My question is not exactly high-stakes, but I’m having some anxiety about this situation all the same, and not sure what to do.
I (she/her) started using OkCupid recently, and a couple days ago, my coworker (he/him) who I don’t know well but see around often (we work at a very small company) sent me a message. I know it can be fun to send a couple silly messages back and forth when you see your friends on these sites without making it weird, but I don’t think this is that.
Anyway, if I see coworkers on dating sites, I think the polite thing to do is just ignore it and move along, so I was not super into the fact that this guy messaged me but I figured he was just being kind of socially obtuse. His message implied that he was going to ask me out “until he realized who I was,” which made me immediately uncomfortable. Dude, if you realized that, why did you message me anyway and tell me that?
I felt like ignoring him might make things weird at work, so I just messaged back noncommittally (like, “Ha, look who it is”), hoping I could move the conversation to peter out without making it awkward. However, things got awkward anyway, because coworker continued sending messages despite my polite attempts to disengage (“[Cool, unsolicited weekend plan you shared] sounds fun. Anyway, see you Monday!” …and then he’d send another message trying to continue the conversation.) I read and did not respond to the last message.
I’m sure I should communicate that I feel uncomfortable chatting with a coworker on a dating site, so do you have any scripts for that? Or would it be better to just block him and pretend it never happened? In hindsight, I feel like there are other things I could have said or done to end the conversation sooner, but that’s only now that I know I wasn’t able to end it without confrontation. It might be useful in general to know how to stop an inappropriate interaction like this in the future, so what would you have done?
It’s not inherently weird to be on the same dating site as other people you know in other contexts. It feels weird because the illusion of privacy has been punctured for a moment, but it’s not actually that strange. The awkwardness is in what people do about it.
I believe I have shared the story of the Shadowy Dating Juggernaut where Commander Logic and I and both of her roommates and a few other friends in the Bespectacled Bookish Brunettes of Chicago Knitting Circle And Culinary Society were on OkCupid at the same time, right? It was inevitable that streams would cross and one of us would bring a dude we were dating to a party and watch him slowly figure out where he knew the rest of us from…because if you liked one of us enough to write to you probably liked all of us…and that we all knew each other….and that we had definitely had been trading notes about him behind the scenes in the name of safety, solidarity, and hilarity.
When seeking romance (etc.) on the great wide Internet it is inevitable that we will run across people we know in other contexts. Like you, my strategy has been either to totally ignore it or to be like “Oh, ha, look who it is. See you at work, Work Person!” and then drop the conversation completely. Whether I ignored or said something depended a lot on context and the vulnerability of what was on display in their ad. “My mom and my friends say I’m funny and I like long walks on the beach and living life to the fullest” guy got a “hey, hilarious that we’re both here, good luck bro!” Someone revealing kinks or more explicit sexual content or desires just got ignored and in some cases insta-blocked more so that I wouldn’t make THEM uncomfortable or feel like they were being monitored. Mostly my attitude was “No shame, no foul, and no gossip unless you do something actually creepy.” And if it ever came up at work, I’d be like “Whoa, awkward, right? I won’t talk about it if you won’t, and heyyyyyyy good luck out there buddy!” #don’tcrossthestreams
Another true story: Years ago colleague who was new in town messaged me once on OK Cupid and we went for a friendly coffee before we knew we’d be working together. Then we got assigned to co-teach a class. Upon being “introduced” at work, we never mentioned or even hinted that we had met each other before in any other context. Yay professionalism!
If your coworker has got overall good intentions and is also feeling awkward about what to do next like, “aaaaahhhhh, I started this, do I have to keep emailing her now back and forth forever, ugh, so awkward?” he will gratefully take your lead. And if he’s not taking your lead, like now? Then don’t reply to anything else via the dating site, or, reply once to say “Hey, let’s wind this conversation down, I’m not interested in connecting here, see you at work” or “Hey, let’s block each other here so it’s not super-weird to have a coworker hanging out whenever we log in, ok? Good luck out there!” and then block him. Blocks are not mean. Blocks are often necessary to make a social site usable.
Then, keep work conversations only about work and wait for the awkward levels to normalize.
And, if your colleague won’t drop the subject and starts bringing it up at work, making you feel like he’s monitoring your dating and sex life, and making your life weird at work? DOCUMENT THE EVERLOVING SHIT OUT OF IT. America needs about 100,000,000 uncomfortable training sessions led by HR right now.
This is one of those books that I went back-and-forth on even put to the list of books to rent from booklender.com, much less actually putting it in my "impending" books list at the site. I kind of regret it.
It feels like it's two different books. One is about a former teen pop star that got dropped from her label after wanting to sing her own, more serous, songs instead of the "bubblegum pop" stuff they wanted. Then her mom ran off to Argentina with her manager and all of her money. Followed by her finding her fiancee (in a boy band at the same label) cheating with the latest (20-something) pop sensation. Because she has no money she has to move in with her ex's brother (who's the black sheep of the family) & take a job as an assistant director at a college dorm.
