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Valerie L

Dear Captain Awkward,

My wife of almost 10 years blindsided me last month with divorce papers, moved out of the house and has barely communicated with me since. We own a small business together which brought some tension to the marriage but I never suspected that she was considering a divorce. This of course made the holidays very awkward and stressful, and now I’m dreading the reality of going to court. We don’t have any children and thankfully signed a prenup, but I’m still trying to weigh my options and hope to come to some sort of resolution with her. I’ve suggested working with a collaborative divorce lawyer who can help us reach an agreement that works for the both of us but she doesn’t seem too interested. Would you recommend that we see a counselor or mediator or other divorce specialist? Is this something we can work out together?

Friend, I think you most likely need a divorce lawyer, and more importantly, you and your wife both need your own divorce lawyers. What’s available is really down to your location, so search for “divorce” or “family law” attorneys where you live. Discreetly ask around to divorced friends or relatives. If you know a lawyer friend or have worked with someone you like and trust for business matters, ask that person for a referral to someone they know who handles divorces. If all else fails, call your local bar association for some names. Initial consultations to discuss the case and determine fit are usually free, and you could ask any lawyers you speak with about options like mediation vs. collaborative divorce (which still requires 1 lawyer per person).

If your wife has already given you contact information for her lawyer and asked you to direct all questions there, then your next step is clear: Have your lawyer call her lawyer.

Otherwise, ask your wife how she would prefer to handle communications and all the legal, financial, and logistical processes to make the divorce as seamless as possible. This was her idea, so what is her plan? If during your research you come across a well-reviewed mediator or collaborative attorneys that you think would make it work, you could make a specific recommendation to your wife vs. asking her about it as a general concept (and hoping she’ll pick up the ball.) “I would really like to try mediation, and ______ person comes highly recommended. Shall I make an appointment?”  But this is one of those “it takes two yeses and only one no” situations, so if your wife says no, it’s lawyer time.

You have a prenup, you have no children, and your wife has already sent you divorce papers, so maybe you’re wondering why I keep saying you need a lawyer. What is left to work out? And that’s precisely the question: What is left to work out? Why do you fear that going to court will be more than a quick formality where you both tell a judge “I don’t” and sign some papers? What is stopping you from signing the papers she sent and returning them already? Possible snags that come to mind:

  • Something in her proposed agreement doesn’t work for you, or the agreement is incomplete as it stands, and more negotiation is needed. A lawyer can help hash out the details!
  • Something embarrassing is going on (such as accusations of abuse/control, financial mismanagement, infidelity on either side) and you’d like to avoid discussing that on the record in court.You know who would know what to do to minimize fallout? A divorce lawyer, that’s who.
  • Seems like your wife has been thinking about this and planning for a while, whereas you’ve been “blindsided.” She hired someone to draw up those papers, why not hire someone to at least read them over before you sign? Someone who isn’t swirling in a maelstrom of feelings, someone whose literal job it is to take a breath, walk you through the process, and keep your best interests in mind.
  • Because you own a business together, more due diligence is needed to ensure that marital finances and business finances are fair, separate, transparent, and squeaky clean. Hiring a lawyer is the smart business move.
  • You. Operate. A. Business. Together. Most of what you assumed about how your life worked turned out to be incorrect, and assumptions are very bad for business. At minimum, you’re going to want to review every single written agreement that pertains to the business ownership, governance, management structure, financial control, and conditions for buying each other out or dissolving the thing. A lawyer can make sure that everyone involved in the business is maximally protected and that all assumptions are spelled out in writing.

You mentioned counseling, and I think that individual counseling, for you, is a wonderful idea. Give yourself the gift of a safe, supportive, structured environment for processing all the painful and messy parts of this and for taking the very best care of yourself. Sometimes just knowing that there’s one hour a week where you can ugly-cry and nobody will judge you for it can help you keep yourself together the rest of the time.

As for joint counseling, couples’ counseling, marital counseling, etc., no, I don’t think so. That ship sailed sometime in 2022 and I doubt it’s coming back this way again. Because you’re still in shock, I think you’re living in the liminal space called “If I could just get her to talk to me, maybe things would be okay.” You’d understand what happened. You’d work things out together. If you could just get her into a room, on the phone, by your side to sort things out, maybe you could still be a team, one last time.

