Hello Captain Awkward,
I have an ongoing issue that I hope you can help me with, perhaps in the form of a script. I have been married for 24 years. Our marriage is far from perfect but we have worked out some of the major kinks. So here is the issue.
My husband is an introvert, I am an extreme extrovert. We are both ok with that. He doesn’t mind if I socialize and I do not care if he takes a pass on 99% of the invitations sent our way. He is fine with family events and hanging with a few close friends. All good. The problem is the rest of the world. We get invited to a lot of events that the majority of the guests are couples. Neighborhood parties, extended family stuff, work events etc. Again, my husband hates, I really enjoy. People are ok if I attend one or two events solo, but begin to get awkward and insulted beyond that. There are just so many “Husband is sick” “Husband is working on a project” excuses I can make before it becomes obvious that he is just not going to be showing up.
I have no idea what the right approach is to this is. Do I just say to everyone ” Hey husband hates parties and hanging out and makes it a misery for me til we finally just leave early”. I have started to just not attend things myself which makes me sad and resentful.
Any thoughts on how to make this less awkward?
Somebody at the party will probably always ask you that question because curiosity is human and they think enquiring after a person’s spouse is a routine & polite thing to do. You can’t change their behavior, but you can try to approach your replies with more “IDGAF” and see if they get better at taking cues from you.
The biggest recommendation I have is: DON’T LIE ANYMORE. You may think you need to tell white lies to spare the host’s feelings, but that’s part of why you feel resentful about the whole thing. You don’t actually owe the hosts any explanations, and being forced to lie is uncomfortable, so, let it go and tell the truth. He’s not sick, he’s not at work, he’s just not here.
Scripts, which nearly all come with “+ [a subject change]!” after them:
- “Oh, he’s at home.”
- “He’s doing something else today.”
- “He’s not a party person, but I am!”
- “Oh, I like to come by myself, and he likes the quiet time at home. Everyone wins this way!”
- “We have a mixed Introvert-Extrovert marriage, so, you’re stuck with me for the rest of time.”
- “Oh, I can almost never never drag him out of the house for parties! He really loves his solo time, and I love being here with all of you.”
You say people are getting insulted, like, they might feel like your husband doesn’t really like them. That’s awkward, but at the end of the day, so what? It’s not your job to be his neighborhood friendliness ambassador. He’s not hurting anybody.
Your marriage is just fine, and their opinion of it doesn’t matter, so the worst thing I can come up with is that if they are obsessed with even numbers and couples, some people might stop inviting you to things. That would sting, but it’s not something you can actually control. Or, they might awkwardly ask, wait, doesn’t he like us? And you can say “I don’t know, he’s certainly never mentioned anything about that to me. After 24 years I do know that even when it’s his very best friends or family, big gatherings aren’t his cup of tea. It’s not personal, and it’s never gonna change! Good news, though, you’re never getting rid of me, ’cause I love it here.”
I’m gonna end with a compromise suggestion specifically for neighborhood gatherings, specifically for things that are walking distance and don’t require dressing up. Once a month or so, could your husband wander over and say a 10-minute hello to the hosts as a favor to you? Would it, like, crush his fragile spirit to drop in and say “Hey, bud, looks like a great gathering! My wife’s been looking forward to it all week! You know I’m not a party person but I wanted to stop by and say hello for a minute.” Then, he can leave whenever he wants to and you can stay all you want.
He certainly doesn’t have to do this (invitations are not commands, the neighbors are not owed 2 guests just because they invited 2 guests), but one thing I see is you doing a bunch of emotional labor around this and him doing zero. I used to think I hated “small talk” and only wanted to connect over deep truths but it turns out SMALL TALK IS AWESOME IT GREASES THE WHEELS OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT AND ANYONE CAN DO IT FOR A FEW MINUTES, YOU WON’T DIE OF A BRIEF EXCHANGE ABOUT LAWN CARE OR THE WEATHER INSTEAD OF YOUR INNERMOST THOUGHTS.(See also: IT’S OKAY TO BE A LITTLE BIT BORED/BORING AS LONG AS YOU ARE KIND).
Your social life and relationships with the neighbors are important to you, so if him going for a few minutes would make you feel less awkward and smooth your way, I think that’s an okay thing to ask him to try out this summer.
I am howling at this story of Jenny Slate’s terrible blind date.
Like, lmk when you get to the phrase “[metal clanking noises]” if you’re not ded of laughing by then.
It’s very funny and well told, because she is funny and a good storyteller (and because it doesn’t end with her being called ‘Milady’ in a murder basement for the rest of her short life), but it’s also a deeply cautionary tale about how women are socialized to be nice at all costs and how some dudes have not heard “LOL, Nope!!!!” coming from the woman-shaped hole in the nearest wall as their date flees the scene nearly enough in this life.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.
Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.
I am so sorry this is happening to you. It is gross and scary and NOT YOUR FAULT. I’m glad you wrote to me, though, because you are not alone and we need to figure out how to stop this kind of stuff and how to make that process safe for kids like you.
To be clear, I don’t think you were talking about clothed selfies of the human face in your letter, is it okay if I proceed with that assumption? If I’m wrong, well, I’d love to be wrong. It would be the best wrong I’ve been all year.
You have met a predatory and manipulative jerk. You didn’t do anything wrong. “Earl” did everything he did on purpose. He does the exact same thing to lots of girls and his way of operating makes y’all feel like it was your fault and that you’re the only ones it’s happening to. The photos he sends you are deliberate – They make you feel obligated, even if you say “Ew, no” it still gives him a thrill and a feeling of power to cross your boundaries like that and get away with it. The photos y’all send him are his “insurance” that you’ll be too ashamed to tell anyone or that, if you do, you’ll be in trouble yourself for also sending a picture.
It’s time to talk about informed consent, which means, roughly, that before you take any course of action you should know clearly what you’re getting into so you can make the best possible decision for yourself based on all available information. Informed consent, not coincidentally, is what Earl denied you by sending you a photo of Earl Jr. without asking first if you wanted to see it.
There are probably going to be commenters who tell you to drop what you’re doing and “Call the police right now!” Involving the police might be the right thing to do and it might extremely not be the right thing to do, depending on where you live and what the laws are like there. It also depends on what was in the photo that you sent vs. the one that he sent. There are some places where, even if you and Earl were girlfriend and boyfriend passionately and consensually sharing these images, you could both be convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography and end up with very scary sex offender convictions. I wish I were kidding about that, but here’s a link to an article by a lawyer about these laws where I live, Illinois, USA.
What Earl is doing seems to me like a clear pattern of predatory behavior designed to trick girls into sending him compromising photos and it needs stopped, for sure, but it’s risky for you when the laws can be so badly designed. Adults are completely terrified of teen sexuality and without knowing where you live and what the laws are like and what the general “Oh well, boys will be boys, what can you do?” attitudes are like, I can’t make a clean “Oh yes, def. call the police on this pooplord!” recommendation as much as I’d like to. More like, if you want to call the police do it with the help of a lawyer who can expertly guide you and protect you in the process.
There are probably going to be commenters who insist that you tell your parents what happened immediately. Some parents will be understanding and supportive and take action to protect you but also listen to and respect what you want to do. Some will absolutely flip their lids and take action (like bringing in law enforcement without fully considering what that means for you) (or freaking out that you sent a photo, too, and punishing you) that might not be what’s actually best for you. I 100% hope that you can tell your parents, but I grew up in the kind of house where my mom would be so ashamed of and angry at me for complying that it would probably not be worth it to tell her because the “What were you thinking?” “How could you be so stupid?” cloud of judgment would be worse punishment for me than anything that might happen to Earl or the prospect of 1 blurry photo of my teenaged nubbins out in the world. You are the expert on your own parents, so, trust your instincts here.
If you do decide to tell your parents, maybe do it in a note? Sample text or script you could adapt:
“Mom, Dad (or Mom & Mom/Dad & Dad), I need to tell you something really uncomfortable that happened and I am scared that you’ll be ashamed of me or mad at me.
A boy at school that I liked asked for my number and we’ve been texting. He sent me a naked picture of himself and asked me to send one in return. I’m embarrassed to say this but I did. After I sent it I realized that he doesn’t really like me and that he does this to lots of girls. I want him to stop doing this to all of us and I don’t know what to do.
I have been scared to tell anyone about this because I sent a photo, too. Since it happened I learned that there are laws about this that could get me in just as much trouble as the boy. Before we do anything can we talk to a lawyer who knows about this stuff to make sure I won’t get in trouble for coming forward?”
One common piece of advice is that you tell a trusted adult – a family member, a teacher, or maybe a school counselor what happened. Someone who can stop Earl and get him out of this pattern. I think this is 99.9% a very, very good idea with some reservations. Teachers and school counselors and anyone at your school are probably “mandated reporters.” That means that if they know or suspect abuse of some kind is happening, they must call law enforcement. This is to protect kids, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t ever tell them scary stuff, but it means that if you say “If I tell you something, do you promise to keep it between us?” sometimes they legally can’t make you that promise. They could lose their jobs, or be charged as an accessory or sued for covering up the problem.
This is why a lot of people use hypothetical situations to have these conversations, like the classic “I’m asking for a friend” scenario. For you it might mean saying “If I thought a boy at school was sending nude pictures to girls and trying to get them to send them back so he can show his friends, what should I do?” The obvious question on the teacher’s mind is “Which boy” (or, tbh, “It’s Earl, right?“) or “Did this happen to you?” but if you give everybody a fig leaf of plausible deniability at first you might get an idea of the teacher’s approach before you tell more details. “Can you tell me what the process of reporting that looks like? Have you ever had to deal with something like this before? What happened? What would happen to the boy? Would the girls get in trouble, too?” Figure out how informed, how aggressive, how sexist* this person is before you pour your heart out.
I’m sorry that so much of what I wrote is hypothetical and not a clear recommended course of action. It’s hard to be a kid and to not have much control over your situation, and it’s hard to live in a culture that is so inconsistent in how we treat victims of this kind of behavior. It’s hard to have such a clear right answer – “Stop this dude before he rapes someone!” – and to have so little trust in the processes or systems that exist to protect you. But I think there are a couple of things you 100% can control and that will make you feel safer:
Talk to a trained counselor outside of your school & the mandated reporting umbrella. For example, here is a link to the crisis resources available at Scarleteen, including a message board for staff & peer support, a texting service, and anonymous online chats. You’ll find people will believe you, who won’t judge you, who won’t think you’re weird, who are aware of how depressingly common what you went through is. You can get a real-time sounding board while you figure out what to do. Telling more comforting strangers (like you told us) can make it easier for you tell other people. (P.S. Scarleteen is a national treasure and they run that place on love and a shoestring. If you’re a grownup reading this and looking to fund some good, here’s a donation link).
Take screen shots of everything he sent you and that you sent him, including the pictures and email them to yourself or save them somewhere so you have documentation of what happened.
