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Hi Captain!

I (she/her) was at my town’s outdoor farmers market last week when a friendly stranger, “Carly,” (she/her) struck up a conversation with me while we were standing in line for food.

Carly mentioned that she had moved here recently, during lockdown, and had been finding it hard to make friends as a result. While chatting, we discovered that we shared some common nerdy interests; she suggested we meet up for coffee sometime, I agreed, we exchanged our details and went on our way.

We met up a few days later, had a nice enough time, and while Carly was friendly — really friendly — there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on that made me a bit uneasy. I felt guilty for being so guarded and chalked it up to my own awkwardness around new people. She seemed so nice after all, and was in need of some friends in a new town! When we eventually walked home and parted ways in front of my apartment, Carly asked if I’d like to meet up again soon, and I agreed to keep in touch.

But I couldn’t shake that weird feeling, or stop thinking about something Carly had mentioned: she said that she originally moved here for a job at a local company. It’s one that I know well, where several of my friends work. Shortly after she arrived, she was laid off due to “restructuring.” This didn’t sound right to me, for a multitude of reasons, so I asked some of my friends there if they knew the whole story.

Turns out that Carly wasn’t laid off; she was fired for misconduct after bullying other employees, and for the content she was posting on her social media accounts. I did some digging, and what I discovered was grim.

Carly used to have a more public social media presence but was “chased away by the mob” (her words) and now resides on an alternative “free speech” platform that leans heavily alt-right. During her time on Twitter she became infamous enough to garner multiple call-out posts, including receipts of her mistreating and gaslighting ex-friends who disagreed with her ideas.

I managed to find one of her private accounts and her feed was like a nasty alt-right pizza with all the toppings: Qanon reblogs, lots of bad hot takes masquerading as “facts and logic,” racist dog whistles, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-SJW, anti-BLM, posts glorifying gun violence, you name it.

Amidst all of these are multiple posts where Carly insists that she is NOT a bigot, or anti-anything; that she is truly a kind person, simply a victim of Cancel Culture, unfairly persecuted, and that 99% of people on the internet are simply idiots with “rotbrain.”

Terrible opinions and ideological differences aside, I’ve seen enough evidence that Carly has a real capacity for unkindness, manipulation, and cruelty when people dare to challenge her. I would really, really prefer to never see or speak to Carly again. Problem is, I cannot overstate how tiny our town is, and while we were getting coffee she made it very clear that she intended to stay for as long as possible, job or no job. She lives just a couple of blocks away from me, and it’s practically impossible that we won’t encounter one another in person while we’re out and about. She was so eager to meet up and it’s only a matter of time until she gets in touch again to organize another friend date.

I’m not really afraid for my safety, but I wish I had never given her my number and feel foolish for not listening to my instincts when I felt that something was up. I asked my friends for advice and the responses ranged from “ghost her” to “tell her what you discovered and confront her” to “it’s cowardly to avoid someone just because you have ideological differences.”

What’s the best (and safest) way to extricate myself from this situation I’ve found myself in?

Thank you so much for any advice you’re able to give!


I want to start by saying, GOOD JOB trusting your instincts so far despite a lifetime of social pressure to ignore them. 

You met this lady twice and found out she’s a bunch of red flags in a trench coat, you’ve made the logical choice to not meet up a third time, and my advice is that you don’t owe her shit. Definitely don’t be friends. Ghost her if you want. Block her cell number and preemptively block her on any and all social accounts today. If you want to make sure the message is clear, you could send a text just before you block, a simple “Nice meeting you but I’ve decided not to be friends,” or you could wait until you run into each other again and deliver the same message, but honestly, do whatever is easier for you. 

It will feel weird and awkward to do this, there’s no way around it, it’s jarring when someone puts a lot of effort into being nice to you and you don’t respond in kind. Please know that however awkward it turns out to be, it will be so much less awkward than continuing to hang out with her, waiting for the other shoe to drop, while she uses you to launder her reputation and get a foothold in your social spaces

Once you make it clear that you don’t want to hang out, be ready for any and all niceness to disappear in a flash. Not everyone can safely confront bigots in person, so whatever lets you walk away in one piece is the right thing to do. That could mean bringing a buddy to the market for a few weeks, and it could mean being firm but remaining vague. For instance, if Carly asks you why you changed your mind, keep in mind that she already knows or strongly suspects why (like you said, it’s a small place, and this isn’t her first ride at the consequences-of-her-own-actions rodeo), and you can confirm her suspicions or not as you see fit.“I caught wind of some of your social media  history and views and I can tell a friendship is not for me.” “Eh, just wasn’t feeling it.” “I changed my mind.” “…’Corporate….restructuring,’…. ay?” :LONG, BLANK STARE: 

