Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain,

A few months ago, I met a cute new person and we clicked pretty well from the start. We both had another primary partner at the time and we often talked about those relationships as well as (of course) many other things. After a while, he and his primary broke up, and he was pretty devastated by it. I didn’t mind that he was a bit more “down” when we spent time together, and it seemed only natural to me that he talked about his break-up feelings sometimes. I still don’t mind those things.

Now here comes the difficult part: I feel like this relationship is getting more and more asymmetrical. I’m busy with a demanding job and an active social life (and I like it that way), and he has a lot of time on his hands. He has made it clear that he’d prefer to spend much more time together than we currently do (including weekend trips and the like), while from my perspective we’re close to “too much”. He is way ahead of me with things like “I love you” (WAY too early for me!). I feel like I have to be “on” at all times when we’re together, because he always seems worried that I’m not being enthusiastic enough and something must be wrong and don’t you like me anymore?

He’s had a bunch of personal issues come up lately, and he’s generally pretty unhappy right now. I find it really hard to find a balance between being kind to a person I like, and setting some “don’t make me responsible for your happiness!”-boundaries. I understand anxiety and sadness and insecurity, because I deal with plenty of that in my own life, but it feels like he’s subconsciously weaponizing these things to demand my time and attention. He often says things like:

  • “you’re the only good thing in my life right now”
  • “I feel like everyone is rejecting/leaving me lately”
  • “I’m not doing so well,
    Please view this post in your web browser to complete the quiz.
    , can I come by tonight? I need comfort”
  • “I’m dealing with so much shit that I can’t carry it on my own”
  • “You give me so much strength when we spend time together”

I really like this guy! We have a lot in common and we’ve had fun times together. I would love to see him once or twice a month for many moons to come, and for us to grow closer over time, but right now I feel like I’m under siege and I have to focus on setting boundaries and finding new ways to say “no” all the time and it’s starting to suck the joy out of what (I hope) could be a genuinely fun and rewarding relationship – through good times and bad.

Can I salvage this? How can I communicate with him in a way that does NOT say “I can’t handle people who have negative emotions ever”, but rather “it feels like you’re using your emotions against me and that’s not cool”?

Thank you!

You’re absolutely right to see a litany of “you’re the only good thing in my life” and “everyone else is rejecting me (so you won’t, won’t you?)” statements as being red flags of codependence. I’m not sure the end result of my advice is “fun new relationship is salvaged!” but I think you do have a good opening here to have an honest talk with him about getting help in handling hard life stuff and the reciprocity & seriousness of your relationship.

There are two separate conversations to be had here. I’m not sure in which order, so, use your judgment.

Conversation #1:

[Partner], I can see that you’re really suffering right now as you [grieve the loss of primary relationship][handle this recent raft of difficult life stuff]. I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all and I think it’s time to find some more support for this stuff. Maybe a trained sounding board – like a therapist or counselor – can help you process all of this.

There is a 99.99% chance he will feel insulted and hurt that you are fobbing him off on other people instead of investing deeply in his emotional well-being yourself. Get ready for some intenso responses involving “You are tired of me and you are going to reject me like everyone else” + 1,000 reasons that therapy/counseling is impossible/useless/too hard for him. This is because:

  • He is primed to feel rejected right now. Everything that isn’t “I love you come over right now and let me comfort you my dear boy” = rejection.
  • You are sending him to other people instead of wanting to deal with it yourself. (That’s okay! Just, acknowledge the truth of that so you don’t fall for the negging when it comes).
  • Mental health system is imperfect and it does take a lot of resources and energy to find a good fit and treatment that can work for you. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re feeling great, never mind when you’re feeling terrible. It’s okay to acknowledge the imperfections in the mental health system and also remind yourself that those difficulties don’t automatically make his emotional well-being your sole problem to deal with on demand in real time.

Follow-up script:

I know this sucks and that’s not what you wanted to hear. You’re right, I am telling you that you need to find other people besides me to lean on, and you’re right, the mental health system can be really difficult/annoying/expensive. But I am not comfortable or prepared to continue being your main sounding board about this stuff. I think your problems are real and serious and that taking them seriously might involve bringing in a trained listening person for a little while. Think of it as giving yourself the gift of a safe space to unload and process all of this that’s 100% focused on you, a little time in your week where you have permission to feel as sad and lost as you need to feel and get all the feelings out so you can start to heal and deal with them.

Get ready for a question like “So I guess I’m not allowed to talk about serious stuff or feelings with you anymore?” (It’s 99.99% coming)

Your script: “That’s not what I’m saying, but I am saying that I don’t want the time we spend together to be all about [Serious Feelings Stuff and Comfort]. I am asking you to find and take advantage of some alternate avenues for support and comfort, so things with us can be a little more balanced than they have been.

Chances are he will not like it. He likes his comfort to come with a side of romance/sexytimes and whyyyyy should he make an effort to find a therapist when he has youuuu? But you’re doing a kind thing by being honest about your limits and directing him toward something that actually has a chance of making him feel better.

Conversation #2 

Sometimes the answer to “I had a terrible day, can I come over and be comforted” is simply “Sorry, not tonight.” And then you put your phone away and focus on what you originally planned to do and he finds a way to self-soothe somehow. If he deals with that well, then maybe it can get better.