Block his number, forever and always. Preemptively block him on all conceivable social media platforms. Congratulations, Earl is now dead to you. Blank his pathetic ass in the halls of academia.
Beware of his gross friends who looked at the photos without saying “Whoa, not cool, man.” Those boys do not get your phone number in this lifetime.
If he gets in some trouble, good. You didn’t “get him in trouble” or “ruin his life.” If he’s harassing the girls in his class this way, he needs to deal with some consequences, and now, while he’s still a kid, is the right time for some serious intervention. If he threatens you, harms you, retaliates against you, makes you feel targeted and unsafe, damn the torpedoes and tell an adult.
Learn the rules about sexual harassment in your school. Does your school have a policy about this? What does it say? Is it good enough? Down the road, maybe through student government or the school newspaper, you could help shape a better policy that would protect kids like you from pervs like Earl? (Part of me is like AUGGGGHHHH YOU ARE 14 YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO RESEARCH THIS, and part of me is like FUTURE AMAZON WARRIOR IN TRAINING!!!!!)
Tell other girls. “Hey, have you ever had anything weird happened with Earl, where he sends you pictures and tries to get you to send him one, too?” You’ll be able to tell from how they react, and you can say “Yeah, that happened to me, too. It’s not your fault!” Spreading the word about him is powerful. Reminding yourself and each other that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault is powerful. Maybe the other girls could all go with you to tell a teacher or a school counselor as a group.
Warn other girls. When you see Earl single someone out, you can warn her – “I know Earl seems cool, but chances are he WILL send you a dick pic and try to get you to send him a photo so he can show it to all his friends.”
Be a safe landing place for other girls. Say you warn a girl, but she’s under the Earl-spell so she blows you off at first, but then it happens to her and she’s clearly embarrassed. Be kind to her. You know how she feels. Don’t blame or judge or “I told you so!” her. Don’t ever look at the photos if they get forwarded around, or make fun of her for it. Just say, “Yeah, you were kind of a jerk to me before, but I probably would have done the same thing before I knew what he was really like. It’s not your fault,” and add her to your powerful girl-army.
I wish I could build you a world without Notes From A Boner, where I never had to use the words “The next time you get some random screen peen…” but, there will be a next time and it will always kind of ruin your day a little because WHY ARE DUDES?
However, one tiny benefit of this upsetting situation it’s that your NOPE! meter will work much better from now on and it probably won’t ruin your week. The next intrusive wang you see will get a “Weird, why would you send me that?” and the cold release of the block button. Or, (true story) when you’re older and trying to sell a bike on Craigslist and some dude sends you a pathetic and revolting photo from firstname.lastname@example.org,” you’ll forward the email to email@example.com with a note saying “I got this from one of your employees today, you might want to check to see if he’s been hacked? Surely no one from your excellent company would send something like this to a stranger. I hope you can get to the bottom of this embarrassing incident, good luck!” Instead of wondering if it’s your fault somehow, Future You will let these losers reap the whirlwind of your contempt and indifference.
Sending so much love your way, Troubled Teen. We believe you. It’s not your fault.
*”Aw, boys will be boys, amirite?” = ABORT & possibly tell someone in authority “I tried to talk to [Teacher] about a sexual harassment situation and he said ‘boys will be boys’ and would not take it seriously at all.”
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!
My shoulders are going up around my ears reading this! Also, you and about 20 other people have sent me a version of this letter recently so I’m glad for the chance to summarize a method that many people can apply. Here are your steps:
First, recalibrate “normal.”
In a perfect world, how much you would visit your parents? “Not every g.d. weekend!” sounds like your starting point, but quantify it even more than that. One “family dinner” or weekend activity per month? Choose what works for you and what you can reasonably sustain, and then commit to that and follow through. When you go, strive to enjoy yourself as much as you can. Turn down additional plans or invitations if you wish and when you do, do not give explanations beyond “I can’t make it this weekend, have fun.” Your plans could in fact be “I will be busy reading silently alone in my house with my phone turned off” or “Swiping right” or “Climbing rocks in the middle of nowhere” or “Reorganizing where I keep my collection of antique spyglasses.” Express all of the details of that as “Sorry, I have other plans this weekend, but enjoy yourselves!”
Two important things:
a) Once you say no thanks, follow through on the “no thanks.” You are re-teaching your mom and yourself that “I can’t make it” is not the beginning of a negotiation. Every “Okay, FINE, I’ll stop by for a little” when you already said you didn’t want to restarts the clock on how long this whole recalibration thing will take.
b) Watch/lock down/be aware of your social media postings on a weekend you said you couldn’t make it. If your mom and your siblings monitor your feeds, posting “A day of glorious nothing!” and one of those photos of your feet and the horizon when you said you couldn’t come to this week’s family barbecue will invite discussion and drama. Give your folks less information while you re-negotiate these boundaries.
Second, create a ritual.
You are already in the same book club. Awesome!
In addition, institute a once-a-week phone call with your mom at roughly the same time and day every week where you catch up for a little bit. Script: “Mom, my schedule’s kind of all over the place right now, I want to make sure I set aside time for you. Can we make a plan to talk for a little while on Sunday mornings?” At the appointed time, call her, chat for 15 minutes or so, ask her lots of questions about her week, make it as pleasant as possible, say your goodbyes and I love yous, and then give yourself permission to disengage until next week’s call.
Throughout the week, redirect all communications to that weekly call. “Got your text – let’s talk about it on Sunday!” “Can’t talk now, but I’ll catch up Sunday!”
Why this works:
A) Avoiding her just makes her chase you more. If you want to keep a relationship, do it on your terms.
B) If you consistently follow through, by calling when you say you will, it gives her an anchor to know she won’t lose touch with you. Over time it can help her be less anxious.
C) If you control the schedule and initiate the weekly call, it can remove some of your anxiety. You can start giving yourself permission to disengage the rest of the week because you know when you’ll fully engage.
For people with a contentious relationship with a parent, if you do the weekly (or monthly – the interval doesn’t matter as much as consistency does) phone call (or Skype), make sure you have some down time or something really pleasant to do afterward.
Declare independence from your phone.
Don’t pick up the phone when she calls. Let it go to voicemail. If you don’t already, pay for one of those services that transcribes your voice mails to text so you can quickly glance at the content. You can always reply “Got your msg, let’s talk about it Sunday! Love you!”
If you think it would help to set expectations in advance, you could try saying “Mom, I’m going to be turning my phone off when I’m at work so I can concentrate better during the day. I wanted to let you know so you wouldn’t be worried if I don’t get back to you right away.”
Or, “Mom, I have been trying to have less screen time lately and do more reading/exercising/relaxing/meditating in the evenings, so I’m going on a cell phone diet for a little while. Don’t worry, we’ll still talk on Sundays!”
Then, actually turn your phone off for some of those chunks of time. As much as you’re training her not to ping you there constantly, there’s an aspect of training yourself to let yourself be untethered.
Also, no more phone when you’re driving! When you’re driving, put your phone in a backpack or purse and put it in the back seat. Or if you’re using it for GPS, mute all notifications. Anything else is actually dangerous!
Prepare for a short-term escalation.
She will not like the new system, at first. She will escalate attempts to contact you. Non-emergency things will become emergencies. “But what if I need to get a hold of you in an emergency and your phone is off?” “Can’t a mother talk to her child?” She will try to slide the times around, or test whether you’re really turning off your phone.
If she’s feeling lonely or anxious (or in an actual emergency )she could call your dad, your siblings, a friend, her priest or minister, a therapist. It doesn’t have to be you, so, HOLD FAST. Stick to what you said you’d do, be active and reliable about the weekly phone calls, commit to and enjoy your planned visits, and leave your phone off or on silent when you need a break. If you are consistent, she will adapt.
Also, that night she asked for Pandora running station recommendations and nobody replied to her? She was passive-aggressively annoyed, but note: your siblings did not respond to her immediately and also THE WORLD DID NOT END.
Prepare for her to deputize others.
When she can’t raise you, get ready for texts from your siblings. “Hey, text Ma back, she’s texting me looking for you!” They know her, so hopefully they can be allies and y’all can present a united front. I bet they don’t like this behavior either, so, ask how they deal with it.
Prepare to feel guilty and weird.
HOLD FAST. You love your mom, you’re making an effort to communicate regularly with your mom, you’re not doing anything wrong! This is hard. You’re doing the right thing.
When you do respond to a text barrage, respond *once.*
Your texts from her might look like:
“Are you coming to the pot luck on Saturday?”
“I saw some fabric you might like for curtains – what are the measurements for your windows again?”
“Hello? Are you there?”
“Your dad asked me to ask you if he should pick up that wine you like for Saturday”
“Hello, should I be worried?”
“Are you hiding from me?”
“You’re probably watching the Thronegames or whatever, sorry to bother you, ha ha”
“Did you see the weather? You’re going to want to wear a sweater if you’re going out today!”
“Okay, text me back, I’m starting to get worried”
“Wow, ignoring your Mom much? Thanks alot LOL”
Your text back at the end of this can be:
“Hello lovely mother! Got your texts. Won’t be there Saturday, so don’t worry about wine. Let’s talk about fabric & measurements Sunday – thanks so much for thinking of me. Love you.”
Break the apology cycle and be very boring.
Do not address the “I’m worried” comments, at all. You’re fine, and her worry is not actually your problem. Make all “We used to talk more?” or “Whyyyyy don’t you ever want to talk to your mother anymore” or “It’s just that I worry about you” conversations super-boring for her to have. Keep it short and neutral, like “I’m here now, what did you want to talk about?” or “We’ll talk Sunday!”
Don’t apologize for not being tethered to your phone 24-7. You didn’t do anything wrong.
In fact, start keeping track of the number of times you say “I’m sorry!” to her about stuff that isn’t actually wrong or hurtful. When you do call on Sunday (or whatever day you mutually nail down), is the first half of the conversation an Apology Dance? Take note of it for now and over time do what you can to stop feeding it.
By way of example, my job(s) mean fielding an overwhelming amount of email spread across about 7 different accounts & systems. I realized a while back that every single reply I wrote started with a paragraph worth of “Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner.” I decided to stop doing that so much – I replaced “Sorry …” with some version of “Hi, so nice to hear from you” or “Hello, thanks for your email” and skipped directly to answering the question or giving the person the information they wanted in the first place. I don’t know if the recipients like it better but I feel better not doing 20 little shame dances every time I try to climb Email Mountain.
Give it time.
Give her some time to adjust and give yourself time to adjust.
Eventually things won’t have to be so stilted and locked down and adversarial, we hope. You’ll enjoy your interactions more when you have more control and agency in how you communicate. Think of this as a temporary resetting period – hard, but necessary.
It will most likely get better if you stay consistent.
I’m descended from people who used to email me to ask if I got their voicemail and leave a voicemail to ask if I got their email. I once had to fax something to my dad’s former office that involved a full three days of communications. “Are you sending it now?” “No, tomorrow, when I’m at work.” “Well I’m checking the machine now and nothing’s here.” “Dude, I know.”