This mix of anguish and hope that there’s some secret, overlooked solution is completely understandable, it’s just the most relatable, primal, human thing, and you have my sympathies. But it’s just not happening. I’ve never met your wife, but even I can tell that she is extremely done talking. That lady does not want to walk you through her thought process or her plans, and she does not seem particularly curious about yours. If she were, she’d have dragged you to counseling long ago. She didn’t. She has decided. She doesn’t live here anymore. She’s already gone.

When someone leaves you, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is believe them, let them go, and begin the hard work of taking care of yourself. Your best chance of getting through this in a way that works for everyone is to let people who know what they’re doing help you through this.

Valerie L

Hello Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been asked to take over three large first-year courses after the previous professor died suddenly on the weekend. Our first-year courses run over the full academic year, which is September to April.

The first term was already over and marks had been submitted so nothing has been left undone for me to try and piece together. The university has informed students via email and course announcement so I don’t have to be the one to break the news to them. No one is expecting me to do a thing until term starts in January which is nice.

However, I don’t know how to address this in the first week. I’m a very irreverent teacher – I joke a lot in class, I often relate our course material to Taylor Swift videos, I start every week with an anecdote about my dogs. I’m the sort of prof who dresses like Miss Frizzle and whose hair is a different colour every few weeks. But it feels inappropriate to be that way at the beginning of term when the previous professor has died. 

All the courses have been online – one was asynchronous and the other two were live but over Zoom.

I’m seeking a lot of advice on how to best do this because I think some students will be very upset while other students won’t care much at all. How do you think I should proceed?

Thank you so much,

J. (I have no witty sign offs)

Hello, J., all the sympathies for the sudden loss of your colleague and for the gravity of the task ahead. I think you have great instincts. I’m going to assume that you don’t need help with subject matter or pedagogy, and this is more about how to present yourself, set the right tone, and get the semester underway as smoothly and compassionately as possible.

First, speaking Frizzle-to-Frizzle, I think you’re right to consider adopting a slightly more formal and serious tone and visual style for at least the first few weeks. 

If it helps, think of it as being in France and deciding which version of “you” to call somebody you just met. In the future, the person may instruct you to use the informal tu, but until you know for sure, you’re unlikely to cause actual offense by sticking with vous. It’s much easier to swap your outside business cardigan for an inside hangout cardigan like Mr. Rogers than it is to accidentally start out way too casual and have to recover from a faux pas.

Visually, you don’t need to change anything drastic. Don’t get rid of your fun hair color, but do aim to be one or two notches more polished than whatever informal, exuberant eclecticism had you concerned enough to mention it in your letter. Since you’ll be on camera, look for ways to reduce visual distractions and set yourself up for maximum focus and flow. Is your shirt covered with visible dog hair, logos, or text that people will inevitably get sucked into reading? Did you clean your glasses? Are the plants visible on the bookshelf behind you still alive? Have the half-finished tea mugs on your desk been breeding, and have their efforts been, uh, “fruitful?” Can you quickly put your hands on a pen, your notes, and things you need without having to shift piles of other things or spend time fumbling? If you share your screen, are the tabs and links you actually need already cued up, or will we be taking an unscheduled journey through “147 times I clicked the ‘only one bed’ tag on AO3 and 3 times I didn’t”?

And yes, try to minimize any swearing, off-topic jokes, and other markers of irreverence, at least the first week. Once you’re in the swing of it, chances are high that many students with matching “eff the patriarchy” keychains will appreciate your down-to-earth teaching style and your little dog, too. But out of the gate, what your students need is probably less about “What FUN we’re all going to have together!” and more “Hello, I realize that this is a terrible situation that no one asked for, but I’m a professional, I know what I’m doing, and I’ve got you. The effort you’ve already invested has not been wasted, and together we are going to land this plane safely and on time.” 

Now, during my teaching days, I lost some colleagues before their time, I took over classes that were designed wholesale by someone else (with the lie that “there’s nothing to prepare”), and I’ve taught only the second half of a year-long thing, though never all three at once like you are doing now. So I want to offer some specific ways to aid your preparations. I debated making this part a bonus Patreon post because it’s kind of inside-baseball-y, but we’re already here so we might as well.

