We were friends, that was as far as it went
June 6, 2009 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I was rejected pretty kindly, we are being friends, and we're hanging out an awful, awful lot. Please help me get some perspective.

A couple of months ago, I met an acquaintance at a party and we spent the whole night talking, splitting away from the group. I am terrible at reading people when I find them attractive, and adding an age gap - I'm in my late twenties (and female), he's about twenty years older and lives with his daughter to whom I'm closer in age - so I was too unsure to make a move that night. I got in touch a few days later to say I'd really enjoyed talking and would be totally into doing it again, and we arranged to meet for coffee.

We live in a small town and there are only bars open in the evenings, so that's where we met, which would have been helpful in the get-drunk-and-figure-it-out-that-way except that I don't drink. So, we did this about three times, with good conversation and nothing overtly date-like, but it was intense conversation and we were meeting up alone outside our mutual friends. After the third, I was going slightly crazy from the ambiguity, but I couldn't quite get the words out and ended up sending a text message on my way home, to the effect of "so you know I'm attracted to you, right?"

He called right away and said he wished I'd said it in person, and gave me a pretty specific variant of "it's not a good time for me and I'd really like to keep to being friends", about not wanting to make emotional ties. I've met this enough times to realise it's a kind, gentle rejection, and I was pretty sad but got the message.

Since then, we have been being friends, and have met up alone and also at events, ending up pretty stuck into conversation. Last week, we went to the beach one day (with another, newish friend of mine), and that continued pretty much every single evening for hours each time, good playful and more serious conversation, alone and with others, and me properly meeting his (awesome) daughter.

I realise we're getting more trusting and open in conversation, but I am slightly wary that in some ways it feels like making a best friend when you're 12, and neither of us is 12. There's an ease developing between us physically and the conversation is hitting on more personal and intimate territory, our interaction has slipped into partly being quite playful and teasing, and we are spending an awful lot of time together.

I keep being asked by other people if there's something going on. My closest mutual friend is baffled and agrees with me that the rejection must have been just that, but also notes that he talks about me a lot and seems "very, very fond" of me. I am getting a whole lot out of the friendship and I am not trying to either guilt or seduce him into anything else - I accept that he's not interested. I don't think either one of us is likely to start seeing someone else soon.

I am trying to be comprehensive without going into excessive detail, apologies if I have missed the mark. The only extra thing that I feel I should add is that I'm moving away at the end of the summer and he knew it was a possibility - when I fessed up about liking him, it seemed worth risking having a good fling in spite of that.

Am I being stupid, getting into this weird in-between territory with someone who has made their feelings clear? Is this a really bizarre friendship to be having, even for two slightly strange people? Have you done this before and had it work out well? Is there something here I'm failing to see?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You're moving away at the end of the summer. Don't spend all your time analyzing this, If you can, try to just go with the flow and enjoy his company. Whatever happens, happens. There could be a whole variety of reasons for his rejection, but with the time frame you have, does that really matter?
posted by heavenstobetsy at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've struck up friendships with older men before, ones where I'm attracted to him but there's been no chance of anything happening. In the end, I still enjoyed myself, even though there was an aspect of unrequited affection there, and got a lot out of them, on a personal wisdom sort of level. I think, as long as you don't lie to yourself about the possibility of anything happening romantically, you should indulge in what could possibly become a fantastic friendship. Friends are more important than any old fling, anyway. Just be absolutely certain that both you and him understand and function under the fact that you will be leaving in a few months. And absolutely don't deny yourself romantic companionship, if that's what you even want, from somebody else.
posted by Mizu at 6:48 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

in some ways it feels like making a best friend when you're 12, and neither of us is 12.

Congratulations! You're forming a new Best friend as an adult!
Well, he is - it turns out you might be developing a crush on him, which, for the best-friendship-ness might equal 'crash & burn'. Or it might not.

1. Am I being stupid, getting into this weird in-between territory with someone who has made their feelings clear?

Naw, it's natural if someone who could be an awesome friend also falls into your attractiveness zone, even if you know there is *absolutely* nothing from their side.

2. Is this a really bizarre friendship to be having, even for two slightly strange people?

What? No! Hell, *this* is what I talk about when I talk about a 'Best' friend - I didn't have friendships nearly as developed as a child, so I kindly assume people just don't know what they're talking about when they label having 'best friends'/'very close friends' as 'immature' etc.

3. Have you done this before and had it work out well?

Yeah, sure - and have some great friends this way. Some drifted off after the initial burst, but they were less so. But, probably different situations, because the ones who had the cross-over with 'attractive to me' were also obviously unavailable, so I squelched the romantic feelings, til they honestly went away - and I realised that I'd always been attracted to them more as a friend than a romantic relationship, I'd just been getting that mild flirting feeling exaggerated in my head compared to the feeling I get when I'm honestly, genuinely sexually attracted to someone, which is more of a:
"Oh my, I keep losing track of what you are saying because I want to drag you to bed RIGHT NOW and do dirty, dirty things with you...!"

The best-friend-ness was more - "Omg, you're the most awesome person ever - isn't there some way we could just hang out together forever? Does this mean I like you? Omg - it would never work! But maybe it could?"

