melodrama, fade-out, third option?
November 10, 2010 10:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I dial back a friendship before my heart gets trampled any more?

I've seen this question which had some helpful suggestions, but I'm feeling snowflake-y. This man and I have known each other for several years but we only started spending time together regularly more recently - he started inviting me to do things with him and his friends, or occasionally to get coffee together on our own. I'd had a little bit of a crush on him the whole time I knew him, but spending more time together (even in these honestly neutral contexts) really confirmed it for me. I tend to assume that men aren't interested in me, but he was actively making an effort to spend time with me, and I was starting to hope that maybe there was a chance to turn it into something more. At least I was hoping that until the other day, when in casual conversation with a group of people, he was asked if he was single and replied, "No."

I was completely blindsided: he's never, ever mentioned a girlfriend, and having hung out with him with people who I know are his close friends, I never saw any indication that there was any relationship other than friendship there (though obviously that doesn't rule out something long-distance).

So I guess I didn't know him as well as I thought I did. I don't want to think that he was intentionally stringing me along - this is partly complicated by the fact that I tend to interact better with my friends on a one-on-one basis rather than in groups, so one-on-one get-togethers don't necessarily have a special meaning - but at the same time, I feel misled.

Anyway, I feel that the only thing I can do in this situation is to back off a bit, but I don't know how to do this without having to admit that my feelings for him were/are more than just friendship. (Partly because I don't want to show how much I'm hurting, but partly also because I think it's not really fair to say to someone who's just started a relationship, "Oh, and by the way, you just broke my heart.") I also have a personal rule that I don't do explanation-less fade-outs, because I've been at the other end of that and I hate it. Is there any kind of third option? Or do I just have to go with one of the ones I don't like? I have to do something, because pretending everything is ok is unsustainable, and I need to get over him; but I'd like to do this healthily with space to be friends in the future. Please help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think my first action would be to ask him about his relationship, casually. It's not usually a taboo topic, and now that you know he's dating someone, it's not unrealistic to be curious. The secrecy is weird, and I'd want to know more about that before I jumped to a ton of conclusions.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:32 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is lying an option? Tell him you're swamped with work/feeling under the weather/the moon is in Aquarius/whatever. You don't have to be honest and being vague might be an easy way out.
posted by Solomon at 10:34 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is just plain weird that you would be spending "six days out of seven" with him and he hasn't mentioned this.

I think you should follow restless_nomad's advice, because he seems to have been keeping this secret not only from you but from everyone. Clearly you aren't going to find out by sniffing around for evidence. I can see no other way to find out but by asking.
posted by tel3path at 10:38 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my experience I have always, always been wary of people who do not disclose that they are in a relationship with someone right off the bat, especially if they are spending large amounts of time with someone else that happens to be within the pool of people they would theoretically date. Yes, a relationship is private business, but it is duplicitous to not mention one's existence at all if you've been in a friendship with someone for years, as you two have.

The next time you see him, maybe say something along the lines of, "Soooo, you're dating someone? That's news to me!" and keep it silly and casual. Then if he says yeah, gently say, "You know, we've known each other for ages, and since we spend so much time together, I kind of wish I had known that a while back before we got so close. Just seems like important info." And then the ball's in his court, and his response will inveritably be quite telling.
posted by patronuscharms at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


Maybe he doesn't consider himself single because he is actually courting you? You should really talk to him before you jump to conclusions. Assumptions ruin relationships, if you really like this man you owe it to yourself to find out the truth.
posted by meringue at 10:45 AM on November 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


One possibility - it could be a super super subtle signal, and he is hoping that you will take 100% of the risk by questioning him and blurting out your feelings.

Either way, no relationship of any level of intimacy beyond that of strangers or distant acquaintances can survive on hints, nondisclosure, and indirectness. So if that's all that either of you are willing to contribute, your next move will have to be subtly, nondisclosingly, and indirectly end the friendship by becoming - gradually, over several months - more and more busy with work until you have no more contact with him. This will certainly be very painful for you, but if the risk of asking a direct question, and maybe having him suspect your feelings, is unthinkable then a fade is probably your only choice.
posted by tel3path at 10:49 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


What meringue said. Maybe he actually has some secret girlfriend, but there are many reasons to say that you're not single when you are. Maybe he thought the person he was talking to was going to ask him out or try to set him up with somebody and wanted to head that off. Maybe he is just embarrassed by being single and wants to avoid the irritating "so why don't you have a girlfriend" questions. Or maybe he is also hoping that something will develop with you so he doesn't consider himself available at the moment. You cannot know without talking to him.
posted by enn at 10:50 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I would definitely inquire casually about his status. Next time over coffee or in email or whatever: "So, how come you never mentioned that you are seeing someone?"