Every call home started with them saying some version of “Wow, we hadn’t heard from you for so long we thought you were dead!” (said in a joking tone, but still) or “It’s about time you called!” and then once I said “Um, phones work both ways and I haven’t heard from you in a while, either!” and interestingly enough, now we don’t do that anymore.
They also, when learning to text message, used to sometimes spell “come” in a horrible way, like “We’re downstrs r u cumming down?”
IT GETS BETTER. :-p ❤
And if it doesn’t get better, at least you have some boundaries for yourself in how and when you respond.
P.S. I want to push back on the idea that your Mom doesn’t “do” conflict. She does do conflict – by constantly poking you and responding passive-aggressively when you don’t immediately answer or give her the attention/answer she wants – she’s just the only one who is currently allowed express negative emotions or “do” conflict, and you’re expected to quietly eat it and give her what she wants. Setting and enforcing some boundaries here isn’t you creating conflict, it’s you putting guardrails around the conflict that’s already happening.
They didn’t. Latin dances originated in a lot of different places in South America and are heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean rhythms from the booming slave trade and trans-Atlantic travel of the 1500’s-1800s.
Samba originated in Brazil in the very early 1900s: Samba - What Is It? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
Salsa doesn’t have a single point of origin but Cuba likes to take the credit for it: Salsa - What Is It? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal Salsa includes influences from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Africa, and even a little bit of European country dance styles. Mambo is also Cuban, but today’s Mambo is basically the Salsa on a different beat.
Tango comes from Argentina: Tango - What Is It? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
Merengue hails from the Dominican Republic but Haiti likes to claim credit for it: Merengue - What Is It? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
Cha Cha is genuinely a Cuban dance, having been created by a Cuban composer who invented the music that people eventually developed a dance for: Cha Cha - What Is it? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
Bachata comes from the Dominican Republic: Bachata (dance) - Wikipedia
Rumba is a Cuban dance, but it also has some differences with today’s rumba/rhumba in the US. The *music* came from Cuba, and a dance was made up to go with the music, but the 2 versions danced today are American Standard (which was invented in the US) and International Standard (which was invented by a French instructor in London). Rhumba - Wikipedia
Bolero is a dance that has two separate styles and two completely separate and independent origins - Cuba, and Spain, with the Cuban version being heavily influenced by other countries like Puerto Rico and Mexico: Bolero - Wikipedia
Paso Doble is usually categorized as a “Latin dance” when you watch the TV competitions, but, ironically, the partner dance is French (based on Spanish military marches & bullfights), and then adopted by Spain and Portugal: Pasodoble - Wikipedia
And then there’s Jive, which is classified as a “Latin dance” under International dancesport categories, but Jive originated as Lindy Hop in New York at the Savoy Theater by a primarily black community and was later codified by Arthur Murray and other ballroom studios to make it easier to teach, and also to compete in. This led to the development of several different sub-categories of Lindy, and the competition version which is classified as a “Latin dance” is called Jive: Swing Dance - What Is It? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
That depends on what style of dance you want to learn. Generally speaking, taking lessons are a pretty good way to learn how to dance.
If you want to learn how to *partner* dance, I wrote a whole article on how to decide what to learn: What To Learn? - Orlando Ballroom Dance Party Portal
Basically, you need to identify your goals, look into the different types of instruction to see what meets your needs, and then choose a dance style to start out with.
My personal bias is that partner dancing requires in-class lessons with a partner and an instructor, supplemented with videos *after the lesson* for “homework”. I usually recommend group classes first because it’s a low-investment, “dip the toe in the water” kind of method for exploring dancing. It costs less than private instruction and there are other people there who are also learning that you can share the experience with. Plus, you don’t need to bring your own partner with you.
I believe you need in-person instruction before videos because it won’t feel the same without the resistance and communication from a partner, and most people need someone who can observe their body and offer corrections. Beginners simply *cannot* tell if their bodies are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Partner dancing is as much communication as anything else. Partner dancing is a *conversation*. It’s not just learning steps. In fact, memorizing step patterns is the least important part of dancing, believe it or not. The important part to being a good partner dancer is the communication between you and your partner. And, for that, you need to dance with another person, not watch a video. The steps will feel *very* different if you try to do them alone, and some people aren’t even able to do certain steps at all without the partner providing the resistance and communication. Partner dancing is a collaborative effort.
Do a Google search for the name of the dance style you want to learn + “lessons” + the name of your nearest largest city.
I would really like to know from those of you who are in, or have been in a polyamorous relationship. Did they happen by accident, or did all parties talk about entering the relationship first?
Can monogamous relationships work? I mean, really, how many monogamous relationships has any given person witnessed that ended? And yet, we don’t ask if monogamy “works” or not. We ask if *that relationship* “worked” or not, not the underlying structure in general.
Then there’s the question of, what do you mean by “work”? Do they bring happiness and joy to the participants’ lives? Of course, some do and some don’t, just like monogamy. Do they all last until death do they part? Frankly, that’s a really morbid definition for “work”. And no, not all of them do, but neither do all monogamous relationships.
I have been polyamorous for 20 years. I consider most of my relationships to be “successful” in that I was happy for most of the time in the relationship and we parted when the relationship was no longer right for one or both of us, and I grew as a person as a result of being in that relationship. Some of my relationships did not meet that criteria for “successful”. Pretty much all but one of my monogamous relationships did not meet that criteria either.
As a general matter of policy, every single type of romantic or sexual relationship that I enter, I do so by talking with my prospective partner to find out if we’re open and available for and interested in the same kinds of relationships. That goes for when I was still doing monogamy, that goes for when I get into casual relationships, that goes for when I get into deeply intimate poly relationships.
I like to talk to the people I’m interested in, to see what they’re interested in and to let them know what I’m interested in with them. Getting to know potential partners and getting involved with people who share my relationship goals and values is a thing that I do. I’m kinda funny that way.
I don’t really understand how people “accidentally” wind up in relationships. It’s like when people “accidentally” have sex. You have to make a series of choices and do a series of actions to end up in this situation.
But plenty of people make those choices and perform those actions without bothering to talk about their expectations, assumptions, and intentions with their partners. I’m not one of those people. I like a little less heartache in my life from unmet, unspoken expectations and poor communication. I’m kinda funny that way too.
I'm just gonna skip over the whole issue about referring to her as a "girl" and him as a "man", and I'm also going to skip right over the part where we're talking about what the *girl* should be doing, and not the man in the scenario or the fact that it's heteronormative in the first place.
People should marry the people who would make good legal spouses. Marriage is a legal contract that comes with a whole host of responsibilities and obligations and pitfalls and surprises. Roughly 1700 of them or so. Marrying for love, and only for love, is a good way for those surprises to bite people in the ass.
Love does not conquer all, and love is not all you need. If a person chooses to marry, they should go into the marriage knowing what a legal entanglement they’re getting into and choose their marriage partner based on who would make a good partner to be legally entangled with. Sometimes, the person who we are in love with is also someone who would make a good partner to be legally entangled with. Sometimes, it’s not.
That being said, it’s not generally a good idea to get into any kind of romantic relationship where only one person loves the other but it’s not reciprocated. True, we usually don’t have the exact same feelings at the exact same time as another person, but we should at least be on a similar page when we get into romantic relationships with people that involve intimacy and vulnerability.
Sharing intimacy and vulnerability is a deeply significant, meaningful gift. It’s an insult to that gift to get into a relationship with someone who doesn’t value that gift and who doesn’t exchange their own gift of intimacy and vulnerability in return. It’s also a good way for at least one person to get very hurt and at least one other person to be a jerk.
There shouldn’t be an either/or answer to the question. People should get into deeply committed and emotional relationships with people who they love AND with people who love them. And people should get into legal entanglements with people who make good legally entangled partners.
Nothing. You cannot *make* someone feel anything they don’t feel. Trying to make someone feel what you want them to feel is coercive and manipulative. You are not entitled to her feelings.
That being said, people generally like people that they find interesting, share common interests and worldviews, and that respect them and treat them like human beings.
If you want people to like you, go out and be an interesting person who respects other people’s autonomy and treats others with dignity, compassion, and kindness. This particular girl still may never like you, but *someone* will like you if you’re just a decent person.
And, just FYI, trying to “make” someone like you is not being a decent person.
Dear Captain Awkward,
An anniversary is coming up, but I am so frustrated with my husband! When I met him, I looked a certain way (i.e. hair length, weight, etc.).
I used to be a fitness instructor and went to the gym in my spare time, all the while juggling multiple jobs and trying to go to school. So, I was always toned out and at a happy place with my weight. I then got a full time job that still requires me to work out, but not as often as I used to.
Anyway, due to the heat, my new job, I wanted a change to my hair. I did not want to change my hair if my husband would not have liked it. So, I asked him and confirmed close to a million times as he kept saying, “Yes. Do it. I can’t wait to see how it will turn out.” and I did. Chopped it all off and it was a drastic change that took me a long time to get used to. In between that time, my husband kept asking me to do different colors and styles of my hair. So I did with no hesitation (okay, maybe sometimes, but I still agreed and went with the flow). He loved every single look I did and the one he had the brightest reaction to was dying my hair back to my original color. Other events in between all of this, he would bring up my previous hair style and how attractive I was with it. The insecurities crept in and crawled under my skin. But he stopped bringing it up when I came home with my original hair color.
Anyway, now, he brought it up again, mentioned how I used to be, how I used to look, the past this, the past that. So now, I feel almost guilty for ever beginning to change my hair style the way I did. Now, it’s going to take months, maybe even years to get it back to how it used to be. So now, the insecurities really dug under my skin and are clawing, scratching hard inside. During me trying to get my look back to how it used to be, I feel like it won’t amount up to what he wants–the original “me” until then and it worries me that when I do get it back, he’s going to keep addressing what I used to look like during this time, or that time, or that he wants me to go back to my current look. If that makes sense Am I over thinking this? Am I wrong for being hurt and feeling the way I do? I have been at a loss for words with talking to him about this situation and whenever I would try, it would be me jumping to conclusions rather than trying to calmly address the situation and find a happy medium for both of us.
Trying to remember my breathing,
The Palette Wife
Dear Palette Wife,
First, some reading: You Don’t Have To Be Pretty.
Next, I think it’s time to say something like this to your husband:
“Husband, it was really fun for a while to experiment with my hair and get your input on all of it, but these conversations about ‘going back to how I looked when we first met’ are really stressing me out and hurting my feelings. We’re hopefully going to be married forever, and I’m going to look lots of different ways (as are you, by the way!) over the years, so it’s time to change the way we talk about this. I’m the boss of my hair and how it looks, so, I might cut it, I might grow it out, I might change the color again, who knows? I need to take this back as something I do for myself by myself rather than something we decide together. I’ll let whatever it is be a surprise for you, and the only input I’m looking for from now on is ‘Hey, wow, you look great!'”
The only good answer, and I mean the ONLY good answer when your spouse says something like that to you is some version of “Of course, babe, it’s your head & your body! I always think you look great! I’m sorry if I was stressing you out before.”
