If he's not interested, why does his behavior say he is? Could it be our age difference?
December 14, 2008 6:34 PM   Subscribe

We've been friends for several years. Over time, all signs pointed to his having feelings for me. I just asked him out. He said no. But I have lots of evidence that he fancies me. Could this be because of our 14-year age difference?

I'm 14 years older than him, but he's brilliant and not a typical mid-twenties guy. We're part of the same arts group. Over the past year we've paired off more and more and split away from the group during work and outings. We've found ourselves on accidental "dates" where others were supposed to show but didn't, leaving us together alone--and we had a great time and talked about how great a time we were having. This past weekend he suggested we split from the group--during a momentous celebration of a group success--to go somewhere quieter and more secluded. He sneaked us away from the others. We had romantic comedy-style banter. He put his hand on mine as he was telling stories. We walked arm in arm, and he's not much of a toucher, to put it mildly. He left the side of a girl (close to his age) who was flirting with him to pair off with me to go to this more secluded place. I caught him checking me out all evening, as I frequently do. Friends have commented to me for months that he must have feelings for me because of the way he acts. I scoffed at that publicly because of the age difference, mostly because I didn't want him thinking I was having my friends say that on my behalf. But now that people see there's interest on both our parts, they're not teasing anymore.

Anyway, at the end of a lovely evening on Saturday, after we'd split off from the group again, I decided to ask him out on a real date. Because I was nervous and couldn't sustain the verbal pause between my question and his answer, I tacked this on: "...or would that be weird?" (Thinking, I guess, I'd give him an out for the preserving-the-friendship option or the you're-too-old option or the you're-not-yet-divorced option.) He responded that he was very flattered but that yes, it would be too weird. I was too surprised by the no to ask what was the source of the weirdness. Age? Preserving our friendship and/or working relationship? (We don't do our art for money, but I did recently become the director of the group. However, he does not report to me.) Complete misreading of the signals?

Help! I've been out of the dating pool for many years. What I know is that when a dude says what his feelings are, you take him at his word. Is that what I should be doing here? What about all the signals that he's interested? Should I ask for clarification? Because while I believe that he doesn't want to "go on a date," I also believe he's interested in me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Age may be the reason or it may not. It doesn't matter.

He said no. Believe him.
posted by Class Goat at 6:38 PM on December 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

I'm not a guy, but if someone I wanted to go on a date with asked me out on a date, I wouldn't say no.

He doesn't want to go out with you. As I've often read on threads like these, believe what people tell you.
posted by cosmic osmo at 6:39 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

The NYTimes says that kids nowadays don't so much "date" as we did. Maybe he'd like to add sex to your friendship, but isn't interested in old-fashioned pair dating?
posted by nicwolff at 6:49 PM on December 14, 2008

Wait, you're married? That may just seem like more drama than he's interested in. And I say this as a guy whose GF finalized her divorce yesterday!
posted by nicwolff at 6:51 PM on December 14, 2008 [8 favorites]

Oh for fuck's sake. Ask him, not us. For all I know, he didn't want to go on a "date" because a "date" at this obviously-advanced stage in your relationship would be weird, not because he doesn't want to go and do things with and on you. Or, he may be gay (or straight, but I think you're a woman). Or, he may not want to date you because he really likes you but knows that if he dates you, his brain worm is going to make him torture you for hours with broken glass before finally killing you and mutilating your corpse.

Next time you see him, you say:

"So, I really thought you were going to take me up on that date. I'm totally happy as your friend, and perhaps I saw what I wanted to, but I really thought you were into me. What gives?"
posted by Netzapper at 6:56 PM on December 14, 2008

Oh, wait... I missed:"you're-not-yet-divorced option."

That's probably it. But still... ASK HIM.
posted by Netzapper at 6:57 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think you should take him at his word.

I'm a dude and I say that When Harry Met Sally was very wrong when Harry said that men and women can't be just friends. Platonic love is a very real thing. I consider myself blessed to have the love of three great women in my life. My mother, my beautiful fiancee and my friend Yvette (who, by the way, will be one of my fiancees' bridesmaids at our wedding next year).

Yvette and I met about eight years ago and we have never been anything more than friends. She's wonderful, beautiful, I love her (as a friend, natch) and would do just about anything for her. We hug each other, we've been known to give each other kiss-hellos and kiss-goodbyes on the cheek and we can have the greatest of times together, be it with my partner, our mutual friends or just with each other. To the outside observer, we could be mistaken as partners because of the way we interact.

However she and I realised a long time ago that we could never be anything more than friends and that if we ever had tried to date, it would be too weird. And so we never will date and that sits fine with both of us, I think. And this is where your story rings true to my own experience.

