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How can I return a favour without being flirtatious?
April 14, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

How can I return a favour without being flirtatious?

I have a friend/acquaintance that I've been in a few college classes with before. Since I've gotten to know him better, I definitely feel a vibe that he's attracted/interested in me. I'm not, but he's still a nice and cool guy, so I do my best to be nice without being flirtatious. So far, it's all been good. (It might be worth mentioning that I have a history of accidentally 'flirting' with people I'm not interested in while just trying to be nice.)

I had family problems recently and missed a lot of class, and he was nice enough to give me copies of all his notes that I missed and help me with my assignments. It was a pretty big effort on his part and I feel like I owe him more than a "thank you". If any other friend did this for me, I'd offer to buy them a beer or something, but in this case I want to be really careful not to send off flirty signals and lead to an Awkward Situation. (This has happened to me before.)

What can I do? I don't want to be flirty, but I also don't want to be a jerk.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Buy him a gift certificate to Target or Best Buy or someplace like that. It's a thoughtful gesture but suggests a degree of friendly distance.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:20 AM on April 14, 2010


I agree on the gift certificate - maybe to the campus bookstore?
posted by prettymightyflighty at 8:21 AM on April 14, 2010


Why not mail him something? A nice note and some trinket worth $20 or less would express the sentiment while making it clear that you don't expect to spend time with him over it.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:22 AM on April 14, 2010


On one hand you are not obliged to do anything other than say "thank you" because it was his doing and not your asking for the notes.

On the other hand, if buying a beer is too much and since it's a good unsolicited resource he has provided you with, go ahead and tell him how much you really appreciate it and that you would be happy to xerox your notes for him in the event that he misses class. Just be genuine and yourself in thanking him.

Going out with him anywhere seems to send the i am interested signal like you assessed.

The above response may seem a little crude, I too am interested in what others here have to say as well.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 8:24 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I've sort of been this guy. I mean, not exactly, but I've been interested in girls and done nontrivial favors for them as a result. And you know what? If she gave me a gift back, I'm pretty sure I'd perceive that pretty inevitably as returned interest. I know you're trying to express thanks without sending a signal, but in this situation almost anything could easily be interpreted as a Signal. So thank him profusely, tell him you owe him one - and that's all. Anything more stands a significant chance of being seen the way you're trying to avoid.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:30 AM on April 14, 2010 [24 favorites]


If he's interested, you need to go as impersonal as possible for the sake of both your feelings (or, in your case, lack thereof.) I'd go with the gift certificate idea. Doing anything just-the-two-of-you social (e.g. a drinks) or even an overly effort-ful/personal gift (e.g. homemade cookies) is definitely flirty. Cold, hard cash - in an acceptable format in our culture - is not. No dude with stuff together thinks "Ah! She gave me twenty bucks to spend at Barnes and Noble! She's clearly interested."

Stick to the "Christmas-present-from-that-aunt-you-haven't-seen-since-before-you-hit-puberty" class of gifts.
posted by griphus at 8:36 AM on April 14, 2010


Nthing Heartfelt "thank you" and nothing more. A gift certificate is overboard, a card is too sentimental, and going out is too much of a "date". So just say "thank you" and that's it.
posted by arniec at 8:36 AM on April 14, 2010


Yeah, just a heartfelt thank you is fine. Offer to return the favor if he ever needs it. Giving a gift certificate to a college classmate strikes me as pretty weird, he'd probably just be confused and would maybe start overthinking it.
posted by naju at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2010


I suspect that I'm the last guy who should be handing out advice on this topic, but would it be so bad to buy him the beer, and use that opportunity to tell him that, while he's a nice and cool guy, you're not interested in him in that way? Why do it all with "signals?"
posted by jon1270 at 8:44 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had family problems recently and missed a lot of class, and he was nice enough to give me copies of all his notes that I missed and help me with my assignments. It was a pretty big effort on his part and I feel like I owe him more than a "thank you". If any other friend did this for me, I'd offer to buy them a beer or something, but in this case I want to be really careful not to send off flirty signals and lead to an Awkward Situation. (This has happened to me before.)