That doesn’t mean there is no big conversation to be had. He wants to say “I love you” and plan weekends away and remind you that you’re the only great thing in his life and it’s making you feel crowded and overwhelmed. Time to talk about that. Maybe time to also talk honestly about the way you do polyamory, like the fact that you have someone in your life that you consider to be a primary partner and that there is a hierarchy there maybe not of feelings but in terms of how you allocate time/vacation days/long-term relationship planning, etc. It seems like your relationship really worked when he had that in place too but now things have become unbalanced. This conversation might mean that y’all create something new together over time or it might mean that he and you find out that are unsuited to each other.

The thing where he wants you to be “on” and show that you are sufficiently enthusiastic seems to be the best entry point for this conversation, as in, the next time he makes you you feel that way it’s time to talk about what’s up: “Listen, I like you a lot, and I like you enough that I can make space for you to be sad and grieving right now but that also means that you make space for me being tired or having an off night or for not exactly mirroring your enthusiasm back to you. For example, we’ve only known each other a short time and I’m not ready for ‘I love you’ yet. I would love to get there someday but I need more time. When you say ‘I’m the only good thing in your life’ I know you mean it as a compliment but it feels like pressure. Also time we spend together is already about the maximum time I have to spend with you in a given week. Like of course it would be nice to spend ‘more time’ together, but I can’t do that without breaking other commitments that are pleasurable and important to me. I need you to understand that and focus on enjoying the time we do spend together.

Then, say the thing that’s the elephant in the room: “I feel like you want me to take the place of [Former Primary Partner] in your life, and that’s an okay thing for you to want on an emotional level, I get it, but it’s too much/not the right fit for me/not what I signed up for/making things unbalanced between us. I care about you a lot and I want to find a way to keep this going, so, how do we build something that is enjoyable and true and emotionally supportive without me feeling so pressured and you feeling so rejected?

He’s not going to like hearing this because it’s going to feed into the story he is telling himself about how everyone rejects him. Also there maybe is no balance between “Ideally we’d hang out once or twice a month, forever” and “LOVE ME!!!!!” But if you can’t talk honestly about this stuff and you keep feeling suffocated and overwhelmed, the thing is not going to work. “I’m at the limit of what I have to give you in terms of time and affection” isn’t what any romantic partner really wants to hear, but it’s important information if it’s the truth. The truth can hurt but it can also help us make good decisions about how to take care of ourselves. He may decide that what you have to offer is not enough for him. You may decide that what he wants is just not compatible with what you want and need. That would be painful, but I have to think that it’s better than letting him continue to build this fortress of need around you while you’re looking for the escape hatch.

Reminder for commenters: Spell out the whole word “polyamory” please.


Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain,

My question today is about academia and/or job opportunities and being single. I am a PhD candidate in a Very Good University in the US, and I will be on the academic job market in a year. I have a very good publication/presentation/committee/topic situation, so I should be doing fairly fine. However, my field is totally dominated by men, mostly from quite conservative countries/cultures. It’s even worse in industry (I have work experience pre-PhD and an internship).

Now, I am absolutely sure I don’t want to get married or have a cohabiting partner or “serious” relationship of any sort. If anything, I identify with relationship anarchy. I am happy like I’ve never been, and I feel like I’m thriving and my best self arises when I am alone and free. I do have many short and long romance stories with like-minded folks who are in the same line of thought, but I don’t have or want any “boyfriend” in the sense that other people seem to want me to have (focused on dating – getting engaged – moving in – marrying).

Usually, in academic conferences, in the informal networking events, or in my department, I get asked when I will be on the market, and if I prioritize going back to my country or staying in the US, this kind of things. I think it’s all fair game and I am thrilled some Big Names in the field show interest in me! But sometimes they ask things such as “will you have a 2-body problem?” or “well, eventually you’ll want to marry, right?” or “our school is in a city with plenty of young men!”. Or more bluntly “how come you are not married yet?” (my age – early 30s – is not a secret). I know those (mostly old, mostly men, mostly conservative) professors may just be trying to be nice(?), but I can tell by the way they look that I don’t fit in what they think is “a good woman” or “a normal person”.

I have told some (younger – some younger than me) professors in my department that I don’t want to marry and they all reply condescendingly “you’ll change your mind!” But they are not the ones who’ll make my hiring decisions (although they’ll write me letters of recommendation) and so I am not that much concerned. What about those from other schools who may want to hire or not hire me a year from now when I am on the market? When I have 5-minute interactions and they ask me topic/advisor/ideal placement/marital status. Should I tell them “I don’t want to marry” and out myself immediately as not-their-idea-of-good-woman? Should I tell them “oh I haven’t found anyone yet” and then lie (or risk that someone will try to set me up – it’s happened before!)? Should I just smile awkwardly and say “I don’t know!”? I also feel that, when I say I don’t want to marry, the person in front of me thinks I am lying. What if I tell them “no, I don’t want to marry, but I do want to have kids and I am very well informed about sperm banks and adoption agencies”. Will this kill forever all my job opportunities because of the single mother stigma?

It’s all a paradox, because they don’t like women because of the whole marriage and maternity thing, but they don’t like it either when women don’t conform to their standards of womanhood (wifehood?).

How can I navigate this? I do want to have a good academic placement but I want to know who won’t be supportive of my lifestyle to avoid their departments. But also, you know, academia is sometimes hard and there isn’t much choice of placement for a candidate. So at this point I mostly want to say something that won’t close all the doors but will make my point clear enough.

Any help will be welcome! Thanks so much!