I think that you are experiencing a similar friendship to what my friend and I have, and I could understand why some of the interaction that goes on in such a close male/female friendship could be mistaken as romantic feelings. But you have something special instead; a true friendship that has the potential to be one of the best platonic relationships you'll ever have. Trust me, I know.

So take him at his word and take his friendship too. You'll be glad you did.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:58 PM on December 14, 2008

Sounds like you've built up a lovely but skewed and very one-sided picture of the situation (first paragraph.)

Then reality bites (second paragraph.)

Don't worry, it's perfectly normal to be mistaken and to read people wrongly. Take him at his word, it is unlikely he is lying to you.
posted by fire&wings at 7:00 PM on December 14, 2008

Maybe it's because of the not-yet-divorced thing, or maybe he's gay? I've had several (female) friends with similar mix-ups with men where the guy seemed to be flirting with them, touchy-feely, etc., but he was actually gay.
posted by fructose at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2008

So... As far as I know guys don't have female friends that they wouldn't date. They can have female friends they aren't actively looking to date but under the right conditions they'd go for it. Mind you the right conditions could be really really really really unlikely. Like, "Yeah, I'd date her if I was single, she was single, she didn't remind me of my sister and she made it really clear she was interested in me." Basically it'll never happen, but if the stars did align we go for it.

Sounds to me that you being still married very well might the reason that he is currently not interested. As long as this behavior continues he's still interested somewhere inside.
posted by magikker at 7:32 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been closer to a woman I loved in a purely platonic way than anyone else. We even would say "I love you" but we were never romantic.

Back off a bit, see what happens.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:34 PM on December 14, 2008

Possibly he prefers men? In which case the physical familiarity and banter with you he allows himself because he considers you're safe (age difference). Just a possibility.
posted by Sitegeist at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2008

Could alcohol ever been a factor in his flirtatiousness?
posted by hermitosis at 8:04 PM on December 14, 2008

ever *have* been, I mean...
posted by hermitosis at 8:05 PM on December 14, 2008

If I was a bettin' man, I'd place all my chips on the square that says "not yet divorced."
posted by spilon at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been in this situation from your "friends" sid eof things, where I was genuinly interested... the only thing that stopped me was the way she proposed going on a date, it sounded (to me, at the time) very formal, something a little out of my price range and also like it suggested a serious relationship. It was all a bit too much for me for a first date. So perhaps it was the way you asked?

Or maybe any of the above reasons. Next time things get like "Just the two of you in a secluded location", lean forward and kiss him. That will clear away any doubts whatsoever, one way or the other.
posted by Admira at 8:19 PM on December 14, 2008

Because I was nervous and couldn't sustain the verbal pause between my question and his answer, I tacked this on:

Don't do that. You were trying to (understandably) control the conversation and wound up shutting it down, leaving you with questions.

What I know is that when a dude says what his feelings are, you take him at his word. Is that what I should be doing here?

Listen to yourself, you know what the answer is, you're just refusing to accept it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2008

To salvage your relationship, have a follow-up conversation when the two of you are alone. As it stands, the relationship currently is in an awkward limbo: you're worried you misconstrued his words and behavior toward you; he may be worried he's hurt you by his rejection.

Find out why he vetoed the date. It's entirely possible he's attracted to you but doesn't want (or isn't able) to become romantic partners at this time. Listen, accept whatever he says, then find a way to restore comfortable relations between you. This might take time.

And don't berate yourself for asking him out. You felt an attraction, you believed it was mutual (and still may be), and you expressed interest in deepening the relationship. No judgment here, but know that some potential partners may become reluctant to date until you're legally free and clear, as many have loved and lost individuals who remain perpetually almost divorced.
posted by terranova at 8:24 PM on December 14, 2008

One of my closest friends right now is male. When we first met, I thought that we were proto-dating. Not really dating, but nicwolff mentions, my generation doesn't date. We'd go to events together, hang out, have long phone conversations, and so on. We got along really well -- and he bantered and flirted with me.

However, I later found out that he had a girlfriend. I backed off, appropriately, and once I had more distance I realized that he is friendly flirty with everyone. It's just his conversational style. He really likes making people feel comfortable. And compliment that personality with the fact that we get along really well and have similar senses of humor, I fell into the trap of thinking he was interested in me.

And sometimes there is sexual tension, but I also know that dating him would be a terrible idea. There are issues in our friendship that would tear apart a romantic relationship. This doesn't stop a lot of people from thinking we're dating, because outside appearances look that way.