Bonus Suggestion #1: You’re going to need to acknowledge the death of your colleague in some way at the start of class, but I suggest pulling some information together first:

  • Is there a planned memorial service at the school? Gather the time, location, etc.
  • Is someone (department chair, department administrator, a colleague who was close to the person) collecting remembrances and stories about the person? If no one is already explicitly doing that, can you think of someone who might reasonably want to?
  • Did you know or work with the person? Can you think of a good memory or something you admired about them?
  • If not, can you peek at their bio, their CV, or glance at a few abstracts of stuff they published to get an idea of what they were about, or recall something nice other people have told you about them?

Depending on what you turn up, you can tailor whatever opening statement you make to students about how you are sorry you are meeting under these circumstances. If you knew the person, say something good that you personally experienced. If you didn’t know them, don’t fake that you did.

Sample for you to adapt: “I wasn’t lucky enough to work with [Departed Colleague], but people who did always mention [knowledge about subject area][dedication to students][unforgettable lecturing style][notoriously rigorous grading practices][uncanny knack for sports analogies]. There will be a memorial service on campus at [provide all logistical information], and if anyone has a memory of working with Professor _______ you’d like to share, you can send it to [person who is collecting such things] or email it to me and I’ll pass it on. As we go along this term, I’m sure we’ll be reminded often of Professor _____, and as sad and heavy as that might feel at times, I hope it can also serve as a reminder that their knowledge and work live on.”

Key points: Acknowledge the loss, try to come up with one genuine compliment, give grieving students something they can do (go to memorial service, share a story), invite them to share thoughts with you if they want to. Don’t assume how they feel, but make space for however they feel, and make it clear that they can bring up the professor and the prior semester in the future in whatever context, because it’s not a forbidden topic. If you organize all the info ahead of time you’ll be less likely to flail. 😉

Bonus Suggestion #2: Sometime during the first or second week, use a short, informal survey to take the temperature of the room and help students put the prior semester in context. How useful this is is going to depend a lot on the subject and type of class, so build one that suits your goals. For example purposes, here’s some stuff I might want students to tell me:

  • Thinking over last term, was there a week or topic that you liked more than others? If “like” is too strong a word, is there a week or topic you remember better than others, something you were more interested in, something you had a knack for, something that was just a good day in class, one “cool” or new thing you learned?
  • What’s a lingering question you have about something you covered last semester? Something you’re still curious about, something you’re still confused about? If you could pick one thing you’d like us to review in depth before we get underway, what would it be?
  • What was your favorite assignment and what was your least favorite assignment? If you don’t have a favorite, go with “worst” and “least worst.” Why did you pick those?
  • Did anyone – either the teacher or a fellow student – give you feedback about your work that you thought was helpful? What did they say?
  • Looking ahead at our syllabus, is there a week or topic you’re looking forward to more than the others? Is there one you’re not so enthused about? 

In the group that meets in real time, you could assign them to break-out chat rooms in small groups and have them talk through the questions together for 10-15 minutes and then report back to the class or upload individual written answers. In the online-only versions you could do it as a forum post or short individual writing assignment they hand in to you. In that case, I’d indicate that you want quick, informal, honest answers and that you only expect it to take 15 minutes or so. Participating (including turning something in or making forum posts) earns positive points toward class participation.

If this works, you’ll come out with a sense of what they valued, what made them feel valued, where they need the most help, and evidence that they’ve consulted the syllabus at least once. If people consistently mention the same best and worst assignments, you can go peek at the grade-book and see what’s up. Maybe look at the two highest grades, the two lowest, and a few in the middle if you feel like you need more info. How’s everybody doing? Does the grading make sense to you? Like, is there a rubric at work here or are you taking over from Professor Vibes?

Bonus Suggestion #3: This is about prep beyond whatever you’ll need to do to update the syllabus and organize yourself to present the material from week to week, which I assume you’ve already got handled.

Once upon a time someone handed me a syllabus and a course website for a hybrid online/in-person class, told me it was “all set” and that I didn’t need to do any prep, and turned me loose on some undergrads. Fortunately I did not believe the “all set” lie, and as I started clicking around on the dense website full of clicky things during my semester break, I discovered something horrible.

