In the romantic realm, why people lead others on?
December 5, 2004 7:49 PM   Subscribe

In the romantic realm, why people lead others on?

Obviously that's "In the romantic realm, why *do* people lead others on?"

I've been on both sides of it- I've been lead on, I've lead on. I just talked on the phone to someone, and probably gave them the impression I like them a lot more than I do. I know I'm not the only person on earth that does this, so I ask my fellow jerks and jerkettes here in AskMetafilter- why do you do it?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A combination of misplaced kindness; fear of confrontation; vanity and neediness; and an inability to channel Miss Manners when you need her. At least in my worser moments, which I hope not to have many more of.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:57 PM on December 5, 2004

I wanted to get laid./snark
I think that often, you may like someone as a person, respect them, and dread hurting them, so in today's typical postmodern passive-aggressive non-confrontational fashion you just don't tell them that it's over, or it never was, or whatever. I recently cut off all communication with an ex who kept me going (with my busted-balls permission) for over a year. I don't think her intention through it all was to hurt me; she may have wanted to keep me around in case stuff happened again, or maybe she just liked having someone buy her shit who she didn't have to fuck. (bitter? a pint, please.)
posted by notsnot at 8:09 PM on December 5, 2004

It also may have to do with actually getting to know the other person before you write them off in a romantic sense... keeping your options open, so to speak, until you make a decision that this is the person for you, this person definitely isn't the one for you, or someone better comes along.

I recall a girl I dated in college that seemed kind of bonkers over me, and after a short time I realized I didn't feel the same. I didn't encourage her, but didn't break things off, either. Then the semester ended, she failed out, and I never saw her again. Problem solved, I guess.
posted by Doohickie at 8:21 PM on December 5, 2004

Sometimes, people are just afraid of rejecting someone, especially when they want to stay friends with that person.

Sometimes, people are horrible excuses for sentience that don't even care to comprehend what others feel.

Sometimes, you're perfect for them, and they fear that.

There's no real one answer to love questions. Probably won't ever be, people care about love too much, they want idyllic perfection right now.
posted by Saydur at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Often, the attention is just too sweet to give up. So we selfishly keep someone around long after we are sure they are not our dream partners.
posted by copperbleu at 8:31 PM on December 5, 2004

Generally I am opposed to the idea of being able to post comments anonymously but this time I wish I could.

Because they can. Of course there is no one reason. Sometimes it is done for a need to validate oneself. Sometimes to knowingly take advantage of another person. Sometimes it could be confusion about what one really wants.

Dex: Look at me. Look at me, okay? Technically, I shouldn't be getting laid, but I do. And do you know why, Dave? Because when I'm hanging out with a woman, that's all I'm doing is hanging out, talking, listening. I'm not sitting there thinking about how to get in bed with her. And this completely confuses them because they're saying "Wait a minute. I'm so much better looking than this guy. Isn't he attracted to me?" The basic principle: We pursue that which retreats from us.
Rick: It's from Heidegger.
Unnamed Guy Playing Poker: Groucho Marks said the same thing. "Act like a woman can't join your club, and she'll do almost anything to get in." - The Tao of Steve, 2000

posted by geekyguy at 8:56 PM on December 5, 2004

off topic, but it should be Marx not Marks. /offtopic
posted by Stynxno at 9:09 PM on December 5, 2004

That is what I get for a copy and paste, eh?

If you haven't seen The Tao of Steve I highly recommend it.
posted by geekyguy at 9:14 PM on December 5, 2004

Is flirting the same thing as leading on? I've never thought of the two as the same. I think that leading on is when you know someone has romantic feelings for you, but you don't feel the same.

I don't think that I lead people on. If I get the feeling that someone is interested in me, I find a way to let them know not to pursue me, i.e. throwing "my boyfriend" into a conversation. It's just not nice to play with people's feelings.

I was in a social situation recently where I thought that it was pretty clear that someone was interested in me. So much so that a few of my friends even commented on it. I couldn't talk to him at the time, but when I called him a few days later, he totally blew me off. Was he leading me on?

I know that I flirt a lot, but I've never considered it leading on because I usually do it with people that I don't see often. If I did it with someone that I connected with regularly, then it would be leading on.