You don't owe him anything; a gift should be given without strings attached, and without any feeling of obligations on the other end. Seriously, feeling like you owe people for simple human kindness might have easily led you to lead people on in the past. Just say thanks.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:45 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suspect that I'm the last guy who should be handing out advice on this topic, but would it be so bad to buy him the beer, and use that opportunity to tell him that, while he's a nice and cool guy, you're not interested in him in that way? Why do it all with "signals?"

This would amount to going out on a date with someone to break up with them.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:47 AM on April 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Just say " thank you" and move and don't over think it. You can't make everyone happy or have them think you're a swell person, so stop trying to.

The other alternative is to be blunt and say "Hey, this was really nice of you, but I get the feelling that this was done because you're interested in dating me or something similar. However I'm not attracted to you, so I just want to say thank you for what you've done, but also make it clear that I am not interested."

Do not attempt to say you're flattered by the attention or actions, just say thank you and make clear that you're not interested.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:47 AM on April 14, 2010


I suspect that I'm the last guy who should be handing out advice on this topic, but would it be so bad to buy him the beer, and use that opportunity to tell him that, while he's a nice and cool guy, you're not interested in him in that way? Why do it all with "signals?"

Also, I've done this before with "nice and cool guys" and it led to uncomfortable, defensive conversations where they told me that I was a jerk for "assuming the worst" in another person. Taking someone out on a date to reject them seems extra cruel and embarrassing.

(For me, the best solution has been not to accept gifts or overtures that made me feel uncomfortable or indebted unless the tenor of the relationship was clear to all parties. Might seem crazy, I know, but accepting these sorts of gifts just creates a messy power dynamic that's best avoided.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:49 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


In college I would copy notes or help people I knew. Sometimes they were girls I was attracted to, sometimes they weren't, but I never expected more than a thank you and friendly relations in the future. The latter does not mean that I expected them to go out with me, it is more like saying hello when you see each other elsewhere.

I suspect that I'm the last guy who should be handing out advice on this topic, but would it be so bad to buy him the beer, and use that opportunity to tell him that, while he's a nice and cool guy, you're not interested in him in that way? Why do it all with "signals?"

Do not do this. You don't have to explicitly reject anyone who you think might be interested in you. If he starts acting on his interest, then you can tell him that.
posted by grouse at 8:55 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should also say that I let more people copy my notes than I remember and I don't remember them once offering to buy me a beer or a cup of coffee or, god forbid, a gift certificate.
posted by grouse at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Give him something supportive of his academic interests, like a gift card from a bookstore. When you converse, no sexy in the clothes, eyes or gestures. Establish a professional distance. Believe me, you will need to hone this skill to achieve the "no flirty" vibe and still be regarded as ethical. Good luck and kudos to you for not being manipulative toward another person''s sexual desires unless genuinely interested.
posted by effluvia at 9:03 AM on April 14, 2010


Tomorrowful is right. There is no category of gift you can give that he won't likely interpret as flirtatious.

No matter how impersonal a Target gift certificate might seem to you (or commenters here who are identifying with you), he will be able to think of it differently. Period. No matter what the gift is.

People aren't sufficiently putting themselves in his shoes. If you have a crush on someone and they give you a gift certificate -- meaning you're going to do a whole shopping trip in which you're supposed to think of her (and really, Target is a pretty amazing store where you could easily get yourself something awesome that would remind you of her somehow) -- you're not going to be thinking, "This is a strictly neutral, nonplatonic courtesy in recognition of the favor I did." You're going to be excited about the fact that there's any gift-related connection between you. In fact, he could easily think you were "taking things up a notch": all he did was help you with the class you're both taking, but you gave him a more traditional gift. It's sort of an unwritten social rule that students are obliged to help each other out with notes for classes they missed, but there's no social norm of giving a gift certificate to a classroom "acquaintance."

The fallacy is that people are trying to think of what would be a gift that would be decidedly "unromantic" if given to someone who's already your significant other. Since you normally wouldn't give gifts to a mere "acquaintance" who you mainly know from taking a few classes with, any gift is strikingly more flirty than the default, day-to-day customs (i.e. just seeing each other in class and maybe saying "hi" but not exchanging anything). Obviously if you gave him a dozen roses this would be overtly romantic (and thus ludicrously inappropriate), but I'm sure he would think of even the most seemingly unromantic gift as a subtle overture (and even ingeniously so because of the unromantic quality).