NO adding “…but I just think you look better with x kind of hair” on the end of that. None. Zero. He could feel that way inside his head, but you don’t say that to someone who just told you that it hurts their feelings.
I would accept this as an alternative answer (no transcript but the lyrics show up on screen):
More than acceptable:
If we’re time-traveling here why not go all the way to Everybody’s Prom, 1991? (Why did people think this was a cool song for 17-year-olds to dance to?) A marginally passing effort:
The first 2/3 of this poem by W.B. Yeats would also suffice:
“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;”
Compare that to the poem that men who think that they own their wives’ appearances seem to be writing:
What’s this “old and grey and full of sleep” b.s.?
When you are in your 80s
You’d goddamn better be well-preserved.
Wait, I meant to say “Time does not pass for us, my love”
Or something else romantic. I wrote it down somewhere.
When I say “I miss how you looked when we first met”
I guess I’m just trying to say I miss being that young with you,
and it makes me think about being old. That’s depressing!
Like, yeah, I theoretically want us to grow old together –
– But that doesn’t mean actually growing OLD-old –
It also gratifies my ego to know that you’ll change your hair, for me.
Don’t you want me to be happy?
Don’t worry, babe, I know I can count on you
To always look terrific, to be the perfect accessory.
I know you’ll always do whatever is necessary
To save my eyes and my boner from the fate of
having to look at some wizened crone.
For now, let’s stick to constant exercise and tone
And running all your hair decisions by me first.
We’ll save the plastic surgery for later, for when we really need it.
Aw, babe, don’t cry, you’ll ruin your makeup!
Stress isn’t good for the skin!
I like you so much and we get along so well,
I really don’t want to replace you with a younger version,
with the next best thing.
It’s okay that you want to feel a certain way in your body, it’s okay that you want your husband to admire how you look, it’s okay to have complex feelings about aging and changing bodies and attraction. It’s okay to renegotiate how you talk about certain topics, okay to say “Hey, you probably don’t mean it this way, but that thing you’re doing is making me feel bad, so, can you not?”
Guess what? It’s actually extremely okay to not like someone’s haircut all that much and also to keep that information firmly to yourself, forever. Not every opinion you have needs shared! Amazing, right? (For those of you who watch The Good Place, remember the parable of Chidi and The Red Boots).
Over time, you enforce the boundary with “Hey, we agreed – you’re not my Hair Critic, you are my Hair Cheerleader!” and/or “Hey, let’s agree to be really gentle about how we talk about appearances. I always love your face and your body, and I gotta know that you love mine as-is, that’s the only way this can work.”
It’s also okay to invest in some wigs if the idea of “Hey, surprise, look at me in my new secret identity!” turns you both on sometimes. There are ways to be fun and playful about this without making work and anxiety and awkward growing-out-stages of haircuts for you! (This is a suggestion for far in the future when you feel much better about all of this and your husband has shown with time and actions that he respects your autonomy, NOT something to pull out next week like your job is to please him).
It’s 100% not okay for your husband to seek some former version of you literally at the expense of the present-tense woman in front of him today, so, remind him not to.
Above all, fall in love with the person you see in the mirror and don’t let anyone give her any crap. ❤
I have a weird family question that I couldn’t find an answer to, so I turn to you.
I’m 30 years old, raised by my mom and my stepdad. Hopefully brief context: my stepdad and I have never got along. There were many instances of emotional abuse – he’s the kind of guy who would excitedly volunteer to tell me when I was in trouble because he delighted in bringing me bad news, and was jealous enough of my relationship with my mom that he would come up with chores for me to do whenever he caught me sitting and talking or reading with her. There were also a few occasions of drunky physical abuse; I got slapped and thrown around a fair bit. He’s still incredibly rude to me a lot of the time, which is why we don’t really talk. They live in another state and that’s the way I like it.
By contrast, my relationship with my mother is… good, but problematic. She is the strongest, classiest, most brilliant and brave woman I’ve ever known, and I practically worship her, but I also know that I can’t be around her and retain my adulthood at all. She loves me ferociously but spent most of my childhood pushing me away. “Love me from afar!” was her favorite line. We can talk for years about books, movies, history, science, ideas… but I cannot tell her things that matter to me, because she will either ridicule them or simply tell me, “Oh, honey, you know I don’t care about that.” Yes, she actually says exactly that.
So! Here’s my issue:
Every time I talk to them on the phone (usually about twice a month for an hour or more – my mom and I LOVE to talk) one or the other of them will say something like, “Do you think we were good parents?” I never know how to answer that question. I don’t think they were great parents, but at this point, there’s nothing they can do about that, and they’re not likely to agree with a lot of my criticisms anyway. Answering that question honestly would ultimately involve me DEFENDING my memories of neglect and abuse. I’m happy with my life now; I have a family I love and I am finally discovering the person I want to be. Why make both them and me feel like crap when it doesn’t really matter now?
But it keeps coming up. They won’t stop asking, and I hate comforting them about it when I can’t feel genuine doing it. How can I make this question go away without opening up a whole can of emotional nonsense when my life is finally getting better?
Thank you for your time!
Loving From Afar (she/her pronouns)
Dear Loving From Afar (WUT? Ugh, your MOM),
A lot of people who were emotionally abused as kids walk in your same shoes. How to reconcile the demogorgons of our childhoods with the mellower, grayer, almost fragile-seeming fellow adults in front of us now?
This question that your parents keep asking you is deeply strange. If they are concerned about how they treated you and they wanted to have an actual honest conversation about it, your stepdad could say (for example): “I’m in the ‘make amends’ step of recovery and I’d like to apologize for [specific things] I did back when I was drinking.” They could tell you specifically what they want to talk about and why instead of making you play some weird guessing game. They could include, I dunno, an actual apology? None of this is an apology. Their question is a trap, so, good job for knowing that it’s a trap.
- “You’ve been asking this question a lot. Is there something specific from the past that you want to talk about?”
- “You’ve asked this a lot. What’s prompting this?”
- “Wow, what a question. What’s really on your mind?”
- “Wow, what a question. Is there something specific that’s bothering you?”
- “I could have done with 100% less being slapped around by [Stepdad] – is that what you want to talk about?”
- “If I said ‘not really’ what would you say?”
- “Wait, are you asking me to reassure you about your parenting? I have no idea how to do that.”
- “This feels like a trap.“
- “I don’t know how to answer that, but I’m a pretty happy adult.”
- “Do they make comment cards for family relationships now? Let’s talk about something else.”
- “What an awkward question. Why on earth would you ask me that?“
- “No, but we can’t change the past. Why do you want to talk about this now?“
- “Do you think you were good parents?”
- “Wow. What brought this on?”
- “I don’t know how to answer that.”
- Edited to add: “Oh, Mom, you know I’m not interested in talking about any of that.”
If a lot of the scripts above look like answering a question with a question, yes, correct! Think of this as “If you’re going to bring this up, then you’re going to be the ones to do the work of explaining why.” Your parents are almost certain to pass on answering your counter-question or give a “no reason” non-answer, which gives you an opening to ignore the question entirely, like, “Ok, I have no idea how to answer that, but if you think of something specific you want to talk about let me know.” Return awkwardness to sender!
This is such a fucked up question from fucked-up people that there’s no right answer. But (good news?), that means there’s also no wrong way to answer. Answering honestly and giving them an opportunity to have an honest conversation doesn’t mean you have now agreed to discuss or defend or rehash anything. Alternately, saying “If I say ‘sure,’ will you stop asking me?” doesn’t undo all the true things that happened.
My thinking is, no matter how you answer you’re gonna feel weird and bad for a little afterward while because these people are experts at making you feel weird and bad, so you might as well be genuine and honor the life and the self you’ve created. Maybe your script is: “Not really, but I like our relationship how it is now.”
For nearly two years I have been rolling around in the same low-level but wearing problems like a pig in my own muck, and it’s got to the point where I think I’m the problem – in two ways. One, I keep having the same problems over and over, and not managing to change, so it’s got to be at least partly me. Two, in the specific instances at the moment, being unhappy is making me act like an asshole. I feel like the villain in my own life – every time I read a book with an antagonist, I think ‘Yeah, I have that fault’. Basically, I feel stuck in my own head and trapped by circumstances and I simply don’t know what to do or how to make a decision about it.
I am in a relationship with a very decent, lovely man, Rob, who is the father of my 18-month-old daughter, Lila. Lila was unplanned – Rob and I had been together just 10 months, lived in different towns and he knew he didn’t want kids (I was undecided). He changed his mind immediately she was born and is a devoted dad now. He does so much: cooking, cleaning, his share of the childcare, gardening, making things for the house. He moved in with me two weeks before Lila was born. The house is mine but since we’ve been living together we’ve got a joint account and split everything. Rob is also supportive of me wanting to change career and of my pursuing my childhood ambition to write.
Rob wasn’t my usual type and some of the things that attracted me to him were (I see in hindsight) things that weren’t like my ex (e.g. not criticising the way I ate or sang). I’d recently become more healthy and fit than I’d been for a long time and felt really good. Our relationship was based a lot around food, sex and big physical challenges in those early days.
Since having Lila, a lot of that has changed. Rob always had a lower sex drive than me and I was not always as understanding of that as I should have been (instead feeling rejected). Since I got pregnant our sex life has disappeared. In the last year we’ve had sex maybe once. He has many (undoubtedly true) reasons for this – to start with, he was shocked by becoming a father and thinking his life was over; then he was exhausted from having a newborn and dealing with my depression; now he thinks we need to spend more time together so he feels a connection, and feels I would rather spend time on my phone than with him (this is sometimes true – I feel like we don’t have that much in common or interesting to talk about, and get frustrated with our conversations – if I’m 100 per cent honest, I don’t feel intellectually challenged by him). But I’ve felt very rejected and ‘I still find you attractive’ is not convincing when not backed up with any actions (even hugging is rare, and the only kissing is a peck goodbye in the morning).
We do things together as a family at weekends, but not really the same outdoorsy things we used to. But we take Lila out a lot together – to the woods, to model steam train exhibitions, to farms, camping, to see grandparents or friends. And we host games nights at our house or have friends for dinners. We only rarely do things just us though.
We argued a lot after Lila was born – not immediately, but it started after several months. It goes in phases – we can get along OK, doing the routines, but if certain topics get brought up, arguments flare into volcanic force with breathtaking speed. Some of the resentments run deep on both sides and we don’t seem able to address them. And the worst thing is, neither of us seems to have any self-control once the floodgates are down, and we argue in front of Lila (who is now 20 months).
Rob actually proposed just under a year ago. I feel awful because although I didn’t pressure him, he knew I wanted my mum (who’s terminally ill) to be at my wedding. Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way. I said yes – we were on vacation and had been happily making our 5 year plans the night before, it was romantic and I was cowardly. But then I think subconsciously I started pushing at the pressure points of the relationship after that. We starting arguing more and I started distancing myself more.
