Friendship after mutual rejection?
November 27, 2008 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Hooked up with my friend, who was in the process of getting back together with an ex. She says she's attracted to me still, and wants to date eventually. Did I do the right thing?

We were good friends, then drunkenly hooked up. It was intense. But she was trying to rekindle things with an ex-girlfriend, and they got back together a few days later. Awkward! We didn't really talk for a few weeks. Now she's telling me that her current relationship was too important to let go, but is still really attracted to me and wants to remain friends and strongly hope for something in the future. When I heard this I was upset, because I thought she was lying and attempting to cushion the blow of rejection. The notion that I could be rejected-- implying that I had strong feelings for her-- was humiliating, and I told her, with fairly harsh language, that I didn't have feelings for her and regretted the hookup. (In truth, my feelings are more intensely good AND bad, but so bad that I would never seriously consider dating her). Oops! Turns out that she DOES have real feelings for me, and is upset. Was I right in feeling that this was a really unfair situation? How can our friendship get back to its non-sexual original state?
posted by acidic to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If she "strongly hopes for something in the futur," why wouldn't she be with you now? Cause she has to get back together with the ex but is sure that won't last. That's just unfair in itself (see: cake, having/eating). As for everything else, she seems like a good source of drama. She's the one who decided to get back with the ex. How did you hurt her?
posted by Airhen at 4:26 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell her something along these lines: "You're a really important friend to me, and I know that especially right now because thinking about our hook-up and the subsequent developments left me in quite a tizzy. I have high hopes for your relationship, because I understand how important it is to you. It was really kind of you to share your feelings with me, and I'm flattered that you hold me in such regard. I feel foolish and regretful that I responded the way I did, and I chalk it up to being emotionally off-balance. I hope you'll forgive my boneheadedness and believe me when I say that you're a friend I don't want to lose."

If the topic of "something in the future" comes up, suggest that it's a bridge best crossed when you come to it.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:30 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Was the sex good enough to be worth being a human safety net?

It's possible, but be realistic about your role here. If you're okay with that, it seems to me that it would be easy for you to apologize by explaining you were hurt.

Just be sure you know what it is you're shooting for, here.
posted by rokusan at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2008

Your friend is smart.

"Don't burn any bridges." You never know when having a good booty call on the line will come in handy. Anyway, that's what she is thinking.

Feelings? Bah! No feelings here, just a simple calculation in her mind: "Person A is who I want to be with because we have a history and he/she is a good catch, whatever, but Person B is a friend who is hawt and who I can obvioulsy pull anytime I want, so let me keep that fire stoked so as to provide a little fallback in case things blow up with my "real" relationship."

Not that there is anything wrong with any of this - lots of people are other people's doormats. And they like it. But for some people this type of raw, libido-centric machination is a turn off.
posted by wfrgms at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the amazingly fast replies, everyone. To clarify, I think she's more "sad" than "upset" right now. My big worry is that the awkwardness of the last few weeks is going to continue in a new, nastier form. Our group of friends is pretty affectionate and touchy-feely, so how should I behave towards her without giving her the wrong idea (and giving my own irrational, currently-suppressed feelings room to breathe)?
posted by acidic at 4:41 PM on November 27, 2008

I notice from browsing your profile that you're in your early twenties. I don't intend to patronize you, but I'm going to share a lesson that I simply didn't know when I was your age:

Most people will respond positively to direct honesty, and it's a simple, fast way to return an awkward situation to normal.

Tell your friend what you've shared here - you feel like things between you two have been tinted by what happened and what you said. You never wanted to hurt her feelings, and you said some things out of humiliation and mistaken impressions that you don't feel good about. You have lots of respect and regard for her, and you want things to be the way they were. Ask her if things can get back to normal. If she says yes, then hug it out and go back to acting the way you used to.

The possible downsides are that she doesn't want to hear you say these things because she's upset/sad/angry/whatever or that she responds positively to what you say but doesn't mean it and things still feel awkward.

In a way, it's like you're trying to subtly manipulate this situation into the form you want, but the subtlety isn't called for. Be direct, ask for what you want. Even if you don't get it, you'll probably increase your overall understanding of your friend's state.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:50 PM on November 27, 2008 [13 favorites]

how should I behave towards her without giving her the wrong idea

Assuming your both adults (or capable of acting like adults) you can have a conversation. Try saying something like:

"We hooked up. That was fun, maybe it'll happen again - but probably not. Anyway, you're with someone else now, so let's put just a tiny bit of physical and emotional space between us until that hookup is a distance memory."
posted by wfrgms at 4:51 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Addendum: Approaching this in a head-on manner should demonstrate to your friend that you take the matter and the resolution seriously, whereas just trying to act in a certain way to emulate normalcy could suggest that you aren't concerned or don't appreciate her end of things.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:53 PM on November 27, 2008

Time and distance determine the velocity of your relationship.