You want to at least get the story before deciding to flee the friendship. Maybe he lied to the group about seeing someone because he doesn't want to be hit on or set up on dates. Maybe he's in a relationship that isn't working out that he plans to get out of soon. Longshot, but maybe he thinks you and he are dating, or on the verge of.

No sense in making yourself miserable about it prematurely.

If it turns out he is in a relationship and you can't handle seeing him, I'd go with being "too busy" to hang out for awhile. Best if you can actually BE busy with something... a class, the gym, a vacation... that will help take your mind off him and give you something interesting to do until you feel better.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:51 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


He didn't say he had a girlfriend. He said he's not single. This could mean any number of things:

1. He was lying. (he didn't want to be asked out or fixed up, he's somehow embarrassed to be single, he did want to be asked out and thinks non-single men are more attractive, some other reason)..

2. He's not single, and yet available. Married in vegas to someone he met that night and still getting the divorce. Married for real, but in the process of a divorce. Widowed. whatever. Obviously this might be a deal breaker for you, but it's still different from not wanting to mention a girlfriend to you.

3. He's not available because he's pursuing you.

4. He's seeing someone and somehow still interested in you (either on the side or because he anticipates a breakup), which is why he never mentioned her. This is slimy and not something I think you should pursue, but would explain how he could spend so long with you without this coming up.

5. He just now met someone and doesn't like to share until things are a little more sure, and only shared with the person who asked because they asked and he didn't want to lie.

Given that you don't know what's going on and that the source of non-single-ness might well be you, I think you should stick around long enough to find out. If you find out and decide you no longer want to be friends with or pursue this guy, then I would do a one-on-one fade-out. Still hang out with him with others (and I know you say you don't do this much, so you wouldnt' do this much), but start declining one on one invitations. If you're feeling particularly at peace with things and there's a girlfriend, you might even invite her to a group event to, but you're not required to do that to yourself. Eventually you can fade-out the group, too, if you want. (I mean fade him out of the group, not fade out the rest of your friends)
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:07 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nth what meringue and enn said...

When I first read your question, my mind went to "he said that not because he has a girlfriend, but because he wants to be evasive/he's in the process of 'courting' you." No one can answer this except him, though.

Also nth the casual inquiry into his status. I know with my close friends, I have no problem joking/teasing them about their relationship status if I want to find out what's going on ("hey, so you like her, huh?" "What, you have a gf/bf? Congrats! Do I know him/her?") If you are as close as you say (hanging out one-on-one a lot is pretty solid, I'd think) then it probably wouldn't be strange to him at all. I'm going to guess that this might feel like an awkward or slightly uncomfortable move to you because you like him so much--I know when I like someone I tend to overthink things/attribute great significance to little signs that likely mean nothing.

Hope it works out for the best!
posted by sprezzy at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2010


I'm gonna side with those that want you to follow this up. There are a ton of scenarios out there and he's the only one who can shed some light on this. Surprisingly, no one has mentioned this one, he's dating a dude and not really ready to come out.
posted by advicepig at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of this is happening inside your own head and if you want to hold him accountable for the results - fairly or not - you need to loop him in on what's going on.

There's a lot of info here, but here's what I'm not seeing: I'm not seeing where you gave him any indication of how you felt. I'm not seeing how you conveyed to him that his one-to-one interactions with you had a special meaning when you indicate that the same one-to-one interactions with other people don't. I also don't see how long the two of you have been hanging out like this. Not seeing what he means by not being single, either.

I mean, look. By your own admission you've had a crush on the guy for years and it's become more intense recently, and in that whole expanse of time you haven't said anything to him about it. But have you said anything to anyone else?

Because if one of your mutual friends know, then he probably knows, and maybe he thinks you're fantastic but doesn't want to get into it for whatever reason, be it a long-distance girlfriend or not feeling that way about you or hell, I don't know, maybe the dude's gay. None of these are things you can know until you ask him. So the next time you've both had a few drinks, ask him, confess to maybe having had a little crush on him (maybe even pretend you didn't really realize it until the thing he said the other day), and treat it as lightheartedly as you can, like it's something mostly to joke about. It'll stop the conversation from getting weird, as much as possible. Assure him that nothing will change as a result and offer to buy the next round. Then buy the next round. Steel yourself beforehand for the possibility of suboptimal outcomes.