4. Is there something here I'm failing to see?

Don't know. From my bias - I really, really value awesome friendships, and don't feel it's a loss if I get a fantastic friendship with someone over a romantic relationship, especially since that reduces the overall chances of me getting to hang out with them over the long term (ie relationship doesn't work out, then have to carefully negotiate your way to friend-status if you really value them).

Of course, he might develop a liking for you back, or really is honestly in a bad place for a relationship. Ok, that's cool, but you've said your piece, and ball is in his court. If it turns out you cool off before he's interested, that's his fault, but I still think you should try and cool the romantic thing off if possible. It'd be better if he had to put some effort into re-coaxing your affections, rather than meeting each other on a more unequal footing (ie you've liked him for AGES and are full steam ahead, while he's still coming around to the idea).
posted by Elysum at 7:04 PM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't want to be negative, and you sound like a gentle soul, so be careful that it doesn't tun into "friends with benefits"
posted by mattoxic at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't normally try to answer this sort of question as I don't think my experience or perspective in social matters is anything like typical. Meaning, I am not a social person and my perspective is quite likely to lie well outside the norm. So take this response accordingly. But, as a guy who could conceivably be in your friend's position, I do see a few possibilities that don't seem to have occurred to you.

First, he lives with his daughter who is close to your age. He might be madly attracted to you but think that it would be very uncomfortable for his daughter, or in some way jeopardize their relationship, if he actually dated you.

Second, he might be madly attracted to you but think that people in general would give him a hard time for dating you. I have never been in that position, but it isn't hard to imagine. And I remember my father telling me once, after he had been seeing a much younger woman, about the animosity he encountered from total strangers. So don't discount that. And it may not be that he's worried about people giving him a hard time, it could be...

Third, he's worried about what your friends will say to you. Don't know where you're from, but there is a very strong prejudice against this sort of relationship in many parts of the U.S., and he may just be worried about how it would play out for you in your social circles.

Fourth, he may have felt like he was doing the right thing at the time for any of the reasons given above, but since changed his mind. However, his initial response gave him no wiggle room for the future.

Lastly, you don't get very specific about what you would actually like to happen. Casual sex? Marriage? Something in between? He may be picking up on the non-specificity of your desire, and it may be confusing him. Or if you're looking for something at the casual end of the spectrum, he may feel that that's less than honorable. He has a daughter roughly your age. Believe me, he can't help seeing this from your father's perspective, and unless he knows your father to be a very open-minded man (and unless he himself could come to terms with his own daughter being in a similar situation), that could present a considerable barrier.

Summary: He may want a romantic relationship, but if he's a gentleman, he'll be very circumspect about trying to start one with you, or even about acting on your signals, unless a) they are crystal clear and b) he can persuade himself that he wouldn't be hurting you by pursuing you. I think you've taken care of (a), and I wish I could help you with (b) but I can't. If he thinks you'd end up getting hurt, he's probably right.
posted by bricoleur at 7:46 PM on June 6, 2009

This sounds like a completely and utterly normal relationship between two adults who have decided not to hook up, other than your concern about it. If you were his age, you probably wouldn't be worrying about it at all, either. With TV and movies and whatnot inundating us with images of drama and romance that are at best unrealistic and at worst misleading and harmful, I realize it's odd to be in this kind of a relationship with a person without context. Just trust that as long as it's making him happy and making you happy, it's all good -- an intelligent, platonic relationship between two adults.
posted by davejay at 8:06 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of the hypotheticals that bricoleur throws out there (thought that's what they are: hypothetical. in the words of Dan Savage, we won't know without drilling a hole into his brain).

Also, don't let the ambiguity make you feel bad about yourself. You have every right to ask Mr.Guy if there's something more to his declining your offer of mutual-like. But if he doesn't level with you, for whatever reason, then I would advise you to likewise withdraw any "open offer" for him to get with you; don't let your new BFF think he's got you on stick while he plays the "hmm, I'm thinking" game. A dose of watchfulness/wariness (especially considering you haven't known Mr.Guy all that long from the sounds of it) would be a healthy thing. And don't let him get away with any jackassery you wouldn't accept from your peers.
posted by tamarack at 11:03 PM on June 6, 2009

He might like you, he might LIKEY-like you, but he's not going to act on those feelings just because he has them. That's the impression I get reading this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:26 PM on June 6, 2009

I have had this before, several times, where each interaction I have with the other person feels kind of like a really great first date. I would write it off as just being close friends, except that there is an undeniable vibe of attraction. In my case I have been pretty sure it's mutual, obviously I can't speak for your situation.

Given that he has expressed that he doesn't want it to turn romantic, it probably shouldn't, and that's fine. Just enjoy the friendship and enjoy having a crush and don't expect more.

If, by the way, it should at some point start to escalate, think carefully about what you really want. When he says he doesn't want a relationship, that's probably true, so anything sexual would be of the hook-up variety and might spoil the friendship. Or it might not, but be careful.
posted by mai at 8:43 AM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

WARNING the following advice, like its provider, is irresponsible and childish.

Seduce him.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:31 AM on June 8, 2009

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