Story by | Aunt Agony
Illustration by | Ishmam Ahmed
Trigger warning: Sender 7’s letter contains one mention of self-harm. Reader discretion is advised.
Before we start, it has come to my attention that NUS’ flagship publication, The Ridge, also has an Aunt Agony. I highly commend her work helping out the many many many troubled students at the university. When you’re sick of laughing at my columns, feel free to visit the link provided to read some solid advice.
I’d like to wish you all a happy Sexual Wellness Week. Whether or not you’re having sex, there are a lot of events facilitated by the wonderful Kingfishers for Consent this week, so visit this link if you’re interested in learning more. Thank you to all the educators—this truly is God’s work.
Now on to your dilemmas.
Dear Aunt Agony,
My partner and I broke up one month ago after I realized I had feelings for a person in college. This person is really nice and I really like them. However, I am not comfortable getting into a new relationship after just getting out of one. This person and I have a lot of physical skinship which I thoroughly enjoy. At the same time, I also feel uneasy because some of the skinship [are things] I would only do with someone I am dating. How do I tell them I want some physical distance without sending the wrong message? I neither want to confess to them (I am not sure if they like me) nor want them to think I want to distance [myself] from them (I want to stay close friends).
Before I get into my hot takes, let me commend you for being the first person who took the time to address the letter to me by my title. I feel oddly validated. The rest of you take notes—if you want your dilemmas answered, of course.
It’s natural to be a bit emotionally burnt out after the end of a relationship, and I’m glad you recognize that you’re not ready for another one. Self-awareness is important, and it saves both you and everyone around you from a lot of BS.
Now, onto the “skinship” issue—is that what the kids call it nowadays? I know I’m meant to be an Auntie but damn, I really didn’t think I was that out of touch. For the readers who are cool, according to Urban Dictionary, skinship is “the act of intimate, non-sexual touching between very close platonic friends. It involves acts such as holding hands/arms, hugging, and kissing on the cheeks.”
Speaking of out of touch, that’s what you need to be. In your response, you approached the appropriate course of action without quite getting there. You don’t have to continue with all of this physical intimacy if you’re not comfortable. You need to take responsibility for setting and sticking to your own boundaries.
As I have said before, communication is almost always the answer. My instinct was to say smack their hand away when they reach out to touch you, but after some reflection, I understand this wouldn’t be conducive to maintaining the friendship.
This is a conversation that needs to be had, but remember, as the person initiating the conversation, you have control over how deep you make it. I personally would keep it casual, explaining that it’s not something you’re comfortable with at the moment because you usually reserve it for people whom you’re dating.
Sender 6 (she/her):
I was seeing a guy for a few months and things didn’t work out romantically but we decided to stay friends. After a couple of months of friendship, I realized that I didn’t want to be friends with him anymore. It was emotionally draining and the closeness in the friendship was too much to handle considering that I was still not completely over the dating period.
Anyways, it’s been a few weeks since I ended my friendship with him and he keeps messaging me TikToks. What do I do? I muted his chat and archived on WA but it keeps popping up.
Wow. Someone who knows how to set their own boundaries. We love to see it! Let me just take this opportunity to speak about maturity culture, which is often invoked as a justification for staying friends with exes.
What I mean by maturity culture is the general tendency in post-breakup situations for people to stay friends with their exes, not because their exes are wonderful people or because the relationship ended civilly, but rather, because it is seen as a testament to their maturity, whatever that means.
This culture surrounding amicable breakups can be really toxic. Most of the time, breakups do not occur amicably, and there is a lot of emotional strife involved in the process. People are often disrespected, cheated on, or worse, yet they remain friends with their exes out of fear of seeming bitter, dramatic, or irrational. Without going too far into the gendered aspect, it’s almost always women who feel this pressure because of misogynistic tropes about them being overly emotional. Ultimately, it’s pick-me behavior designed by men through shaming women who do not conform, to the end of making themselves feel less bad for being terrible partners.
This disregards the fact that sometimes, the mature thing to do is to cut people off. After people show themselves to be manipulative, selfish, or emotionally stunted, it doesn’t make sense to keep them in our lives. I don’t know what happened in your situation which made it go south, but I assume that all was not hunky-dory. We should not be expected to overlook everything that happened between ourselves and others just because someone else would deem us salty if we don’t.
When we break up with people, it’s also important to take space to heal properly. By forcing ourselves into artificial friendships with our exes based on fear of how we would look if we don’t interact with them, we limit ourselves in reflecting and processing what happened, hindering our ability to move on.
Good on you for being self-aware. Now regarding the messages, there are a variety of approaches you can take, including but not limited to sending a passive-aggressive response, opening or not opening the messages, or straight up blocking him.
At this point, the text messages are probably just annoying, though it might be a nice little ego boost to know that you’re still on his mind. It seems you have already explained that you don’t want to be friends with this guy, and it’s his fault for not respecting that after you were explicit about it.
You don’t owe him anything, so while you’re justified in whatever you choose to do, I would say just block him. I was going to advise you to play mind games and open the messages and not respond, but life is too short to play mind games with emotionally unintelligent men. You have a whole 20MCs you’re taking, and unless you’re getting paid the standard $20 an hour to teach him a lesson, just leave him alone.
I want to be in a relationship but I feel really scared to put myself out there on online dating or meeting new people in person without getting extremely overwhelmed. I have a lot of mental health issues that are getting in the way of forming meaningful relationships and the sight of other people in love makes me want to self-harm. It feels like I’ll never have what they have. What should I do?
Though I want to address this, this is above my pay grade. It seems like your anxiety isn’t just about dating, but is rooted in some bigger mental health issues you’re currently experiencing.
As eager as you are, you may not be in a position to focus on dating at this point in your life, and that’s okay. Do some self-care: drop a class, shave your head, top up more than $6 at a time on your AC, go to IKEA, buy a plant… Better yet, steal a plant from the skygarden. It’s all about self-love at the end of the day.
Okay but seriously though, the things you said are concerning, and I am not equipped to address them. What I will say, though, is that I would really urge you to seek help from the Counselling Centre to keep yourself out of harm’s way. If that’s too intimidating, reach out to P.S. We Care and talk to a student confidentially. Your mental health is the priority, and just trust in the fact that everything else in your life will fall into place later, even your future partner(s). (Would hate to assume monogamy.)
For those experiencing mental health issues, please visit the Counselling Centre’s website to learn more about the resources available.