rejection of John. “I prefer not to.” “I’m just not interested.” Don’t pick apart his actions or his undesirable qualities or give excuses about being busy – she’ll use whatever you say to convince you to “give him a chaaaaaaaance.”
Step 4: If Sally continues sharing your info with John and trying to play matchmaker in your life after you’ve said “no,” block Sally or, if you’re reluctant to do that after 10 years, put her in that Facebook-Jail thingy where she can’t see any of your posts for a good while.
If you miss Sally you can always dig up her number down the road (and get her a copy of Austen’s Emma for the next gifting holiday). If John wanted to ask you out he could have come to the party, had a normal conversation with you and said “Hey, want to grab a drink with me sometime?” without all the fanfare. He could have also asked Sally straight up for an introduction (and respected your resulting “no thanks” when and if it came). He could have sent you a friend request and a note that says “I’m a friend of Sally’s, I saw you on the invite list, mind if we connect here?” Even if he’d chosen a less creepy and roundabout method of getting in touch, you’re not interested, so, farewell, John, we hardly knew ye.
For those who like to matchmake (I sometimes like to matchmake, especially “you live in the same city and I think you’d make good friends” matchmaking), I recommend asking the people in advance, like, “Hey, I’d love to introduce you to a friend of mine who lives in your city/does what you do for a living/reminds me of you/keeps sending me the exact same Twin Peaks memes that you send, I think you’d really get along, would that be cool?” and then if it is cool with both people I make a quick introduction and then I get out of the middle of things – the people will either find their own conversation or they won’t. If it’s not cool, I drop the subject. The matchmaker’s ego and investment in the outcome < the interest and wishes of the matchmakees.
#TFG = #thatfuckingguy
I would appreciate any advice you could give on supporting a friend (female pronouns) who is not yet ready to leave an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. This has been an ongoing issue for about 2 years, but something happened a few days ago and I could use an outside perspective.
I would describe the boyfriend as coercive (in past conversations she has alluded to having sex with him just so that he will stop begging, even when she doesn’t want to) and one of my big concerns is that Friend will be extremely isolated in our current city without me. I think he looks through her phone and computer, so I pretty much assume that he could read any written communication I send. I censor myself in written communication with her and we only have frank conversations when we go for walks in the nearby park. He often invites himself along to things we have planned and it feels like he is monitoring our friendship. He also makes controlling comments, but when I call them out, he always says, “I was just joking. [Friend] knows I’m just joking. She’s amazing and the best thing ever…etc.” They live together, but he does none of the domestic work and will only do paid work (freelance) when she nags him.
A couple times a year, she will reach a boiling point and tell him to shape up or she will leave. He will improve for about 2 weeks and then go back to the status quo. Her work/school schedule has been grueling the past few years and she hasn’t had the energy to deal with the inevitable fallout of a breakup. Most of our one-on-one conversations end with me reiterating an offer that she is always welcome to stay at my apartment when she is ready to leave. She’s not blinded by love or anything, just doesn’t feel like there is a good way or time to exit the relationship. He is currently estranged from his family and not really working, so she feels like if she dumps him, he will have nothing. One of my priorities is staying in her life, so I don’t want to overstep and give her boyfriend ammunition for isolating her further. Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic and her other close friends live in other cities and are busy with newborn babies.
A couple days ago, I ended up spending about 30 minutes alone with her boyfriend while we were stuck in terrible traffic, on our way to pick her up and go to an event. I don’t enjoy his company and generally avoid spending time with him. Our one-on-conversation (mostly him doing a monologue) was frightening. He was delusional, paranoid, and unable to remember things I had said 5 minutes earlier. I had to repeatedly remind him where we were going and why we were going. He was extremely animated in his conversation and was looking at me while he talked and not the road, often swerving at the last minute. His ranting mostly focused on how the [creative] industry was scared of his success and how “they” wanted to keep his [art] away from “the people” and that this was a huge mistake because “the universe was going to revolt” if they didn’t get access to his [art]. At first I thought he was joking and just being overly full of himself, but he was completely serious. He then segued into how his estrangement with his family was a concern of the Catholic Church. Apparently, him “stepping out of line” is crumbling the foundation of the church by upsetting the established hierarchy. At several points, he referred to himself as royalty and referred to his lifelong “fame” that comes with being part of his family. Before you wonder, you have no clue who he is. His “fame” comes from the local and state politics his family is involved with in one of the poorest states in the country.