The other is a murder mystery of the "cozy" kind. I prefer cozy mysteries (where they don't go into gory detail & are light on sex & violence) but this one was kind of "fluffy" except for a knock-down-drag-out fight at the end.
Also at times if felt like it was trying to be a third book about how being a size 12 is not fat & is the size of the average American woman, you know. And if you don't know, you should.
Over all I had a hard time getting though it & would've quit it, but I wanted to see who did it & why. Seriously doubt I will be reading the others in the series.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Happy Thursday! I hope you are having a great week so far. I wanted to ask your opinion on how to best handle my husband when he gets angry and upset and how I can better help us move towards having a happier marriage.
Some background: My husband and I are pretty nostalgic, and we both enjoy reminiscing on past things (I feel like I tend to be more in the present, but just because I think that doesn’t mean that is true). We met in college and hit it off. We had a great group of friends who we keep up with and we both got jobs about an hour away from our hometown/college town. The trouble is, he seems like he’s been upset ever since graduating. I totally get that, as school was a lot of fun and it was great being able to learn so many things (we are both engineers) and meet different types of people.
Fast-forward to now. We got married in 2012. Our marriage isn’t the greatest, and we usually do things on our own around the house and do not spend much time together. He constantly pines for the college days and constantly complains about how much things have changed and how people disappoint him and how much he hates his job. Both he and I are pretty selfish people who suffer from anxiety and depression, and I constantly feel like I’m forced to do things for him and on his schedule to try to keep him happy.
My husband likes to unwind after work, and his unwinding time got so long that I would find other things to do. I got involved in a dance class where we live now which has allowed me to make friends and to keep in shape. My husband has been watching a lot of youtube and complains about how he feels he is getting fat. Neither of us are super great at keeping up with the house, however I feel like I am the one who usually ends up cleaning and taking care of those type of things. He also likes to complain that when I go to dance (I am currently a competitive dancer, so I dance 2 days a week) I am out of the house for much longer than I really am, and that all I do revolves around dance. I do not feel like this is true, as I constantly skip events and I have drawn back on how involved I was in comparison to when I first started. I have made lots of friends with this activity and it’s a great social outlet for me. I do not want to quit, but he keeps dropping ultimatums. Of course, he doesn’t have his own hobby, aside from watching TV and reading the news, and neither of us have a hobby that we share.
Since my husband is so set on his college days, he is very attached to that group of friends. Unfortunately, since they do not live close by, we do not see them nearly as much as we did (why would we? We don’t live a mile away anymore!). When we do make plans to see them, whether it’s last minute or no, my husband expects me to drop everything to make it happen. He will not visit with them on his own, as he says that it’s important that I’m there to share the experience with him. I have trouble believing this because I feel like he usually tries to police my behavior in front of them and gets upset when I do not act the way he wants me to. We have tentatively gotten involved with some work friends in our area, but he is always on edge about doing things with them, and if any event conflicts with a change to see college friends, he always chooses the college friends.
He is very in touch with his emotions, however he is not very good at reflecting on himself. He has a bad habit of talking about heavy issues through emails at work, while he doesn’t like to discuss things at home. Sometimes he can lay it on thick and really tear into my personality and how awful of a person I am and how much I am hurting him (I get called names pretty consistently). This sometimes has a really bad effect on my attitude and makes it really hard to mask at work. Other times I’m able to ignore it and get on with my day, only to have him write to me the next day that I didn’t have time for him and he feels neglected.
I am a very active person, and I feel like I have no support in this marriage. I cannot talk to my parents or his parents about this, to save face. I feel like I am constantly changing my plans to suit his needs and wants only to get yelled at about it all later on, or to be told bluntly everything that is wrong with my personality and my thought process. It’s an extremely negative environment and I am having a lot of trouble handling it. Unfortunately, for the last 5 or 6 years, it’s been a weekly occurrence. I started seeing a counselor, which has helped a little, but it’s a process that will take a long while.
I have also read a LOT of relationship articles and books to try to understand how he feels and things that I can do to change it. (I’m not trying to make myself out as a “holier-than-thou” type of person, even though I am sure that’s exactly what I’m doing, but I would like to illustrate that I am trying). None of it seems to be making a difference, and it’s really difficult to make myself continuously try when nothing seems to work at all. I get discouraged and I don’t want to keep trying.
Both of us are too lazy to divorce and I’m (relatively) Catholic, so I don’t think that’s something I’d want to do in the end anyway.
Just would like someone else’s perspective. If this email is ignored, I totally get it, as you’ve addressed issues like this a lot. Also, my apologies for being such a poor writer.