Also be prepared for the possibility that if you're both the sort to wait for the other to make the first move, then somewhere along the way, either of you unwittingly friendzoned (and were friendzoned by) the other.

But there's so much unsaid here that there's no way to circle your way around it. Screw your courage to the sticking (or drunk) place and ask him. You'll feel better afterwards.

And in the event of bad tidings, don't fade out, just dial back the amount of time you're spending with him until you get over this, which I think you'll find will happen faster than you're imagining, once it's out in the air.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:41 AM on November 10, 2010


Yeah, the first thing that popped into my head when reading this is, "Oh of course he's not single, he's pursuing you!"

However, there are many other just as likely situations, and the best idea is always to ask. Say, "ey, I didn't know you were seeing someone. Who's the special someone, and when do I get to meet them?" (Note that I'm keeping the pronouns ambiguous here). Hopefully, he answers "You've known her all your life" or something sweet like that. Good luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:12 PM on November 10, 2010


Looks like I’m going to be the voice of dissent here, because I disagree with almost everyone in this thread. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I have noticed Mefi’s trend towards optimism in these “maybe he doesn’t like me” relationship questions and I suspect it isn’t based on actual collective positive experience, but more the very human and understandable desire to see a good love story work out. I know we all like reading happy endings, but it makes me wonder if people are so quick to forget how painful these scenarios can be for the OP. From our point of view they have nothing to lose, but from theirs, it’s a risky, ego-bruising enterprise and I completely understand not being so gung-ho as internet strangers about “open communication! Just do it!” It’s a calculated risk.

I say this as someone who has had all sorts of huge, terrible, long-lasting crushes on people who were not good for me, attached, or never made a move. And you know what, in the end, it turned out with a little time, I was glad I let my feelings cool down. Time is your friend in matters of the heart. If true love is meant to be, there’s still no rush.

Also, I have to say I tend to think the people who suggested he actually meant he was courting the OP are being pretty blindly optimistic. The OP would probably know if he was courting her because…he’d be courting her. And in that case, pulling away would just make him clarify his intentions, so she wouldn’t have to be the one to clarify anything anyway.

I agree with what patronuscharms and think this is far more likely: In my experience I have always, always been wary of people who do not disclose that they are in a relationship with someone right off the bat, especially if they are spending large amounts of time with someone else that happens to be within the pool of people they would theoretically date.

It’s possible that he was thinking of cheating or was looking around for better options, then decided to stay in his relationship. Asking him about this is guaranteed to get a useless evasive response if that’s the case, because people do not openly admit those things. And it’s also worth thinking about if you even want to be with someone like that were he to suddenly change his mind.

OP, this is exactly how I learned to be okay with the “fade out” – when I was on the other side and realized that sometimes, people need to do it that way to protect themselves. It’s not morally wrong – people do it all the time, and sometimes it is kinder to everyone involved. I tend to think demanding explanations is a sign of immaturity or inexperience. If he asks, I would tell him something in a polite tone that makes it clear that you have no hard feelings, and it’s about you needing to take care of you and not anything he did. “I’m busy” is effective for just that reason.

Whatever you do, respect your feelings and be kind to yourself.
posted by Nixy at 12:37 PM on November 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


After reading Nixy's comment I just felt like chiming in again to clarify...

When I said my first thought was that he might be referring to you, that's exactly what I meant. It was only my thought, and now that I think about it perhaps I should have phrased it differently. I don't mean to raise your expectations or anything because I have no real idea what he's thinking.

I'm also prone to huge, unrequited crushes (tragic) so I do know how painful it feels sometimes, but I still think it's pretty harmless to casually ask who his partner (if he does actually have one) might be. His manner of answering (whether it is the truth or not) might give you some clarity.

It's hard to objectively assess the situation when you're mad crushin' on someone, but don't let the feelings do all the talking. Be honest (brutally honest, even) with yourself.

You don't really owe anyone an explanation if you do the fade-out, but if you use the "I'm busy", try actually making yourself busier. Pick up a new hobby or go on more hangouts with other friends. That way you have some extra support because you are telling the truth and can back it up with tangible examples (if you need), and you'll be making progress towards getting over him.
posted by sprezzy at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2010


If you want to get in someone's pants (and we're assuming monogamy here), you do not announce yourself as NOT SINGLE in her earshot. Period.

And I also second everyone who thinks that those who do not mention SO's are suspect. With most people, I can't talk to a new person for 5 minutes without them mentioning their husband (or whoever), if you've managed to hide that for however long.... they're probably being skeezy. Unless he JUST got together with the new person (which is entirely possible and reasonable), it's not justified to do that.