This person had recorded and uploaded weekly lectures that had no written transcripts, no ability to speed up or slow down, no way to isolate or review specific topics (such as a list of topics with timestamps so someone could jump to specific sections), no connection to or integration of any assigned reading or hands-on work, and to add insult to injury, *each* of these tedious motherfuckers was between two and three hours long. TWO UNBROKEN, IRREPLACEABLE HOURS of a person droning over a PowerPoint slideshow, but you couldn’t just download or click through the slides at your own pace and be on your way, and you couldn’t ever know when the audio would impart some essential kernel of information that wasn’t on the slides.

I tried watching and listening to a few of them to see if they were all like that. They were all like that. I tried seeing how long I, personally, could pay attention to one of these things, and I think my record was 11 minutes. I tried asking for a PDF of just the slides and was rebuffed. (The person had painstakingly done “all the work” for me! “Online” classes were the future, and I just needed to “adapt” to the “tech” and “pivot to video.”)

I pivoted, all right. I pivoted every last one of those abominations away from anywhere students might encounter them and figured out another, shorter, more organized way to teach the material. And ever since then, whenever I’ve taken over a course website that was designed by someone else, I change my access so I see only what students see, and then I click through the first few weeks as if I’m a student coming in fresh. Can I find everything? Is it easy to figure out what I should look at and in what order? If I were to read what I’m assigned to read and watch what I’m assigned to watch, could I reasonably do everything I’m being asked to do, by the deadline when I’m supposed to do it? Are outside links, articles, etc. working, and are they labeled so it’s clear what they are for and so I could search for something easily if I needed to find it again?

I’ve never inherited anything quite as cursèd as that one class, but I’ve also never inherited something that didn’t need at least some reworking until it made sense to *me.* This is your class now, for better or for worse, and it is okay  to tinker and make it your own. As for the rest, you’re doing the students and the institution an enormous service by stepping in. It’s likely to be a thankless and unheralded service, where the better you do your job the less they’ll realize how much of a service it was. I don’t envy you, but I do believe in you. You know your shit, and you give a shit, and that’s enough.


























Valerie L

Dear Captain Awkward,

A few years ago, I (34f) was in a relationship with Roy (36m, not his real name.) About six months into our relationship, I met his good friend Janine (36f, not real name.) I had heard a lot about Janine & had been excited to meet her, but when we met at an event, Janine was incredibly rude and hostile to both me and my friend who was with me. I remained polite through an excruciating dinner where Janine either ignored or sneered at my friend and I, & Roy didn’t address the dynamic. After the dinner, I told Roy that I had found her rude and that while they had a longstanding friendship and I’d never interfere with it, if that was going to be how she spoke to me and my friends, I didn’t want to spend any more time with her. Janine and I never met again. Over the next year, Roy became incredibly psychologically and emotionally abusive, including deliberately gaslighting me and triggering my pre-existing PTSD.  By the end of the relationship I was in a serious mental health crisis due to his abuse, and it took me literally years (and a lot of expensive therapy) to recover from it. About a year after the relationship ended, I also discovered that he had been married all through our relationship, only separating while we were together. He had abused his wife in a similar way to me. He had also been cheating on me with other women. The abuse was much worse than the cheating, but learning about all the extra deception and the abuse of his wife a year later opened up old wounds & prolonged my recovery. 

Now, a few years on, I’m doing much better, no longer live in Roy & Janine’s city, have rebuilt my life and am in a relationship with someone wonderful. 

About ten months ago, Janine messaged me on social media asking me if Roy had abused me. At first, I didn’t trust her and thought maybe Roy was using her to find out what I was saying about him publicly, & essentially said as much to her. She told me she had heard from other people that he was abusive to women and genuinely wanted to know. I gave her some information confirming that broad nature of the abuse, and she sent me a lot of messages telling me that she had known he was married and also cheating on me when we met; that she knew his current girlfriend and while she didn’t think it was an abusive relationship, she saw how he shifted his personality hugely based on who he was with; and she also revealed to me her own history of abuse (by another man, not Roy.) She said she was going to end her friendship with Roy and kept calling herself an ally and using words like “solidarity.” This was all a lot to process out of the blue and felt very intimate given the negative tone of our one and only interaction, but I told her that I appreciated her words of support; that she didn’t have to end their friendship on my account but if she did I hoped it was a good decision for her; and I expressed sympathy for her previous experiences of abuse. I told her that confronting issues like this in a friendship can be difficult and that I hoped she had support around her. I considered the conversation over. 