Once you cut off contact, cut the conversation short and do not respond to future communication attempts. When you absolutely cannot avoid seeing her, make it very boring, like a curt nod at the farmer’s market, but don’t engage more. Carly’s persecution narrative will continue just fine with or without you, and there is no point in debating her views with her. In the unlikely event that she really is trying to change her ways, her redemption narrative can happen without you; no longer being The Worst will need to be its own reward. Either way, I have some words for the people in your life who think “it’s cowardly to avoid someone just because you have ideological differences.”

“You must embrace the worst possible people or else you’re just like them!” is not where we set logical or social baselines, y’all. 

There used to be this terrible reality show called Fear Factor, where contestants would do unpleasant, unsanitary, upsetting, and unsafe things in exchange for the chance to win money. Every time someone tells you that you must engage with a known Nazi, bigot, TERF, sexual predator, or other predictable bad actor in order to show how “brave” or “tolerant” you are, I want you to mentally replace it with,”You must force yourself to eat horsepucky on television while Joe Rogan says unfunny things nearby” and see it for the nonsense it is. Nobody had to go on Fear Factor just like nobody has to befriend the local bigot to prove a point, turns out you can just not participate in completely optional stuff that you know is guaranteed to be a bad time.

Others are of course free to lie down in Joe Rogan’s sweaty worm coffin* if it’s so important to them, and you’re equally free to re-evaluate how you feel about “friends” who advise you to ignore all logic, survival instincts, and your own well-being when Nazi scum are around. 

*True story, which I unfortunately cannot un-know, thanks to a terrible roommate who loved Fear Factor. My apologies

Hi Captain Awkward,

My wife and I are happy parents of a newborn baby. Relatives have been eager to pop in on us, and we have enjoyed these visits.

Meanwhile, my sister and brother-in law have just booked tickets to come visit us. While we are excited to see them, they are of a different political persuasion than we are. Given that we have a newborn in our house, we would feel most comfortable knowing that our guests are vaccinated. This is probably something that should have addressed when we first were notified of their impending visit, and we now find ourselves in the position of needing to address this after the fact. Naturally we don’t want to ruin their travel plans or make things awkward. How do we approach this issue in a tactful manner?

-Vaxxed and Vexxed

Dear Vaxxed and Vexxed,

Congratulations on being a new parent! Welcome to many, many rewarding years of Ruining The Vibe™ and Making It Awkward® in order to protect your child’s safety!

I suggest that you call your child’s pediatrician ASAP, both for the latest vaccine recommendations for people who will be around newborns, and so that you won’t be lying when you tell your sister, “We spoke to Kid’s pediatrician, and their advice is that anyone visiting the baby within the first six months be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 (among a few other things, that whooping cough is a nightmare!) and also mask up while Kid’s immune system is still developing. We wanted to let you know so there’s enough time to handle it before your trip, or make another plan* if it’s not possible. Can you confirm that you’re both fully vaccinated plus the recommended two weeks?”


Hopefully they’re already all set and this was just a check-in, but tell the doctor that you are specifically concerned about mitigating risks from unvaccinated/anti-vaxx relatives, and fall back on your doctor’s advice if your sister and her husband give you any difficulty. “We are really looking forward to seeing you, but we’re going to stick with our doctor’s recommendations, so we understand if that means holding off on the trip for a while yet so everyone can be safe.” 

Yes, it would have been ideal to address this when they were first planning the trip, but you probably had a lot going on and it probably didn’t occur to you immediately that your sister could have the option of receiving the vaccine and not choose it. Hopefully she did the right thing already, but don’t leave it to chance, and don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you didn’t bring up an important thing right away, you’re never allowed to bring it up, oh well, nothing to be done about it now. Talk to her before she visits and make sure.

I’ve gotten so many letters in the last year and a half that basically boil down to people asking for permission to prioritize their own safety and health even if others find it rude or upsetting. “Am I allowed to save my own life and protect my kids even if other people are put out?” EMPHATICALLY YES!