Worn Out, I’m really sorry this is happening to you. It is not your fault. Nothing that is happening right now is your fault.
I going to talk to your husband for a sec, ok? He will probably never read this and in fact I don’t recommend that you show him this post but I have some stuff to say:
Dude. Here is a list of things you can do besides pressuring your wife to quit the fun thing that she loves doing, yelling at her, and sending her mean emails when she’s at work:
- Treat your anxiety and depression like the serious conditions they are. Whether that means finding a therapist or counselor, getting a full health screen where you tell your doctor about having a low mood and being irritable and discuss medications, or using tools to self-manage if counseling is not possible right now, there are steps that you (and you alone) can take to try to feel better.
- Get a hobby.
- Join a MeetUp group and meet more people.
- Take an evening class in something that interests you.
- Check out the UFYH website and start cleaning the house once in a while.
- Go see your college friends by yourself sometimes. You are not 4. You don’t need mommy to come on your playdates.
- Those long emails about serious, negative topics that you’re writing and sending while your wife is at work or at dance class? Write that shit in a journal. Get the feelings out of your head and onto the page. Then, don’t send them to your wife.
- Repeat after me: “I am responsible for working to make a happy life for myself. My wife is not responsible for my social relationships with others or my happiness.“
- If you really do need constant companionship at home and feel lonely when your wife is out, consider a pet.
- Wash your hair. Work out. Do a crossword puzzle. Use compressed air to clean out your computer keyboard and marvel at the grossness. Stare at the ceiling. Bingewatch every show that starts with P on Netflix. Do literally anything else besides yell at your wife.
Depression and anxiety don’t happen by choice, but being mean to your wife is a choice. You have a lot of choices about how to try to make a happy life for yourself and how to self-soothe when you feel sad. You are choosing to yell at your wife, derail her plans, try to drag her away from dance (thereby isolating her from friends and something she loves), and send her horribly critical emails. Here’s a list of common emotional abuse signifiers. This letter is checking off more than half of them, so, congratulations, you are emotionally abusing your wife. If hearing that hurts your feelings and scares you, good! Your behavior is mean and scary! You should be ready to move mountains to figure out how to stop it and do better.
Okay, Letter Writer, let’s talk. You can’t change your husband’s feelings or his behaviors or his choices. You can’t singlehandedly help him recapture the magic of college. You can’t make your life small enough that he won’t be threatened and resentful and mean to you. You can’t make your entire world revolve around this sad, lazy man. You are doing a ton of work (reading relationship books, etc.) and he is doing zero work to make the relationship better. It’s time to apply the Sheelzebub Principle, namely, if things stayed exactly like they are and nothing got better, how long would you stay? It’s already been bad for five years, so, would you stay another year? Another 5 years? Another 10? The rest of your life? Inertia is powerful and the Catholic church does frown on divorce but the Catholic church also doesn’t have to hang out with this dude day in and day out and you do. If you want to serve God in your life there are lots of ways to do that and staying in a marriage for form’s sake or martyring yourself to this man’s struggle to feel as cool as he did in college is not the only way.
I’m glad you have a counselor, please stick with that. I’m glad you have a hobby that you love, please stick with that and do not ever give it up for another person. In my opinion it’s time to at least talk to a divorce lawyer even if it’s just to get a picture of what the process will look like, so that you can make an informed decision. There’s a site called The Lilac Tree that some people I know have found helpful, use it if it’s useful to you.
Here are some scripts and strategies for you:
- It’s okay to filter his emails and not look at them when you’re at work. Don’t delete them – they are documentation of how bad things have gotten that you can show a counselor (or a lawyer) – but maybe set up a filter so they bypass your inbox. He is not allowed to electronically yell at you while you are at work! I hate so much that he does this, like, any minute you are away from him he has to somehow crawl in and poison it. You can tell him you’re not reading them – “I don’t have time to read emotional discussions at work, let’s talk about it later” – or, you can just quietly take care of yourself around this.
- It’s okay to say “I can’t go to [college friends] event, I have a conflict. You should go and have fun.” And not cancel your plans. And if he won’t go without you, that’s his decision. And if he yells at you or sulks remember: He was going to do that anyway, no matter what you did. He was going to criticize everything you said and did in front of your friends. Him: “I won’t go without you.” You: “Ok, that’s your choice.”
- You’ve read a lot of books about relationships, so, howabout one more? There’s a book called Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft that is oft-recommended here. Here’s a quote:
“The abusive man’s high entitlement leads him to have unfair and unreasonable expectations, so that the relationship revolves around his demands. His attitude is: “You owe me.” For each ounce he gives, he wants a pound in return. He wants his partner to devote herself fully to catering to him, even if it means that her own needs—or her children’s—get neglected. You can pour all your energy into keeping your partner content, but if he has this mind-set, he’ll never be satisfied for long. And he will keep feeling that you are controlling him, because he doesn’t believe that you should set any limits on his conduct or insist that he meet his responsibilities.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Bolding mine. Um, sound like anyone we know?