Future Professor Badass

Dear Future Professor Badass,

As tempting as it would be to say a robotic “That is a sexist question” or give a long rambling Boring Baroque Response involving your theories of Relationship Anarchy whenever this comes up, here is the strategy I actually advise:

Them:Will you have a two-body problem?” (For people outside of academia, this means will you need the university that wants to recruit you to also factor in a job for your a fellow-professor spouse) or “But surely you intend to marry someday?” (Ugh) or “Good thing there are lots of young men here!

You:Thanks for asking. I’m lucky that I don’t have to consider that right now in my search and can just look for the best fit for my work.

Them:How come you are not married yet?” (This is a weird, rude question but I too have had older people from outside the US ask me this as if it’s a normal question. Then again, we in the US ask people what they do for a job right away, for this week’s Manners Are Relative reminder).

You: Smile awkwardly and say “I don’t know!“, as you suggest! Or, “It just hasn’t been a priority!” or “Search me!” or “I love being single” or “Has my grandmother been talking to you? It’s a question under much discussion in my family, believe me” or “Haven’t felt like it, I guess!

Whatever you say, keep it light and vague. The more you can answer calmly and confidently, without apology, the more people will take your cue in how they react.

 

 

I know all of this is sexist and invasive and weird and assumes heterosexuality when it should not but the individual people who ask you this think they are being kind and even helpful, especially if they are trying to recruit you to their campus. They want you to be happy and anticipate issues that they might have to work around so that you will want to stay forever at their school. They want to figure out if they have the budget to hire you and a spouse if they want you badly enough. They don’t want you to take the job and then leave in a year because it’s a romantic and sexual wasteland or because there’s no industry in the town except for the university and your (theoretical) partner can’t find work. It can be awkward attempt to mentor you, at least in some cases, so if you can find a way to be vague but positive and deal with the intentions (rather than the effects) of the question it will help you connect.

I wish it were not so, but right now you need a job so someday you can be the colleague who doesn’t ask newcomers these questions (or asks in a way that is actually helpful).

Answer with your vague positive statement, some version of “It’s not my biggest priority right now, which makes me feel very lucky! I have the luxury to just think about finding the right fit for the work I want to do. I know not everyone has that.

Then ask them questions about their lives.

  • “When you moved to [City Where University Is Located] what was it like to get your bearings?”
  • “Any advice for settling in in [City]? Where do the people who love it here shop/eat/hike/live?”
  • “Was it a difficult adjustment moving from [Country of Origin] to [City]? What was the biggest surprise?”
  • “What are the things about [City] that really make you feel at home?”
  • “Were you married when you moved here? How does your spouse like it here? What do they do?”
  • “How did you and your spouse meet?”
  • “Did you have to deal with a two-body problem? What was that like? How does the university generally deal with those?”
  • “What do you remember most from your first year of being a professor here?”

You can turn the conversation to their research or their teaching or questions about the students or the department, too. People like to be asked questions about things they are experts on, and in my experience professors like this even more than most people. Use their weird question as an opportunity to make a human connection and find out more about them as people and the place as a place to live and what you’re getting into. Be remembered as someone pleasant to talk to, focused on her work, and someone who asks good questions and is a good listener.

You’ve got this and you don’t need to make excuses for something that isn’t actually a problem. Good luck in your search.

 

 

 


Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain,

Over the last year, a once close friend of mine and I have been experiencing the African Violet of broken friendship. We had been through a very intense multi-year creative work project together, and after the project finished and she moved onto another job, we kind of drifted apart. For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic. After any incident where she said something unkind (for example, that half of the work on my part of the project was not my own work, which really hurt my feelings) or been judgmental (for example, negatively commenting on the dynamics of my relationship with my partner or how much I was eating and snacking during the intense project), I would take some space. Over the last couple of years my confidence has grown, not just in this area but in many other areas of my life, and I have been able to deal with some anxiety issues I had and learn how to set boundaries.

She started mainly hanging out with some different friends, and although we were still in touch, our conversation was becoming more and more surface-level. Anytime I suggested meeting up she would be really vague or say no. I was quite hurt at the time that she didn’t seem to want to hang out with me anymore, but I knew that we had just been through a really intense period in our lives and maybe she needed her space. There was always room for our friendship to get renewed further down the line. Before yesterday, we hadn’t been in contact for about four months. There wasn’t anything particularly negative about our last contact, it just tailed off.

I recently got a new job that I am very excited about and yesterday, in a whatsapp group she is also part of, someone congratulated me on my new job. About an hour later I got an feelingsemail from my friend. It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years. She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else. She did say congratulations about the new job at the end.

I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship. We were so close, and I miss her. However, I don’t know what to say or how to respond to this email. I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship. I am open to being friends again, and rebuilding our relationship but it can’t be like this. I want to acknowledge the email, but I don’t want to get caught up in back and forth about who did what, or act in a way that says I think this email is acceptable, or apologize for things I haven’t done. How should I respond to this feelingsbomb? Should I even respond? How can people respond kindly and compassionately to feelingsmail in general?

Best wishes,
I’ve got feelingsmail

Dear Feelingsmail Receiver,

Your friend is projecting all over the place and all over you, a behavior where you take the stuff you are doing (especially stuff that you feel guilty about or ashamed of or upset about) and assign that behavior and the blame for it to someone else. Like the thing where you kept trying to make plans and she rebuffed you is now all about how you’ve abandoned her. Interesting.

Also Interesting: The less time you spend with her, the happier and more confident you’ve become over time.

Interesting Indeed: A really happy moment for you (congratulations on your new job!) has become the catalyst for her to criticize and accuse you of being a bad person and a bad friend. Not cool.

