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No, I really do just want to be friends.
September 18, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

How can I best deal with the unwanted romantic advances of someone I will be seeing on a regular basis? Special snowflake details inside.

I am: 1) young (20) 2) female 3) kind of socially clueless.

My college program puts me in a small, close-knit group where everyone knows each other for the next two years. At the beginning of classes this year I met a guy in the program with whom I got along great. He's an awesome guy and I enjoy talking to him and really, genuinely, want to be his friend. I'm not interested in any more though, I am simply not romantically or sexually interested in him. I have a terrible habit of blithely assuming that all men just want to be friends with me, so I assumed our intentions were the same.

This week he asked me if I wanted to go get coffee after class sometime, and I thought he meant it platonically so I agreed. (I guess that makes me sound clueless, straight female classmates invite me for coffee all the time, so I guess I thought it was no different...OK, fine, I'm clueless.) Obviously he didn't, though...we haven't got around to coffee yet but today he was flirting with me like crazy, leaning over me all class (despite me trying to move my chair away), held the door open for me. Also he told me I smelled good when I am pretty sure I smelled like Aquanet and stale cigarette smoke today.

I feel really guilty for having led him on wrongly, but I'm really uncomfortable with this flirty behavior right now and I need a way to clarify my intentions before things escalate. But since he hasn't outright said what his intentions, and since I will be seeing him frequently in the next two school years and we'll have the same circle of acquaintances...this is a really awkward situation and I'm not sure what to do. I am single and not seeing anyone too so I can't use that as an excuse.

This may seem like an easy situation but I am very shy and socially awkward so I have no idea how to proceed! What's the best way for me to clarify my intentions and discourage him before things get worse?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Clarity is helpful:

"Hey man. So, I think we've had a miscommunication somewhere along the line. I think you're pretty cool, but I'm not really into you like that. So, you still wanna get that coffee as friends?"
posted by Netzapper at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


You didn't lead him on. You were mistaken about his intentions. Tell him you'd rather not flirt with friends, it makes things uncomfortable. If he doesn't get the hint, you'll have to be more explicit and just tell him "Please do not flirt with me."

You don't owe him an explanation, a return of affection- and don't argue with him if he claims he wasn't flirting. Just keep putting specific, explicit distance between the two of you- you owe him absolutely nothing at all. If he persists, bring it up with the people in charge of your program.
posted by headspace at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


anonymous: I feel really guilty for having led him on wrongly,

Stop right there. You should absolutely NOT feel guilty about this and you did NOT lead him on. You accepted an invitation for coffee from a classmate, as you would from any other classmate. The fact the classmate is male does not make it a Special Invitation - that assumption is his not yours, and that problem is his, not yours.

Does that mean the situation doesn't mean clarifying? No of course not. Go and have the coffee, and say right at the start, "I hope I wasn't confused about this coffee. This is just as friends, right? Because I would never date anyone in our program, it's way too small. Can you pass me the milk?"
posted by DarlingBri at 10:12 AM on September 18, 2010 [25 favorites]


What do you mean, you feel guilty for having "led him on wrongly"? You didn't kiss him, did you? There is nothing wrong with assuming that friendly approaches are friendly until you have indications that there's more to it than that. I'm really quite sick of the cultural trope that women who are friends with men are inherently leading them on.

Now you have those indications, but you are in the very awkward situation that you can't turn him down because he hasn't asked you out.

You could try not responding in any way that could be considered flirtatious, and every time he drops a hint you could drop an equal and opposite hint.

He may get the hint or he may be driven to escalate by asking you out. If he's not clear that this is a date, ask explicitly, "you mean, on a date?" and if the answer is yes, say you're really enjoying the friendship but you don't want to take it further than that.

If he's any good, he will respectfully accept your answer and will then either remain friends with you in good faith or fade out, either of which is perfectly reasonable, although the latter choice is of course more disappointing for you.

If he's not any good, he will give you a no, ahaha, yesnaybe, I am sortof was asking you out on a date but not really, answer. This means he is a coward and will go on to be fakey friends with you for years while sniping, putting you down, and undermining you and resenting you for leading him on by saying "no" to him in that way. You do not want to go down that path, so stop spending time with him if he does this. I don't mean ostracize him completely, just avoid him as much as you reasonably can. By which I don't mean "only agree to some of his requests to spend one-on-one time together," I mean don't invite him to anything, don't email or call him and don't respond to his emails or calls more than strictly necessary, and so on.
posted by tel3path at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2010


Also you need no excuse for being and wanting to remain single at any moment of your life.