The social pressure to comply with unconscionable, unsafe shit is not abating. People will find all sorts of ways to make the risk of appearing “rude” or “tactless,” causing inconvenience, and making them feel less than awesome about their own risky choices seem more onerous than the risk of serious illness and death.  “Are you really going to check our vaccine papers at the door?” “Are you going to make it necessary? Because if that’s what I have to do, I will.”  “Are you making everyone do this or just us?” “Well, everyone, ideally, but after seeing you say [weird anti-vaxx comment], yup, definitely you!” “You’re overreacting!” “Maybe so! I sure hope so, in fact! But no vaxx, no nibbling chonky baby thighs, it’s really up to you.” 

People who play these power games seem to think the prospect of them feeling bad about themselves or being mad at you is the scariest thing in the world, but they never think about how mad you would be at them if they transmitted a serious illness to your baby because: ideology! Wanna talk about “ruined” vacations?

Trips can be postponed. Hurt feelings can be soothed. Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for being kinda cautious about immunizations in the middle of a global pandemic and insisting on a few awkward conversations with anyone who will be around your brand new baby. You will not be the making it weird by enforcing a few minimum safety standards on behalf of someone who can’t, and the virtues of “respecting other people’s ideological differences” fall apart when those ideologies actively endanger you and yours.

There will never be a better reason or better time to hold the line.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I regret getting married. It seemed like a good idea at the time–about two years ago now. My husband (29yo he/him) and I (26yo they/them, but he sees me as a woman) are an opposites-attract type of couple. At first I felt like he was a good influence on me–he’s more outgoing, more spontaneous, more playful, more relaxed. He’s a good catch–hardworking, stably employed, loyal and caring, the works. He continues to be as loving and attached as he’s always been. But in the last six months, our differences in values and interests are getting to be too much for me. I’m not attracted to him any more and I feel like I’m lying when I say “I love you, too.” There was a point at which I wanted to be attracted to him again, and I tried the nurture that. But now I’m at a point where if I ask myself what it would take to make this marriage work, the only things I can come up with are “companionate, non-sexual, open marriage” which is basically just roommates with tax benefits. I fantasize about living alone.

Is this just the beginning of the end? If he were only my boyfriend I’d break up with him, but we own a house and have partly joined finances. Is there a point in going to couples’ counseling? Do I kon-mari this relationship that no longer brings me joy? He knows I’ve been generally unhappy lately, but how do I tell him that I’m this unhappy in our marriage and not just unhappy in general? I can’t imagine waiting this out more than a few more months.

Cheers, and thank you,

Dear P.,

It sounds like you’re done with being married, so what happens if you let yourself be done? Assume that it’s not a question of whether you’ll end the marriage, but when.

I recommend that you take at least a few days to yourself to think through the process of ending the marriage, such as:  researching how legal separation and divorce work where you live, consulting an attorney, thinking through how to best disentangle your finances and housing so that everybody is in the most stable possible position, and planning out your own next steps. Part feelings, part logistics, think about questions like: How can you be kind and gentle to your husband and to yourself on your way out of this relationship? How would you want him to treat you if your positions were reversed? You fantasize about living alone, so what are the actual steps for getting there? What kind of support from friends and family would help you land on your feet? Do you know where all your important paperwork lives? In a perfect world, what should happen to all your stuff?

If there’s a supportive friend you can stay with or a place you can go to get privacy and space as you think this through, that will help. Having the beginnings of a plan in mind for how to do the thing you need to do is a good way to get your courage up to actually do it.

Then, when it’s time, tell your husband what’s up.There is no good way to tell someone news that they definitely do not want to hear that will magically prevent them from feeling hurt, so I suggest keeping it short and straightforward: “I’m so sorry, but I don’t want to be married anymore and have started investigating the best way to dissolve our partnership.”  

He’s probably going to ask why, which is a fair thing to do, and you may be tempted to start listing reasons in an attempt to build an airtight case that will make him understand and eventually agree with you. Can I suggest not doing that? Those reasons end up being the kind of thing that sticks in the mind forever, and if he hasn’t done anything wrong and has mostly held up his end of the bargain, there’s no need to list out enough shortcomings to “prove” why this needs to happen.”Wanting to leave is enough,” it is the reason.“I’m so sorry, there’s no one reason or satisfying explanation, and it’s not anything you did wrong, I just know that my feelings have changed and I would be happier if we separated.” “I’m so sorry, but you know I’ve been unhappy lately, and I know this isn’t going to work out between us.”  