A few weeks later, she sent me a picture of an elaborate needlepoint-in-process saying something like “Fuck You Roy”; then the finished piece; then she sent me a picture of her leaving it on his doorstep. I sent some kind of “Ha! I hope that felt cathartic, be well” message back. She has since randomly messaged me several times, sometimes just insulting Roy, sometimes just mentioning events in her city (she knows I no longer live there). A couple of months ago, she messaged me telling me she was going on a weekend break to a city (not mine) and asked me if Roy had ever mentioned any good bars there, which felt incredibly random. I responded telling her that I appreciated her previous words of support and hoped that she was well, but that I didn’t want to get random messages about/reminders of Roy just because she wanted a bar recommendation, and to please not send me those types of messages. She has since messaged me a couple of times asking me if I could give her bar recommendations for a city I don’t live, whether I’d ever like to meet for a pint, and if I’m okay receiving messages from her at all. 

Here’s the thing: I do appreciate that she believed me and took action. I hope she’s generally doing well. However, I don’t like this woman. We met and she was obnoxious. She also knew my boyfriend was married and cheating on me, and decided not to call him out on it at the time. And her messages to me have felt quite performative and based in her assuring me that she’s a good person. I know that she cut him off so I know it’s not completely false, but the needlepoint and referring to herself as an “ally” and the forced intimacy just feel a bit odd to me. I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t love the pressure to politely engage with her or perform gratitude. I don’t want to shut her down cold, but neither do I want to be friends with her. And I understand the desire to talk to someone who knows about an abusive person in common, but I’ve spent years trying to get over this guy and am very happy having no reminders of him. 

My friends are split on whether she’s an invasive, performative weirdo or a good woman trying to act in solidarity. My instinct that it’s somewhere in between, but frankly I am baffled by the whole thing and unsure how to react. The only response that genuinely feels accurate to my emotions towards her are “You need to talk to a therapist and figure out what you want from me” – but I’m aware that’s a bit aggressive!

But seriously, what DOES she want from me? And what do I do?

Thank you so much!

Snappy Sign Off Name: I Can’t Give You Your Feminist Ally Badge

Hello Snappy Sign-Off,

Leaving toxic and abusive relationships is a lonely business, and you did Janine a great kindness when she was making that decision for herself. Like you, I’m glad that women all over the place are leaving Roy where he belongs (the trash).

Whether Janine’s newfound sense of “solidarity” (or working definition of the word) is performative or genuine doesn’t actually matter. What your other friends think doesn’t matter. What she expects from you or whether she seeks therapy doesn’t matter. What would be polite doesn’t matter.

What matters:

1) You demonstrated some actual solidarity when you didn’t have to, so give yourself some credit.

2) You don’t want to be friends with Janine (or get drinks, or be her personal TripAdvisor, or get periodic messages from her), so, don’t.

Not only is “I don’t want to” sufficient reason, it’s the best reason, perhaps the only reason. Janine’s not a jerk for wanting to hang out, but equally, you are not being mean if you don’t. Friendship is about affection, reciprocity, delight, and wanting to be in someone’s company. It’s not about politeness or a sense of obligation to someone else’s misplaced expectations.

So let’s talk practicalities and scripts. Last time Janine got in touch about drinks or whether you wanted to receive messages altogether, did you respond? What did you say? It seems to me that she has given you an out, and all that remains is for you to take her up on it.

If the last ping was recent (say, within the past few weeks), try something like, “Thank you for asking. I’ve thought it over, and I’d prefer not to keep in touch. I wish you all the best, happy 2023.” Then deploy your preferred blocking, muting, unfollowing, and filtering protocols so that she can eat her crackers in peace and you can log into your own socials without a creeping sense of dread.