4. If you are capable of becoming pregnant and you don’t have children already, use a contraception method that doesn’t depend on him to succeed and one that he can’t easily sabotage. Lock it down for now.
I’m really sorry you’ve ended up here, but again, it’s not your fault. Nothing you have ever done could make you deserve this behavior from your husband. And the sad truth is that there is nothing you can do, no book you can read, no work you can do, no emotional labor you can perform, no magic words you can say that can turn an unhappy mean person into a happy kind one without his effort and participation. It’s time to protect yourself and invest in yourself. I wish you safety, and peace, and a lot of dancing.
Dear Captain Awkward:
I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?
Lovely Letter Writer, you’re not going to like this, because my #1 piece of advice is: Maybe…don’t…marry him? Maybe don’t “move forward” with someone who suddenly becomes obsessed with your romantic past and who accuses you of things that aren’t true? Maybe this road block is a gift to you, telling you to get out of this relationship with a jealous and possessive man who is using your past as a wedge between you.
Look, I really distrust people, especially straight cis men, who self-describe as “jealous & possessive.” I have a lifetime of experience/an inbox full of examples/an endless sea of violent headlines that point to why the guy who “playfully” grabs your phone on a first date and casually scrolls through it looking for male names and quizzing you about each of them (true story) or why the guy who is threatened by someone you haven’t talked to in EIGHT YEARS sets off alarm bells for me. The Venn diagram of “men who monitor the women in their lives and who get hung up on being ‘#1′” and “men who do scary stuff to exert control over the women in their lives…and bystanders” has a lot of overlap. I specifically mistrust this guy because if I’m reading correctly he has been married at least once before (and dated other people before) and that’s not a problem but somehow you doing the same exact stuff is a problem? Get the entire fuck out of here, Sexist Double Standard Dude. All the way out.
Furthermore “jealous & possessive” are not awesome qualities one should lean into. Those are not things to brag about. They also aren’t excuses for behaving like a jerk. And while attachment styles are a thing and jealous feelings are a thing, people who feel a lot of jealousy and anxiety about romantic partners and fidelity still have choices about how they express those feelings. He could feel weird about your ex and never ever make it your problem. This guy is choosing to make his feelings into your problem. He’s also telling you that his feelings about your past relationships are more valid and more true than your actual words and actions. You saying “I love only you and want to marry you” is less valid to him than his newly-acquired insecurity re: your ex. I don’t like it.
I can think of two likely reasons that this is coming up now and neither of them are great:
Reason 1: He’s getting cold feet about marrying you and is looking for an excuse to break it off or slow things down but instead of saying “I don’t think this is working, let’s break up” he’s fixated on something to blame you for, some “flaw” in you that makes the breakup all your fault.
Reason 2: He is cool with getting married as long as he can put you in an impossible position of having to convince him and pet him and audition for him and reassure him and apologize to him about something that is not actually a problem and not actually happening, i.e., you are not still in love with or even in touch with your ex. He has taken things you told him in confidence long ago and is now using them as a weapon against you to make you beg and apologize and strive for his affection and look for ways to fix a thing that is all in his head. This is an attempt to establish control and reset the power balance between you. Not good.
I mean, if your fiancé truly wants to get over this hurdle, he could talk to a therapist about why he’s having these thoughts and feelings. He could take responsibility for the feelings, like, “Hey, I know I am out of line and your romantic past is actually none of my business, so I’m going to figure out a way to deal with this so that it doesn’t intrude on our life together anymore, please bear with me for a bit, I love you and of course I trust you.” He could talk to a therapist and say “Hey I’m feeling really insecure and need a lot of reassurance from my fiancée about this stuff lately, and it’s upsetting her and stressing her out, how can I redirect some of these thoughts?” He has some negative emotions and you’re supposed to…what…build a time machine? No ma’am.
I think the most gentle script I can think of is something like: “Whoa, I’m sorry you feel that way, that must be a really awful feeling. Since I’m not in love with my ex and none of this is actually true, I’m at a loss for what I can do to help. I agree, though, we should absolutely take a step back and slow down wedding plans. You’re right, we absolutely can’t move forward while this is such an issue for you. Why don’t you talk to a therapist or somebody and try to work it out?”
Yes, he gets the “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apology. Yes, he gets his bluff called.
If you told him that script, what do you think he’d do? Would he yell? Would he blame you? Would he accuse you? Would he bring up old painful things you told him in confidence? Would he monitor you, follow you, quiz you about your plans and who you’re with? Would saying something like that generate too much friction and conflict to be worth it? Would you end up having to soothe his ego and pet him for hours afterward? Are you already dreading the fruitless and stressful conversation you’ll end up having about this? Do you feel safe being able to say “Whoa, hold up, that is not actually a problem or my issue to handle, it’s yours” to him?
