romance fire extinguisher
March 16, 2009 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I am a romance sparks fire extinguisher. HELP! (and dear gods did this one get out-of-control long)

Again it seems I can douse what appears to be even the hottest sparks of romance directed towards me without any effort whatsoever.
I am a fire extinguisher.

I am a college teacher and found out recently, at the end of a long (7 months) program, from a student (to whom I had been very attracted but would never have pursued) that he has been attracted to me since the very beginning of the program last summer.
It was in my office, after turning in a final project, that the flirting which was always coming from him (and deflected consciously by me: hugs, class outings, etc. I never accepted) amped up and was unmistakable.
We began regular communication that started out without intention, turned to discussion of high standards (we share them), expectations, singleness and even politics (we are polar opposites).
He is younger but very mature with excellent ethics and a lot of integrity. I am younger than my calendar years in both attitude and appearance (not childish but youthful if you'll allow a difference).
He said to me, "I certainly don't see any reason why I wouldn't have a chance with you."
well I didn't see any reason either and suggested that the only way he would know would be to take one.
I went out of town the next weekend for a conference and the flirtexting began. It got flirtier and flirtier. There were also phone conversations as the next weeks progressed but they weren't nearly as flirty as the texts. There was no question that this would be leading to something.
Oh, we discussed at length that this wasn't going to be a jump-in-the-sack kind of progression. His attitude towards the in-the-same-room behavior was chivalrous and unexpected.
This guy surprised me at every turn.

We tried for a couple of weeks to go out but either he got called into work (overnights) or something happened in my schedule. But it wasn't a deterrent, just an exercise in patience.

So, I pull the pin.

A most heinous event happened at work. A literal bomb was placed in my hand which involved CYFD, police reports, rifts in the office, total distrust of coworkers (it was/is BAD). On one of the nights following a very, very painful day I got a text, a flirty one, that was inviting. I said it was a crappy day, he said "come over". Asked him to please not tempt me, that I was closer to him than home and he threw in the "I dare you", it was funny. The phone conversation that followed resulted in a pre-planned PG-rated slumber party of "movie and bed". I told him I was out of sorts, not myself and would only be using him for distractions. He said he was happy to take the job.

I went.

What happened was just that; a PG-rated slumber party. There was kissing (the first), spooning and snuggling and some mild petting. No pressure, no awkwardness, it was exactly what I needed and there seemed no reason the track would change.

After this the speed went from 60 to zero.
There was texting, phone conversations but little to no flirting.

I aimed low and swept side-to-side making sure the flames were all out. Apparently.

Then the texts were days between.
Then after a couple weeks of this the texts started coming at strange times (4 am "can't sleep") and getting flirty again but stopping short of really flirty.

We have had many phone conversations on the professional front. I am the link to registration and the next progression in his education.
I am not and will not again be his teacher but he will be working closely with my department and may end up doing teaching hours in my classes.
All conversations are easy, comfortable and sometimes a little flirty.
Never again has there been any attempt to get together.

We have been together in the office and in public and my friends have all commented on the heavy sparks, charged interactions, sneaky looks (on his part), sparkly winks from accross the rooms etc.
Clearly, to these observers the sparks are still burning.

So, 1st I will admit that the night of the slumber party was me at an all-time emotional low. I wasn't crying or clingy or even talking about it. I was quieter than usual, he commented. But it was really late and past both of our bedtimes and the plan was just to go to sleep.

2nd I will admit that the idea of spending time, flirty dating & yes, sex, time with this man was/is very exciting and I probably turned into an insane, leach-chick who might as well have put a sign in his yard that said "ask me out! ask me out! I'll say yes! I'll say yes!"
But I don't know because no one else was watching me.
And honestly I'm not exactly sure how I was doing this if I was at all.
I'm not very good at the "sit back and wait for him to contact you" game and probably initiated more texts and calls than I should have but I really wasn't a maniac. It was just no secret that I would certainly continue this whatever-it-is.

