Help! Can I salvage this friendship even after experiencing the searing pain of rejection?
posted by anonymous to human relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
(CAUTION: lengthy beanplating)
Okay. About six months ago, I posted a smart, sassy personal ad under "strictly platonic" on the local Craigslist (not in the US) seeking someone to talk to, hang out with, with the intention of expanding my social circles and being introduced to someone else's social circle. It was w4m since most of my friends (maybe 90%) are girls and I don't have enough guy friends. Having never used CL before, I was surprised by the caliber of responses, mostly coming from interesting, articulate people, and ended up hanging out with someone who really did turn into a friend, and corresponded with a couple more who were local, but were currently assigned elsewhere for work.
Enter: The Man I Speak Of. Despite being an American in America and being over a decade older than me and never having made a friend over the Internet before, he replied to my ad. He had been to my city some years ago, and he worked in the airline industry and so could pretty much fly anywhere. Now, of course, being a MeFite and having been a nethead for 14 years, I am no stranger to online interactions with people from around the world, and upon the requisite Googlestalking, he seemed to be everything he said he was, so I thought, what the hey, why not? He wasn't the best speller, but he still seemed articulate, had a questioning mind, liked to think on his feet, an extrovert, was also interested in books and movies and music, and best of all, he was extremely funny and there was a certain je ne sais quoi in the way he wrote that just made his personality jump off the page. (I'm sure you can see where this is going.) Our highly enthusiastic e-mails escalated in frequency to daily, and eventually we also started chatting daily (with the occasional voice chat). At one point we were chatting twice a day for hours, despite the time differences: when I woke up and he was getting ready for bed, and when he woke up and I was getting ready for bed. We would even chat when he was traveling. If we couldn't chat, he would e-mail or leave an offline message, some little nugget for me to find. (Data point: he was on extended leave from work, and I was between jobs.) I can't even remember what we talked about, mostly getting-to-know-you stuff and common interests I suppose. He would jokingly censor himself when I complained that he ranted too much. We had a strange relationship. It was still strictly platonic on the surface, even somewhat paternal, but clearly we were getting very attached to each other. Eventually, we decided that this wasn't very healthy, and decided to cut back to chatting only once a day. The next time he traveled, he didn't bring his laptop. He started attending adult classes and working on a writing project, so he would have some accomplishments to show for when he comes back from his leave. Good, right?
Three months into it, I'm not sure how, our voice chat turned somewhat flirtatious when he complimented my voice and my laugh. I was flattered, and of course I really liked him, but I wasn't sure if I could put any stock into it, since we hadn't met. He had sent me his picture, but while he wasn't unattractive, I wasn't sure if I was attracted to it, or to him physically, so I kept myself in check. Then, maybe a week later, he started acting strange and distant. I didn't catch him online for days, and he didn't leave any notes. It seemed like he was avoiding me. So then I ask what's up, and he goes "What am I going to do with you?" Then he admited that he had a drinking problem, that he couldn't lie to me, that he had been thinking hard about it because he wanted to be more than friends, that he knew he could be very charming, but that he didn't want me to make any emotional investment in him without knowing this very huge thing and he was worried I would write him off.
Well, dear MeFites, I didn't write him off but I also didn't know how to handle the bomb he dropped. (I mean, up until this worldly older man, I had mostly been involved with geeky types, engineer types, and sensitive indie musician types.) I really, really, really liked him, but I told him that it was something I could handle if we were friends, but that it would definitely be a problem if we were to be more than friends. So, we stayed friends, and of his own volition, he started seeing a doctor and going to AA meetings. I tried to be very, very supportive and help him stay positive. He had previously kicked his smoking habit, I knew he could do it. The tenor of our conversations changed: deeper, more serious. We both expressed a desire to lighten up, but for some reason it would constantly tip towards the heavy end.