In my opinion, couples’ counseling isn’t a great idea when one partner has already decided to leave the marriage. Why drag everyone through an expensive, wrenching pretense of fixing a relationship that one person already knows is unfixable? Some people who know their relationship is pretty much over try it anyway because they want to know (or demonstrate) that they tried every possible solution before walking away, and some people want a witness/referee for how bad things have gotten, or a divorce doula who can facilitate difficult conversations about parting ways, which, legit! But an individual counselor could help you make good decisions just as well, and one benefit of breaking up with someone is that it frees you from the obligation of “working on” the relationship together.

When the dust settles you’ll be one more human who made a loving, hopeful choice that didn’t work out quite like you planned. Your taxes will be weird next year. Somebody will have to buy someone else out of the house, or you’ll sell it and split the proceeds. Everyone will be sad, mad, or both for a while. There will be a gauntlet of people saying “Holy smokes, really? But you *just* got married!”  that you will both have to navigate, and you’ll have to find a bunch of ways to say “I know, this did not turn out how I planned, either! It’s sad, but I know this is the right choice for me.” These are not pleasant or easy prospects, but nothing here is insurmountable.

Between now and then, there will be many conversations with your now-husband as you hammer out logistics, but the one that communicates “I have decided to leave, plan accordingly” is the most crucial one. What does your husband need to know right now so that he can make good decisions for himself? Start there.

Hi Captain!

I (they/them) am firmly in BEC* mode with someone in my friend group, and I’d like to figure out how to get out of it. 

(Captain’s Note: BEC is short for “Bitch Eating Crackers,” from a meme about how when someone annoys you, everything they do starts to annoy you, no matter how innocuous.)

The friend group in question is a Discord server of around a hundred people total, with a much smaller active user group. One of them, whom we’ll call R (she/her), went through a period a year or so ago where she seemingly just couldn’t pass up the chance, in the words of another friend, to be a real boot to me. Examples: One time she critiqued an apology I was giving while I was in the middle of giving it. One time, I admittedly misunderstood something she said and called her out for being rude and she jumped immediately to personal attacks (implying I’m a selfish monster, basically, for venting about something scary I’d seen in a rants channel), to the point where I had to get the mods involved to get her to back off, and other people were jumping in to defend me. One time I was spinning a story in a creative channel and she kept commenting to say she thought the idea was stupid. Throughout all of these I was checking in with other friends who confirmed that she was being unnecessarily hard on me. (I have autism and can’t always tell if what I’m feeling is fair or not.)

So anyway, I’m at the stage where everything she says makes me irritated, and every time I reveal anything personal I’m afraid she’s going to jump in and insult me. But she’s a semi-active member of the group, and other people like her, and I’d like not to be on edge every time she posts. Do you have any advice to stop seeing the cracker crumbs everywhere?


Trying To Tune Out The Chomping

Dear Trying To Tune Out The Chomping:

I like the image of Personality-Based Misophonia your letter is conjuring.

You asked how to climb out of the mode where everything R. posts irritates you. My theory is that you will like her slightly more when you interact with her much less, and one way to do that is to block or mute her within the Discord server.

What’s the worst thing that would happen if you did? You’d miss out on some snippets of group discussion here and there, but you could free yourself from seeing the vast majority of R’s posts. If she tried to say something mean to you, you’d be in your rights to shut it down directly, but this way you might not even see it. And if either R or your mutuals noticed your lack of response and cared enough to ask why, you could say, “R and I have never really meshed, I figured this way we could both hang out with the people we really like and leave each other in peace.” It sounds like R. has gone out of her way to be mean to you more than once and you have good reason to not like her. It also sounds like she’s done it publicly enough and regularly enough that it shouldn’t really surprise her – or anyone – if she’s not your favorite person. She’s never apologized to you for any of her behavior, from what I can see, so there’s no need for you to do a bunch of work on your own tolerance and capacity for forgiveness here.

Some people get really weird about the entire concept of blocking someone on a social platform, like it’s the worst thing you can do, or insist that a person has to be objectively awful or definitively cross a certain line and be tried by a jury of their peers before they “earn” a block, or else it’s “unfair.” I think that your affection, attention, and time do not have to be distributed “fairly” to everyone you meet, so if someone routinely sets your teeth on edge, if someone makes you dread encountering them in spaces you otherwise enjoy, especially if you find it hard to resist engaging even when you know it’s a bad idea, then blocking them is a kindness to yourself.