Rob isn’t perfect and he’s said some pretty mean things to me in arguments – that I’m pathetic, useless, to just ‘take pills’ for my depression (despite my stated personal preference for counselling and two doctors’ opinions to the same effect), saying when asked why he’s with me that he loves ‘the old me’ and knows I can be kind and lovely etc. (he means emotionally/mentally, not physically – I’m the one who can’t come to terms with my post-partum look, although his lack of desire for me doesn’t help).
Where I’m unhappy, I am acting out and am often unfair. Sometimes I am so childish in my emotions and reactions (although Rob can be too, and he loses his temper easily). I’m also selfish and feel I’m using him. When I’m depressed, I get lethargic and he ends up doing more than his fair share of chores. I feel really torn. On one side, staying together would be the optimum outcome for Lila (assuming we can have a healthy relationship), and for us too, even if just in terms of sharing her growing up and not having to split time to see her. Also, Rob wouldn’t be able to buy a house on his own, finances would be tighter for us both (probably also not helping Lila down the line), I may have to go back to work full time (I’m currently part time) and we don’t want Lila in childcare 5 days a week. So if it can work, I want it to. And I don’t know if it is just my attitude getting in the way, that I need to commit more. But small things seem to take so much effort. I don’t know if that’s because I’m depressed, or if my depression has partly stemmed from the situation. I’ve also started stupidly romancing in my head about someone I barely know but who showed a flicker of interest in me. Rob is a great guy – loyal, kind, generous.
On the other side, something doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to go without sex. Sometimes I’m so frustrated that I want an affair – although I wouldn’t actually do it, I hate that the thought even pops into my head. I don’t feel we have enough intellectual common interests or ground. We don’t ever agree on even films to watch. We do have some interests in common, but I worry I’d be bored sitting on a sofa with him in 20 years’ time. But I have a history of ‘grass is always greener’-ing, and maybe I’m just jinxng the relationship all by myself? I don’t want Lila to grow up seeing an unhealthy relationship. And without him, my life will be a lot harder and any career change (I really hate my job) or creative/social time would be much less likely. There’s no guarantee I’d find a more fulfilling relationship so maybe I should try and make the best of things. But then I feel bad for using him. One of my pragmatic practical friends said we should just keep going for now until Lila is a bit older, but that has its issues too.
These counter arguments have been rolling in my head over and over for more than a year now and I’m exhausted and no nearer to knowing what’s best.
Rob says he wants to make it work, but I secretly feel maybe it’s just because he wants to see Lila all the time and because of the house situation that he’s trying. We never seem to change, however often we mean to.
Sorry this has gone on and on and waffled. But any clarity would be welcomed.
The villain in my own life
In your words:
“Something doesn’t feel right“
“Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way….I was cowardly. But then I think subconsciously I started pushing at the pressure points of the relationship after that. We starting arguing more and I started distancing myself more.”
Going out on a limb here, but I don’t think you want to marry this Rob fella.
Not to make your mom happy and because you can’t imagine your wedding photos without her.
Not because he asked and because you like him a lot and he tries hard and is a great dad.
Not because of affordable housing for him or career stuff for you or coparenting your kid.
I…just…You don’t want to marry him. You’re not compatible. You feel awful and guilty and trapped so you’re taking it out on him and distancing yourself and pushing on the weak points of the relationship instead of trying to shore them up. You’re calling yourself names – a villain in this story – when really you just sound incredibly unhappy and lonely.
Would it be a relief to admit that you don’t want to be married to him, out loud, at least to yourself? What would it cost you to take planning a wedding and the prospect of getting married off the table for the time being?
Maybe it will cost too much, emotionally and literally. Maybe he’s all “Marriage or NOTHING” and he’ll be super hurt about how he tried to ‘do the right thing’ and you cruelly rejected him. Or maybe he’ll be relieved because it’s stressing him the hell out, too, and things would be much better if you had the “Hey, let’s do our best to make this all work, I love you and I’m not breaking up with you, but I think the idea of marriage is raising my anxiety levels, so, let’s take the pressure all the way off ourselves right now when everything else is so hard?” conversation.
It’s risky to open that can of worms, to start asking questions like “What does happiness look like to you?” and “What does ‘happy enough’ look like to you?” and “Are we close, or getting there?”
It’s also risky to stay stuck. And risky to marry someone because you think you should want to. As risky as it is for him to marry a lady who is doing the emotional equivalent of chewing her own leg off to avoid marrying him.
If you truly want to make things work with Rob, if you want to stay with him and be in love with only each other while you coparent your kid, then you both need cheesy stuff like “date nights” and the odd weekend away from kids together where you focus on each other and on making each other feel good be that climbing rocks or hiking or doing giant jigsaw puzzles by the fire or rubbing each other’s feet at night. It means that sometimes you put down your phone and give him all your attention and sometimes you zone out and read your phone and he understands that you need those little breaks and it’s not a competition. (If thinking “I love you, but shhhhhh, I’m trying to read The Internet” at one’s partner sometimes is wrong then nobody in my house is right). It means making the effort to find a movie you both want to watch or saying “Fuck it, we’re going to take turns picking the movie. I’ll be a good sport about your picks if you’ll be a good sport about mine” because doing something together is the most important thing. It means deciding to stop distancing yourself and looking for ways to connect.
Note: I don’t think you want to do any of this and I’m not saying you should do this. I don’t think you and Rob would be together at all if you didn’t have Lila. But this is what really committing to be together would look like.
I do recommend that you go to couples’ therapy and hashing out some of this stuff with a neutral party who can guide you through your “I want to start having sex again but I don’t know where to start and also I need a lot more physical affection in the day-to-day in order to feel connected to you” talk and his “Hey, I need you to talk to your doctors about treating your depression more aggressively. I’m really sorry about what I said before about medications. If you don’t want to take meds, that’s up to you, but what other therapies are there that can help you function better? I know you’re drowning but I’m drowning a little too, and I need you at full Yeah strength, or at least to know that you’re trying your hardest to get there” talk. A good couples’ counselor can help you articulate that scary stuff and help you both decide together if the relationship is worth salvaging and how to end it gently if it’s not.
Good news: Maybe there’s a version of “maybe pretty darn happy?” where y’all sell your current house and buy a duplex or a two-flat and Mommy lives upstairs and Daddy lives downstairs* and you aren’t a couple anymore but you’re great friends to each other and great parents to Lila. If you want to see your friends or go on a date or lose yourself over a weekend to write, you can do it when she’s with her dad, and he can do the same when she’s with you. You can have togetherness and stability and space and free time where you watch only the movies you like. You can make an awesome family that doesn’t necessarily look like other families, and you can write the rules yourselves. Down the road, maybe you’ll each meet someone who makes marriage sound delightful and relaxing and like an easy “Fuck yes!” decision and then Lila will have more adults who love her in her picture and she’ll hate it like all kids hate change on some level but as long as she’s loved and safe she’ll be just fine.
Also good news: If Lila spent some time in childcare while y’all figured out your career stuff and living arrangements, that would be normal, too. She’d come to love her carers and teachers, she’d be psyched to see Mama and/or Papa at the end of the day, the routine there would become an anchor while things changed at home. She wouldn’t feel deprived as long as she’s loved and safe. Great parents use day care all the time and everyone is just fine.
Even more good news: If you and Rob broke up now, 99% of what Lila remembers will be whatever happens after you broke up. She might have some more separation anxiety than usual and temporarily regress a little (with sleep, with the potty, etc.) but it will be a fog when she’s older and whatever your new arrangement ended up looking like it would become her normal. The older she is when and if you do do it, the more disruptive the disruption and the more she’ll remember.
There is so much in your letter, so many interlocking decisions here and everything seems to be on hold until you figure out the relationship. Here are some other thoughts that are coming up for me about self-care:
- Do you have a social outlet that is just yours? Old friends? Family? A group of new moms near you who get together for low-key stuff with kids? Put some love & time into your social and emotional life.
- It sounds to me like Rob is asking (badly) for you to treat your depression more aggressively. While badly (not goodly) expressed, does he have a point? You say you’re not feeling great right now, so what non-medication stuff could you do? Something like Mood Gym? Go back to therapy? Get a physical exam and check for other causes of lethargy (those old culprits iron & Vitamin D deficiency)? Your “old self” might not come back, but if you’re consistently feeling low there might be a way to mitigate that.
- You want to change careers and maybe become a writer. Are you writing now? I think maybe you are not writing now. What if you tried the good old Julia Cameron “The Artist’s Way” method and cranked out 3 pages of whatever comes to mind longhand (or 750 digital words) every morning? If 3 pages is too much, what about 1 page? What about setting a timer for 15 minutes a day and whatever comes out comes out? 10? 5? Or, if that’s even too much, what about using the voice recorder app on your phone? Could taking some baby steps around the act of writing help you get back some joy and agency, without immediately thinking “MY CAREER” (career….career….career…) or the pressure of crafting something that you can sell?
- Can you disengage emotionally from your part-time job? Remind yourself each day “This isn’t forever, but right now it’s paying some bills and it’s the Devil I know. I need to do & care the minimum amount to preserve options for myself and take care of my kid. I can handle that, for now.“
You don’t have to stay stuck forever. You don’t have to marry someone you don’t want to marry just ’cause you said you would and now you’re scared not to. You can be a great parent who is not married to your kid’s father. You can work together to find a housing and parenting solution that keeps everyone close and safe and involved without having to build a romance and sexual relationship on top of it, too. You can work on treating your depression and feeling more at home in your life. You can even solve your job/career stuff eventually.
When I broke up with an ex of 5 years, a good and wise friend said “I know you loved _______, but for a long time you’ve been in that ‘should I stay or should I go?‘ place, and every time I talked to you The Problem of _______ was hanging over your life and coloring all your decisions. I know you’re sad, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing who you’ll be without The Problem of ________.”
I was sad when it ended, but there was also this relief, this flooding giddy sense of relief. It was so much easier to be kind to each other once we stopped trying so hard to make it work.
So, what happens if you say “I am not going to marry Rob” out loud to yourself or write it down in a notebook tonight? What else falls into place once you’ve made that decision? What do you grieve for? What becomes newly possible?
*With a written lease so he lives legally where he lives and a written agreement between you about how you handle finances and custody. Maybe his rent is $1 and he puts $XXXX into a joint account “for Lila” every month, whatever, but if you go this route, write it allllll down. ❤
Edit: I can’t find Cthuhlu, so am bringing BB8 instead, see below.
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 22nd July, 12 noon onwards. Please note slight change of location, same as last month – Green Bar rather than Blue, e.g. same thing as the previous location but the opposite side. Also please note we are starting an hour later than usual.
Colouring in! Please bring any copyright free images to colour, plus pens, pencils etc. Or just come and chat with us.
The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Green Bar (go up in lift 1, sadly not as musical as lift 7).
Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map
I have shoulder length brown hair and glasses, and I will bring my knitted BB8, which looks like this:
The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.
