Setting Limits
March 18, 2012 11:38 PM   Subscribe

I need help setting limits and protecting my feelings in friendships with men.

I'm single, in my early 30's, and seem to have, in the past year or so, developed a pattern of having several male friends who are unavailable for dating, but who act sort of intimate or flirtatious with me. I like this, because on the one hand I like not being tied down in a relationship, but at the same time, sometimes it hurts.

Example:

One of my good male friends used to be a coworker, and has had a girlfriend since I've known him. We spent a lot of time talking at the office and became friendly while rarely hanging out outside of the office. There was a lot of sexual tension. We no longer work together but talk online frequently and also meet up maybe once every 2 weeks, usually with others.

Last night he chatted with me online, saying he was thinking of breaking up with his girlfriend. I tried to remain as objective as possible and encouraged him to communicate with her, but I couldn't help feeling hopeful that he and I would have a chance. Then, today, he told me that things are fine after they talked. And I felt so disappointed.

Right now I am thinking I should a.) stop inviting him out,[he often will come out with me and others, but does not suggest outings himself] and b.) stop being available so much to chat online. I think these things will help me to feel less hurt. I'm very good at listening, counseling people, and saying things to make them feel better when they are hurt. I truly like helping people, but at times I feel so disappointed and hurt when I am invested.

I wonder if any of you can help me set limits by giving me some concrete ideas about how to act with guy friends I am interested in but who are not available? (the above is just an example; there are others).
posted by bearette to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Set the limit of things you don't want to hear about from him, in your own mind, then don't let conversation go there. Respect your own sensitivity. Communicate it implicitly by changing the subject and such. If that doesn't work, communicate it explicitly: "hey, I don't want to be rude but I don't want to hear about your girlfriend; part of me is sweet for you and it just makes me feel jealous, which I don't want to feel in our friendship".

Happens to men too. If you can't get it under control, get some distance from the guys.
posted by ead at 11:48 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd like to know if there is anything specific I can do, besides being less available. Thanks.
posted by bearette at 11:49 PM on March 18, 2012


find ways to spend time around single men who are available- they will probably give you attention too, and you'll be able to explore their attention more.

single hiking clubs? other single clubs? just generally meeting more people in any activity-orientated group would work well too.
posted by saraindc at 12:37 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I'd like to know if there is anything specific I can do, besides being less available. Thanks.

Yes; be honest with yourself and your 'friends'.
posted by karathrace at 12:47 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you're interested in someone, you almost certainly overemphasize their positive qualities in your own mind. You might try counterbalancing that with some consciously cultivated awareness of their flaws. I don't mean be unfair to them but rather a friend taking a more realistic view that allows you to stay in the picture, maybe without giving them so much of an ego boost from flirting but also without being hurt when their unavailability takes its usual course.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:48 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is the price one often pays for being friends with the opposite sex. Honestly, if you are harboring crushes for certain men they are not actually your friends, attached or not.

In my opinion if there's any attraction to a taken person, hanging out with him alone is a no-no (you only hang out with this dude in groups, right?).

If I were you I'd stop investing in any sort of one on one relationships with taken, unavailable men altogether, especially if you're attracted to them. Chatting, texts, everything-- cut it out. The potential drain on you emotionally as well as time-wise isn't worth it for you.
posted by devymetal at 1:50 AM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


Here is an easy solution- find a better quality of man to hang out with.

I've had many friends like the one you are talking about. They are not real men. They are scared to make decisions on their own. They are very insecure and need attention from more than one woman to feel good about themselves. Think this through- he breaks up with his girlfriend to start dating you. While dating you, he is going to treat you the way he treated his last girlfriend. He will always have another girl on the side to string along, just in case. He is terrified of being alone.

It isn't a real friendship unless you are:
1) Friends with his SF as well as him.
2) You truly want whatever makes him happy, even if that isn't you.

You are probably a very sweet lady who is attracting a lot of weak men. Sad thing is, there are so many weak men and so few real men who are single. Don't fill your time up with the weak ones. Lonely days and nights leave you available for when a real man comes along.
posted by myselfasme at 5:47 AM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Last night he chatted with me online, saying he was thinking of breaking up with his girlfriend. I tried to remain as objective as possible and encouraged him to communicate with her, but I couldn't help feeling hopeful that he and I would have a chance. Then, today, he told me that things are fine after they talked. And I felt so disappointed.

I was in a similar situation several years ago, when a girl I had a secret crush on was going through a rough patch in her LTR. She got into the habit of using me as a sounding board to talk through her frustrations and uncertainties. I was flattered by her confidence, but eventually I told her that I didn't think I was the best person to discuss that stuff with, because I had 'a bit of a crush' on her and couldn't be objective about it. She understood immediately, and never brought it up again. We don't talk so much anymore, but that's probably for the best.

