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Hi Captain,

A friend of mine admitted near the beginning of our friendship that I (she/her) resemble an ex-girlfriend of his. I didn’t realize at the time how infatuated he still is with her, despite his protests to the contrary. He’s currently in a decade+ long relationship with his fiancée. The resemblance was brought up in the presence of a mutual friend, and we laughed about the doppelganger resemblance. I was, I think understandably, rather weirded out, but his behavior at the time was above reproach.

Fast forward to deep in the pandemic. He and his fiancée moved across the country, and were isolating in accordance with CDC guidance (this was pre-vaccine). As a result, they hadn’t met many people in their geographic area, so our group of friends had been keeping up with them virtually once a week. We’d been discussing trying some virtual games online, and I’d found a site for us to try. He suggested testing it out the night prior to one of our weekly meet-ups…he then used that time, after testing out the interface, to proposition me for a friends with benefits relationship. His fiancée was evidently not providing him the…usual amount of attention, and he was feeling down, lonely and frustrated, and he had always found me physically attractive. I turned him down, kindly, and talked with him about other ways to resolve things with his fiancée or ways for him to find ‘fulfillment’ without putting himself or his fiancée at significant risk during the pandemic. He hoped that we could still be platonic friends, and asked me not to tell our mutual friends since they are more traditional, and I acquiesced.

At this point I should explain that he and his fiancée had had many conversations about him finding physical fulfillment elsewhere while she’s busy in her new job. She eventually acceded to his request. He explained this prior to the proposition. I should also explain that I don’t pass any judgment on people who have opted to practice ethical non-monogamy, though personally I prefer my relationships to be of the committed, monogamous variety. FWIW, he knows I am a single woman.

To his credit, he told his fiancée what transpired the next day, and she texted me apologizing profusely on his behalf. She seemed fine with what he was looking for, but not that he had “made me uncomfortable”.

Captain, I am shocked at how hurt and betrayed I am by his request. I’ve had friends ask me out who I’ve remained friends with, once we got over the awkwardness and they demonstrated they didn’t fall into the post-ask guilt-trip / Nice Guy / she-did-me-wrong tropes. Why does this one feel different?

The next day, I snapped at him during the group video call after he put me on the spot to answer (what I considered to be) a stupid question (on a relatively benign topic). The week following, I berated him about a very expensive system that he had gotten me as a/an (unwanted) gift (several months prior). Our area had had a monumental utility system break down, which then affected the functionality of the gift. After doing my best to remediate the system (and having not just a bad cold, but concurrent terrible physical symptoms directly attributable to this broken system) I spent more than half of the price of the gift trying to fix an expensive system I did not want in the first place, in addition to at least 3 weekends fixing the d*** thing.

Perhaps I’m conflating my anger about said d*** thing and his proposition, but our friend group is now (understandably?) bewildered at my ongoing angry reaction.

It’s been half a year, I’m still angry with him, and I’m wondering if I’m justified in breaking off the friendship. I’ve reviewed my actions and I don’t think I “led him on” at all, not even the smallest modicum of potential interest. It feels like he betrayed our friendship by asking this unwarranted, unwanted question without ascertaining if I’m even remotely interested, and that he’s just “going for it” based on the fact that I look like a “second chance” with his ex-girlfriend. I’ve been questioning every interaction he and I have had, and the motives behind his actions.

So, Captain, can you please help me with some of your wonderful, clear-headed advice:

· Am I overreacting? Or just reacting?

· If I decide to African Violet this guy, what would be the best way to do it? Preferably with the least disruption to the group. What should I even say to the group when they ask?

·Does his fiancée have any blame to share here? The male friends I consulted on this are confused by my nice treatment of his fiancée, but I don’t think she should be held accountable for his actions.

Many, many thanks.

Hello there!

It is 100% okay to not sleep with OR be friends with someone who brings to mind the plot of Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958).

Having a crush or attraction and speaking it aloud to a friend isn’t the worst thing in the world, but I think there are reasons that this feels different. Could it be the sense of objectification that was lurking from the start, now made explicit?

Probably you feel angry and weird because you got cornered and then blindsided by an obviously planned sexual proposition, wrapped in an unscheduled therapy session, and dumped in your lap pretty much as a soliloquy that focused entirely on him: His nostalgia-boner*, his sadness and lack of “fulfillment” at home, his long campaign of pressuring his partner into agreeing to an open relationship, his pandemic risk-management and convenience, etc.

Like, was literally any part of it about your desires or what he had to offer you? Seems sexy, can’t imagine how you resisted. [/sarcasm]

(*I assume every sexually active person likely has a Greatest Hits compilation in the old memory palace, but masturbation is free, my dude! No need to invite your friends!)