These things just happen. Perhaps the guy believed for a while that it was platonic too, and then he began having sleepless nights and whatnot and put things together.

Just tell him. He may be sad, but that is nobody's fault. Guilt shouldn't be involved in this.
posted by Namlit at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Listen, if he is a normal, cool guy as you said, as soon as you demonstrate that you do not reciprocate his feelings for you he will most likely walk away and will feel probably much more embarrassed about the situation as you are.

Quick Anecdote:

Sometime last year I gave a compliment to someone in my salsa class and it was a very flirty one (something along of the lines of her being very attractive). She never acknowledge the gesture and though she treated me nicely after that it was clear she wasnt interested. I ended up switching class just so I could not be mortified, a month later she reached out to me and told me that she missed me around class.....it was totally platonic and when I was ready to come back (actually a couple of months later after she reached out to me) I did.

So just saying, if you are clear and upfront and he is indeed as nice as a guy as you make him out to be you may not have a problem at all in your hand.
posted by The1andonly at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a bunch of different tactics you can use. Yes, it seems presumptuous to turn someone down before they've asked you out ("everyone who wants to spend time with me MUST be in love with me!") but by 20 you know what's what and his flirtatiousness is obvious enough that you feel it needs to be addressed....soooo:

Option 1) Because I would never date anyone in our program, it's way too small. Can you pass me the milk?"
Works, possibly runs the risk of him thinking you're still into him but there's this one technicality stopping you -> motivation to try harder.

Option 2) Do coffee, but if he asks you out again for coffee/dinner/a movie/date-like-thing, turn him down for real. Avoids the presumptuous-ness.

Option 3) Ignore him. This can be surprisingly effective. Ignore his facebook posts, don't respond to texts, etc. Never hang out with him one-on-one, only in group situations (which you can invite him to if it's rare). It sounds like he's a guy who will take any attention as interest, so just don't give him attention.

There's lots of other options of course, as I'm sure the rest of the hive will identify. Good luck!
posted by mokudekiru at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2010


Neither of you led the other on. You both just made assumptions. Neither party needs to feel guilty, but it's probably a good idea for both parties to clarify what their intentions are.

Use this as a chance to practice being clear and saying what your intentions are, because you'll probably be getting more chances than this. Ask him what he views coffee as, the next time he asks. Ask 'does he mean as friends, or a date, because you're not interested in dating him?'.

If he doesn't ask you for coffee, try using slightly more brusque language when he starts flirting with you again.
posted by Solomon at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


You could always tell him, when he's ready to go get that coffee-"Great! Let's ask George and Sally and Hector from our program to come with us!" In other works, communicate-school friends, NOT prospective date.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


The most important thing, as Netzapper says, is to communicate so that there can be clarity rather than continued confusion. While many have advised avoidance, no response etc if there is genuine interest or there was miscommunication of intent then it is far more respectful of the other person's feelings to respond once, in private, with a clarifying conversation. It has happened to me and I have always remained friends with the men who had the gentlemanliness to take me out for a beer or a coffee and just come and say "hey, look, i really enjoy your company yada yada but I'm not interested in you in that way".
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:47 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


er, that's "and just come out and said,.." etc
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:48 AM on September 18, 2010


Relax about this; you did nothing wrong.

As Netzapper wrote, just tell him your position and ask if he still wants to be friends.

>I have a terrible habit of blithely assuming that all men just want to be friends with me

As it seems you're finding out, this is a very impractical assumption for a 20 year-old female.

>I feel really guilty
>I'm really uncomfortable
>before things escalate
>this is a really awkward situation
>before things get worse

You're panicking when there's really no need for it. This situation is pretty much like being licked by an overly friendly, slobbering, smelly dog-- just smack him on the nose, then offer him a different doggie treat-- such as, um, conversation on an explicitly and assuredly and perpetually platonic basis.

The dog will understand... and if he doesn't, then he's just not a fun or interesting dog, and you can now disregard him.

Remember: Most women, especially most attractive young women, pretty much by definition, are desired by most of their male friends; sometimes there's an understanding reached about this, sometimes not.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:50 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that so many people suggested the OP should just tell him "Hey, I don't want to date you." It's one of those things that sounds like good! communication! and assertiveness! in theory, but in practice in real life, almost no one is actually that blunt. And even if the OP tries to be nice about it, a lot of guys, especially young guys like this overly-flirty one, may be a little sensitive or a little less emotionally mature and/or willing to laugh this off than is ideal.