- “That’s incorrect.”
- “But you’re wrong about me still having feelings for that guy.”
- “But you’re upset with me about something that isn’t true.”
- “Could you explain to me why this is a problem? Can you help me understand why it’s just suddenly coming up?”
- “It’s not possible for you to be my first-ever husband, but you’re the one I’m choosing in the end. That has to be enough for you.”
- “I’m sorry you feel that way. What would you like me to do about it now?”
- “Wow, none of that is true. I don’t know how to reassure you about this. What do you want me to say?”
- “I can tell you feel really anxious about this and I honestly don’t know what to say that will make it better. What do you think we should do next?”
- “What is this really about?”
Whatever you decide to do about the relationship, hold this close: You didn’t do anything wrong. This is literally all in his head. Do not give into the idea that you did something wrong by meeting somebody when you were younger and loving someone else before you met this man. If you start saying to yourself “Well, he does have a point about this, to be fair, some of this is my fault,” it’s time to RUN. That is an abuse script talking, one that shows that the abuse has moved inside and colonized the victim. Seriously, run.
This is a problem created by him, and one that only he can solve (by getting over himself already). It’s not fixable by you because nothing that is happening is created or caused by you. What would happen to the relationship if you didn’t try to fix it, like, “Ok, welp, that’s your weird obsession to deal with, good luck working on that, let me know when you want to go back to enjoying our relationship instead of manufacturing problems.”
Proceed with extreme caution. Pull in your Team You and make sure you have safe, supportive people to talk to. Do not get married with this cloud hanging over you.
I know this is really hard and not what you wanted to hear, but I don’t have a magic spell against misogyny in general or dudes who suddenly decide to hold your life story against you because “Love!”
Update: The fiancé showed up in the thread to tell us that the Letter Writer is way more jealouser than he is, among other things. Warning bells have become klaxons. I’m closing comments because, among other reasons, it’s very possible that this guy feeds on the attention and will use what we say to hurt and punish the Letter Writer.
I hate this.
And the little wrap that is commonly found around these small-sized Japanese paperbacks:
In all these years, I never have found out just what they say. They must be conveying something, to allow them to obscure the often very good cover art.
posted by Lois McMaster Bujold on October, 11
I'm a 25-year-old woman currently in a poly relationship with a married man roughly 20 years my senior. This has by far been the best relationship I've ever had. However, something has me a bit on edge. We went on a trip with friends to a brewery with a great restaurant. It was an amazing place, and I'm sure his wife would enjoy it. He mentioned the place to her, and her response was NO, she didn't want to go there because she didn't want to have "sloppy seconds." It made me feel dirty. Additionally, the way he brushed this off means this isn't the first time. I go out of my way to show him places I think they would like to go together. I don't know if my feelings are just hurt—if it's as childish as I think it is—or if it's a reminder of my very low place in their hierarchy. I hesitate to bring this up, because when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy. Is this part of a bigger trend I'm missing? Should I do anything to address this or just continue to stay out of their business and go where I wish with my partner?
Treated With Outrage
I'm having a hard time reconciling these two statements, TWO: "This has by far been the best relationship I've ever had" and "when I have needs or concerns, they label me as difficult or needy." I suppose it's possible all your past relationships have been so bad that your best-relationship-ever bar is set tragically low. But taking a partner's needs and concerns seriously is one of the hallmarks of a good relationship, to say nothing of a "best relationship ever."
That said... I don't know you or how you are. It's entirely possible that you share your needs and concerns in a way that comes across as—or actually is—needy and difficult. Our experience of interpersonal relationships, like our experience of anything and everything else, is subjective. One person's reasonable expression of needs/concerns is another person's emotionally manipulative drama. I would need to depose your boyfriend and his wife, TWO, to make a determination and issue a ruling.
That said... It's a really bad sign that your boyfriend's wife compared eating in a restaurant you visited with him to fucking a hole that someone else just fucked, i.e., "sloppy seconds." It has me wondering whether your boyfriend's wife is really into the poly thing. Some people are poly under duress (PUD), i.e., they agreed to open up a marriage or relationship not because it's what they want, but because they were given an ultimatum: We're open/poly or we're over. In a PUD best-case scenario, the PUD partner sees that their fears were overblown, discovers that poly/open works for them, embraces openness/polyamory, and is no longer a PUD. But PUDs who don't come around (or haven't come around yet) will engage in small acts of sabotage to signal their unhappiness—their perfectly understandable unhappiness. They didn't want to be open/poly in the first place and are determined to prove that open/poly was a mistake and/or punish their ultimatum-issuing partner. The most common form of PUD sabotage? Making their primary partner's secondary partner(s) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
That said... As you (probably) know (but if you don't, you're about to find out), poly relationships have all kinds of (sometimes incredibly arbitrary but also incredibly important) rules. If one of their rules is "My wife doesn't want to hear from or about my girlfriend," TWO, then your restaurant recommendations are going to fall flat. Being poly means navigating rules (and sometimes asking to renegotiate those rules) and juggling multiple people's feelings, needs, and concerns. You have to show respect for their rules, TWO, as they are each other's primary partners. But your boyfriend and his wife have to show respect for you, too. Secondary though you may be, your needs, concerns, feelings, etc., have to be taken into consideration. And if their rules make you feel disrespected, unvalued, or too low on the hierarchical poly totem pole, you should dump them.