I would recommend the subtle fade: be "busy" more and more often, taper off to five days a week, to three, to one, to eventually none.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't being optimistic, I just think the only way to find out is to ask. If the guy's a cheater his answer may still be revealing. I don't think pulling away is certain to reveal his intentions if he has any, it may just make him go boo hoo! sob! this confirms she's not into me! thank heavens I did not take the risk!

Honestly though, if a person (or two people) would rather put themselves through months of anguish and uncertainty than risk the ultimately much briefer pain of rejection, they probably don't want (or couldn't handle) a relationship anyway, so they should do what makes them feel good.
posted by tel3path at 1:37 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Girl, normally I advocate the direct approach, but this is EXACTLY what gossip is for! Start asking around about whether he has a girlfriend. If no: flirt harder. If yes: just be unavailable for one-on-one coffees for a while and play it cool. No need for anything more dramatic.
posted by yarly at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2010


If someone I was spending that much one-on-one time with casually dropped the bomb that they have a boyfriend that I didn't know about I would respond with "WTF? We spend how much time together and I didn't know this? Why haven't you mentioned him, is he in jail?"

I think it's totally weird. If the whole situation makes you feel sad and used, then drop the guy. Why do you owe him anything? Fuck'em.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:45 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I think it's totally weird. If the whole situation makes you feel sad and used, then drop the guy. Why do you owe him anything? Fuck'em."

Except how do we know the guy isn't off somewhere agonizing in the exact same way as the OP? "We spend 6 days out of 7 together and she doesn't care that I'm with someone! It's totally weird that I let this drop and she just didn't show any curiosity about it at all!"

Or maybe he isn't. If only there were some way of finding out, huh.
posted by tel3path at 1:59 PM on November 10, 2010


"this is EXACTLY what gossip is for"

No kidding. I once had someone confront me about a rumour that I was pregnant. There was less than no truth at all to that, but that didn't stop it being common knowledge. Sometimes, there is smoke without fire.
posted by tel3path at 2:08 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's very difficult for me to believe that a man with any romantic interest in the OP would refer to himself as not single in front of her. If his meaning of single had some special import (he's in the middle of a divorce that no one knows about; his siamese twin is hidden inside his shirt) he would rush to make that clear to her. He's not too shy to invite her out for coffee alone--he's not that terrified of revealing interest .

Where did "six days out of seven" come from?

he started inviting me to do things with him and his friends, or occasionally to get coffee together on our own.

The OP has not been misled more than any of his other friends, who had to ask his status. I'm sorry, but having re-read the OP a few times, I think she has let her crush get away with her. It doesn't sound like anything beyond friendly interest to me.

I agree that there is something really odd about someone being secretive about having another person in their life. My first thought was that the man in question is gay, and doesn't much like to talk about it with this particular group of friends.

And I absolutely agree with Nixy--telling people they have "nothing to lose" IS extremely misleading. Such conversations can lead to deep embarrassment on both sides.
posted by uans at 3:42 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Six days out of seven" comes from this thread by the OP about the same situation.

I am not suggesting that the OP has nothing to lose, but rather, that remaining silent will cause the loss of more of her peace of mind and wellbeing than ascertaining the facts will. I think there may be a nonzero chance of missing out on a romantic relationship, too, but there isn't enough information to know that.

However, the OP knows herself better than I do. Supposing a year from now, she found out that the guy had been secretly in love with her all this time, but had been unwilling to have an uncomfortable or embarrassing conversation about where he stood, and had, reading her fadeout as a sign of disinterest, gotten involved with someone else in a way that was difficult to reverse (e.g. ranging from cohabitation to pregnancy). She might still consider that any disappointment she felt at the road not taken was outweighed by her relief that she hadn't embarrassed herself by exposing her feelings.

Or, supposing six months from now, the OP's friend came back from Vegas and announced his marriage to someone he'd been seeing for a year, and this was the person he was referring to when he said he was "not single". There's a good chance that, by fading, the OP might not have spent those six months pining and suffering in silence and wondering about what might have been, but would have been rapidly relieved of her unrequited feelings and would have had a happy and productive time learning a new language or taking a pottery class or otherwise greatly enriching her life. Or she might have spent those six months pining, but still consider that the pining had been better than the potential embarrassment.
posted by tel3path at 3:58 PM on November 10, 2010