In other words, I'm with mokudekiru and St. Alia...this situation calls for the subtle "everyone saves face and feigns ignorance" comment.

IE, you're talking and you casually slip in something about how you aren't looking for a relationship right now, you're still getting over your ex, you never date classmates, offer to set him up with a friend, talk about "your type" being totally different than him, etc. etc. Repeat a couple times if necessary.
posted by Nixy at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Just say something like, "When you asked me if I wanted to get coffee sometime, I didn't realize you meant it as a date. I'm sorry." (Basically, try to be nice about it, but clear.) His feelings may be hurt a little bit, and he may feel a bit embarrassed, but he should get it, and get over it. The sooner you say this the better.

It doesn't mean you're clueless. It just means that you come from somewhat different social backgrounds. (I agree with you that getting coffee together isn't necessarily a date, but I'm aware that other people make different assumptions.)
posted by nangar at 10:52 AM on September 18, 2010


Even if he's flirting with you, he still hasn't put the moves on you, so to speak. Some people are just flirty with lots of people. Don't turn him down romantically preemptively. You can still be his friend, and send body language and conversational signals that you aren't interested (don't flirt back, etc.) and if he still tries to kiss you or something, just rebuff him them. Don't hang out with him in ways that are clearly date-ish, like dinner, or even movies alone, but you could still get coffee with him during the day (and I like St. Alia's suggestion of suggesting to him that you invite others so he's clear you don't want to hang with him in a date setting), or study or whatever.
If right now you stay, "hey guy, I don't like you like that." He may will try to turn it around on you and be like, "Yeah, I don't, either, why are you assuming things..." and try to make you look foolish to cover his own embarrassment. In a small program, you don't want that kind of thing going around.
posted by elpea at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Please don't feel guilty. You didn't do anything wrong - you made a mistake, you're human. It's not like human social interactions come with big blazing word bubbles above everyone's heads going AND NOW HE'S ASKING YOU OUT Y/N?

For the flirty behaviour, try cutting it off at the knees, maybe? If he opens a door, say, 'dude, we're buddies, why are you doing that?', or if he leans over into you, maybe ask, 'why are you doing that? It's creeping me out - friends don't do that.' If he responds by telling you he's interested, you can segue into saying you like his company, but only as friends. If he doesn't, you've given him a clear signal that you're not fond of his behaviour, and if he really is a nice guy he should get the hint. YMMV - blunt is not always good, but subtlety often gets lost in translation.

Bottom line is either he'll respect your boundaries and mentally switch you from his 'prospective girlfriend' list to 'plain old buddy' list, or he'll keep with the creepy behaviour, trying to switch himself off your 'friends' list and onto your 'potential sexytimes!' list. If he does the latter, you might want to reassess further interactions with him, even as friends.
posted by zennish at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2010


I have to agree that it is presumptuous to reject someone before they've actually asked you out. This is just as likely to get bad reactions as anything else. I've also had this done to me (in my case, by someone who had come on to me rather than vice versa) and found it hugely arrogant and offensive.

The one time I pre-emptively turned somebody down, I received a poison-pen letter for my troubles, followed by more spaniel-eyed courtship behaviours which he denied even as he was doing them.

The time I responded to hints with counter-hints, and a direct request with a direct "no", I got a good telling off for not saying "no" sooner.

So if you'll all excuse me, I have to go round all the six billion people on the planet that I'm not romantically interested in, and turn them down pre-emptively, explicitly, and individually. Like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. It may take some time.
posted by tel3path at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Speaking only from my own personal experience, it's hard for a guy to be in the presence of an attractive girl and not take any attention as interest. However, just ignoring him would be kinda rude, and if you have to work with him for the next two years, you probably want to avoid that. So just find an opportunity to tell him casually that you're not looking to date anyone, repeat as necessary, and avoid being alone with him for a little while, especially outside of school or where drinking is involved.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:02 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


> but in practice in real life, almost no one is actually that blunt. And even if the OP tries to be nice about it a lot of guys, especially young guys like this overly-flirty one, may be a little sensitive

I disagree; from what I've seen, if you are unashamed, not guilt-wracked, and just relaxed about a Just Not Into You conversation, guys will really, really appreciate your bluntness. It's the prospect of ambiguity and confusion and an emotional roller-coaster that freaks guys out-- not Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

And again, should a guy be unable to handle straightforwardness, then just stop taking him seriously; he's not worth the thought or effort.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


"It's the prospect of ambiguity and confusion and an emotional roller-coaster that freaks guys out-- not Simple Answers to Simple Questions."