So when I do ignore him, he does text.
I saw him a couple of days ago at a big event. I was the picture of cool and casual, looked cute/sexy but not slutty, didn't look for him at all. He found me with a surprise flying from behind hug, winks, sneaky looks after that, met my friends (and was very shy with them) and the review was, again, sparks for sure.

so: (if you're still here)
theory 1: I totally doused the flames with my super hero strength fire extinguisher and ruined everything.

theory 2: Because he is returning to the program at school he is backing off again to avoid any conflict there.

theory 3: I have more "merit badges" in our field and he is intimidated or feels unworthy and so is backing off.

theory 4: He is not actually interested in dating a smart, sexy older woman like maybe he thought he was. (okay, 14 years but we have never discussed it and he has never, ever asked how old I am and seriously no one ever guesses within even 8 years.)

I think it's 1 & 2.
girlfriends/observers think it's all 2 & 3

so your help:
I am backed off. Will not initiate contact. Will continue to be the jolly, witty, flirty woman I am with him when we have contact. Will continue to be professional in the office. Will NOT send mutual friends on info-hunts or nudge-nudge assignments. Will NOT do voodoo or love magic.
Will, however, hope madly that there is still a chance that this will become the casual, sexy, flirty affair it started out to be.

Is there hope?
Do men just turn it all off that fast and that completely?

Oh, he is not dating anyone, has not hooked up with anyone and remains, in his words, "as single as can be" so theory 5: he met someone else, is not an option.

okay, let me have it :)

if you are still reading I apologize for my 10 pt vomiting and no, I do not talk this incessantly in person.
posted by theobromine_ady to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Theory 5: He took a huge risk, practically *insisted* that you come over to his place, and now he worries that he pressured you to much and is hoping you'll make the next move.
posted by amtho at 1:54 PM on March 16, 2009

Speaking as a guy, his behavior toward you in person ("a surprise flying from behind hug, winks, sneaky looks after that") is not indicative of someone who has discovered they are no longer attracted to you any longer.

I suspect backing off is not what he wants you to do, but it's possible he feels odd about the night you spent together. Ask him out, get back on track with "normalcy," see how he responds.
posted by crickets at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2009

My thought is that you're overthinking the whole thing; not in the sense that there are simpler explanations per se, but that it doesn't really matter. Maybe he's feeling a bit ackward about some moment between the two of you as well, perhaps something that you personally would have no reason to pick up on? Maybe he's been preoccupied with other stuff? I mean, it could be anything, inside or outside of your interpersonal relationship with him. I guess that's my point.

So why don't you ask him out, if you want to go out with him? I.e. just force the issue. It doesn't sound like anything too drastic has occurred between you and him that should preclude further pursuit. You two still seem to get along just fine. It could just be a hiccup.

To me, the best way to find out is to just go right at him. See if he wants to go out. Keep it as casual as before--i.e. even if you want things to maybe progress a lot further, you don't have to put that all on the line right up front. Ask him to dinner. See if he bites. I don't see any reason to think that he wouldn't, and if he doesn't, well, you'll know more than you know now. Most importantly, it doesn't seem like doing so should be cause for jeopardizing your broader relationship with him, no matter what the outcome.
posted by Brak at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2009

Um, what am I missing here? You call him up and you meet him for coffee and you say, "Hey, that was fun! Want to go out on a for real date? How about dinner this Friday?" If he has any reservations about dating you, this will be the point where he expresses them.

Frankly, if you're still young enough that you poll all your friends and the entire Internet on "what does this behavior mean" when you could just be asking him straight up, you're probably light years away from the kind of relationship maturity you need to have to successfully navigate the extremely hazardous waters of academic dating.
posted by MsMolly at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you have this mythical "fire extinguisher," you certainly haven't described it or how it supposedly works in this question. From my reading, you had a crappy day and spent a fairly-chaste night with this guy, and now you're not putting any energy into the guy. Beyond that, and I'm guessing here, you have subsequently put pretty much everything else in your life between you and that night since then. In fact, it seems that you are "very good at the 'sit back and wait for him to contact you' game." Merely noticing all of his post-sleepover flirting is not the same thing as returning it.