The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/
My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com
(August meetup will be the 19th.)
P.S. for anyone who will be at Nine Worlds, we also have an additional meetup on the Friday morning https://sites.grenadine.co/
Which OC is a person of color?
Zela, Seljai, Kaleb, Ebrin and Sylvie are people of color. If I was casting them, Kaleb, Sylvie and most of the Yrethtari are black, Zela, Ebrin and the Yllaii could be played by actors with brown skin, and for Seljai and the Ro I'd want to cast Asian actors, indigenous actors, or someone who is both. Valerai and the Kaishi are largely white.
Lial is a color (genetic blue) that does not exist in actual humans.
Hello, nice readers! Let’s take the intensity down 10,000 notches today.
I’ve been scouring the Captain Awkward archives for advice regarding my current work predicament and couldn’t find an answer so I’m writing to you for your help. Any advice would help!
I’ve been at my job at a small private consulting firm (less than 10 people total) for about a year now and even though I’m not happy, it’s a good stepping stone for my career and it helped me get away from my toxic family situation after I graduated with my Master’s degree. Recently however, things at work have been getting out of hand. My boss (D) keeps bringing in his kids (8 and 4 years old) EVERY DAY to work during the summer and they’re very disruptive. It’s hard for me to concentrate when they’re around and my anxiety goes through the roof (neck spasms, nausea, etc), which hinders my work productivity even further. It’s gotten to the point where I have to take sick days because the nausea and the anxiety get so overwhelming that I can’t go into work.
I feel bad because D is a single father; however, he can afford a nanny/daycare for his kids. The older one actually goes to camp in the mornings but then D picks him up and brings him back to the office in the afternoons. I brought up my concerns with our secretary and she told me that it’s a touchy issue with our boss. He knows that bringing in his kids is an issue and other people have brought it up to him but he refuses to do anything about it. She speculated that it could be that since this is his company, he feels that he can bring in his kids whenever he wants to or that because he’s going through a custody battle with the younger son’s mom, he wants to demonstrate to the courts that he does take care of his sons by bringing them to work even though he doesn’t attend to them and leaves it to everyone else to deal with them. He has even dropped off his sons and left when people in the office were leaving to go to lunch without asking anyone to watch them.
It’s frustrating because I don’t have D’s ability to “block out” his sons’ disruptive behavior and to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of kids in the workplace. If this job mentioned that I’d have to deal with kids on a regular basis as a condition of employment, I probably wouldn’t have accepted it.
I do work outside but it’s been so hot (upper 90s) lately that I don’t want to deal with heat stroke (it’s happened to me before and it wasn’t pleasant). I’ve also started to looking for jobs elsewhere because I can’t keep tolerating this at the expense of my health but it’s difficult because I don’t have a lot in savings. I’m planning on talking to my supervisor as well on how to best approach this topic with my boss but besides that, I don’t know what else to do.
Not a Workplace Babysitter
That sounds really annoying. The unsupervised lunch thing is just wrong. Bosses, don’t do this!
I think family-friendly workplaces are awesome, I used to work in an office that had a day care for the employees on the first floor and it was totally cool at lunch or the end of the day to see (short) toddler visits, I love the stories about professors who tell students “if you can’t find childcare, bring the baby to class, we’ll all deal,” but none of that is what’s happening here. Your boss isn’t making an “Everybody! Bring your kids to work in the summer! We’ll have a babysitter and activities and snacks!” policy (annoying the hell out of you and yet saving parental employees basically their entire salary on childcare), he’s making a “the workplace is family-friendly-for-me but un-workfriendly for you” policy.
There’s also the fact that he hasn’t really asked y’all or even told y’all about what’s going on. Even a “Hello, I’ve got my kids for the summer and I’m temporarily without a good childcare solution, so they’re going to be in the office in the afternoons for a while. We’ll all do our best to keep it to a dull roar, please feel free to close your doors/wear headphones/ignore the box fort being made by the copy machine. BTW we’re also going to institute summer hours – let’s take every other Friday off (with pay) until after Labor Day. I really, really appreciate this.” The boss who would send that email would also be the boss who would know to hire a dedicated person to watch them even if he did have an imperfect solution of needing them to be close by.
What are the chances that most or all of the people being expected to take on impromptu kindercare are women? 90%? 100%?
Here are my recommendations:
A) Look aggressively for a new job. You aren’t happy where you are anyway and you wouldn’t have taken the job if you’d known the environment would be like this. Put 85% of your energy around this situation here. Take a planned personal day in the next couple weeks to jump start working on your resume and researching listings.
B) Schedule your days around the disruption. Two examples that come to mind: You know the afternoon will be loud/annoying/anxiety making, so, schedule important stuff that requires concentration for the morning, i.e. “An afternoon meeting is better for me, I need to knock out some of Project X in the morning tomorrow.” Move less intense stuff and offsite meetings to the afternoon wherever possible. Also, leave for your lunch break slightly earlier if you can. Someone else might get stuck sitting with kids if your boss leaves, but not you, not ever.
C) Slow down. Keep your expectations low for what you can get done in the afternoons. When someone asks you when you can have something done for them, start adding padding to your deadlines to account for the fact that you are going to be close to useless for part of the day. Go easy on yourself about what you expect to get done under these circumstances. Right now it sounds like you’re letting the stress impact your health in order to keep up with the work. What if you let the stress impact the work, instead? If anyone (like your boss) asks why something that used to take one day now takes three, it’s the perfect opening for the conversation about the noise. Speaking of…
D) Ask for accommodations. Assume that he will keep bringing his kids to work at least for the rest of the summer and that right now is the new normal. To manage it, ask for accommodations around the “noise in the afternoons” or “the noisy work environment.” Yep, the noise in the afternoons is caused by the boss’s unsupervised kids who shouldn’t be there and we all know it, but you want to avoid anything that comments on his parenting or custody situation or his precious babies. Script: “It’s been noisy in the afternoons, and I am having trouble concentrating. I think I could be more productive if…”
And then ask for what would actually work for you, for example, “I need an office with a door I can shut” or “Can I work from home a few days a week, at least for the rest of the summer? I need quiet for writing these proposals and reports.”
Keep it focused on the work that you want to get done. “I want to do my best work, and to do that, it turns out that I need _______.” Help D (or your direct supervisor if he is not) help you by giving them an option that will make you happy, or at least functional. If you can tie it to client satisfaction, so much the better. “I need a quiet, private place to have phone calls with clients.” “I need to keep my mornings free of meetings, and calls right now, since that’s the quiet time of day that I need for high-focus work.”
Consulting works on billable hours. Are you billable, by chance? Are these distractions and lost days reducing the number of billable hours you work, or sending projects over budget? That would be interesting data. “I feel like the noise level is losing me about 3 hours of productive billable time/day. I really want to stay on top of my projects and billing, what do you suggest?”
See how far you get. Keep your expectations low, keep your asks short and sweet, keep your reasons few and as neutral as possible, and give people the opportunity to surprise you with “yes, of course we can do that.”
E) You may have to level with him. If he won’t accommodate you or laughs it off, this is your reminder to keep on that new job looking thing, but also, you might end up saying “Hey, you’re a working parent and I can see that you’re doing the best you can, and everyone is trying to do the best they can to support you so we’ve been quiet about how disruptive it is to have the boys here. Are you able to hire a dedicated babysitter for them in the afternoons? They are great kids and obviously doing their best to behave themselves, but even normal kid behavior can be pretty distracting.”
If you make this direct appeal, it will affect your relationship with him, and not necessarily for the better. He needs this all to work, he needs to keep thinking that it’s working, that he’s got it all under control. He may not react well to someone who implies that he doesn’t in fact have it all under control. It would be better coming from a coworker who is more senior and also a parent, someone who can say “I know how they can be, it’s not you! You’re doing your best!” Whereas, you’re new, you don’t have much authority in the office, and summer doesn’t last forever. Stress headaches and anxiety attacks and needing sick days is bad, but so is getting fired by an unreasonable dude who expects his staff to babysit for not being a “team player.” You know him and your relationship with him best, use your judgment.
When to *definitely* level with him, perhaps despite the consequences:
If you end up in a position where you are expected to be the default kid-watcher (when everyone has gone to lunch and you’re the only one there) and he’s about to drop them off and leave the office, I think a “Excuse me, but who will be watching the boys?” is a very, very good question to ask.
As a hilarious friend (who is both a manager and a parent of a small child) noted: “100% this dude thinks the answer to the question “Hey, who is going to watch them while you’re out of the office?” is “Oh, they will take care of themselves.” He will believe this, he won’t even think he is lying or trying to sneak something over on the staff.”
Narrator: “They will not, in fact, take care of themselves.”
If When he says or implies “You will,“* then you can say “Excuse me?” and at least make him say it and, if possible, repeat it. Right now it feels like it’s all in unspoken assumptions, like, he assumes y’all will watch them but he never actually asks, and that way nobody can ever actually refuse. Make him actually say “I’m going to need you to babysit my children for me for a few hours” out loud. If he says it, then you can push back on it in future discussions, for instance:
- “To be clear, are you asking me to watch your boys for the afternoon? I’m not comfortable with that.“
- “I’d feel more comfortable if you took them with you.” (Hilariously, he’s going to say “I can’t, I have a work meeting” and you will say “Precisely!” inside your head while leaving a long, awkward pause in the room.
- “If it’s an emergency one time favor for you of course I’m not going to let them come to harm’s way, but that also means X billable hours won’t happen and I won’t meet Y deadline for the client.“
Heyyyyyyyy, did I mention looking for new job as an overall strategy? When asked why you’re leaving your last job, try “I learned so much during my time there, but as I explore this career more I want to find exactly the right environment and fit.”
You read that right.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a 34 year old straight woman in an open marriage with a 39 year straight man. I have taken far more advantage of the openness of our marriage than my husband, at least until recently. I have had a string of long-term affairs and short-term flings. During the past 8 months I have basically been living with another man in a neighbouring town to the one I live in. I am drawn to men who are starkly different than my husband, who is an intellectual, moderate in terms of his vices and has a disdain for the type of men who spend every evening in a pub.
I have a drinking problem but it is not a problem I feel any need to resolve and I am drawn to men who are also drinkers like me. I can have a glass of wine in the morning and drink until I pass out in the afternoon and wake up when my lover comes home and go to the pub with him and start drinking again. My husband can’t tolerate that behaviour which is why I moved in with my current lover.
This past Sunday my lover and I went to a country pub and I glanced in the dining room and saw my husband with a beautiful older woman, but not just any woman. It was my mother and, from the way they looked at each other and were touching, I could tell instantly that it was more than a friendly lunch; they were quite obviously in love with each other. My mother is 54 years old and is breathtakingly beautiful and, unlike me, hasn’t let her body go. My husband, who is also handsome and fit, looked like he was happier than I had ever seen him. I went to the toilet and threw up and then I dragged my lover out of the pub and went straight to the off-licence where I bought a litre bottle of vodka and drank it at his house until I passed out.