My wife said she didn't care who I slept with soon after we met. At the time, I didn't want to sleep with anyone else. But we eventually became monogamish—it started as me texting her a fantasy while I was at work, and that fantasy was waiting for me when I got home—it was fun, but it wasn't something I needed. After a couple years of playing together with others in private and in clubs, she said she wanted to open our relationship. I got a girlfriend, had fun until the new relationship energy (NRE) wore off, and ended things. Then my wife got a great job on the other side of the state and I stayed behind to get our house into a sellable condition. Right now, we see each other only on weekends. I also got a new girlfriend. The NRE wore off, but we still really like each other, and we've discussed being long-distance secondaries once the move is complete. Here's the problem: Last night, my wife confessed to me that being in an open relationship was making her miserable. Not just my current girlfriend, whose monopoly over my time during the week could be a legitimate cause for concern, but going back to the previous girlfriend I saw only one night a week. I told my wife that I would break up with my girlfriend immediately. My wife is the most important person in my life, and I don't want to do anything to hurt her. But my wife told me not to break up with my girlfriend. I don't want to string my girlfriend along and tell her everything is fine—but my wife, who doesn't want to be poly anymore, is telling me not to break up with my girlfriend. What do I do?
Dude Isn't Content Knowing Priority Is Crushingly Sad
Your wife may want you to dump your girlfriend without having to feel responsible for your girlfriend's broken heart, DICKPICS, so she tells you she's miserable and doesn't want to be poly anymore, and then tells you not to end things. Or maybe this is a test: Dumping a girlfriend you didn't have to dump would signal to your wife that she is, indeed, the most important person in your life and that you will prioritize her happiness even when she won't. Or maybe she's watched you acquire two girlfriends without landing a boyfriend of her own.
But there's a middle ground between dumped and not dumped, DICKPICS: Tell your girlfriend what's going on—she has a right to know—and put the relationship on hold. Get the house sold, get your ass to your wife, and keep talking until you figure out what is going to work for your wife going forward: completely closed, open but only to sexual adventures you two go on together, i.e., "playing together with others in private and in clubs," or open with GFs (and BFs) allowed. Good luck.
I don't know if I'm poly or not. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, this has been so difficult. How do I know when to go back to monogamy?
Pretty Over Lusty Yearnings
I don't think you're poly, POLY, because I don't think anyone is poly. I also don't think anyone is monogamous. Polyamory and monogamy aren't sexual orientations, IMO, they're relationship models. And if the polyamorous model is making you miserable, POLY, it might not be right for you. But you should ask yourself whether polyamory is making you miserable or if the people you are doing polyamory with are making you miserable. People in awful monogamous relationships rarely blame monogamy for their woes—even when monogamy is a factor—but the stigma against nontraditional relationship models, to say nothing of sex-negativity, often lead people to blame polyamory for their misery when the actual cause isn't the model, POLY, it's the people.
On the Lovecast,Polyamory, Dom/sub relationships, and Wonder Woman: savagelovecast.com
Dear Captain and Co.,
Please help me sort out this mess. I don’t know how to handle this at all.
My mom keeps on pressuring me to have a relationship with my dad, who is a Darth Vader Boyfriend to his girlfriend. She wants me to see him and we had this huge fight over months where I didn’t want him to come to my college graduation because my Dad and I were estranged at the time and she thought he should come for the sole reason that he was my dad. Part of the reason that Dad and I are very very low contact is how he treats his girlfriend, including kicking her out of the house because she did a thing he didn’t like and then texting me “Happy Valentine’s Day”. I found out about it because Girlfriend texted my sister in the biggest guilt trip I have ever seen and told Sister how much Girlfriend hated our dad and how mean he was to her and then asked Sister to help even though Sister barely knows her and wasn’t even in state. The other reason Dad and I are estranged is that he was very abusive when he and Mom were divorcing and treated Sister and I as his emotional dumpsters and trash-talked our Mother constantly. Most recently he took Sister and I to China in hopes of reconciliation and meeting family but threatened to abandon us there after a day because he was jealous that we were talking to our mother.