In spite of myself, I started to develop feelings for him. Rationally, I knew it wasn't a good idea, but I couldn't help feeling tender and affectionate after he showed such vulnerability. I started becoming uncomfortable with the nature of his friendship with an attractive married colleague he had a crush on, and even more uncomfortable that he vaguely implied having had "friends with benefits" and outright upset at the possibility of him jumping on an opportunity if it arose. Yet I didn't necessarily want to be "with" him and it felt unfair, I didn't own him. But I liked him a lot and felt very attached to him. He had asked me out to see a certain movie and he planned on coming to my city for a week, but that no longer seemed to be on the horizon (he said it would be December at the soonest) given all the things he wanted to do (lose weight, attend more classes, do the 90 meetings in 90 days in AA, complete the writing project), and so we chatted less and less.
And then the disaster happened. I won't give any details because I don't want to turn this into a pity party, but a major natural disaster ravaged the region, and we were pretty badly hit. I sought him out for comfort, and he in turn was supportive towards me. He seemed to really want to help, but realistically there was nothing I could ask him to do.
I lost my Internet, and we no longer chatted regularly. Then I learned to tether my mobile phone and logged on more, but he would no longer go online at the "regular" times, unless we set up a time to chat. But even when we set up a time to chat, and I would be late for a few minutes because I had trouble connecting or grabbed a bite before logging on, he would not wait for me like he used to, now that I didn't have a constant connection. One time, just to prove my hunch, I was online right on the dot and stayed invisible. He was late, stayed online for 3 minutes, and left without leaving an offline message or e-mail. I felt him growing cold. Maybe he lost interest. Maybe there was someone else. He did say there was a woman he liked who he wanted to be his sponsor, but according to AA rules it had to be another man. I asked him to tell me if something was up. He said the only thing that had changed was his schedule, that he couldn't keep up the same hours he used to, and that it would be the same if he went back to work.
A month after the disaster, I was grasping at straws, I couldn't stand it anymore. I wrote him a longish e-mail explaining why I was acting strange, that I felt that I was losing him, that I felt confused and may have feelings for him, that I missed him, and lighter times. I said that I had to lay low for a while, and maybe later on I would be back to my rational self and be happy for him and the new developments in his life. I told him he didn't have to reply. Well, he did reply and say that he could go online at 9:00am his time the next day. So I went online and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour later, he was still not online, so I fired off a line about how it was getting ridiculous. He e-mailed back and apologized for forgetting, noted that I seemed mad, and said that since I kept late hours, he thought he might still catch me. I said that it was just that after I had sent that embarrassing e-mail, going online to chat with him felt like having to face the firing squad, and that when he didn't show up, I felt like an idiot, but that I meant it that he didn't have to reply. (I partly wished he wouldn't, as I wanted it to be a swan song of sorts.) He sent a couple of e-mails a few days apart, pretending to work on a response, and when the actual "response" came (a one-word text file) I wondered if he was just dicking me around or if it was part of a running gag between us (him building up something which ends up being nothing, applied to jokes, anecdotes, faux documents). However, I was too sore about previous events that I didn't dignify it with a response until two weeks later, just one line. He asked me how a trip I took was. I replied with just information about the trip and nothing more. Since then, silence.
It hurts so much.
I know, I know, I know, it was a stupid thing to do and this only means he doesn't feel the same, and he has offered no reassurance. I can't seem to get it into my head that even though he once indicated he wanted to be more than friends, he no longer feels the same way.
I can't stop thinking about him. Why am I so attracted to his words? It feels like an addiction, and I'm experiencing withdrawal. But I know that even I got what I wanted, it would still be unhealthy, that continuing to chat with him would be an incredibly bad idea for both of us. I know I need to stay away. Yet I do still want to be friends with this man. I still value his insights and opinions, and I like him a lot as a person regardless of all that has happened.
How do I deal with my feelings for him?
How do I make it hurt less?
Most importantly, how can I save our friendship?
I am at the end of my rope. I don't know what to do.