Geek Social Fallacy #1 and #4 carriers, especially, can get very concerned when people they like don’t get along with each other, and sometimes they take it upon themselves to make peace and try to force the people to come together and talk over their mutual antipathy. I vote for the path to peace where you talk to and about R. so much less than you currently do. If you were at an in-person social event, you might muster 10 seconds of routine “heyhowareya” and a nod of acknowledgement of R.’s shared humanity on your way to the jukebox for the sake of group harmony, but Discord gives you curation tools so you don’t even have to really do that. “She’s mean to me and I don’t really like her. There’s nothing to fix.” “I got tired of arguing with her about every little thing so I decided to stop.”  Be like digital ships in the night! Be free!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I fear I put my boyfriend into uncomfortable situations over my friendships with others.

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/him) that I am very cuddly, friendly and open with. My boyfriend (he/him) and I have been together for many years and we have great trust, transparency and communication. We discuss boundaries and help each other feel comfortable always, including on this topic. I was always »cuddly« with my friends in other settings, and in my main friend circle, it’s always been the norm. He never felt bad about this.

However, I moved to a different country, and I’ve been struggling with expressing my non-romantic affection. Since it’s a new environment, I don’t have as many close friends, and I mainly spend my time in the company of my boyfriend or my best friend. People who don’t know me / us so well sometimes ask really inappropriate questions about me and my friend. They make remarks about our chemistry, ask us why we’re not together, »ship us« and I know it really hurts my boyfriend. He mentioned it multiple times, and he says it’s not my fault, but I really don’t want him to feel bad over this.

I understand that some people reserve certain behaviours for romantic relationships, and that casual friendly touch can be interpreted differently. But I don’t want to stop being cuddly with my friend, or telling him I appreciate him openly in front of others when it’s relevant. We are university students, we spend a lot of time doing group projects together, and we like to stick together. I have never hidden or obscured the information that I am in a long-term committed relationship – I speak of my boyfriend enthusiastically and frequently. But often remarks come where people say »Oh, I thought you and -best friend- were a thing. You guys really confused me.«

There was a really bad situation where an ex-friend that I haven’t seen in a long time saw me interact with my best friend and went to rant to my boyfriend about how horrible I was for ignoring him. This really hurt my boyfriend.

Am I in the wrong for being affectionate? Is it cultural difference? Do you have suggestions on how to shut these remarks/questions down without coming across as too defensive or making them worse?


Cuddly and Sad

Hello Cuddly and Sad,

Story time! I once made a student film about a mother and a daughter that was loosely based on a true story. I cast age-appropriate actresses who strongly resembled each other. The film did a small festival run, and every single time I screened the film publicly, during the audience Q&A someone would mention how well-cast the sisters were, how much chemistry they had together, etc.  It was an early lesson about the limits of intention. Whatever I intended, people would inevitably draw their own conclusions from what they observed on screen and how that compared to their own experiences and other stories they’d seen, and I wouldn’t be able to personally “correct” every single person who saw the film.

Over time, when it became clear that absolutely nobody was reading the two of them as parent and child, on the advice of my teacher, I changed the synopsis and marketing materials so they would be sisters in the official version, too. If it were absolutely important to me that this be a mother-daughter story, my other options were: 1) Remake the movie, and run the new casting by multiple people before locking the actors into roles to make sure they were seeing what I was seeing 2) Leave the movie alone, and find a way to be okay with multiple people not fully getting what I intended. 

Another story: I’m adopted, neither of my parents is a biological relation. But whenever I’d be out and about with my mom as a kid, people who met us would remark on our resemblance to each other. “The spitting image!” “I’d have known you were her daughter anywhere!”  Mostly, we would not correct people. My mom would wink at me, and we’d smile and say thank you, and go on with our day. What did it matter? It didn’t change what we knew about our relationship if a passerby was slightly wrong about us. But with people who were closer to the family, people we knew we’d see often (teachers, pediatricians, Scout leaders, Mom’s co-workers), my mom would indicate that I should tell them the truth, or she’d say something herself, “Oh, that’s so funny, she’s adopted, but we hear that all the time.” No big explanation, no implication that the person was wrong to make the assumption they did, just, “Here’s why you might have assumed that, but no.” 

I tell you these stories because people who observe you and your best friend together can’t see your intentions or the agreements you’ve made with each other or with your respective romantic partners, they can only see your behavior.  When you get consistent, across-the-board feedback that people are having the exact same set of assumptions about a well-defined set of behaviors, that’s probably worth paying attention to while you craft your strategy going forward. If you can’t control what people will assume about you, what can you control, and what is it worth even trying to control? 