Like saraindc, I think spending time around men who are available is probably a pretty critical part of your solution. You're clearly longing for something here, and while avoiding these interactions might prevent drama and disappointment, it won't get you what you're wanting.
posted by jon1270 at 5:48 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I need help setting limits and protecting my feelings in friendships with men.

Here's a proactive thing you can do that might sound silly. Change your sentence to:

I need help setting limits and protecting my feelings when i have crushes on men.

If you ask yourself this question, you'll come up with different answers than to your initial question.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


As a man, here is how I read this:

developed a pattern of having several male friends who are unavailable for dating… I like this, because on the one hand I like not being tied down in a relationship, but at the same time, sometimes it hurts.

You 1) don't like being tied down, but 2) are primarily interested in people that are. Have you considered that you are afraid of commitment? In the past, I have seen this behaviour quite often with people that are terrified of commitment. There's a built-in safety valve in the relationship, where there can be flirting and a kind of courtship, however the fact that one party is attached, limits the possibility that it will turn into a real relationship.

I tried to remain as objective as possible and encouraged him to communicate with her, but I couldn't help feeling hopeful that he and I would have a chance. Then, today, he told me that things are fine after they talked. And I felt so disappointed.

I truly like helping people, but at times I feel so disappointed and hurt when I am invested.

I find these two statements to be in complete conflict. I would say you do not truly like helping people, for you are hanging around with this guy, waiting for him to become available. If you were really interested in helping him, then you wouldn't have been disappointed when things sorted out.

Not to be unduly harsh, but personally, I find this to be completely disingenuous. When it's happened to me in the past, in pretty much every case, I have ejected the woman from my life. It's a shitty feeling when you think someone is your friend and in reality they are simply waiting for their chance. In that case, one feels like an object to be attained, rather than a person in a friendship.

how to act with guy friends I am interested in but who are not available?

anything specific I can do, besides being less available.

Again, these things are diametrically opposed. You are saying that you want a different outcome without changing what you are contributing to the situation. In the man world, it's expressed as "I want to have the security of a wife and the freedom to meet new women." Yes, and I want a unicorn that lays golden eggs.

A good friend of mine is going through a similar situation at the moment, and it's really heartbreaking for all the parties involved. He has a relationship of many years -- with the typically ups and downs that come with that. A 'good friend' of his -- a lady friend -- calls him every now and then to chat. What struck me was that he cannot share the positive aspects of his relationship with her. Rather, when he speaks to her, all he does is share and focus on the problems in his relationship, which I don't think is good for him.

When he tells me those things, I don't indulge him in dredging up the negative. I am a 'good friend' of his, I remind him of the positive things. If it's going to fail, it's going to fail. But I certainly am not going to sit there and go over the nuances of the negative aspects. That's just inviting him to dwell. His lady friend almost relishes his tough times, because she gets a lot of attention out of it. He's feeling rough, so they can flirt and chat. She tells him things like "you can do better" and a host of other passive-aggressive advice, that has the sole intention of positioning her as his champion and booster, and his girlfriend as a bad option.

She finally made a move on him, and what she did was force a choice between her, his 'good friend' and his girlfriend of many years. Who do you think is going to win? And if it's the 'good friend', congratulations, you now have a boyfriend incapable of making decisions. What a prize. She didn't win -- she was ejected from his life, causing a huge schism in their friend community. I know these people tangentally, and she went back to the friend group, "Can you believe he led me on all this time?" The friends were violently angry with her for the amount of social disruption she caused. "What did you think was going to happen? They've been together forever."

I guess the point is to put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine you are in the position of being in a relationship -- with it's normal ups and downs -- and you have a 'good friend' who is just waiting for their shot. If you don't realise this fact, chances are you will find out one day, and be quite hurt. If you DO realise this fact, as was mentioned above, you are weak and like the attention.

In terms of a hard question for you to address: Why are you stuck in the middle?

1) If you want to be single, be single. Go play with single men. There are plently of single men who love playing with single women that don't want to get attached.

2) If you want to be in a relationship, be in a relationship. Go find a single man, and build something together.

3) Until you make a choice, you are going to one of two things -- and probably both. You are going to torture yourself with fantasy relationships that don't exist. And you have the high probability of hurting people.

If you're scared of relationships, admit that to yourself. That doesn't mean you can't date and find attention and satisfaction. It means that you need to be aware of what's driving your behaviour and the impact your choices have on other people.

Good luck. Chances are this is a much smaller problem than you think.
posted by nickrussell at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


How about not seeing your already-in-relationships straight and bi male friends as pseudo-dates and pseudo-boyfriends, but as friends? Just the same way you see your female friends and your gay male friends?

I mean, these guys aren't your boyfriend, and they're unlikely to be your boyfriend at any point in the future. Flirting with them gives them a cheap, no-consequences egoboo (because they've got sweethearts already) and keeps you revved up about them to no purpose, except maybe the purpose of channeling your "looking for a relationship" energy into going-nowhere crushes.