I don’t know how you repair that. It sounds like the way you’ve been drifting away from each other has been organic, with you taking care of yourself by taking space when you need it, and her choosing the company of other friends over you when she needs that.

Now she wants you to apologize and accept all the blame for the fact that your friendship isn’t as close as it was, and she also wants you to chase her. Do you want to do any of those things?

In your shoes I might just write back “Wow, okay??? Thanks for the good wishes at least. As for the rest, I miss spending time with you, too,” and just ignore the steaming pile of Feelings and Accusations. And then I’d let the ball be in her court to follow up, either to apologize or to suggest a time to get together.

I predict she will find this answer from you somewhat maddening and not see it as the face-saving mercy that it actually is, but that’s not your fault or your work to do to deal with. You don’t owe her a point-by-point response to her projection or the emotional catharsis she sought at your expense. (Note: You don’t actually owe friendship or any response at all to someone who sends you such a mean, rude message!) If she comes back with an apology or invitation to grab lunch or coffee, that will give you some useful information and if she comes back with renewed vitriol about what a terrible friend and person you are that will also give you some useful information.

If you do eventually sit down and address the issues in the friendship someday, you could say “Well, I’d been feeling like you didn’t want to hang out with me, so I stopped pushing and gave you space. I guess we’ve been mirroring each other.” It’s true and is neither an accusation nor an apology.

You can also ask her “Well, in a perfect world, where we have exactly the kind of friendship you want, how would you like this to work out?” and see what she says. In a difficult conversation where there’s a risk of getting stuck in a back-and-forth “It’s your fault”/”No it isn’t” about the past, this question can prompt people to stop and articulate a positive vision for the future. What’s the best case scenario where you get to recover a friendship that works for both of you? This “workable” version may be a very tiny, small-doses thing or no friendship at all, but I think this is your best chance for finding out if anything here can be saved.


Posted by JenniferP

Video description: The Bangles cover Big Star’s September Gurls in Pittsburgh in 1986.

It’s time for the monthly thing where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are actual questions. This feature is generously funded by Patreon supporters.

1 “How to stop a neighbour and hubby putting me down every time I walk past
.”

Ugh, your husband is being a giant asshole, and it’s time to tell him straight up to knock this behavior off. “Stop doing that. It’s rude, disrespectful, and it hurts my feelings.” If he won’t, you’ve got Husband-problems more than you have Neighbor-problems.

2 “What does it mean when a girl says focusing on school right now after you say your feelings
.” 

It means she did not enthusiastically say “Yes, I feel the same way, let’s definitely date each other!” It means she’d rather focus on school than go out with you. Interpret it as “No.”

3 “Anonymous STD notification letter.”

National treasure website Scarleteen recommends InSpot  for sending an anonymous e-card and has a good how-to guide on doing this kind of notification. Australia has a service called Better To Know that lets you notify partners of possible Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) anonymously via text or email. In both cases, you enter info, the person gets a message that lets them know that they may have been exposed to an STI (+ there’s a way for you to enter which ones) and should get tested. There’s a good roundup of similar services in this article.

If you’re feeling blue and alone in this, the Netflix show formerly known as “Scrotal Recall” (now renamed Lovesick) is a romantic comedy about a man who must notify past sexual partners about possible chlamydia exposure.

If you don’t want to go anonymous, a simple text or phone call that says “Hey [Sex Friend] I recently tested positive for ________. You should get checked out, too” is a very kind and ethical thing to send. The more we all remove stigma and shame around STIs, the better job everyone can do taking care of ourselves and each other.

4 “My boyfriend mom prophesied that we are not meant to be together.”

Translation: Your boyfriend’s mom does not want you to be together.

What do you and your boyfriend want?

5 “When some knocks on door and says the Lord compelled them to stop and talk to you.”

Translation: The someone wanted to stop and talk to you.

What do you want?

6 “How to decline a neighbor asking us over

.”

“How nice of you to think of us, but no thank you.”

7 “What to do when your friend sets you up on a blind date and the guy’s interested in her.”

Acknowledge the awkwardness, have a good laugh together, tell the guy “good luck, dude, tell her how you feel and maybe we can avoid this sitcom nonsense next time” and go home with your dignity. You didn’t do anything weird.

8 “Should you invite girls of interest to your party

.”

Throwing a party is a great reason to invite someone that you might be interested in romantically over. That person can meet your friends, see your place, everyone can see how everyone gets on together, you can get to know each other better without having it be a DATE date, etc. Why not?

Now, girl(s) plural is an advanced move, but again, why not?

9 “What do you do when your daughter owes you money and is not paying you back but takes vacations and spends a lot
.”

Ugh, this is a hard one. Here are some steps for dealing with friends and family members who are not good/prompt/conscientious about paying back loans,

a) Assume that you won’t ever be repaid. Take whatever steps you need to shore up your own financial well-being so that you’re not depending on that money. If you do manage to collect it it will be a happy thing.

b) Ask the person to repay you what they owe. If you bring up fancy vacations or their other spending they will get automatically defensive, so skip that part in your request (even if it is relevant to the issue). Why skip it? You don’t need the story about how she bought the tickets long ago or how they were really a gift from a friend and you don’t want to give her a reason to feel judged and aggrieved (even if judgment is warranted). The vacation money is spent. It’s not coming back. She knows that you know that she knows that she owes you money. Just be simple and direct and ask for what you need:

Script: “Daughter, you still owe me $______. When can we expect repayment?” or “Daughter, you still owe me $_______. Can you repay me by (date)?” Brace yourself for the wave of defensiveness and excuses that is coming. Do not, I repeat, do not get into the details of her spending or her excuses or reasons. Just repeat the question. “Okay, so, when can you get the money to me?

c) Don’t lend this person any more money. You may or may not ever get the money back, but you can definitely control whether you lend them more. You now have a lot of information about how they’ll behave when you lend them money and you both have a hard, awkward lesson. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior here, and “I’m sorry, Daughter, I don’t feel comfortable lending you money since you didn’t pay me back” is a situation your daughter created, not you.