This. To make sure I'm being clear, this is the position I take, I just think the question needs to have been simply asked before you simply answer it.

"And again, should a guy be unable to handle straightforwardness, then just stop taking him seriously; he's not worth the thought or effort."

This.
posted by tel3path at 11:19 AM on September 18, 2010


I disagree; from what I've seen, if you are unashamed, not guilt-wracked, and just relaxed about a Just Not Into You conversation, guys will really, really appreciate your bluntness. It's the prospect of ambiguity and confusion and an emotional roller-coaster that freaks guys out-- not Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

I'm normally a fan of pretty direct communication, but there is a distinction between being clear and being so blunt that you hurt someone. You may have a thicker skin than this particular guy; he may be more into her than just casually, or whatever. Also, OP is shy and "awkward." She likely will find it hard to be relaxed and not guilt-wracked.

And again, should a guy be unable to handle straightforwardness, then just stop taking him seriously; he's not worth the thought or effort.

In this situation that's not really an option since she has to work with him. Some level of mutual respect will be necessary and considering the chances of a bad reaction, it's too risky.

I would settle for the oxymoronic term "clear hints" ("broad" hints) or repeated hints before a direct statement. It is pretty easy to judge if the hints have worked by his response, and they can always be escalated.
posted by Nixy at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2010


> In this situation that's not really an option since she has to work with him. Some level of mutual respect will be necessary

This is exactly why it's necessary. When you're dealing with men, ambiguity, evasiveness, and indirect behavior are very quick routes to loss of respect... because, to most men, indirect communication is a sign of active disrespect.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:48 PM on September 18, 2010


because, to most men, indirect communication is a sign of active disrespect

Overstatement.

More precisely:

Blunt, direct communication is a sign of genuine, active respect.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:52 PM on September 18, 2010


When I had a similar situation in college, and was too shy to approach it directly (boy did that eventually wear off), I just kept ignoring it when he flirted and acting oblivious to his advances. We remained friends. He kept flirting. I kept ignoring. Eventually I introduced him to my roommate and they got married. True story.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:57 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with the people above who say that it's premature to turn him down when he hasn't made his intentions explicit. You are (most probably correctly) assuming that his intentions are romantic, but he hasn't actually said so. He, knowingly or unwittingly, is trying to slink into something romantic without actually putting himself on the line. He assumed that your acceptance of coffee means that you're totally into him and want him pawing you.

I think the easiest way for you to be assertive without making things incredibly awkward, or feeling guilty, or risk looking ridiculous, is to just keep on seeming blithe but actually watching like a hawk for his attempts to cross the line, and stopping him cold.

If he makes any flirty/inappropriate jokes, and you laugh or giggle, that is encouragement for him. You think it's polite, it's just a joke, whatever; he is like "Yes! I'm on the right track!" You can just ignore it, but he'll probably just try harder -- better is to say something like "That's not funny" or "I don't get it" with a look of complete and utter puzzlement on your face.

If he gets into your personal space or leans all over you, say "Could you move over, please?" and continue what you were doing, the same exact way you'd say it to someone who was inadvertently sitting on your coat. If he puts his arm around you, say "Don't do that" -- not "sternly," just totally nonchalantly. He is making a pretty grand assumption that he could invade your space and touch you in that way, so don't feel bad about telling him not to. If he tries to go "Oh hahaha, why not, don't be like that" and tries to make you feel like an ice queen or something, just say "Because I don't want you to," and repeat the look of complete and utter puzzlement.

If he says you smell good, laugh and say "Ew that's creepy, why are you smelling me?"

It would never in a million years enter your mind that he could be trying to flirt. So his weird behaviors sometimes are just that -- weird and inexplicable. You can't even imagine that telling him to stop them would hurt his feelings because it's inconceivable that they're evidence of his romantic interest in you.

We know that this guy will take the smallest acts on your part and convert them into interest. So if you act embarrassed, get giggly or blushy, he'll think it's because you like him.

Eventually, either he'll get the hint, get bored and give up, or be forced to come out and say something direct to which you can't directly and nicely say, "Oh, I'm only interested in you as a friend." Be careful with "I don't want to date anyone in the program" -- what if he drops/gets kicked out, or the love of your life joins the program later?
posted by thebazilist at 6:20 PM on September 18, 2010


ambiguity, evasiveness, and indirect behavior are very quick routes to loss of respect

Just want to make a point that its not only one way but holds true both ways, i.e. from men to women as well
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:43 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


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