Bringing my story back to you, I'd take him at his word. Just because something has the appearances of romance, does not make it romance. Though if circumstances change after your divorce, be open to that as well.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:07 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dudes do this. I can't explain it, but have been there too. I am sorry, it sucks. You'll have to believe him that nothing is going to happen, but he isn't going to stop giving mad signals that other people pick up on.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 9:09 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe he is attracted to you (which is what it sounds like) but just isn't comfortable dating you. I'm betting on the age difference. 14 years can be a big, big gap at that age. And a guy dating a woman that much older will get a fair amount of ribbing from his friends and family -- maybe he's not comfortable standing up to that. Or maybe he fears that he will feel insecure about his experience compared to yours. Or maybe he's afraid of complicating a friendship. Or maybe he loves the banter but isn't attracted to you in that way. Or maybe he thinks that dating a not-quite divorced woman is too weird. (Many people in the their mid-twenties haven't even gotten to seriously contemplating marriage, let alone divorce.)
posted by desuetude at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dudes do this. I can't explain it, but have been there too. I am sorry, it sucks. You'll have to believe him that nothing is going to happen, but he isn't going to stop giving mad signals that other people pick up on.

I agree. Accept what came out of his mouth, even if he says the opposite in every other way.
posted by halonine at 1:32 AM on December 15, 2008

Because while I believe that he doesn't want to "go on a date," I also believe he's interested in me.

Both can be true. He can be attracted to you, but not willing to go so far as to date you for any number of reasons. I know that I've had plenty of crushes on people who in the harsh light of day I knew it was better NOT to get involved with. Not because of any personality defects, but because it would have created situations that were ultimately uncomfortable - like interfering with work relationships, f'rinstance.

I think that the biggest red flag in your post is the "not yet divorced" bit. When I started dating 'moonMan while going through a divorce, I was terrified that this would be a turn-off for him. Hell, I was 26, I was terrified that this was going to be a turn off for the entire world - "WOMAN UNDER 30! ALREADY DIVORCED! STAY BACK!" While it wasn't, it was an awful lot to explain to his friends, most of whom were terrified that this was going to end in a trainwreck for him because I was "on the rebound." Everything has turned out fine, but I can totally identify with the fear that "going through a divorce" translates into "crazy drama I don't want any part of."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:38 AM on December 15, 2008

I know gay guys who string women along like this, getting really close to women and basking in all the attention while the women think the guy's straight. Then the woman finally asks the guy out, he says no, and the woman thinks it must be her- and at no point does the guy let it out that he's gay, so he can go on to the next woman and have a new best friend for a month. It's a hell of a racket.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:39 AM on December 15, 2008

Flirting = positive, friendly, fun attention/validation-- especially if you enjoy the personality of the flirter/flirtee. It's mostly Americans that view it as a check that will be cashed at some point, instead of a recreational activity.

At the risk of saying something really unpopular, I'm going to suggest that the age difference (his 25 to your 40) and marital status (yours) made him feel like you were a "safe" person to play the flirt game with, without expecting you'd take it seriously in terms of "moving it to the next level."
posted by availablelight at 5:14 AM on December 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

Speaking as a mid-twenties guy who has dated the occasional older woman: If I had an attractive, older, female friend who was still married and part of my immediate social group I would try to avoid dating her. Simply because that seems like it is begging for drama (with your husband, with women closer to his age within the group, perhaps he is self-conscious about dating an older woman, perhaps he'd only be interested in a fling and is worried you'd want something more and thus just wants to be a decent guy). This isn't your fault, but circumstances are circumstances. And it also doesn't mean he's not attracted: consciously deciding to go on a date is a whole different animal then flirting and the occasional touching.

Sorry to hear it didn't work out, but I would take the young man at his word.
posted by nameless.k at 7:44 AM on December 15, 2008

He said no, he meant it. If he was into you, no other issues would prevent him from seeing you...not the age, not the "type" of date you suggested, not even the not-yet-divorced thing. If those were an issue, he'd probably clarify so you didn't hink he wasn't interested..."I would rather wait until January, when your divorce is final" or something along those lines.

I've been in your shoes. I don't know why people do this, they just do. It sucks.
posted by agentwills at 7:58 AM on December 15, 2008

as a 20something, i wouldn't date someone who was married unless they were in an open marriage and i'd met their partner and was 100% sure they were okay with it. a person who's married and hasn't gotten around to getting divorced yet doesn't fall into the category of "okay to date" in my mind. i'd be too anxious about the many reasons why they might not have finalized their divorce, but i'd also be unlikely to grill someone that i didn't know that well to find it.

i suspect i'm not the only one who doesn't feel comfortable with it and that your chances will improve once you finalize the divorce. which isn't to say that this guy will jump into your arms at that point ;) just that i personally would not get involved with someone under those circumstances no matter how attractive i thought they were.
posted by groovinkim at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2008

Maybe the age difference is a part of the attraction, something that is great to fantasize about and that turns him on. But like a lot of fantasies, he could be nervous or unwilling to act it out. Especially with a married woman.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:58 PM on December 15, 2008

Hell, I'm crushing on and likely flirting with three women who are inappropriate at any one time.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:40 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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