I hope you get a good result. Also, general thought, if you are going to lend money to friends or family, it’s a good idea to put something in writing: How much, what it’s for, when & how will it be paid back. Your script can be “Let’s just write it down so we all know what the agreement is and I never have to bug you about paying me back.

10 “Etiquette of peeing when surfing.”

We are people of action and lies do not become us: In the unlikely comedy of errors that lands me on an actual surfboard in an actual body of water, there is no way on earth my enthusiastic and prolific middle-aged bladder is gonna be able to wait until I swim to shore, find a land-based bathroom, and peel off my wetsuit in time to pee decorously in a toilet. This seems like a “it’s a big ocean” and “that’s between you and your wetsuit” issue to me, but maybe an actual surfer has insight?

11 “How to make girlfriend move out to Colorado.”

You do not make. You ask, and then she either moves or she doesn’t.

12 “I have to leave the Midwest or I will die but my husband thinks it’s all in my head.”

Ok, this seems like a REALLY specific situation and we are DEFINITELY missing context here but what if I said “Even if it were in your head, is your need to go so great and so urgent and so necessary that it’s worth going alone, even if that’s a difficult & sad decision?”

13 “Dating female academic awful
.”

It certainly can be, since the prospect of relocation is always hanging over the whole deal.

14 “He said he wants to do his own thing and maybe see other people.”


Translation: “I am planning to see other people and have less energy/focus/time/interest for a relationship with you.”

It’s a prelude to a breakup, possibly one where “he” either wants you to be the bad guy and actually do the breaking up or where he’d like you to stick around in his life but in background/low-priority mode.

15 “My 23 year old son looks so unattractive, but he won’t shave or cut his hair
.”

[Bad Advisor] Well, it’s definitely 100% his job to make sure his face and body look attractive and acceptable to you, his parent, at all times so definitely be sure to bring this up as often as possible! Your concern, constantly expressed, will only bring you closer together as a fellow adult human strives to please you in all things, including and especially the hair that is growing on his personal face and body where he lives and you do not.

Also, to be on the safe side, hide all of your copies of the musical about this very question, lest he get ideas about fur vests, naked dancing or protesting the Vietnam War.

It is not only your business but your duty to set this young man straight. [/Bad Advisor]

16 “What does it mean if you ask for a guy’s phone number and his response is he is antisocial
.”

He did not want to give you his phone number, or, if he does/did, he is warning you that he doesn’t want to actually hang out. Try again, another dude, another day.

17 “Fucking past due invoices.”

Fucking the worst.

18 “Girlfriend of 11 years is leaving me
.”

Wallow. Fuck Around. Do The Thing.

Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to yourself.

(Or not, as it suits you).

19 “Angry that my husband allows his parents to come whenever they want
.”

This would make me angry, too. His family may have a drop-in culture or agreement and expectations, but you do not, and therefore the family that you and your husband make together does not. There are several conversations/actions that need to happen if they haven’t already (and maybe they have and need to happen again):

a) “Husband, I want your folks to feel and be welcome in our house, but to make that happen I need some advance notice. Please ask them to call first and ask if we’re free, and please check with me before you say yes.” 

b) “In-Laws, I really want you to be and feel welcome in our house, but I need more advance notice than you’re accustomed to providing. Just dropping by, even when I’m happy to see you, really stresses me out. I know this is different from how you do things in your family, but I need you to call first and ask if I’m free or if now is a good time. Thanks!” 

c) “Husband, I know I’m somewhat ‘changing the rules’ on your family, but I really need some consideration here. Back me up.” 

d) When they just drop by anyway and your husband isn’t home try: “Oh, too bad this isn’t a good time, I’m just stepping out” + LEAVE (go to the library or run errands or something, just take a drive around the block on principle). Btw if they have keys and are in the habit of just letting themselves in, put the chain on when you’re home alone. Teach them that you won’t drop everything because they came over.

e) When they just drop by anyway and your husband is home, “Oh, too bad, this isn’t a good time, I was just about to take a nap” + HIDE (in your bedroom with the door shut  – keep books handy – and let him do whatever work of entertaining them). Risk seeming unwelcoming and unfriendly. You ARE unwelcoming…to people who invite themselves over.

This didn’t start overnight and won’t go away overnight but in my opinion it’s a battle worth picking.

20 “How to agree a girl for fucking if she dislikes doing it.”

Find someone else to fuck. Someone who likes doing it. Someone who enthusiastically likes doing it with you.

What the fuck, people.

21 “Got an apology from my ex after 15 years
.”

That had to feel weird.

Whether this was welcome or unwelcome contact, there’s one important thing you should know:

It doesn’t obligate you to do anything or feel anything or re-open any kind of contact with this person. If you want to talk to them, ok? You could say “Thanks for the apology, I forgive you and wish you well” if that is true of how you feel.