My mom says that what goes on between Dad and his Girlfriend is between the two of them and I shouldn’t let it affect my relationship with him. She has a history of enabling him and not standing up for me. I’m just really confused about how to handle this, because even if I discounted his treatment of Girlfriend, I still don’t like him that much. Is it true that I shouldn’t let what goes on between Dad and his Girlfriend affect my relationship with him? I feel that I can’t have a relationship with someone in a vacuum.
Thank you very much,
WTF Do I Do About My Dad
Dear WTF Dad?
Your letter reminds me: I read this really compassionate, wise piece about family estrangement written by a rabbi who counsels people at the end of their lives this week. The piece contains some references dealing with family members who commit sexual assault (can’t imagine why people would be estranged after that!) and other heavy topics so know that if you’re going to open the link , but I think it gets to one of the biggest arguments people use to pressure estranged family members to reconcile: “Well, what if [abusive person] DIES and you haven’t fixed your relationship?” The good rabbi’s answer is something like: Okay, that might very well happen, so, how do you grieve and learn to make peace with the situation as it is instead of pressuring yourself (or others) to force a reconciliation that isn’t meant to be?
Letter Writer, forgive the tangent, I just know that this topic of family estrangement and pressure is on a lot of readers’ minds. Back to your situation.
I think your mom is living with a few fantasies here. One is that the divorce didn’t really affect you and your sister all that much, because look, it’s still possible for her kids to have a good relationship with their dad! She’s not standing in the way of that, she’s doing her part to make that possible for you! She’s being the bigger person!
Another fantasy is that it’s possible to compartmentalize your feelings and relationships to a certain degree, like, surely you can ignore your actual dad’s actual personality and actual crappy behaviors in service to respecting your duty of filial piety to the dad-shaped thing who can attend graduations and dutifully pose for photos and all pretend to be a “normal” family for a few hours.
Her habit of compartmentalizing, minimizing, and going through the motions where he’s concerned is probably how she survived the abusive marriage with him and was able to leave it, so, you can be gentle with her and have compassion for her around this even while you stand up for yourself. In extracting herself from that marriage she had to let go of many dreams and plans for what the rest of her life would look like and now that you’re hitting milestones like graduations there are more little aftershocks from letting go of what those moments “should” be like. For example, your dad “should” be at your college graduation, her mental picture of that event is/was somehow incomplete without him. So she pressures you to help her complete that picture, to make allowances, to observe the form if not the content. (Cut to: The 100+ questions in my inbox from brides re: “My dad is abusive, do I have to ask him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding?” Blanket Answer: Nope! I get why this topic hurts because it is messing with the picture you had of what this would be like and it’s also messing with other people’s expectations of what this should be like, but it’s okay for you to honor what it IS like. Walk yourself down the aisle, or have someone who is always nice to you do it, but don’t torment yourself for a photo-op or to meet other people’s expectations about what your family should be like. Traditions are there for you, you don’t exist to serve them at your own expense.)
None of this means you have to do what she says, it just means recognizing, “Hey, my mom has a pattern when it comes to my dad and she’s just following the pattern I know well.” You know that this pattern is not for you going forward, and that knowledge is power. Your dad also has a pattern where he treats all the women in his life with contempt and attempts to control them, and you’ve made a pretty reasonable and healthy decision to minimize how much you want to deal with someone who acts like that. You don’t have to recreate or fall into these patterns.
Your mom has unwittingly given you the perfect vehicle for making yourself clear around this. She says that your dad’s relationship with his girlfriend is between the two of them and that it shouldn’t affect how you interact with him. Welp, in that case, your relationship with your dad is between the two of you and it’s not for your mom to manage.
Basic script: “That’s between me & Dad, Mom, there’s nothing you can do to fix it, so let me figure it out.”
Longer Script: “Mom, I know you’d like it if Dad and I had a better relationship, but we have the one we’ve got. We’re both adults and it’s our job to figure out and manage how we interact from here on out, not yours. You’ve done all you can here, and I appreciate it all so much. It must have been hard to keep the peace with him all this time for the sake of co-parenting and I know you’ve bitten your tongue many times so that I could have the best possible relationship with him. But that’s not your job anymore.
Right now I need a break from being pressured, hurt, and disappointed by Dad. I need to be able to look forward to celebrations and milestones without the shadow of managing his feelings hanging over the whole thing. And I need you to give me space to figure this out for myself. If Dad wants a better relationship with me, he knows how to get in touch, and he can make the effort. If I want to invite him to something I know how to reach him and I can make the effort. You don’t have to carry water for him anymore, ok? You did your best, now it’s time to let us muddle through this ourselves.”
If you use any of the above you’ll probably use it in smaller pieces, especially as reminders/boundary enforcement, like “Mom, we talked about this – this is for me & Dad to figure out together, you don’t have to defend him or fix it.”