Right now, interactions with Friend feel intensely uncomfortable because you've recently been intimate. But over time, particularly if you keep a bit distant from her for the next few weeks, the discomfort will lessen and you'll likely find yourselves easing back into a platonic relationship.
posted by terranova at 5:19 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

The notion that I could be rejected-- implying that I had strong feelings for her-- was humiliating

Take yogurt for instance. Some people love yogurt. Some people prefer chocolate over yogurt. Some people can't stand yogurt. Some people like both yogurt and chocolate, but not together. At different times in their lives people may like yogurt more or less.

You know how there's no accounting for taste? You are yogurt and none of the above stances is humiliating to you.
posted by ersatz at 4:03 AM on November 28, 2008

"The notion that I...had strong feelings for her-- was humiliating"

I too am curious about the word humiliating, because it is such a strong word, and it seems like a fulcrum between what she said and how you reacted. So, I actually looked it up, and it turns out that "humiliating" has a lot of meanings, so I'm curious which ones apply to this situation.

"Humiliating" can mean "causing someone to feel shame," generally by publicly revealing something that they are ashamed about. Is that how you're using the word? I don't think that having strong feelings for someone is anything to feel ashamed about: I think it can be a position of clarity and strength. A person with strong feelings is inviting another person into a loving relationship, and a host issuing an invitation has power.

It can mean "an image change reflecting a decrease in what others believe about your stature." Do you feel like by rejecting you, part of your stature was taken away? Was feeling pursued or wanted by her part of your public stature or self-image, such that it was diminished when this changed?

Humiliation can also "[involve] an event that demonstrates unequal power in a relationship where you are in the inferior position and unjustly diminished." Was the humiliation that she imagined feelings where none existed, casting you in the role of the pursuer and herself in the role of the pursued? And unjustly so, because the feelings weren't true? Was an unequal power dynamic created by her unspoken request that you wait for her? Waiting for her could feel like a fairly powerless (and painful) situation, and it might feel especially unjust or disempowering if she took for granted that you'd wait instead of asking if you were willing to do this.*

What I'm getting at here are two questions: 1) what were the thoughts and attitudes behind your sense of humiliation, and 2) do you want to continue to find situations like this humiliating in the future, or do you want to leave those behind? This is completely your choice. A female Gandhi might train herself to be tortured and feel no humiliation, only compassion for her torturers, while someone with a history of abuse might want to cultivate an angry reaction to protect herself from abuse that she'd otherwise let occur, and then there's a whole spectrum in the middle. Understanding why you felt humiliated seems to me the key thing.

The other part to think about is how you reacted. You spoke harshly and said you "didn't have feelings for her [untrue, as you say] and regretted the hookup [true? untrue?]." I can see wanting to resist being unjustly put into an inferior position. What I'm wondering is why you did it harshly instead of gently (because you were hurt, and trying to hurt back? or some other reason?) and why you lied as you did it (To save face publicly, in her eyes, in your own eyes?). That same writeup on humiliations says "vindictive passions are aroused and a humiliated fury may result." What I'm wondering is whether there would have been a way to set her straight, protect yourself and let her know that this wasn't okay, while still being gentle and honest? (You know, in a perfect world and all?)

Anyhow, if she is an important friend, and if I were in your shoes, I'd probably plan to talk to her. I'd arrange my thoughts into three categories: water under the bridge (things unlikely to happen again, momentary lapses on her part); places where I need to own up and apologize for or at least explain what I did; and any remaining concerns or impediments to our friendship ("when you do X, I feel Y" or "I guess I'd like to know that it meant something to you" or "I feel like we still have this pursuer-pursued thing going on and I want you to know I'm not pursuing you so we can relax and have a balanced friendship"). Then, I'd probably try to end by reaffirming that we're friends and that I'm supportive of their relationship and want that to succeed.

Anyway -- sorry for the essay. Off to eat some Thanksgiving leftovers now!

* It would also concern me that she was getting back together with someone while hoping it would fail -- I certainly wouldn't want to be that ex, and I'd worry that I'd be that person in the future -- so for me, there'd also be feelings of concern and maybe alienation.
posted by salvia at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2008

In a way, it's like you're trying to subtly manipulate this situation into the form you want, but the subtlety isn't called for. Be direct, ask for what you want.

This bears repeating, and it should probably be the "best answer" to about half the "human relations" questions on AskMe.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:29 PM on November 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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