But if you’d rather let the past stay in the past, you can 100% delete the weird Facebook message or whatever and go on with your life.

22 “Did the date go good or bad?”

This is a great question. You can’t control whether another person will like you, so after a date ask yourself:

  • Did I enjoy myself?
  • Was I relaxed and comfortable with this person?
  • Could I be myself around this person?
  • Did the conversation flow?
  • Did I feel like the other person was on my team, helping the date go smoothly and laughing gently at any awkward moments? Or did the awkward silences turn into awkward chasms on the edge of the awkward abyss?
  • Did the other person seem at ease and comfortable with me?
  • Was the actual time we spent together fun/enjoyable/comfortable/pleasurable?
  • Was it as good as spending time alone doing something enjoyable or with a good friend or do I wish I’d just spent the evening at home?
  • Was I bored? Checked out? Apprehensive?
  • Was it easy to make plans?
  • Do I feel like the person was listening/paying attention/engaged?
  • (If kissing is a thing you’re interested in) Can I picture myself kissing them?
  • Am I looking forward to hanging out again?
  • Were there any red flags?*

If the date went well for you, where you enjoyed yourself and felt good, ask the person for another date. The rest is up to the other person.

If you can get in the habit of checking in with yourself about your own comfort and enjoyment levels during and after dates, even a “meh” date can be useful because you’ll know more about yourself and what you’re looking for.

*Bonus list of some of my personal First Date red flags from back in the day when I bravely put on clean shirts and lip gloss and met strangers from the Internet for drinks:

  • Was the person I was meeting generally congruent with the person presented on the dating site and during any prior conversations? If you’re “single” on the dating site and suddenly “planning to get divorced btw we still live together and no one at work knows we’re separated so I’d appreciate your discretion” when we meet, if you’re 28 in all your dating site photos and 58 in person…it was not going to work.
  • Did the person monologue the whole time?
  • Did I feel like I was monologuing the whole time at someone who just shyly stared at me and nodded? (The Silent Type is a great type and it may be your type but experience tells me it was not mine).
  • Did I feel like I was an unpaid nonconsensual therapist while someone shared everything about their life?
  • Did the person constantly talk about their ex & exes?
  • Was literally everything they said a complaint about someone or something?
  • Were these complaints at least funny and entertaining?
  • In these complaints was nothing ever their responsibility? Was it just a long list of Ways I Have Been Wronged By Others with a subtext of Surely You Have A Duty To Not Disappoint Me Like Everyone Else Has (Now That You Know My Tale of Woe)?
  • Ugh, mansplaining, especially politics or philosophy, how movies get made, the “authenticity” of whatever food we were eating, the makeup & history of the neighborhood where I lived and they did not (for example when I failed to pick the “most authentic” taco place in Pilsen or Little Village), telling me why everything I liked was actually overrated.
  • Talking during movies. No.
  • Taking me to some sort of performance and then critiquing how much it sucks into my ear in real time. No.
  • Overfamiliarity, over-investment. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my son, he’s going to love you!” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing innuendo & sex talk too soon, like, “I just got a new bed, it’s very comfortable, you’ll have to come test it out with me later heh heh.” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing it with the touching. If dinner and a movie remind me of how my cat likes to constantly crawl all over me and make annoying biscuits everywhere it’s too much touching!
  • Negging of all sorts, especially “I don’t usually date ________, but you seem really cool.” (Bonus Nope!!!!! if the blank includes fat people, feminists, “women who seem really smart”)
  • Constant contact, expecting constant texts/calls/emails before we’ve even met in person, all up in my social media biz, “liking” every single photo/comment going back through the archives. It feels good to be seen and not so good to be surveilled.
  • Neediness  – We literally just met, so, surely there is someone else in your life who can drive you home from dental surgery or hold your hand while you put your dog to sleep or fly home with you to your father’s funeral or weigh in with you about whether you should accept this job offer? (All true stories of actual things actual men wanted me to do after a few emails and one hour-long bar or coffee date). I will move mountains to take care of people I love, when, you know, I have had a chance to figure out if love them.
  • Casual, “ironic” sexist or racist comments, dropping code sentences like “I hate all the political correctness these days, I feel like I can’t say anything.
  • Bringing your feature screenplay to the date for me to read.

Your Mileage May Vary, as the great saying goes. My list doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I may have had stuff on there that is not necessarily a problem in itself or not a problem for you, or where there are exceptions to be made (I did drive the guy home from dental surgery as a human favor for a fellow human being, I just didn’t date him more) or that are just differences in styles and interest levels. It’s not meant to be universal and it’s about compatibility with you vs. any one thing being Good or Bad.

I’m including the list because I developed it over time by paying attention to what made me feel good, comfortable, safe, relaxed, happy, excited and what made me feel the opposite.I stopped asking people “Is this normal/cool/okay thing when you date?” and started asking “Am I good with this?” and “Am I delighted by this?” Those experiences (and the decision to be picky about second and third dates) helped me avoid some entanglements that would have been fleeting at best and draining at worst, and it helped me know “Just Right” when I saw it.

We focus so much on the auditioning aspect of dating – Am I good enough? Does the other person like me back? – that our own comfort and needs and pleasure can get lost right when we need them most. It was a good date if you enjoyed yourself and felt good and did your best to be kind and considerate. It was a bad date if you didn’t enjoy yourself. Whether a good date will lead to another one is up to more than just you.