If more than a few weeks has elapsed since her last contact, and you haven’t responded, and she hasn’t followed up, great! Don’t say or do anything and skip ahead to Project Block/Filter if you want to. If she gets in touch in the future, you can give her the message at that point. “Oh, hello, sorry I never got back to you about drinks that time. Now that I’ve had a chance to think it over, I’d prefer not to keep in touch, but I wish you all the best.”

Even if you did throw her a guilty “No, of course you can still message me” at the time, all is not lost! The very next time she pings you, you can say, “My apologies, know I said that I was okay with it when you asked, but now that I’ve had a chance to reconsider, I’d prefer not to keep in touch after all. I wish you well!” You get to change your mind.

If she asks why, or tries to blame you or pressure you, consider that she is confirming that you made the right decision to end the acquaintance. You don’t have to answer continued inquiries or pressure attempts at all, and if you do, you don’t have to delve in deeply. “Nothing personal, just, I’m not interested in holding onto any ties from that period of my life. Be well!” Platitudes get a bad rap, but I think of them the same way I think of those Command Strips that let you attach posters to the dorm room wall without using nails or screws: Not my favorite, but it gets the job done without doing permanent damage. Good enough!

It’s time to save your tact and careful consideration for the relationships you actually care about and let “Thanks but no” be good enough. Janine will live on just fine, free to seek friends who actively like her, and the gift of No More Open Sewers Disguised As Men will provide its own reward for many seasons to come.

Valerie L

Hi there, it’s me, Jennifer, Captain Awkward, down one pesky uterus and gingerly climbing back on my bullshit.

Today we have the classic tale of the man who might leave his wife someday, just as soon as he finds someone who can pass the lengthy audition process.

It’s not easy to become This Fucking Guy’s Next Ex-Wife. First, there’s the initial chemistry read, where you provide the sex he’s not getting at home, followed by a series of callbacks where you demonstrate skills like shrinking your needs to a manageable (invisible) size and listening to story after story where he is a helpless victim of circumstance without laughing and telling him to get lost. Should that all go well, and should you prove flexible enough to schedule your entire life around his convenience, there’s just one final step: Proving that you, yourself, alone, can personally make up for all the ways every woman he has met have let him down in the past. Are you ready for the challenge?

Dear Captain Awkward:

I started sleeping with a married man about 6 months ago.

He told me his wife was asexual and agreed to him having girlfriends. About 2 months into the relationship, we crossed the “I love you” boundary.

Now he’s going back and forth on how serious he wants to be. He says he’s going to leave his wife but he doesn’t know when. A few years ago, he separated from his wife and moved in with his girlfriend and a month later she left him and went back to her ex so he has trust issues. I told him I would never do that but he’s not making any future plans for us. I know we haven’t been together that long and I don’t want to break up his marriage but if I leave, I would have lied to him and I don’t want to do that either. I don’t know what to do.

Should I leave or stay? 

Hello and thank you for your question!

Hypothesis: I think you should leave.

Supporting evidence: Pretty much every word out of his mouth as related by you.

Method: Boundaries will set you free.

He told me his wife is asexual and agreed to him having girlfriends.”  “He says he’s going to leave his wife but he doesn’t know when.”

So…which is it? He left his wife once already, and is theoretically planning to do it again for you, but also, his wife is totally okay with him dating outside the marriage and has presented no obstacle to your whirlwind romance so far. Huh.

As mating calls go, “It’s okay, my wife says I’m allowed to have sleepovers!” has some pitfalls, one being that it can be used equally by ethical people who are openly seeking non-monogamous relationships, lying cheaters who lie, and by people who, even when truthful about their advertised status (separated, “consciously uncoupling,” non-monogamous, “it’s complicated,” etc.), manage to be juuuuuuuust available enough to tempt you into ignoring your better judgment, and just married enough that they can’t really make any big commitments or promises right now. They’re a little bit single, even when they’re not, and they tend to be very good at 1) keeping their options open and 2) using “honesty” the way Wonder Woman uses magic bracelets: to deflect.

Four panel Anakin-Padme meme, from right to left. Anakin: You are the love of my life. Padme: So I can meet your friends and family, right? Anakin: Stares Intensely Padme: I can meet your friends and family, right?