If you acted like a friend to these guys and made it clear you wanted them to act like friends to you in return, you'd have friendships instead of whatever it is you have now that seems not to be making you happy at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


You did the right thing. I thought you handled yourself very admirably and with class when you told him to talk things out with his girlfriend. I've been there, and that takes a steel moral core which many people many not appreciate, but I do! You deserve recognition for that, first of all. It's hard to carry that secret burden of exhausting choice to do the right thing, silently, day after day, and no one even gives you kudos for it! So kudos.

Understanding his mindset is not difficult if you try. There are several common scenarios: He's very into his girlfriend, but maybe feels that she doesn't appreciate him enough or is too critical of him, so when she gets mad at him he sulks and goes looking for other validation, but will snap right back to her when she's decided to take him back. Or, possibly, he's not that serious about his girlfriend but is waiting to meet someone better to motivate him to move on when he sees there are other options- needless to say, he probably already did that calculation upon first meeting you and you didn't make the cut. There's even a chance that there's some signifigant, huge chunk of information about him that you don't know which would change the entire calculation and explains his hesitancy- maybe he has an STD, or maybe there's some huge past trauma you don't know about that complicates things considerably. He's acting from that platform of having all the information when you aren't, so of course from the outside things seem confusing to you.

The bottom line is that he had his chance to leave her and the window closed. You have to gently move on. Accept that it will hurt- this has happened to me, I seem to have a champion ability to form crushes on unavailable people- and it may never actually go away and stop hurting. One option is to have it out and reveal everything in a big dramabomb so that there's no going back and you learn to associate his memory with embarassment- that's the nuclear option when all else fails. If it's possible to just move on and distract yourself, do that. Make up a story about him that explains it. You'll never know the truth, as I say, because he has all the information you don't- so just invent one for yourself. Oh, that's why we can never be together- he's actually addicted to gambling, and only his girlfriend will bail him out. I don't know, go crazy, just make up something and stick to it. Invest in the narrative, and it will be easier to let go. That's how the brain works, it needs reasons and explanations, so feed it one, and it will shut up.
posted by quincunx at 9:47 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Quincunx, whilst I appreciate your post and find it to be quite insightful, this line is perhaps one of the scariest bits of advice I have read in some time:

One option is to have it out and reveal everything in a big dramabomb so that there's no going back and you learn to associate his memory with embarassment-

I am not a mental health professional… But if that is a process used in place of a natural greiving process, over time, it may very well develop into a personality disorder.

that's the nuclear option when all else fails.

I cannot understate the danger of advising that as an acceptable form of social interaction. In essance, that is finding a very damaging external solution to an internal problem.
posted by nickrussell at 10:16 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not a mental health professional… But if that is a process used in place of a natural greiving process, over time, it may very well develop into a personality disorder.

nickrussell, it was meant to be hyperbolic. Actually, I had this comment of Skwirl's in mind while writing that...perhaps I didn't explain it terribly well. I don't literally mean she should go up to him screaming and crying. I meant, if she tries to move on and it's absolutely unbearable and she's unable to get it out of her head and can't mimimize interaction with him, she has the option of calling him on his flirtatious behavior, in an appropriate and gentle manner, and asking him what he means by it or asking for it to stop. This is dangerous because he can always deny or stop being her friend or be insulted that she would even suggest it, hence "dramabomb."
posted by quincunx at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2012


I don't think you have a problem with boundary setting. I think you have a problem with categorization and friend choice. Here, I think, is the main thing you need to understand: if you have a friend, and he's in a relationship, and you want that relationship to end so you can date him instead, he is not your friend. A friend is someone you can be happy for when he's in a relationship. I think this is a really good general principle: if you are upset that your friend is in a relationship, or would be upset if he were to enter into a relationship, then that person is not really your friend, and you should stop pretending that he is, since it's only going to lead to confusion and heartbreak.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why would you think this man is a suitable partner? If you were in a LTR with a man (any man) and he had a female "friend" with the same dynamic that you and your friend share, would that make you uncomfortable or pissed off? I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't be okay with that. If he's doing this to his current girlfriend, then he's going to do it to you too. Hell, he may even have a few female "friends" he's currently doing this to. Your problem seems to stem from a place of insecurity or maybe thinking that you don't deserve to be happy because the situations you are putting yourself in never end well (and you know this). It's like a self fulfilling prophecy.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2012


Thanks so much for all the answers. Almost all of them were very helpful.

I'm not sure that I need to clarify but I do want to say that I don't consciously go looking for unavailable men- it just so happens that the men I've gotten close to are attached or unavailable, and usually I find this out after I get to know them. It's not that I'm looking to be "the other woman". And I have a continuous conflict with wanting to have a nice relationship, and with wanting to be unattached. It's not really that I only want to be unattached- in fact, I feel quite lonely sometimes.

I'm going to try to lesson or cut out contact with the unavailable guys I have crushes on.

THanks so much.
posted by bearette at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2012


Too many great answers to mark any of them "best"!
posted by bearette at 6:55 PM on March 19, 2012


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