This grandiose sense of self and paranoia about “the establishment” trying to prevent him from success is worrisome. There were also times when he said things that I know for a fact aren’t true, but he seems to have fully convinced himself of this alternate version. I have considered that he may have been on drugs during that conversation, though that possibility does not alleviate my worry. He does not believe in therapy, though Friend has suggested it to him many times over the last two years.
I have already sent Friend a vague text and we are getting together this weekend for a walk where we will be able to speak more frankly. I just feel powerless to help and that my support has fallen woefully short. I don’t know how to be a supportive friend in this situation and I’m really worried that he is acting like this with her on a regular basis. It was exhausting for 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it is doing to her longterm. I don’t think he is violent now, but think he could become violent if she breaks up with him. I feel like Friend is the frog in the pot of water, slowly boiling to death. She’s been unhappy, but the decline has been gradual so there hasn’t been a catalyst for her to jump ship.
I know I can’t make her leave, but I do want to make sure I am there for her if she needs support. Any words of wisdom to help me be a good friend in this situation?
-Helpless & Worried (female pronouns)
Dear Helpless & Worried,
I think you’re doing as well as you can with this. You’ve figured out how to communicate with her around his possible monitoring of her electronic conversations. You’ve made it clear that you’ll be a landing place when and if she leaves him. Let me refer you to some past posts that deal with the issue of being a good friend in a basically impossible situation.
Let’s address the elephant in the room:
Without diagnosing this dude (seriously, no “It sounds like x!” comments, please, we don’t actually have to narrow it down), the grandiosity, short-term memory slips, and erratic driving behavior he displayed might correlate to a number of mental health conditions that all have one important thing in common: They will not get better and will most likely get worse without focused regular psychiatric care & medication. You and your friend both might benefit from calling or texting the support folks at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), describing what you experienced with this guy, and seeing what they recommend. Your friend can’t make him get treatment, nor can you, but their support resources for “family members and caregivers” might be able to walk her through what she’s dealing with and have checklists and methods for coaxing reluctant people into treatment.
Important: If you’re ever dealing with someone who is having the paranoid sort of delusions and they are getting very upset and agitated, it doesn’t help to try to convince them of what’s real or deny the truth of what they are describing. They are experiencing whatever it is as if it’s real, so it’s better to validate their feelings until you can get them to Help or Help to them. You don’t have to participate in the delusion yourself, so try “I don’t see any spiders, but that must be a truly awful sight” or “I don’t hear anything, but that must feel really strange and scary.” Be honest about where your own perceptions differ but validate and comfort the upset feelings the person is having without arguing them out of feeling them. Source: A NAMI-created education session for friends/family/loved ones I went to back when Mr. Awkward was hospitalized a few years ago for a bad episode with his bipolar disorder .
It’s a sad, true fact that one can be a clingy, controlling, abusive jerk who needs to be dumped and have some pretty serious mental health stuff going on. Correlation is not causation. Even if he gets treatment (unlikely, since he “doesn’t believe in therapy”), your friend will most likely be better off without this guy in her life, and I don’t want to suggest that she’s responsible somehow for making this happen or that she needs to stay until his mental health is stabilized. Just, knowledge is power, and also, support resources who are not you are useful things to have.
I’m now going to stuff that elephant back into a tightly sealed container, because he didn’t write to me and she didn’t write to me and this is about you and the limits of what you can do here.
If you ever witness an episode like the one you did, when you’re safely out of the car it’s okay to say, “You are not making a lot of sense today, and your driving was very erratic. You seem really not okay to me, like, maybe there’s something going on that a doctor should take a look at.” Say it directly to him as gently and directly as you are able. He may argue that he doesn’t believe in therapy or “Big Pharma” or whatever, which, okay, cool. Don’t talk about therapists or psychiatrists, use the generic catch-all of “doctor.” “I think you should make an appointment with a doctor and tell that person you’re having problems with memory and concentration, especially when driving. Dude, get yourself checked out – if it’s nothing, then why not rule it out?” He sees you at least nominally as a friend, so, use that and speak to him the way a friend would.