He told you, and you believe him, no problem, for the bulk of this post I’m going to believe him, too, mostly because he doesn’t need to be lying for this to still be a bad idea. But I think it’s worth a gut check. Aside from what he’s told you, what other evidence do you have that he’s not just cheating and lying about that? Independent confirmation from his wife, perhaps, or from the other friends and family members he’s introduced you to during the last six months?

You’re planning a “serious” future together, so you’ve met at least some of the most important people in each other’s lives, right? You’re in his phone under your real name, you can schedule hangouts without cloak-and-dagger, you know where he works, you’ve been to some of his favorite spots, you can hold hands in public without being danger of getting shoved into the shrubbery or introduced as a cousin if you run into someone he knows? Tagging him in a cute photo online doesn’t prompt a panicked search of fault vs. no fault divorce laws?

If asking those questions leads you somewhere you’d rather not be, are you truly okay with being in a secret relationship, where your partner lies about your existence and level of connection to someone he promised to cherish? To put it in terms of a boundary, if you decide, “I’m not interested in relationships where I have to keep secrets and tell lies,” where does it leave you?

Okay, from now on we’re officially assuming that he told the truth and his wife “agreed to” him having girlfriend(s). Technically I agreed to repay my student loans, doesn’t mean I’m wild about it. Did this agreement take place before or after he left her the last time? Was it an intentional, mutual decision from the start of their marriage or did he cheat on her first and decide later that she owed him this to “make up for” being asexual (in which case, yikes, dump him harder), so she agreed rather than lose him? Do you think he treats his wife with love and care, the way you would want to be treated if you were in her shoes?

Incidentally, how do you feel about monogamy? Does “getting more serious” mean that the two of you will be exclusive once he’s divorced? Is that what you want? (I think that might be what you want.) Does he know that? If you set “I want a committed relationship with a partner who will be faithful to me” as your boundary, does he still seem like a catch? If you were to decide on an open relationship from the start, what evidence do you have that he’d keep his promises to you, given that he’s secretly planning to leave the last person he made the same agreements with?

On all counts, I strongly suggest not making “what this guy has permission from someone else to do” into the measuring stick for what you want, need, and deserve from a relationship.

“…but he’s not making any future plans for us.”

My life got infinitely less confusing and stressful once I started applying a boundary called “I don’t plan my life around anyone whose plans don’t include me.” Until I learned, I labored under the fallacy that I could make plans that were so elegant, so superbly situated that the other party needn’t bother doing any planning at all, and all I needed to do was wait patiently for the right moment to give them their “gift.” Ta-daaaaaaa!

It didn’t work, mostly because people with healthy boundaries who were on a different schedule than I was were (rightly) freaked out by the sudden (to them) mismatch in intensity. It didn’t work even when it worked, because there’s actually a huge difference between actively wanting to be with me and being willing to follow the path of least resistance as long as it remains convenient or until something better comes along.

This guy told you outright:  “I am not making any future plans for us.”

I’ve never met him, nor am I particularly optimistic about his overall integrity, but on this topic, I believe him!

What happens if you take him at his word, and stop making future plans that depend on him? Apply The Sheelzebub Principle: If you knew things were going to stay pretty much exactly as they are, how much longer would you stay? Six more months? A year? Five years? If being able to plan a future with someone you can count on is important to you, it will soon clarify what must be done.

“About 2 months into the relationship, we crossed the ‘I love you’ boundary.”

Well, that escalated quickly!

I wonder. From the early stages of being together, did this guy talk a lot about the past, sharing intimate stuff about childhood traumas, dreams, fears (some of it inappropriately intimate relative to how long you’d known each other), and the future (daydreams for all the great stuff you’d do together someday)? And did he want to know absolutely everything about your past, and everything about your dreams for the future? And did it feel magical to be at once so fascinated and also so fascinating?