 


Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

I have a minor problem that as of now is entirely one sided. I am in college and have a group of friends who graduated ahead of me because I had to take a year off from school due to medical reasons. During that time they got close to another person lets call her N in my absence when I got back I tried to be friendly with her but she didn’t reciprocate but didn’t reject outright. I didn’t push and we are at best acquaintances. On of my close friends lets call her X moved to the area because of a job and while I was helping her move in. It slipped out that N doesn’t like me because of my voice and mannerism or something ridiculous like that. I felt vindicated because I got the feeling she didn’t like me. I was mostly annoyed but a little hurt, but I understand you have the right to choose who you want to interact with.

The problem is X is still close friends with N because she also lives near by and sometimes invites me to things for example N is having a barbecue and invited X and then she asked me to come. X said yes and asked me to bring cups and ect. When its the three of us N and X tend to talk I kinda get shut out of the conversation and I see no effort on N’s part to keep me involved these talks can go on for a while and leave me as a third wheel. When we talk and N is there I make efforts to keep her in the conversation. I really don’t want to interact with N  or hear about her at all because of how she wrote me off because of my voice and how she reacts when I am around. But X talks about her, the things they do together and invites me along with them some times i do not want to go and I can tell N doesn’t want me. An example was before i knew for sure she didn’t like me we were planning a bike trip, N “helpfully” asked me if I was physically able to go, she has never shown any concern about it and it came out of no where, I got the feeling I wasn’t wanted so I backed out of the plans. (turns out they wanted to bike and drink and I cant’t drink).

I want to stay friends with X but I don’t want to hear about N or what they do together or really interact with her at all. I am unsure how to bring it up with X without sounding completely petty or jealous because N has technically never told me this in person as I said I was talking with X and mention N didn’t seem to like me that much and she let is slip out. Do you have any scripts I can use or should I just suck it up. 

-Third wheeling it like a champ

 

Dear Third Wheel,

Here’s a six step process for disengaging from hangouts with N while nurturing your friendship with X to the extent possible. Ready?

1. Next time X invites you to do something with X + N, say, “No thanks!” and don’t go. Repeat forever. This is the most important, if you do nothing else, do this step.

2. Invite X to do something with just you. “I can’t make it to N’s, but I’d love to have lunch with you sometime soon, let me know when you’re free.”

3. Tell X “It’s cool that you are friends with N, but I don’t think N and I are destined to be close, so please don’t feel like you have to work so hard to bring us closer together or invite me to hangouts with her. Go enjoy yourself – I’d rather just fly solo with you when you have time.”

4. When X talks about N, make it boring. Don’t ask questions, change subject as soon as possible, for example by asking questions about things that just relate to X or to you and X.

5. If X tells you things N says about you, tell X “I’m not really interested in knowing stuff like that. It just hurts my feelings.”

6. Put your energy into other friendships. Meet some new people (college is full of opportunities to reset social groups), cultivate one-on-one friendships and smaller-group friendships with people you like. Don’t let N + X be the central hub of your social life or the only ones planning things or doing inviting in your group. Right now the equation feels like [(THE WHOLE GROUP (X + N))-YOU] but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Here’s a bonus script for anyone in X’s shoes:

Ns of the World: “I really don’t like your good friend, Letter Writer.”

Xs of the World: “Okay? Not everyone is destined to be friends. Good to know, though, I’ll stop scheduling group hangouts.”
 
Ns of the World: “It’s just, their mannerisms and voice annoy me.”

Xs of the World: “Weird, why on earth would you tell me that? Letter Writer is my friend and I don’t know why you think I’d want to hear you insult them, especially something they have no control* over.”

Ns of the World: “It’s just that their voice…”

Xs of the World: “Let me cut you off right there. Y’all don’t have to be friends, but you should drop this.”

*If N thinks the Letter Writer/friend-of-friend was mean or had mistreated someone, that’s a different script, but “I just don’t like this person” is reason enough – you don’t have to elaborate on the details to someone that likes that person!

Also for X, when you know two of your friends don’t get along, stop trying to be the social director pushing them together. You can like two people who don’t like each other. You can expect that they’ll do some adjusting for your sake, but be kind to them and yourself and make separate plans to see them. (This goes for every “my best friend and my romantic partner don’t get along what should I do” letter btw. You can’t force it!)

I hope things get better and simpler for you soon, Third Wheel. I think they will as soon as you stop putting yourself through these awkward three-person hangouts!

 


joreth: (boxed in)

Q. Is this thing wrong?
A. Yes.

Q. Am I a bad person for doing it?
A. Well, that depends on context.

Q. What should be the consequences or punishment?
A. Uh, first of all, consequences and punishments are two different things. And what they "should" be depends on a LOT of nuance.

This is a problem in a lot of online advice seeking. The answer depends on how you ask the question. A thing can be wrong, but *how* wrong it is, what kind of character you have for doing it, and how you should be treated going forward are all *very very* different.

For instance, is stealing wrong? Yes. But on a scale of all wrong things, stealing a loaf of bread for your starving children isn't as bad as, say, murdering unarmed black people for selling cigarettes.

Is the person who steals a bad person? Well, what is the context for the theft? I used to steal food when I was poor and briefly homeless as a teen. Everyone I know "steals" other people's intellectual property. A lot of people steal office supplies from work. Everyone in these examples also pays taxes, donates to charities, cares for their children (if they have any), has been there in a time of need for a friend, and otherwise exhibits compassion and consideration for others. Except for maybe when they steal something. Does this make them "bad people"?