It's a pie chart called Reasons We Should Bang That I Definitely Haven't Been Thinking About For Our Entire Friendship. The reasons are: "I've always found you hot, just like the one true love of my life was hot." "I confess, I've been jerking off to thoughts of you all along, but I could really use a visual aid." "Global health crisis is putting a damper on recruiting new sex partners, but hey, we already know each other!" "Pretty Please? I'm so lonely." "Fulfillment." "Come on, my fiancée eventually said it was okay, it's not like she has the time anyway!"
Compelling and persuasive! 

If “sad man seeks emotional, sexual surrogate” wasn’t enough, said uncomfortable ambush ended with you soothing and reassuring him, smoothing things over with his fiancée, and also agreeing to keep it all secret from anybody else who might provide you with some support and sympathy or at least a good cackle. To top it off, he foisted an expensive, unwanted “apology” gift on you, a gift that turned out to be extremely high-maintenance, exactly like everything about this situation.

I wasn’t even aware that the Sharper Image catalog *had* an Extremely Doomed Metaphor section, but here we all are.

Present-day, is it the months-old proposition or is it the expensive MacGuffin in your house that’s making you so irritable whenever he’s around? Who knows? His advances felt weird and dehumanizing, and overriding your wishes with this gift also feels dehumanizing, it’s not unrelated. Still, you don’t have to split these hairs in order to make a good decision for yourself. Even if everything about him were on the up-and-up, even if the angry feelings were somehow unfair or disproportionate, they’re here, they’re real, and they aren’t going away with time and effort. Sometimes speaking an attraction aloud does “ruin” the friendship, and oops, sorry, looks like this is one of those times. He took a risk, it made you feel bad, and you still feel bad whenever you interact with him, and that alone is a good enough reason to call it quits.

If you do decide to try to repair the friendship, I think the way forward is to acknowledge how angry you still are. “Friend, I realize I’m blowing up at you a lot, and I think it’s because I’m still angry and uncomfortable about our conversation last year and on top of it, this expensive gift is a fucking nightmare.” From there you can decide what might make it better: Some space/a temporary break from the friendship? Assistance from him in removing/replacing whatever the thing is? A real apology from him that’s about what you need and not what his long-suffering fiancée will permit? If there’s something worth salvaging, if he wants to actually make amends, you’ll figure it out from there.

If you decide to end the friendship, being bluntly honest about how uncomfortable and angry you are is also the key, so you can walk away clean without feeling like you’ve left something unsaid: “I’ve tried hard to put it behind me, but honestly, I’m still so uncomfortable and angry about the time you propositioned me, and I don’t think the friendship has really worked for me since. I wish you and Fiancée well, but I’m going to end the friendship here.” 

Try to keep it short, resist the urge to make an airtight case that he’ll agree with and accept, as that road only leads to more talking about him.

I predict that his first reactions will be along the lines of “But it was okay with Fiancée, so I didn’t do anything technically wrong!!!!!!!” and/or “Are you going to tell [mutual friends] what I did?”

This is a full-service advice blog so I offer you the retorts: “Well, the point is, none of it was okay with me, and I think ending the friendship is the right choice for me, so, take care!” and “Our mutual friends are obviously going to figure out that we aren’t friends anymore, and that will probably be awkward for a while, but I think everyone will manage. I don’t plan to bring up the ‘why,’  but I also think you should organize another way to hang out with the others from now on so we’re not all up in each other’s business at Game Night.” 

The group already knows that something is wrong, and you don’t have to manage their entire experience re: This Dude. What do you need from your friends right now? Some grace, space, and circumspection where they don’t pressure you to make peace or explain? In that case, scripts could be:

  • “You can probably tell from how punch I’ve been around [Friend], but we had a falling out a while back and ever since then things haven’t been the same.”
  • “Sorry if it makes things weird for you, but I think the friendship has run its course.”
  • “Eh, the friendship wasn’t really working, it was time.” 
  • There’s nothing to fix, and I’d prefer not to talk about it.”
  • “FYI,  I’ve explicitly uninvited him from the stuff I host, so if you want to connect, you should reach out directly.” 

Don’t disclose his private info to the others, but I beg you, do not take on the burden of making sure this guy’s feelings, his ego, his romantic relationship, and the rest of his social life remain completely unruffled. When your friend used the platform test for group hangouts as a pretext to proposition you, he didn’t seem to think about whether that would make everything weird for you (or his fiancée, good grief!). In the aftermath of parting ways, if he wants to shore up his  friendships, he’s free to do that, the same way you’re free to invite them to do things without him going forward.