He 99.9% won’t go. On some level he suspects that if he goes to a doctor then “They” or “The System” will know there’s something bigger going on. That’s okay. Say it anyway, offer to be the driver on the way back – “I just don’t feel safe with you behind the wheel after what I just saw, and it’s even more worrying that you don’t remember what happened, why don’t you let me get us home, I’d feel much more comfortable” – and if he won’t budge, definitely find your own transportation home. Don’t make it about all future rides or ultimatums, just take it one ride at a time – Right now, you’d feel more comfortable if someone else drove. And in future conversations with him, if those happen, you can keep referring back to that particular night that you personally witnessed (instead of the shitty behavior you know about). “You don’t remember, but when we were in the car that night, your behavior was very disturbing. I really, really hope you’ll talk to a doctor about it. There’s no shame in trying to get to the bottom of something like that so you can feel better/drive safely/put my & girlfriend’s mind at ease.”
If he doesn’t listen to you or seek treatment, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Sometimes speaking up about an issue isn’t about convincing the other person, it’s because it’s good for you to not stay silent. It’s good for you to name what’s happening, to remind yourself that it’s not normal, to remind yourself what you witnessed and experienced, and to put that out there in the world and not just silently fret about it.
When you next talk to your friend, another thing you can do is accurately and honestly describe what you saw. Talk about the behaviors, especially the scary driving, and talk about how they impacted you. You won’t be riding in a car with the boyfriend as the driver any more and you recommend that she doesn’t, either. He could have killed someone. He could have killed you. He could kill her. This is a very big deal and it can’t be waved away.
You can also talk about the grandiosity and the memory lapses and the other strange behavior you observed. Message: “I think there is something very serious going on with him, and he needs serious help – more help than you can possibly give or be expected to give.”
He doesn’t believe in therapy so of course he won’t want to go and she’ll doubtless raise that objection. Your script is: “I think this might beyond our friendly neighborhood therapist, even. This is serious doctor stuff.” Then give her the NAMI resources or whatever else you’ve found and that our nice commenters recommend.
Then, here’s your script for the one big serious talk:
“You are my friend forever, and I always want to see you. If you ever need a place to stay, a listening ear, a ride, whatever I can give, it’s yours. I will keep making communication safe between us and making time for these walks when I can see you.
I am seriously worried about you the longer you stay in this relationship. I think it is draining the life out of you, and I don’t think it’s your responsibility to support and help this guy even one minute longer than you already have. I think that he needs help that you can’t give, and the longer he tries to make you his girlfriend/mommy/financial support/mental health care substitute/pacifier, the longer he will delay seeking that care. I think it’s okay for you to call in medical professionals here, or think about contacting his family to see if they can help somehow – I think things are that serious and that they’ll only get worse from here. I know that’s overwhelming to contemplate, but if things stayed just like they are now and didn’t get any better, how long would you stay? Another year? Another 5 years? Forever?
In the end, only you can decide what’s right for you, and I trust you to take care of yourself and make a good decision about what to do. You don’t owe me a breakup with him, you don’t owe me anything but being my friend. You do what you need to do, and if you need me, I’ll be there, no questions asked.
That said, I can’t ride in a car with him anymore, anywhere. I have to make that boundary for my own safety. And I can’t pretend the way he behaves lately is normal or okay with me. I also don’t want him inviting himself along on our plans anymore, so what do you need from me to help make that happen?”
Your friend will have some stuff to say, so, listen to her.
And then, in the aftermath of this talk, as you go forward in this friendship, here’s what I want you to do:
Make your friendship about something other than “helping” and “supporting” her in regards to him. Make your friendship about how much you like her and want her company in your life. In practice, this means:
- It’s okay to redirect conversations about him. “You already know what I think, so, what are you asking?” “What do you think you’ll do?” “How do you want to handle that?”
- It’s okay to nope out of some conversations about him and not make all the time you spend together time that you chew on the gristle of her relationship problems. “Ugh, that sucks, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that, but I’ve reached my Dude-talk limit for the day.” U R Not The Asshole Whisperer.
- It’s more than okay to recommend that she see a therapist or counselor. He’s the one with big, dramatic issues, but if she’s being drained dry by him, her having a safe place to talk and an advocate for herself within the mental health system is not a bad thing at all. You don’t have to be her sole outlet.
- I know you’re worried about her becoming isolated from having other friendships and relationships, but I’m serious about not getting in a car with him again, not ever. It’s okay to keep that boundary. “If Dude is driving, sorry, I can’t make it, but I’ll see you at the usual time for our walk.”