I can’t help but feeling betrayed by my mother and my husband. There has always been something lurking beneath the surface with them and since I haven’t been living with my husband for a long time, I guess she made her move and he couldn’t resist or maybe it was the other way around. Knowing I can’t go back to my life as it once was makes me miss it so much. My mother is the one having long talks with my husband at night, or going to a nice restaurant with him or the theatre and I am at a grubby pub every night with my alcoholic lover.
I have started stalking them, sitting in the car down the street from our house, drinking vodka from the bottle, and watching them come out hand in hand to play tennis in the courts down the street or go out to dinner. I have sneaked in the house and gone up to what used to be our bedroom and found my mother has moved all her clothes into the wardrobe and taken what I had left out and I have even seen a tube of lube on the bedside table (my mother is post menopausal). Seeing that made me hate her more than you can believe. My husband would be disgusted with the way I have let myself go and would probably refuse to have sex with me but he’s happily screwing my mother now and enjoying her perfect body.
I haven’t confronted either of them yet. I would love to put an end to their happy little relationship. It is sick that my mother stole her daughter’s husband and I despise her for that. I can forgive my husband but I could never forgive her and I can’t tolerate the fact that they are together.
What should I do?
Look, I’m a human being, and I read this letter a little bit like this:
Like, this can’t be real, right? The references to the lube and the “perfect body”…this can’t be real.
And then I read it again and thought, well, this person sounds lonely as fuck and she had the guts to tell some judgy asshole strangers her story and if it’s real OH MY GOD her HUSBAND and her MOM are THE WORST PEOPLE and maybe we can help validate THAT if nothing else.
Obviously the ick factor of a your husband having an affair with his wife’s mother is high. Y’all have an open marriage, he could theoretically be with anyone in the world, and he chooses your mom? And your mother chooses the one man in the universe who is married to her daughter? That is some unfathomable shitheadery right there, from both of them. For the record, I don’t believe in soulmates. I don’t believe that there is romantic love that is somehow divorced from the choices you make about what to do about your feelings. I don’t believe there are feelings of love and attraction that “have to” be acted upon. I don’t believe in “it just happened.” “It” happens because people make it happen. These two assholes chose this.
I’d have barfed when I learned the truth, too.
There are some things I can’t get past, though, when I read your letter.
A) Of all the women in the world he chose to date your mom and of all of the gin joints in the world he chose to take her to your regular hangout. What are the chances that that’s a coincidence? What are the chances that they didn’t see you or know you were there? My gut says he/they did it on purpose so that you’d find out that way instead of telling you like the “consenting adults” they’ll condescendingly and repeatedly remind you that they are when you do eventually confront them.
B) In between all the references to “her perfect body” and you pining for the companionable life of long talks and theatre visits you’ve lost, there’s the fact that this has been going on long enough for her to move into your house…
…and you didn’t notice until just now. That doesn’t mean his choices are your fault – I don’t know how your open marriage works or what ground rules you set but I’m pretty sure he owed you at least one direct “Hey btw I’m thinking of seeing your mom, is that cool?” conversation.
This isn’t just a case of “this guy would be so perfect if only he weren’t $#@!ing my mother,” this is a case of some deep, deep incompatibility and disconnection between the two of you. It sounds to me like you left him, slowly, on the installment plan, and then he decided to hasten the end by setting everything on fire, including the bridges.
And, maybe there’s a reason you never want to be at home where he is lately? (A reason like self-preservation?)
I have so many questions, like, do you hang out, ever? Do you talk, ever? What was the long-term plan for your marriage? Did your husband know that plan? Did he know whether you ever wanted to come back from living with this most recent dude? When you agreed to an open marriage, did you both envision a situation where either or both of you would move out for long periods of time? What does “normal” or “the desired outcome” for your marriage look like to y’all? Have you had a “Hey, this isn’t really working” conversation before now?
Do you still love each other?
Would you have described yourself as “happily married” before you saw them together?
Do you know how he’d describe it?
Is there a compelling reason to stay married to him, beyond say, the legalities or force of habit?
Whatever the answers are, taking your mom on a date to your favorite local + moving her shit into your house (which is still your house…I think?) are not the stealthy moves of professional secret keepers, y’all. This is the You-signal being flashed in the sky. “ALL IS NOT WELL AT HOME. I REPEAT: ALL IS NOT WELL.”
It’s nice that you are thinking about the possibility of forgiveness for your husband (after you break them up somehow, of course), but my read on this situation is that there is no going back to any kind of happy equilibrium in these relationships. He’s always going to be the guy who dated your mom. Your mom is always going to be the mom who dated your husband. You’re framing it as “My mom stole my husband” but your husband did just as much stealing and breaking of trust.
Also, forgiveness is for when someone has a) stopped doing the harmful thing and b) apologized. These people haven’t even done you the courtesy of an honest conversation about what’s happening. I give you permission to ignore the entire concept of forgiveness for now.
Even if they agreed to end things, is there any going back to the life you (thought you) had, where your husband is a safe haven who will always leave the light on for you while you explore your
addictions totally unproblematic day-drinking hobby?
You are, as you say, “stalking” them – sitting in your car to watch them go about their lives, “sneaking” into your house – what has stopped you from talking to them?
“Hey, Husband, what’s new with you? Are you sure there’s nothing new? Nothing at all? Nothing you’d like to tell me? Cool, okay, well, have a good day.””
“Husband, I saw you in the pub the other day, was that my mother?”
“Husband, I dropped by the house to pick something up the other day and…okay, I’m just gonna come out with it. Why are my mom’s clothes in the wardrobe?”
“Husband, I realize I haven’t been around much lately, but I think we need to talk. Do you think things are working well between us?”
“Mum, how’re you, how’s the weather, how are things, by the way, are you dating my husband?”
“Mum, Husband, I’m having a hard time even looking at either of you right now, also, what the fuck are you doing? Did you sit around trying to come up with the most hurtful, appalling thing you could do to me?”
Do these questions seem ridiculous and like you can’t picture yourself asking them? Even though they are pretty reasonable questions given the situation? Because if you actually talk about it with them, it will become real?
Yeah. I get that.
I say this with all the love I can muster:
Your marriage is dead.
Your relationship with your mom is also pretty dead.
Those relationships can die but I want you to be alive.
You were hiding from your own life in that pub, all those days of passing out and killing time with grubby men in grubby places. You were hiding, and then your husband came and found you with this giant, awful, sickening secret and you couldn’t hide from it anymore. Now you’re hiding in parked cars outside the tennis club or outside the house where you used to live. What happens when you can’t hide from or drown these feelings any longer? I’m scared for you. Drinking in your car (and presumably driving?) is “danger to yourself and others” territory.
Something has been permanently lost or damaged, and, while I understand the fantasies, breaking these two people up will not restore whatever it is or was. You asked what I thought you should do and the answer is “Take care of yourself.”
So, please, please, please: Take the kind of loving care of yourself that you wish someone else would take for you. Radically intervene in your own life to take care of yourself.
I think you need to have some talks with your husband about “Hey bro, dating my mom, not cool btw, probably time to end this?” and then some more talks about money and living space and what the winding down of the institution of your marriage entails (financially, legally). And then cut him and your mom out of your life entirely.
Before that talk, I think it is time to call on any and all resources you can find who are not your husband or your mother. Friends. Other family members who you can count on. A divorce attorney (solicitor where you are?). A therapist. A medical doctor for a complete checkup. Find somewhere to live that is just yours, maybe, with no men/distractions/drinking buddies.
Also, no more hiding out, no more monitoring your husband and your mom. Drag everything into the light and deal with it. You told us your story, so tell a therapist and a friend. Start imagining yourself in a different kind of future, where you are free of them and have a fresh start. You are only 34 years old! The next year of your life might suck more than it doesn’t (basically alternating between Adele songs and the”Hold Up” parts of Lemonade on repeat while you grieve), but if you can hang in? If you can hang in, a few years from now you’ll be the lady with the devil-may-care attitude and the “Oh, you think your ex was shit? Oh, you think you don’t get along with your parents? Might as well get comfortable” story.
Let go of the idea of breaking them up, that that’s something you should do or something you can do. The thing will probably perish on its own without you in the middle providing a dramatic focus. Even if they stay together forever gloriously in love mashing their perfect bodies together for the rest of time? Every. Single. Time. someone asks how they met the fact that they are the kind of people who would fuck their wife’s mom/fuck their daughter’s husband will be a part of their story, and they’ll have to choose: Lie or oog people out? Lie or oog people out?
Ok, finally, I think your drinking problem is an actual problem that deserves serious, thorough, compassionate, loving treatment. Only you can decide when you’re ready for that, and it doesn’t sound like you’re ready yet so I’ve tried to respect that in this writing, but when you do decide, you deserve it, all of it, all of the help, all of the recovery. You have an illness that is slowly eating your life. Maybe it ate your marriage a few bites at a time. None of that makes you a terrible person who needs to hide in the bushes from the assholes in her life, it makes you human. It makes you deserving of care and compassion and help and second chances and third chances and fresh starts.
I link to poems a lot and these are the ones on my mind right now:
Glass, by Kim Addonizio
Antilamentation, by Dorianne Laux
(If I’m remembering right, Laux and Addonizio are friends who met at the same writer’s workshop or class. They know. Whatever it is you’ve gone through or are going through, they know.)
Be well, Letter Writer. You are related to a bunch of assholes and I hope you get free very soon.
A) This ain’t Reddit. What do we lose by being constructive and kind?
B) I know the comments in my mod queue recommending 12-step programs and other alcohol treatment programs are kindly meant and coming from people who have used them successfully. But until the LW asks for that kind of help, they are a distraction, and they tend to attract a lot of thread-jacking debate that I have to clean up. Hold off, ok? Thank you.
C) Closing comments as of 11 pm Thursday because my moderation queue and spam trap are a dumpster fire and I need to sleep sometime.
Letter Writer, please get some help and take good care of yourself.
(Wouldn't stalked eyeballs be *fun*?)
Got paperwork done to get insurance reinstated; should have coverage again by next week sometime. Hopefully I don't die first, but my record at that is pretty good so far. Searched storage area for shade canopies for next week's festival; didn't find 'em, but did find six folding chairs we can bring along. Arranged ride *to* ride on Wednesday. Need to fall over now while body repairs sunburn damage.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am working towards going on a year-long trip around the world. Besides the fact that it’s just this dream I’ve always had, I’m doing this for a few reasons.
1) I hate my life where I’m living and who I’ve become. It’s nice enough, if you’re already married with children. But I was recently in Berlin and I loved being in a city that had 24-hour public transport and interesting artsy things to go to all the time. I felt wonderful there, like I was an interesting, capable, sexy person, and I didn’t want to come home. Here I feel stagnant and boring. I moved across country to live here after college because my parents live here (big mistake, although at least now I have my own apartment).