I mean, her argument, “But he’s your father…” cuts both ways. She means “He’s your father, so you should accommodate him/invite him/keep trying to make peace with him/brush off his bad behavior/forgive him.” But also, he’s your dad so he shouldn’t use you as an emotional dumping ground and take out his anger at the divorce on you. He shouldn’t make threats to abandon you in a foreign country. He’s your dad, so he shouldn’t be cruel and awful to your mom. He’s your father, so he shouldn’t emotionally abuse his girlfriend and then expect you to be cool with it. He’s your dad, so maybe the financial and emotional support you’ve gotten from him shouldn’t come with all these awful strings attached. Lots of dudes fertilize eggs that turn into kids. Not all of them are good dudes or good dads.
For the record, I think your mom is also wrong about how you should view your dad and his girlfriend. How your dad treats the people in his life DOES affect how you see him, and that’s HEALTHY. Forming your own relationship with and opinions about your dad based on observed behavior is, again, HEALTHY and NORMAL. Someone who is nice to you and awful to everyone else is pretty awful, (and your dad isn’t even nice to you, like, remember the time he took you to China and then almost abandoned you there after a single day?).
And yes, family ties are strong and powerful and can withstand a lot of ups and downs, but I think we need to push back on the idea that they are unconditional. People who are routinely mean and inconsiderate to you and others should expect some consequences to the relationship even if y’all are faaaaaaaaaamily. You don’t have to forgive or welcome in people who treat you badly and you especially don’t have to do it when they neither apologize nor change the bad behaviors. You don’t have to give them chance after chance to disappoint and abuse you. Your dad is emotionally abusing his girlfriend. You are correctly spotting this as a red flag in a sea of red flags that surround this guy. Trust your own instincts here and break the familial patterns of apologizing for and shoring up this dude at the expense of your own happiness.
I don’t know if your relationship with your dad will ever get better. I do know that you will feel better if you have some space from him and freedom from pressure to make excuses for him, and that there’s no possible route to a better relationship that doesn’t involve you feeling better, more free, more safe, and having more autonomy in managing your relationship with him.
This is a weird position I have found myself in.
I go to a lot of events, and I’ve noticed the people I go with or see there try to convert me to their lifestyle which heavily feature said events. Examples:
1) I go to the gym once a week with a friend. They always suggest me going 1 or 2 times more per week and doing tiny exercises all day long.
2) I go to a rope-bondage-workshop. After the 90min-sessions the organizer keeps talking for 20-30 minutes about how we all can improve heavily if we have a rope on-hand all day and excercise with it all day long.
3) A few friend who is heavily into nutrition regularly suggest changing my diet to accomodate more protein/fibre/etc
I would like to do all of these things, but I do not have the time and/or energy! I am happy already I can manage 1 gym-trip per week, and adjusting my lifestyle to accomodate more is not feasible.
And when I have to listen to somene trying to convert me I do now know how to make them stop without seriously alienating them (as may have happened in the past)
I have mentioned this idea to a few friends, and that I feel the social contract in that situation is brokenby the other person. “I attend your workshop, learn something, have fun, pay you, but I will not listen to you trying to convert me completely to this idea for another period of time that is 1/3rd of the actual workshop itself”, and everyone disagrees saying I should just swallow and endure it.
What would be an appropriate way to deal with this?
Hello! Good news, this is all very solvable.
The script you’re looking for is “Thanks, I’m good” or “Thanks, I’ll think about it” or “Thanks, but no” or “Thanks but this is working for me” followed by action:
Either change the subject (in conversations with friends) or give yourself permission to leave (from workshops that go on too long).
Be terse. Don’t elaborate about why. Explaining to people you’d love to but you can’t right now because: reasons! is registering as a negotiation. Your reasons are good reasons and reasons would convince you to drop the subject, but people who don’t take no for an answer see “reasons you don’t want to do x” as “problems to be solved,” like if they could just helpfully fix your time/energy constraints you would be at the gym eating fiber-covered-protein with one hand while you skillfully manipulate ropes in the other all day every day.
You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do or with more intensity than you want to do it and you don’t have to be a conversational hostage here. “Thanks, but that doesn’t work for me” + “Are you excited for Riverdale coming back?” (or the subject change topic of your choice and interest) can get the job done. Someone who keeps pushing you when you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to talk about or do something is the one making it weird, not you. If people push more, follow up with “Hey, why are you still asking about this when I’ve said ‘no thanks?’” “I love your enthusiasm, friend, but what I’m doing now is right for me.”
With the workshop it might have felt like it was rude to leave, like, it officially ended but there was no pause to say thank you or ask questions and everyone was still sitting there politely listening. You can still leave, though! Get up quietly and go. If you want to thank the instructor later, send an email. The people who find the extra info valuable can stay.