- Get out of the role of being the only mentor/advice-giver/”the okay one” or whatever. Make it a point to ask her advice about things that she’s good and knowledgable about. Ask her for help with things that she’d be good at helping with. You can’t make “getting her out of the relationship” the project of your friendship with her for a lot of reasons, not least because it takes the average victim multiple attempts to leave before they actually do.
- Make sure there is a fluffy/fun/positive/enjoyable thing that you share and talk about, whether it’s trading books or watching a favorite show together or a shared hobby or your weekly walks or texting cute animal photos. If he’s monitoring her communications (BAD, VERY BAD, RED FLAG) you having an innocuous conversation topic is a good thing, but it’s also important that you enjoy your friendship with each other as much as possible.
- I hate that this is a thing, but referring to your time together as Girl Time!!! and planning really female-coded activities for when you hang out can help somewhat in minimizing how much he tags along to your plans. “Sorry, this is Lady Time! No boys allowed!” sometimes translates better for misogynists than “Steve, you’re not invited!”
- Lady-Time Expanded: Is there a way for the two of you to join an all-woman choir or sport or other hobby group that meets periodically? Community for her, community for you, no That Guy.
If you’re doing that stuff, you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances.
While this is all going on, I also want you to take excellent care of yourself. Don’t neglect your other friendships and your social life. You need friendships without this abusive jerk hanging out in the background all the time. Don’t neglect your career, your finances, your education, your housekeeping. Above all, don’t neglect your own enjoyment and pleasure in life. Taking care of people and supporting them is great, but when your power to change a situation is as limited as it is here, making sure you can disengage is healthy.
This is all so imperfect. The mental health system is imperfect. Someone else’s relationship troubles are completely unfixable by you, and abusive people poison everything around themselves and the person in their grasp. You can’t make yourself like him, there’s only so long you can lie and pretend around him, and there’s only so long you can make vague soothing noises. There is no great, wonderful, awesome, brilliant way to handle this, there is only telling the truth and offering what you can safely offer.
From Hannah, the organizer:
We will meet in the Michaeligarten beer garden in Ostpark on Wednesday
28th June at 18.00. If it is raining, we will postpone and meet on
Friday 30th instead. If the weather looks bad, we will discuss on the
“Munich?” thread on the forums whether or not to postpone, so check in
there for a decision.
The nearest U-Bahn station is Michaelibad on the U5. You can bring
your own food into the beer garden or buy food there, although you
won’t be able to bring in drinks.
I will bring a teddy bear to put on the table so people can find us.
If you need to get in touch, you can post in the “Munich?” thread on
the forums or email me on email@example.com.
Thanks so much!
Have a good time!
From the organizer, Cat:
Hello Awkwardeers in Atlanta!
On Saturday, June 24, I will be going on a walk in the Inman Park neighborhood, starting at the Inman Park MARTA station and just walking around admiring houses and gardens and exploring any little neighborhood parks I come across for about an hour. Pokemon Go players welcome!
I’ll be at the station’s bus area at 9:15am and depart at 9:30am, because any later and things will be getting quite hot. I will be holding a rainbow plush Cthulu toy while waiting at the station. I have a long brown braid and glasses.
There is free parking at the station if you are coming by car. If it is pouring rain that morning you can assume the meetup is canceled but if you are unsure I will also post in the Friends of Captain Awkward forums meetups thread if I cancel.
Note: I know this meetup will not be accessible for everyone, this is just what I felt like doing this month. I tried to make May’s meetup 100% accessible and will do so again next time. If you want to host your own meetup for June or at any other time, please do! The more the merrier!
Have a great walk, Atlanta!
You know, I've been around dehumidifiers for decades, but never once thought of this. And then it's so obvious.
(Not that this uses quite that tech, but, the principle of the thing.)
Straight-line extrapolations into the future -- that trick never works.
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on June, 24
My issue feels so petty, but it’s seriously giving me anxiety…
I am fairly close friends with an older male coworker. He is very into bike riding, and over the years has tried to get me on board with his hobby. I’ve been fairly straightforward in telling him that it really isn’t my thing, and reaffirmed this just a few weeks ago when we were out together. Coincidentally, he was leaving the next day for a big cycling trip. While he was gone he texted to ask me what my hat size was and, thinking nothing of it, I replied.