It’s a common trope that cis, straight men are generally bad at talking about feelings, extremely avoidant of anything that even hints of future commitment, and may or may not know where the clitoris is (or care to ever find out). So if you meet one who is very open and vulnerable about feelings without the application of an oyster knife, quick to jump into the future, and who can reliably make you glimpse the face of god when you sleep together, it must mean something special indeed. Like, come on, you weren’t asking for his hand in marriage when you got together, everyone was a grownup who knew what this was, he was the one who kept bringing up how cool it would be to meet your family and visit every single place you’d always dreamed of going. Why would anyone do that if they didn’t mean it? Answer: Because maybe he has nothing to offer you in the present tense.

How to say this? It’s not that he didn’t mean it. Chances are he did. You are wonderful and enchanting, you weren’t imagining it, it felt great to be in love. Just, sometimes “I love you” sounds likeI could be happy just doing laundry and taxes with you” when it really means “I want to binge you like a Netflix show.” A fascinating, novel escape from quotidian life, full of high drama and bright colors, with no need to leave the comfy couch that’s perfectly molded to your butt, and not expected to last more than a season or two. The intense, lightning-in-a-bottle intimacy of wanting to consume the fantasy of you is not the same as the kind of boring, reliable, consistent intimacy of actually building that life. Sorting through all the things he said and did to make the case that yes, he meant it, absent any concrete action from him to make it happen, will make you feel unhinged.

As a boundary? You can do worse than “Maybe I’ll take some action when I see some action.”

“something something about trust issues and if you dump him now you would have lied to him”

You are telling me that he left his entire wife, with all the attendant difficult conversations and expensive logistical nightmares of dissolving one household and making a new one, did all that again when he went back to her a month or so later, then he met you, is now secretly plotting to leave her again for you, and HE is the one with “trust issues” that YOU are responsible for managing? Who is the liar here? Not you! Who is the person who serially can’t make up his mind? Not you!

Oh, honey, no. No. Absolutely not. The lion, the witch, and the audacity of this man.

Let’s skip straight to the boundary: You are not responsible for how other people treated him in the past. If others treated him poorly, it’s not an excuse for him treating you poorly now, and you won’t agree to something that is not in your best interests as some kind of fucked-up reverse reparations for something you didn’t do. You have literally nothing to prove here. If you cut your losses now, and he blames you for breaking his “trust,” I guess you’ll have to add yourself to the very long list of women who couldn’t live up to his high ideals, oh well!

Please put this man back where you found him, preferably before you waste money and time on selecting a thoughtful holiday present and waiting around for him to sneak off to text you from the toilet at his in-laws’ annual holiday feast. You are not a placeholder, and he is not the one.

Valerie L

Edit: cancelled sorry, too few RSVPs. Let me know if you’re interested in coming in future, and any changes which would help

Hello everyone!

I haven’t run this meetup for a while, as a combination of my own health issues going on, plus what looked like reduced interest, but here we go again. Please can you definitely RSVP if you are coming, and I will cancel if there’s not enough people.

Obviously I will cancel if the situation changes or the rules change

5th November, 1pm, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX.

We will be on Level 2 (the upper levels are closed to non-ticket-holders), but I don’t know exactly where on the floor. It will depend on where we can find a table. I will have my plush Chthulu which looks like this:

Please bring your masks/exemption lanyards, and obey any rules posted in the venue.

The venue has lifts to all floors and accessible toilets. The accessibility map is here:

The food market outside (side opposite the river) is pretty good for all sorts of requirements, and you can also bring food from home, or there are lots of cafes on the riverfront.

Other things to bear in mind:

  1. Please make sure you follow social distancing rules. This particularly includes respecting people’s personal space and their choices about distancing.
  2. We have all had a terrible time for the last two years. Sharing your struggles is okay and is part of what the group is for, but we need to be careful not to overwhelm each other or have the conversation be entirely negative. Where I usually draw the line here is that personal struggles are fine to talk about but political rants are discouraged, but I may have to move this line on the day when I see how things go. Don’t worry, I will tell you!
  3. Probably lots of us have forgotten how to be around people (most likely me as well), so here is permission to walk away if you need space. Also a reminder that we will all react differently, so be careful to give others space if they need.

I will cancel this meetup if government guidance changes, so keep an eye on this space.

Everyone who’s coming please make sure you take a lateral flow test (or PCR) the previous evening or that morning

Please RSVP so that I know there’s enough people not to need to cancel, and so I know to look out for you!

kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com

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