In short: you dropped (or are currently dropping) the ball.
posted by rhizome at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2009

might as well have put a sign in his yard that said "ask me out! ask me out! I'll say yes! I'll say yes!"

This elaborate semaphore is unnecessary. Ask him out.
posted by contraption at 2:50 PM on March 16, 2009

Response by poster: Touche MsMolly. Yes, I have projected my inhibitions towards facing possible rejection on the internet metafolks. That and having "friendly advice" jammed into my ears from self-assigned experts does drive a girl to seek opinion elsewhere.

Rhizome, the fire extinguisher to which I refer is my impression that after spending a chaste night in this man's bed his behavior towards me was immediately downgraded to friendly from flirty.

I have not only returned the flirting but initiated it. He just stops it now where as before the night-in-question he took it over the top. I don't want to come off as a text slut so I haven't pushed it.

Anyway, yes I'm a big chicken when it comes to just saying "hey, go out with me?" or "shall we start this over?". My deal. Outspoken, bubbly, socially functional when I'm not the subject. When it's my person/heart/head involved I'm a clam and a duck-n-cover kind of girl. It's lame, it's paralyzing and ridiculous and I'm working on it. Confidence everywhere I turn is one of my strong suits. Everywhere except in matters of my own heart.

oh, the politics have actually led to very interesting, non-judgemental conversations. Don't think this will be a hinderance. And the casual-flirty-affair is a launch pad. I don't have a limit or a ceiling on this.
posted by theobromine_ady at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2009

At the risk of taking your analogy too far:

I had fire extinguisher training once. Each person in the class got to use a CO2 extinguisher on a real fire (under controlled conditions, of course) so we would know what it was like in case we ever had to use one for real.

It was coordinated by a couple of members of the local fire department. They had a metal bucket about half full of gasoline, lit a match, tossed it in, it caught on fire, and the first person stepped up and put out the fire.

Once the gasoline fire was put out, did that mean the remaining gasoline could never ever burn again? Of course not. One of the firefighters lit another match, tossed it in, it caught on fire again and the next person put it out. And so forth.

Using a fire extinguisher means the fire is out for the moment. It doesn't mean the flammable material has suddenly become fireproof.

Toss in another match.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:02 PM on March 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks DevilsAdvocate.

you didn't take it too far, you took it right home :)
posted by theobromine_ady at 3:14 PM on March 16, 2009

I am not a guy. I have never been in a similar situation... but FWIW, in his position I would definitely be worried about #2. With that age difference and you in the role of teacher and him as student ... if I were him I would worry about crossing boundaries and any awkwardness (colleagues ! other students ! oh my !) that might be associated with a real relationship in this situation (rather than just semi-secret flirting).
posted by hellogoodbye at 3:15 PM on March 16, 2009

This one's a bit baffling, so I don't really have a clear opinion. I will say, though, I'm becoming increasingly skeptical about what anyone's girlfriends say. See He's Just Not That Into You which is a bit of a fad right now, but I think it is largely true. I think it's generally true that we hate to hurt our girlfriends' feelings (and may also have a hard time seeing our girlfriends' less sexy qualities), and so our advice is often off. I would also be a bit skeptical if "the observers" saying the sparks are still obviously flying are women or even particularly nice men. I'd ask straight men (preferably blunt ones), not women.

My hunch is you may have stifled him a bit, at least if your "2nd" has any merit. But if he is being flirtatious in person, then that seems like a decent indicator that he's still interested. (See, useless!)

Anyway, good luck! Ask him out. It's really worth the risk. I know that sounds easy coming from here, but we're mostly all afraid of rejection and humiliation, but sometimes it pays off and the dividends can be so worthwhile.

Did you really get handed a bomb?
posted by semacd at 3:21 PM on March 16, 2009

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