I came in to work the next week to find, of all things, a brand new bike helmet on my chair. WTF?! I thanked him for it, but reiterated that I was making no promises as far as using it, but joked it would come in handy if they sky fell in at work. He responded that he understood, and then immediately asked it the helmet fit. I ignored the question.
Then a few days later he shows up in my office, and tells me that we’re picking a night after work for a short, 30 minute ride. I commented that he really doesn’t listen, and he laughed.
I DON’T WANT TO RIDE BIKES!
I DON’T WANT A BIKE HELMET!
I TOLD HIM I DON’T WANT TO RIDE BIKES!
I am really frustrated and angry, and don’t appreciate being strong armed into doing something I very clearly said I don’t want to do. This guy is a good friend, and I don’t want to make him feel bad, but at the same time I am (maybe unreasonably) miffed about this. I’ve been getting way better at saying no and pushing back, but saying no and pushing back is just not working here. I don’t know if this matters at all, but he is older and married, and I am a younger married female- our relationship has always been platonic, but he has put a toe over the line a few times with regard to references to my looks, and comments about marrying me if he were younger.
Thanks in advance!
No Means No
Dear No Means No:
He is being so fucking weird, intrusive, aggressive, and oblivious that I want you to immediately absolve yourself from ever worrying about “making him feel bad” about this. HE is making YOU feel bad, and then making you do extra emotional labor to worry about his feelings.
I suggest that you take the bike helmet, still in its box, put it back on his chair with a note that says “Thanks, but I don’t ride bikes.”
Other options: Donate it. Put it in the garbage.*
GO RIDE BIKES WITH YOUR WIFE, DUDE.
OR GO TO A BIKE-RIDING MEETUP AND MAKE BIKE-RIDING FRIENDS.
RIDING BIKES ALONE IS ALSO GOOD.
MAYBE ONE OF YOUR MALE COWORKERS RIDES BIKES?
STOP TRYING TO HARASS YOUR COWORKER INTO IT, WE CAN SEE YOU COMING FOR MILES.
When he comes to weirdly talk about it with you (and he will), say: “I do not know how to make myself clearer: I am not interested in riding bikes with you. I know you mean to be thoughtful but your ‘gift’ and subsequent insistence on planning a bike ride is making me very uncomfortable. What will it take for you to understand that this is not something I ever want to do?”
If it hurts his feelings or he gets weird about it (which he will), OK. GOOD. FINE. If he wanted to avoid hurt feelings he could have listened to you the first time you said “No thanks!” and the at least 27 times you’ve said no since then. You saying “no” to riding bikes at this point is “hurting his feelings” like you holding a fork and him running across a room to impale himself onto it is “stabbing him with a fork.”
Then, if he ever brings up riding bikes with you again, say a flat “No” and move away. If he retaliates against you at work in any way, document all this stuff and report his ass to HR. I’m serious. It’s great that y’all have been work “friends” all this time, but he is the one killing that friendly vibe by trying to force his hobby on you.
Incidentally, when I think back to the (non-zero)(always gross)(never pleasant or cute or friendly) amount of times that older male coworkers or older male customers or old men in general have said “I would totally marry you if I were younger, heh heh!” to me I wish I’d had the guts or wit to have said something deeply crushing in return, like “I think that you think that’s a compliment, how interesting” or “Yikes, there‘s a mental picture.” Mostly what I did was cringe away and wait for the earth to mercifully swallow me while Geezer McPatronizing laughed at my embarrassment. Dudes, especially older/old-ish dudes, this is never the “compliment” that you think it is. Never. Even if you are an “adorable” old Grampa with a mustache talking to a precocious 16-year-old at her diner waitressing job and everyone in this story is from the South where theoretically people just put up with this bullshit and pretend to find it cute, just shut up about your alternate timeline marriage offers, forever.
In short, friends listen to you when you say “no thanks!” If he can’t hear you loud and clear, he’s not acting like your friend, and that’s not your fault.
*Wasteful, I know. Who cares. She doesn’t want the fucking bike helmet and sometimes you need to get a thing out of your life more than you need to spend time and emotional labor finding the perfect disposal solution.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I participate in a small sport, with several branches. I am both a referee and a ‘player’ in this sport. (If you see any inadvertent clues as to the sport, please could you edit them out?)