Of course, the same is true for buying him a beer or any other gift. If he has a thing for you, do you think he'd be excited about suddenly getting drinks with you? Uh, yeah.

Really, you could lend him your pen in class and he might take as flirting. Someone with a crush is going to wildly overanalyze behavior from the person they have a crush on.

So, I would just thank him very warmly and accept that he did you a favor without a quid pro quo.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:05 AM on April 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Well, I happen to agree with jon1270 in general, as all that needs to make clear is that you're interested in friendship only. Who knows, maybe he's fine with being friends? In which case you've got a pal to hang out with and watch your back.
Of course, maybe he's just doing these things to get in your good graces and the chance at a date. In which case he can decide to go on a "just friends" date, or not.

To me, it really boils down to how you feel about him. Is he someone you want to be friends with? If not, then I agree with the posters saying a gift card, or just a thank you and promise to return the favor. On a personal note, I'd find the gift card more of a cooling signal of "just friends" than the promise to return the favor, but I'm sure others may differ.

If you do feel like a friendship would be cool then saying something like "Hey, thanks so much for the notes. Maybe I can take you out for a beer? Oh, just so you know, I'm fine hanging out as friends, and treating a friend to a beer for a great favor, but I also am not interested in dating or anything romantic. Anyway, gotta run, let me know if you're interested in that beer okay?"
Giving him time to process the information and to think about how he wants to proceed would be preferred, so it'd be good if you structured it in a way that acceptance/decline could be provided at some point in the future.
posted by forforf at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2010


Say thank you, make sure he understands that you owe him a favor -- and here's the kicker: If he ever asks you for favor in the future, do your damnedest do make it happen.

Another, slightly easier thing to do would be to take notice of when he misses class in the future, take extra explicit notes that day and give him a copy when you see him next, help him the same way he did for you.
posted by cior at 9:19 AM on April 14, 2010


Yeah, don't get him any kind of gift at all if you want to avoid sending the wrong signals. I think just a "hey I really appreciated that, let me know if you ever need a favour" is the best way to go.

I do favours friends all the time -- if they gave me a gift each time I think it would be a little odd.

Is there no way you can be in a group with him and a bunch of other people for drinks so you can just pay for his round or something?
posted by modernnomad at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2010


What about inviting him and another friend for a beer to thank both of them for helping you get through your family problems? (I'm not 100% on this idea, though. Maybe someone who has been a favor-doer-possibly-looking-for-more might be able to chime in on how it would be perceived.)
posted by Xalf at 9:25 AM on April 14, 2010


...and don't communicate that you're not interested, either, unless he makes it explicit that he's trying to move on you. Those vibes you get are often right, but not always. Save yourself the risk of putting yourself in an extremely awkward and embarrasing situation. Don't ask me how I know this.
posted by azpenguin at 9:29 AM on April 14, 2010


I've given notes to good friends, girls to whom I'm attracted, and one guy who I think is a total douche and I hope he drops out. The point being, as many have said above, is that it is something that is pretty common in university, and not a serious deal.

Some of my friends have bought me beer next time we were out, one made me a cake, and others have offered to return the favour. My answer to the all of them is "sure, sounds good". It's how you survive in school, helping each other with notes, and there's pretty much no requirement of recompense.

That being said, I think the best thing to do is offer to take notes for them if they're not around / computer breaks. A very simple "Thanks, if it happens to you, let me know" is appropriate.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2010


You should never give gift certificates under any circumstances, they're morally reprehensible and stupid.

If your rich, but he's not, you might pay him for his time, and pay in cash. Cash sends a crystal clear "not interested" signal, while pleasing the recipient.

If you know any girl who likes him, set them up together. I'm afraid this won't send the "not interested" signal quite so clearly as cash, but hey.

If you've no obvious avenue like these, then just thank him and remember you owe him. Any thoughtful gift, i.e. not cash-for-time, will lead him on, as you've surmised.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:12 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with just, "thanks, that was HUGE -- let me know if you need to borrow MY notes later this term"?
posted by kestrel251 at 10:14 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why not bring him a coffee to class? It's unsexy and impersonal, but shows that you want to repay his kindness.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2010


Why not bring him a coffee to class? It's unsexy and impersonal, but shows that you want to repay his kindness.