What about going forward? Can you ever trust someone who steals? They've proven that they're willing to take things that don't belong to them, how do you know that they won't take something of yours? Again, go back to the context. What's the motivation and where is the line after which they justify the action?

What should the consequences or punishments be? Consequences can include legal repercussions and loss of trust. Do those consequences also act as punitive? How about preventative?

The point is that the answers to the question all depend on the framing of the question. Something can be wrong, but what does it really mean to be "wrong"? Is physical violence "wrong"? What about in self-defense? What about in defense of someone who can't defend themselves? What about in defense of a nation? Of an ideal? Of an ideology? What about the best defense being a good offense?

And then there's the confounding element of the other players, such as with the violence question. Hitting people is "wrong", but what if it's the only way to make someone stop hitting you?

I see a lot of people justify cheating by saying that the spouse being cheated on has somehow wronged the cheater first. OK, so that just means that there are two wrong parties, not just one. Doing a bad or wrong thing doesn't absolve the other person from also doing their own bad or wrong thing. Selling individual cigarettes is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it. Jaywalking is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it. Committing a petty crime and running away is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it.

Two wrong people. But also in context, one more wrong than the other.

It's less helpful to ask "is this thing wrong?", because that answer is often a simple "yes" or "no". It's more helpful to ask *why* and *how* it's wrong, because that's where we get to the more interesting answers.

Is lying wrong? Usually yes. But why did the lying happen? Was it someone trying to avoid responsibility for something they did? We can talk about cowardice and selfishness. Was it someone trying to protect the lives of Jews hiding in the basement from Nazi concentration camps? We can talk about when lying is an act of courage.

Is cheating wrong? Yes. But why did the cheating happen? That will tell us where they draw the line that justifies doing a wrong thing, how trustworthy that person is and under what circumstances, and more importantly, what other solutions to the problem other than cheating may be more effective (or at least, more compassionate and ethical).

Rather than ask "is this wrong", ask "what is the context, the motivation, the subtext, the consequences, the responsibility, the goals?"

Is this wrong? Yes. Now what? What do we do with that answer? Well, that depends.

Posted by JenniferP

My friend Dana Norris writes a good companion piece to our plethora of “or you could break up?” posts here: “Dear Dana: After you break up with someone, how do you move on?

“Staying with the wrong person won’t make you happy, but leaving the wrong person also won’t make you happy. Leaving the wrong person doesn’t create happiness—it only creates space. And that space can be filled with any possible thing. At first it will be sadness and loneliness, then restlessness, and then, maybe, eventually, hopefully, a form of happiness. But at first, you take your slight daily misery of being with the wrong person and you ratchet it up so it becomes an acute daily misery of mourning a relationship that has ended.

In order to completely change your life, to leave the person you love and set out anew, you have to basically take a portion of your life and set it on fire. You have to metaphorically burn it down to prevent yourself from going back. Some people may be well-versed in the art of breaking up with a long-term partner and still staying friends, but I think only 10% of the population can pull that shit off. The rest of us light a match, throw it, and run.

Burning down your life sucks because you’re surrounded by ash and rubble and you’re also on fire. Because, you see, in burning down your old relationship, your old life, you’re really burning down yourself. You’re the one who’s on fire. Lots of profiles on dating sites and apps state strongly that they aren’t looking to date anyone who’s fresh out of a relationship. Why not? Because people fresh out of a relationship, especially fresh out of a long-term relationship, are kind of awful. They’re metaphorically aflame and can’t be any good to anyone until enough time passes that they can put the fire out. But, in the meantime, they walk around, burning, singeing everyone they try to kiss. They can’t be of any use to anyone until they calm down, accept their new single state, put out the fire, and allow for something new to grow.”

Read the whole piece for how to do the next steps, which Dana calls “1) Wallow 2) Fuck Around 3) Do The Damn Thing.”

 


joreth: (polyamory)

A quick explanation of how I have boundaries regarding safer sex practices that don't turn into "rules" or those insidious type of rules that masquerade as "agreements" from a comment I made literally upon waking and not even out of bed yet:

Q. You say you don't have rules or agreements about what people can do with others, but don't your safer sex agreements cover what your partners can do with others?

A. Nope, they address safer sex boundaries *with me*.

All of my relationships are structured to support everyone in being authentic to themselves and any "agreements" are about what "you" can do to *me*, not what "you" can do with others. And even then, those "agreements" are always subject to negotiation. "That thing you said you needed me to do to you? I don't think I can live up to that, so let's talk about our options".

Boundaries are the lines I draw around *myself* and only myself. They are the edges of where I end and the world begins. They tell you how to treat me, and that's it.

Boundaries are if-then statements. Rules are you-will statements. So, my boundaries are "if you take these kinds of precautions with others, then I will have this kind of sex with you" and "if you do these things, then I will not have this kind of sex with you". I do not say "we agree that you (and I) will not do these things with others."

My partners can make whatever choices they want regarding their own bodies, minds, and feelings with regards to other people. Only when it comes to what they do with me do I get a say in it. Then I choose partners who naturally, of their own volition, *prefer* to do the kinds of things that match my boundaries. Then I never have to police anyone, and there is never any punishment nor "breaking" some agreement (which, btw, is one way you know it's a rule in disguise) because I'm not their mother to dictate and punish their behaviour when they misbehave.

My relationships are a Choose Your Own Adventure story. If we make Choice A, the story goes this way. If we make Choice B, the story goes another way. This respects everyone's autonomy and agency at the same time. They are free to make choices about themselves, I am free to make choices about myself, together our choices create our relationship structure.

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