I don't know why I flirt. I think it's kind of second nature to me. I do it with men and women. I think that it just makes people feel good to be the object of flirtation. I know it makes me feel good.
posted by Juicylicious at 9:59 PM on December 5, 2004

All my life I've been accused of leading others on, but I don't think I ever have. That is, I've never been aware that I do it. I was accused of it in high school a lot -- even one of my teachers said that I needed to stop "flirting with all the boys" (but to be fair, this woman was pretty crazy, and her perceptions were usually quite wacky). All this time I just thought I was having pleasant conversations with people! It wasn't like I was thrusting my chest out, tossing my hair, touching the other person a lot, etc. I would just do things like smile, act animated, laugh at the other person's jokes -- pretty much all the things I was raised to believe are part of being polite and personable. Yet in high school I was accused by boys and girls of leading them on (usually once they propositioned me for a date or sex and I declined). I always found this really upsetting, because it made me feel like this evil slutbitch, and I hadn't even done anything (that I was aware of)! So I think that sometimes the whole concept of "leading on" might only be in one person's head and not the other's.

(Incidentally, my mom and my aunt have both told me they have the same problem. However, they also have pupils that are always a bit more dilated than other people's, as do I. I think I read somewhere that dilated pupils are a subconscious biological indicator to others that you like them. So maybe that's part of it? I'm wondering if that owes something to my being half-stalked by a couple of female friends in high school.)
posted by fricative at 10:19 PM on December 5, 2004

Partly for me, it's because I really really hate hurting people or coming off as mean. That said, in the dark recesses of my mind, it's totally an ego stroker: "I could have these guys if I wanted them" sorta deal. Not good, and I try to stop it, but that's what it is. Also flirting like mad is kind of an icebreaker for me with people.
Now why do some people seem to assume that you're going to be together forever the moment you go out for coffee, or something? Blah.
posted by stray at 11:09 PM on December 5, 2004

I don't like flirters and I hate leaders-on. Others seem to respond positively to both behaviors, though, which I'm sure is why people do it. Positive reinforcement.
posted by rushmc at 11:46 PM on December 5, 2004

I have nothing really new to add but I have a female friend that does it. She has a boyfriend but she likes the attention and reflexively keeps someone on deck.
posted by euphorb at 1:14 AM on December 6, 2004

That's really good question, I wish I knew the definitive answer.

A little flirting is one thing, but leading someone on, knowing that you're doing it seems to me to be a vindictive thing. Whether it be a case of poor esteem for self or others, revenge for 'what the last one did to me' or whatever, it's not pretty, it's not nice.

Of course this isn't a perfect world, blahblahblah...
posted by kamylyon at 3:12 AM on December 6, 2004

Copperbleu nailed it, at least from my experience.

I once dated someone I had no interest in for several months because the person I wanted had made it clear that he didn't want me. So when someone else came along who was head over heels for me, I just liked the attention too much to give it up. Granted, I was only 19 and very, very naive at the time, and now realize that was pretty heinous of me.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:12 AM on December 6, 2004

Some people are just far more serious than others, and take things much more to heart. What's just fun and games to one person may be taken in earnest by another. It's a good idea to make sure you gauge the other person carefully and make an effort to understand what they really mean by what they do.
posted by orange swan at 4:51 AM on December 6, 2004 [2 favorites]

Leading-on can help the leader-on feel attractive and desired. With a vindictive edge, perhaps, if the leader-on feels a power rush as well in exploiting his/her attractiveness on someone for whom s/he does not return an equal amount of affection.

On the other tack, it could be a result of passive-aggressiveness and a misguided desire not to hurt the other's feelings.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:14 AM on December 6, 2004

I've done it more than a few times just because I hadn't realized that the other person was attracted to me. Then, once I do realize it, it's a bit late to be randomly dropping the boyfriend into conversations, so I'm stuck in an awkward hell until a decent opportunity to do so comes up.

I'm not very observant.
posted by billybunny at 10:38 AM on December 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

Yo fricative, you sound just like a friend of mine, who was forever mystified at the way men responded to her friendly behaviour. What she didn't realise was that she made much more direct eye contact than is usual or appropriate - her "default setting" for gaze was not set right for our cultural mileu, or something. If you looked her right in her eyes she would happily hold your gaze until you broke it. For most people, a steady gaze + warm happy smile means "I'm hot for your action". If there is someone you can trust to ask about this, that might explain a lot of misunderstanding.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:39 PM on December 6, 2004

i.e. throwing "my boyfriend" into a conversation. It's just not nice to play with people's feelings.

If you don't have an SO to throw into the conversation, it can be tough to make things clear, though... I commented on this on this thread about "mixed signals" - sometimes trying to be nice sends the wrong message, but it can be difficult to get around... I certainly never intend to "lead on" but it can be weird navigating the 'nothing personal but no thanks' territory.

And of course, sometimes people do have mixed feelings. A person may have an ideal mate in mind, but end up having to choose between less than ideal and nothing at all, and that may leave them up for exploring something that they later decide is really not enough, etc.
posted by mdn at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2004

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