If you don't believe in the secret slow fade, there's nothing to be ashamed of about saying "You're not single? Wow! I got the wrong idea and developed a little crush. I'm going to need a little space, but no hard feelings." You can accompany it with a little "how silly of me" or "isn't that ridiculous?" and some laughter, to keep it light (or wry and bitter, depending). There's nothing wrong with falling for someone, especially given the weird lack of disclosure that others have pointed out.
posted by salvia at 4:43 PM on November 10, 2010


OP, I apologize for not reading your previous post. In this case, without referring to your own feelings at all (because I still see no purpose here in making yourself so vulnerable) I would say,
"friend that I see six days out of seven, why on earth have you never mentioned this girlfriend to me? Or to anyone else? "
Because in this case, his behaviour really is extraordinary. It might be helpful to you to know what the hell happened there. Closure, as they say.
posted by uans at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2010


…remaining silent will cause the loss of more of her peace of mind and wellbeing than ascertaining the facts will. Supposing a year from now, she found out that the guy had been secretly in love with her all this time…

There are other factors to consider; for instance, their ages (mainly to determine how imminent marriage and children would be for both of them, assuming they fall in the majority that wants to settle down), how many other fish in the sea there are for her (maybe she misses out on this one guy who was in love with her, but maybe there’s guy B she’ll meet next week who’s all guy A was plus he’s even MORE in love with her than guy A, and he asks her out), how compatible they actually are (not very if they haven’t been communicating or on the same page so far), how much potential for social awkwardness there is if she has the conversation, he doesn’t return her feelings, and then she gets invited to his wedding or something, and word gets around to mutual acquaintances (high), The possibility that he might actually have been less than innocent this whole time and upon her confessing her feelings would just lead her on and mess with her head even more (actions speak louder than words) etc. etc. Those all factor in.

In this case, without referring to your own feelings at all (because I still see no purpose here in making yourself so vulnerable) I would say,
"friend that I see six days out of seven, why on earth have you never mentioned this girlfriend to me? Or to anyone else? "
Because in this case, his behaviour really is extraordinary. It might be helpful to you to know what the hell happened there. Closure, as they say.


I agree- If you can find out anything else about his relationship (though it sounds like he’s been dodgy with everyone about it) without letting your feelings show, that would probably be helpful without much potential for downside.
posted by Nixy at 5:38 PM on November 10, 2010


"Six days out of seven" comes from this thread by the OP about the same situation.

I don't think that question was by the poster of this question, just referring to a possibly similar situation.
posted by 6550 at 8:43 PM on November 10, 2010


My first thought was that the man in question is gay, and doesn't much like to talk about it with this particular group of friends.

This was the first thing I thought too.

Another vote for casually asking him about it. I'd probably say something like "We spend all this time together and I never knew until now that you were involved with someone. How long have you been together? Anyone I know?"
posted by SisterHavana at 10:19 PM on November 10, 2010


6550 is right. I thought this was the second thread in a series, it's actually a completely new thread about a different situation.

That being the case, I now don't think the guy's concealing his relationship status is extremely weird - just weird.

I would therefore reiterate my suggestion to casually ask about it "what does your partner think about X?" or do a slow fade.
posted by tel3path at 12:01 AM on November 11, 2010


My apologies, once again, to the OP, and to myself, for jumping to other people's conclusions. ( I actually woke up in the middle of the night wondering how six days out of seven matched up with a few coffees.)

I am right back to saying that a few coffees with someone does not really fall into the category of leading you on into heartbreak. In fact, in my opinion, it doesn't even really entitle you to ask him who the secret SO is. (I still strongly suspect the SO is another guy.)

You are therefore also entitled--to fade out without explanation. You weren't close to each other.
posted by uans at 9:11 AM on November 11, 2010


He could have been fibbing in that situation for a number of reasons. Ask him about his status.
posted by hootenatty at 4:52 PM on November 11, 2010


Dude likes paying attention to you, and likes it when you pay attention to him. That might be 'innocent,' might not. Flirting is only flirting, and intimacy doesn't mean he wants to give you the ol' bone. Either way, he owes you honesty, and you owe the same to yourself. (You owe to him too, of course, but that can be left aside because you are a Special Snowflake, blah blah blah.)
Anyway, I feel that the only thing I can do in this situation is to back off a bit, but I don't know how to do this without having to admit that my feelings for him were/are more than just friendship.
You don't want to be honest about your feelings? As Livia Soprano would say: Poor you.

If you're actually close to the guy, let him bear some responsibility for that closeness. Talk to him. Honesty and openness improve relationships, always. Maybe it'll do you both good to talk about his common, frustrating, understandable, awkward behaviour.
posted by waxbanks at 9:03 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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