His fiancée doesn’t deserve “blame” but it’s okay to not be friends with her, either. She can be both a good person and not your friend. It’s hard to cut ties with one half of a couple and remain friends with the other person, so why take on all the work? You tried being The Cool Girl, it’s not working, and you don’t have to hang out with either of them to prove how open-minded and fair you are.

She may reach out, as she has in the past, to try to smooth things over, to which you can say, “I know none of this is your fault, but my friendship with [Guy] truly has come to an end, and there’s nothing to fix. I wish you well, and I don’t plan to make it weird if and when we bump into each other down the road, but I’m not going to be hanging out with [Guy] online or in real life anymore, even if that means not seeing you.”

After “more than a decade ” together (!!!!!) I presume she knows who she’s engaged to and this won’t be the first or last time he unbalances the pH in the social pool. I don’t know if she this website, but I’m just gonna drop this this brief, glorious tale about what can happen in when someone pesters their partner into an open relationships and hope for the best.

P.S.: Red Flag Spotting With The Captain!

  • The person who complains about their existing partner at length as a strategy to get in your pants. Why do people think this is either acceptable or sexy? The “You’re cool, not like those other buzzkills who let me down” neg is a trap, it’s always been a trap, it will always be a trap.
  • The person who makes unwanted sexual or romantic advances and then immediately swears you to secrecy, making their reputation somehow your responsibility from now on, and conveniently neutralizing the whisper network/early warning system about what they’re like.
  • The person who gets turned down for sex and decides, well, hell, since I’m here, I might as well tell you all my problems, you can’t expect me to leave without some form of catharsis, right?
  • The person who does something weird or upsetting to you, but you end the interaction reassuring and comforting them about the weird thing they did.

#ThisFuckingGuy comes in many forms, but spotting these patterns  (the way today’s lovely Letter Writer did, even if she couldn’t quite define it) might save you a ton of grief.

It’s been a minute, sorry about that. July and August sent a giant wave of LIFE STUFF at me and I’m still crawling out from under.

Here are some things I’ve read recently that I think you might find useful, interesting, or helpful:

Essay: Some Of Us Did Not Die by Mona Eltahawy, writing about what survivors can do with all the pandemic grief. “Those of us who did not die must prepare to take our individual grief out into the world, find our place in communal mourning and nurturing & whisper to each other’s hearts “We know you’re strong. Look at what you survived. You can be soft here, we’ve got you.”

We Are The Solid by Cheryl Strayed alias Dear Sugar, writing about estrangement.. “Whatever you do, remember that the most powerful thing you learned in the enormous effort it took to shut that door between you and your mother is that there is no door. The door is a metaphor we use so we can pretend there’s something solid to crouch behind. But there isn’t. We are the solid. The door, dear Daughter, is you and me and all the people reading this who relate to these words. It’s built by our strength and our courage; our wisdom and resolve; our suffering and our triumph. The people who harmed us can only come inside if and when we allow them to.”

Summer Brennan’s Essay Camp, 5 days of writing prompts and practice, starting here. The real-time communal experience has passed, but the prompts and lessons live on.

Friends Write Books: 

Borrowing Your Body, Laura Passin’s debut poetry collection is out! As is Heather Corinna’s excellent, inclusive guide to menopause, What Fresh Hell Is This: Menopause, Perimenopause, Other Indignities, And You. 

You’ll have to wait until October 12 for S. Bear Bergman’s graphic advice collection, Special Topics In Being A Human. I’ve read an advance copy and it’s just as lovely as he is.

Hopefully some or all of these (and the archives) will tide you over a little bit longer.

Hello everyone!

Pandemic rules in England now allow us to meet up without restriction, although outdoors is recommended and we still need to be sensible. So, here we go:

14th August, 2pm, Hyde Park.

Please bring your own:

  1. Picnic blanket or similar
  2. Any folding chairs etc. you may want to use
  3. Food and drink for yourself
  4. Masks unless you’re exempt
  5. Crafting things if you want
  6. Umbrella, waterproofs etc. if needed

Please email me at the below to say you’re coming.

No RSVPs via any other method accepted – e.g. no text messages, no comments here, no facebook likes, etc. Please make sure you email me.

Please make sure you also update me if you RSVP yes but later can’t come.

I will email the confirmed people with a map link to show the exact location in the park, and I will have my plush Chthulu which looks like this:

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 year. 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.

The park has public toilets available, but last time the queues were extremely long. The fee is 20p by contactless payment. They are claimed to be fully accessible but I didn’t manage to find full confirmation sorry.

I will cancel this meetup if government guidance changes or if the weather is truly prohibitive, so keep an eye on this space.

kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com



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