Some options: 

A) Let people assume whatever they want. People will make assumptions, you know what your own boundaries and agreements are, and as long as you know that you’re behaving with integrity, maybe everybody you meet doesn’t need to hear your whole life story. “It’s weird to assume that every opposite sex friendship or act of physical affection between friends is sexual.”  “It’s weird to pay this much attention to how much two people who aren’t you touch each other.” “Why do you care so much anyway?” 

Not all opinions or uncomfortable feelings require action, and other people’s opinions and uncomfortable feelings definitely don’t always require your action. 

B) Dial back the touching during Group Project Study Time. If what you want is to actually change people’s assumptions, changing the behavior that reliably generates those assumptions is the most obvious way. Is that fair? Maybe…a little…yes? 

As both student and teacher, I’ve observed many an awkward vibe when a pair of close childhood friends or siblings or an actual couple are in the same group for every single class project. Even if nobody’s doing anything technically “wrong,” when two people are utterly inseparable and direct all of most of their attention to each other while in group settings, they can come to operate (and be treated) like a single entity in a way that throws off the balance in the group and can inhibit each member of the duo’s ability to collaborate and form relationships with other students. It’s not…dire? But it is definitely A Thing. 

Your classmates aren’t passing strangers, so if this is coming up a lot in your interactions with them, it might have less to do with “My boyfriend’s okay with it, don’t worry!” than with your peers communicating some version of, “Whatever, but it’s all a little distracting while everyone’s trying to get work done.”

Could they mind their own business? Sure. Could you also not touch your friend during study sessions, while still maintaining a close bond and getting tons of hugs at other times? Probably also yes. Do with that information what you will. 

C) Find a routine way to correct people that doesn’t gaslight them or punish them for daring to wonder.“We hear that a lot, but no, just friends.” “I can see why you’d think that, but no, I’m just a big snuggler.”  Be very boring and consistent. Don’t get into the details. Change the subject often. “I thought you and x were a couple, you really confused me.” “Oh, it’s understandable, especially since you haven’t met [Boyfriend], but no, we’re just close friends. How are you enjoying the course?” 

It’s fine to acknowledge both cultural differences and personal quirks. “I realize that here only boyfriends-girlfriends are like this, but at home I’m like this with all my friends of all genders and orientations.” “I’m considered pretty touchy-feely by some people back home, but I’m used to it.” Then change the subject to what you wish you were talking about. 

For people who get weird about it (to the point of “shipping” you and your friend), it’s okay to be like “You know we’re just friends, so please stop being weird about it.” “That’s an inappropriate question.” “Yikes, this again?” “I’ve already answered that.” “It’s insulting to assume that men and women can’t be friends, or that I’m a lying cheater, stop bringing this up.” The speculation isn’t coming from nowhere, but once you’ve dealt with it, you can put a limit on how much you’re willing to discuss it. 

D) Periodically review the situation with your boyfriend and with your friend to make sure the people closest to you are still cool with all of it.

It sounds like your former friend was just being a nasty shit-disturber by raising the issue with your boyfriend, but “It’s not what I think, it’s what other people might think” is a classic way of displacing concern when it feels too risky to say, “I wish you would ______.”  If your boyfriend is expressing dismay about this topic “multiple times,” it’s probably worth asking him, does he actually feel ignored or sidelined? What (if anything) does he want you to do that might give him the reassurance he seeks? Before you change up your whole deal to anticipate and manage his feelings, invite him to spell out what he actually wants, and then decide whether whatever it is something you’d be willing to accommodate.

Is your bestie comfortable navigating this whole study abroad experience while literally joined at the hip? It’s fine to be a (consensually) snuggly person, but that doesn’t mean that all situations are ideal or appropriate, so maybe one way to think about this is: How often is he the one who initiates the public cuddles vs. accepting yours? When the weird speculation cascades happen, how does your friend handle it? Does this come up as a friction point in his romantic relationships with others? Is he getting asked about it by peers the way you are? In a perfect world, how would he prefer to handle all of this? 

In the end, you cannot control everything that other people will assume about you, and you don’t have to manage how your boyfriend or your best friend feel about every passing incorrect assumption. But if this is coming up routinely in a way that’s hurting people’s feelings, or making your university life be more about “Will they or won’t they?” than about your research and ideas, then that seems like a sign to at least make sure the existing agreements are still holding steady and check that the people whose opinions you care about are all operating with the same information.





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