At the club where I practice, lots of people know that I referee, and often ask me questions about the rules. I don’t mind these questions, and enjoy answering them, it’s part of why I love being a referee, and part of what has helped me become one of the country’s (UK) most senior referees in one branch of the sport.
In one of the smaller branches, I’m actually getting quite good – in fact I’ll be representing my country at a world championships later this year. This is my first time at an international event, and unsurprisingly, I have ramped up my practice.
My problem is when I have gone to the club to practice, and other club members start asking me questions. It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.
How can I politely let people know that they have crossed the line from a welcome short question and answer into an imposition? Especially when the line is crossed quite quickly. I want to end the conversation as soon as possible while still making it clear I’d be happy to answer short questions in future? This is complicated slightly by the fact that I’m an introvert with extreme shyness, and anxiety. And having to tell someone no feels like confrontation to me and brings my anxiety right up! Also, these people are my friends, and answering questions starts off as a nice way to interact with people I like.
On a slightly extended note (feel free to edit this out if you prefer), an example was this weekend. I was pretty tired after going for a run first thing, and then spending all morning at practice. I had broken for lunch and was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse. A Lady from the club started asking me questions about the new dress code, and I replied with a sensible answer. But she kept asking the same question “could I wear this, could I wear that”. I felt like I had to keep answering. I did walk away, when I was too tired to keep standing, and had actually gone and sat down on the other side of the clubhouse but she followed me and started asking what local competitions would be suitable for her daughter. I said outright several times that I didn’t know about junior competitions, but she kept on asking and asking and asking. Captain, I was soooo tired, and this was my lunch break! I just wanted her to go away. This is an extreme example, as the lady in question doesn’t pick up on social cues very well, so I might need something more pointed for her.
Thank you for your lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading since I discovered it a few weeks ago.
All the best,
Trying to Practice (she/her pronouns)
Dear Trying To Practice,
I say this as a fairly soft-spoken, young-ish appearing, reasonably affable female person in a “I’m here to answer questions and teach you stuff!” profession where students have sometimes followed me into the bathroom to ask questions. Sometimes you just gotta say “I’d love to answer all your questions, but… “
- “…I need this class break to organize my notes, can you email me or schedule an appointment if you need to sit down and talk it through?”
- “…I need my bathroom time to be alone time, can we talk about it when we’re back in class?”
- “…I need to think more about their question, can they remind me next class?”
- “…I don’t know that off the top of my head, but the Library/Post-Production Center/Audio Suite/Professor in charge of that specialty is a good resource. Can I assign you to research it a little and report back to the class next week? Thanks!”
- “…so sorry, I have to tune you out for a sec before I lose my train of thought (a real possibility for me). Can you remind me of your question by email when we’re back in class?“
I want to help people out, I want them to feel comfortable asking me questions, and sometimes I really, really need that 10 minutes or whatever to not be in on-demand information dispenser mode, and I don’t think I’m being rude or a bad professor by setting that boundary.
For you this could translate as:
- “Great question! I can’t chat about it right this second, today is my practice day. Remind me next time I see you/Email me/This is a great person-who-is-not-me to ask if you need an answer today. Gotta run!”
- “I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, sorry! I’ve got to put my head down right now and finish my lunch, if you look into this let me know what you find out.“
- “I don’t know anything about junior competitions, sorry. That’s a great question, I wish I could help. I’m so sorry to cut you off – I need to wolf down my lunch right now so I can get back to practicing, good luck finding out what you need to know!”
Consider also, especially with the person who follows you around the club to ask questions:
- Needing to step out and make a phone call or “a phone call.”
- Needing to step away and get something from your car. That something might be a second of peace and quiet to eat your lunch.
- Needing to step away to catch a member of the club staff and ask them a question while you have a spare moment. If this person follows you, great. “Hey Terry, Taylor here had a question about the new uniforms, maybe you can help her out!” + then flee!
- Headphones are the introvert’s friend!
Sometimes people are taken aback when you set this boundary but in my experience 99% of the time the person says “Oh, of course, sorry!” and it’s not a big deal. They either follow up with you later, or it wasn’t that important in the first place. If someone does make a big deal along the lines of “you MUST help me RIGHT NOW or ELSE,” the problem was not you.