I guarantee that if Boy likes Girl, and he does a favor for Girl, and Girl responds by bringing him coffee, he will see that as "I like you." Far from impersonal - I'd see that as warm and thoughtful.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:44 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why not bring him a coffee to class? It's unsexy and impersonal,

Huh? No it's not.

If your coworker is going to get coffee and offers to get some for anyone else, that's "unsexy and impersonal."

But if you do anything that signals, "I've been thinking about you," he will find it sexy and personal (if you're right that he's into you). It doesn't matter what physical thing you're giving to him. The very fact that you're giving something to him will be sexy to him.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:00 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not part of the "just say thank you" crowd, because, well, you asked what to do not whether to do it.

If any other friend did this for me, I'd offer to buy them a beer or something

Do this then. But instead of a bar beer, like a date, buy him a 6-pack, or case, or whatever. Drop it off at his place, then leave. I do this for buddies all the time. You watched my dog? Here's beer. Helped me move? Beer. But by giving him the beer and leaving, you do send the message you aren't interested.

You could also ask to set him up with one of your friends.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2010


I am not part of the "just say thank you" crowd, because, well, you asked what to do not whether to do it.

The OP asked "What can I do?" that's not "flirty." Those of us who said to just say thank you and offer to give him notes if he needs them weren't ignoring her question; that's just the only thing the OP can do that won't be flirty. Giving him beer would absolutely be flirty, which is what the OP doesn't want.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:12 AM on April 14, 2010


I'd thank them and that's it. You're not being nice if you do more, because they might get the wrong idea. And that's frustrating for a guy, whose job it is to figure out what you are thinking without asking you and then act on it. Keep that in mind.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:45 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Hey, thanks for the notes -- they really helped me out. Let me know if you ever need a bank robbed."
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 12:36 PM on April 14, 2010


Are you really thinking of ending the friendship essentially because he did you a favor?

Just about anything can be interpreted as flirtatious. You say that the guy in question is a friend/acquaintance. If that's true, there is always the potential for Awkward Situation. It would be far more productive to instead learn how to handle rejecting people with grace so that it's not an Awkward Situation.

Proceed as usual. Invite him for that beer. Invite friends along. Mention your dating life that paints him as a confidant. Mention that you hate your extroverted exuberance is always confused with flirting. If he pursues you, shoot him down. If he doesn't let it drop, he's ruined the friendship, not you.

It's possible that while he's attracted to you, he's also completely aware that it's not going to happen.
posted by politikitty at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2010


It would be far more productive to instead learn how to handle rejecting people with grace so that it's not an Awkward Situation.

Yeah, but as some other folks have said, it's even MORE socially awkward to tell someone with a crush who hasn't made a move yet that they shouldn't bother to work up the nerve to do so.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:41 PM on April 14, 2010


That would be a great point if I had suggested a pro-active rejection.

Instead I suggested that she treat her friend as a friend, and only deal with the crush if it becomes an issue. All the other advice is essentially 'stop being friends with him so that he can't misinterpret anything'.

While that might meet the OP's requirements of not be flirty, it's also a dick move.
posted by politikitty at 2:58 PM on April 14, 2010


All the other advice is essentially 'stop being friends with him so that he can't misinterpret anything'.

No, it isn't. If anonymous already has a friendship that includes going out for beers and gifts, then that would be true. But I doubt it. Not inviting him out for a beer (with others or whatever) is not ending the friendship since they already don't do that, I presume.

You are suggesting that she up the ante and attempt to deepen the friendship in several ways. She thinks he has a crush on him, so she shouldn't do this. If he were the one asking if she wanted to get a beer, then he is bearing the risk and my advice would be different.

While that might meet the OP's requirements of not be flirty, it's also a dick move.

It is a strange world where choosing not to invite someone out for a beer is a "dick move."
posted by grouse at 3:11 PM on April 14, 2010


There's enough room for interpretation in the OP's question for either side to be right. So taking the other side, if the OP would normally take a person out for a beer for doing such a favor, but will not with this person because of a perception, then that does feel to me like a bit of a unfair slight towards the other person. So not inviting someone can be less than stellar if it's exclusionary in nature. I'm not saying that's the case in OP's case, but merely proving a "strange world" refutation.
posted by forforf at 5:41 AM on April 17, 2010


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