2) I’ve always wanted to have children, and in particular adopt children. I’m 32, so I’m hitting the age where I have to start thinking of that as a serious goal if it’s going to happen at all. But I want to travel the world first, because after I become a presumably single parent it’s going to be a lot harder to travel. Possible, but harder.
The issue is with my parents. I have a troubled relationship with my dad, who is neurotic, has used money as a means to control me, and constantly orders me around like I’m his employee, so I knew he wouldn’t be on my side. But I had high hopes that my mother would be more supportive. That’s not what happened. They both recently held a little intervention in which they basically told me not to do it. Specifically, they said that they thought I should have a job lined up when I got back. I feebly told them what my therapist told me when I expressed worries about that same thing, that this trip was going to open doors for me and that it wasn’t important to have everything set in stone just yet. That did not go over well. I’m planning on having an extra $10,000 saved up as a cushion when I get back to the states. They don’t think that’s good enough. They don’t think that $20,000 is enough for the trip budget even though I have studied the budgets of other travelers who have succeeded to do this. They told me that I should just keep the soulless job that I have and travel somewhere for two weeks every year. I’m nauseous even thinking about that.
There’s a familiar pattern when it comes to my parental interactions: I want to do awesome, scary thing. They disagree with the thing, most of the time bringing up money or them not wanting to support me as the reason why it won’t work. I either do what they tell me or come up with some sort of compromise. Eventually, I realize that I should have just done what I wanted and become regretful and bitter. I don’t want to keep doing that. I’m tired of trying to manage their anxiety over my life choices on top of my own worries. When I was in Berlin, they insisted that I email them twice a day, once when I woke up and once at night like I’m on curfew or something. What the hell? I know they do this because they love me and they worry, but their worries really trample all over my self-confidence.
Compounding my problems is that, aside from my therapist, I don’t really have a lot of people that I can talk to. Many friendships from college have faded due to distance, and I haven’t made any new ones. I have a night job, so social stuff that is usually held at night is off limits to me now.
So I’m asking for 1) scripts to deal with my parents, because when they get into intervention mode I tend to shut down and not say anything, and 2) avenues to find emotional support for making my travel dreams happen.
Wants to be Nellie Bly (she/her pronouns)
Dear Nellie Bly,
I am so excited for you and this potential life-changing year and trip.
I have been privileged enough to travel the world a lot in my life, from parents supporting me to go on club and choir trips in high school to studying abroad in Czech Republic during undergrad to working internationally for years with short-term assignments in Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Hungary, to traveling to France & to Indonesia with good friends to the most recent honeymoon trip. One of my dearest friends is in Tunisia with the foreign service right now, and another is moving to the Czech Republic and this passport is burning a hole in my desk drawer because I want to go see them so badly. You know from your time in Berlin that there is nothing like waking up under a different sky and feeling simultaneously that the world is so very small and connected and also so much bigger than you knew.
During my travels, I sent my grandparents a postcard from everywhere I visited. Even in small towns, I’d find the local shop and buy a postcard and send it, and they’d all say some version of the same thing: “I’m in (place), it’s beautiful here, I got to try (food), I met an (interesting person) or saw (some amazing historical sight). I miss you and am thinking of you. Love, Jennifer.” When my grandmother died, she left me two things: A pair of earrings from when she got her ears pierced to celebrate her 80th birthday and a box full of all the postcards I had ever sent her. There’s a map of the world in the box and she’d drawn little dots on the place every time a postcard came to map my travels. As her last gift to me she gave me back the world as I had told it to her.
If you want to go, and you can go, then you have to go. Accept no substitutes.
If you want to find some community and people who will be excited about your plan, maybe try to find an online forum for people who plan budget travel, or who freelance while living abroad, or the international guild of house-sitters (link is to a how-to house sit your way around the world article) or whatever? I bet if you started a “Here’s my proposed itinerary and budget for my cool awesome year of traveling the world” at the friendsofcaptainawkward.com forums you’d find some people who would want to live vicariously along with you and some potential new friends around the world. I can vouch that the Paris, France Awkwardeers are LOVELY.
In the meantime, you have to stop telling your dreams to people who shit on them.
This means: Stop running your dreams and your plans by your parents. Your parents are not safe stewards of your dreams. You are trying to perform “good daughter” by including them in your plans like you would reasonable parents, but they are not that kind of parents. Think of your dreams as tiny crocus shoots coming up through the soil in early spring, when there might or might not be another killing frost before they can mature. You’ve got to protect those tiny vulnerable green shoots and not expose them to danger before they are ready to bloom.
Reasonable, supportive parents get to hear “I’m thinking of going on this amazing trip around the world, I’m 60% toward my savings goal.” They may ask how you plan to solve certain issues, or worry about your safety traveling alone, or try to reconcile (place) with (version of place that’s shown on the news). This is normal, it’s cool if not every parent is immediately in the “Yay, when do you leave?” mode without needing a little reassurance or time to process before they are on board. Reasonable parents also eventually get on board. When they raise potential problems, like, “Are you saving enough money to make sure you’ll be okay?” they do it hopefully in the spirit of wanting you to actually find solutions to those problems, not to sabotage your momentum. They understand that you get to make your own decisions and that they raised you to be able to take care of yourself.
Your parents have shown you they have a pattern of trying to keep you “in your place,” whatever that means to them, in this case literally. Their “worry” and “concern” for you is about control, is about them getting to define what your life is like. Therefore, your parents get “I bought my tickets and I leave in 3 weeks.” Or they get a postcard from Berlin when you’ve already gone.
And you email them, say, once a week while you’re traveling, not twice a day. (You make this happen by telling them: “I’ll check in once a week while I’m gone” and then you follow through with that).
In the meantime, no more details. No more money/budget/job/itinerary/future plans talk. Stop trying to convince them and let the topic die for now until it’s safe and you can leave. You’re not being mean or lying if you stop including them in your planning. You’ve tried including them, they’ve shown you that they can’t be trusted to nurture your hopes, so, it’s time for Small Talk Only (or Safe Talk Only) until you’re ready to go. It sucks to have to feel like you are reverting to Sullen Teenager mode ( “How was school today?” (long pause) “Fine.”), because you love them and you want to have a cool honest authentic adult relationship and you want to be able to talk about the thing you’re most excited about, but they are Lucy with the football and you are Charlie Brown and it’s time to take a break from setting yourself up for more of their “nurturing” for the time being.
Also, you laid out a very clean and logical case for why you want to do this and why now is the right time in your letter – the kind of case I recognize from growing up as a kid who was overruled a lot and told that what I wanted to do wasn’t a good idea or wasn’t possible and surely I wanted something else instead – so I think it’s important to say: You don’t have to convince your parents of anything in order to still do this. You don’t have to have airtight reasons for wanting to go or make the perfect case. You want to. Your heart wants it. It’s calling you. That’s a good enough reason. You will get old and die waiting for them to be convinced. Put your energy elsewhere.
If you go from talking about this plan to never mentioning it, they will notice and they may try to check in to make sure that they’ve really murdered the dream all the way, like, “You haven’t mentioned your trip lately, thank goodness you’ve finally come to your senses!” They will also become experts on everything bad that happens in places you’ve mentioned you want to go, aided and abetted by shitty international reporting designed to scare Americans. “Oh, terrible about what happened in [place]. Didn’t you say you wanted to go there when you were planning your trip? Good thing you stayed home!”
Learn to recognize this for what it is: Bait. They want to trick you into exposing more about the plan so they can go back to shitting on it (and display their dominance and control). Don’t take the bait.
Eventually your script is probably: “Hey, either you raised me to be able to handle a challenge like this or you didn’t. I guess we’ll find out, but I just don’t share your worries about what will happen. If you can’t be excited for me I can’t make you, but I also don’t have to listen to your constant doomsaying or make the same choice you would make in my shoes. If you can’t be supportive, be kind, and if you can’t do that, let’s drop the topic and talk about something else.”
In the meantime your script is probably some version of:
“Huh, well, there’s nothing new to talk about” + GIANT SUBJECT CHANGE.
“Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about, I’m just chewing on all of it before I make any big decisions.” + GIANT SUBJECT CHANGE
(You are thinking about what they said. You’re also quietly rejecting it, but they don’t need to know that).
“Let me stop you there – I was not asking for advice, I was telling you about something I want to do. When I need advice, I’ll ask.” + GIANT SUBJECT CHANGE
See also – “You may be right.”
Your parents: Objection objection objection objection!
You: “You may be right.” Silently: “I’m totally still going, though.” Not silently: GIANT SUBJECT CHANGE.
You will be amazed at how this totally takes the wind out of some people’s sails.
Your parents can feel worried or disappointed or disapprove about your choices, but they don’t get to treat you badly and expect you to sit still and comply. They can be anxious about your safety, but their anxiety does not define the borders of your world for you. And fuck their whole “intervention mode” while we’re at it. Interventions are extreme, last resort measures for people who are seriously suffering. They also bear a heavy risk of backfiring, where the person remains unconvinced about seeking treatment for whatever it is and cuts off the family & friends who participate. “I’m a grown-ass woman and I’m saving up a bunch of money so I can do a thing I’ve always wanted to do” is not even close to something that needs an emergency family meeting of any kind. Good grief.
Also, disappointment goes both ways:
“I’m disappointed that you would make this choice.”
“Cool, I’m disappointed that when I try to tell you about something important to me you rain negativity all over it to try to get me to do what you want.”
“I think this is a terrible idea and I am worried about what will happen to you.”
“Okay, you’re allowed to have your opinion. I am still going to do it because I want to, and if it’s a mistake, it will be my mistake. I’d rather try and fail than stay stuck.”
“I love you and worry about you and I’m your parent and I know what’s best for you.”
“I know you love me, and you did your best to raise me and look out for me. Good news, you did your job well, and now I’m the person who has to decide what’s best for me.”
“But what if (catastrophe) happens?”
“I very much hope that won’t happen, but if it does, I’ll figure out how to handle it.”
Or (this is the time for it): “”Hey, either you raised me to be able to handle a challenge like this or you didn’t. I guess we’ll find out, but I just don’t share your worries about what will happen. If you can’t be excited for me I can’t make you, but I also don’t have to listen to your constant doomsaying or make the same choice you would make in my shoes. If you can’t be supportive, be kind, and if you can’t be kind, let’s drop the subject entirely and talk about something else.”
If these seem like daunting things to say to the people what raised you, practice them and talk them over with your therapist. Put them in your own words. Keep them in your back pocket in case you need them. Complying with your parents is a habit that they have groomed and reinforced, and you’re not going to suddenly snap out of that habit and become the Amazing Comeback Queen overnight, nor do you have to become that. Sometimes there is value in speaking up and resisting, even if you won’t win the argument or the day, just to show yourself that you can and the world won’t end. Sometimes there is power in holding on to all the things you could say and deploy them strategically.
Time for one of my favorite literary quotes:
“Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just… take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that’s hard.” – Ekaterin, A Civil Campaign
When you do go, email me and I’ll send you my mailing address because I’d really like a postcard or two…to add to The Box.
❤ ❤ ❤