"What are you doing?" "I'm ending our friendship." NOOOOO!
November 23, 2009 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Help! Can I salvage this friendship even after experiencing the searing pain of rejection?

(CAUTION: lengthy beanplating)

Okay. About six months ago, I posted a smart, sassy personal ad under "strictly platonic" on the local Craigslist (not in the US) seeking someone to talk to, hang out with, with the intention of expanding my social circles and being introduced to someone else's social circle. It was w4m since most of my friends (maybe 90%) are girls and I don't have enough guy friends. Having never used CL before, I was surprised by the caliber of responses, mostly coming from interesting, articulate people, and ended up hanging out with someone who really did turn into a friend, and corresponded with a couple more who were local, but were currently assigned elsewhere for work.

Enter: The Man I Speak Of. Despite being an American in America and being over a decade older than me and never having made a friend over the Internet before, he replied to my ad. He had been to my city some years ago, and he worked in the airline industry and so could pretty much fly anywhere. Now, of course, being a MeFite and having been a nethead for 14 years, I am no stranger to online interactions with people from around the world, and upon the requisite Googlestalking, he seemed to be everything he said he was, so I thought, what the hey, why not? He wasn't the best speller, but he still seemed articulate, had a questioning mind, liked to think on his feet, an extrovert, was also interested in books and movies and music, and best of all, he was extremely funny and there was a certain je ne sais quoi in the way he wrote that just made his personality jump off the page. (I'm sure you can see where this is going.) Our highly enthusiastic e-mails escalated in frequency to daily, and eventually we also started chatting daily (with the occasional voice chat). At one point we were chatting twice a day for hours, despite the time differences: when I woke up and he was getting ready for bed, and when he woke up and I was getting ready for bed. We would even chat when he was traveling. If we couldn't chat, he would e-mail or leave an offline message, some little nugget for me to find. (Data point: he was on extended leave from work, and I was between jobs.) I can't even remember what we talked about, mostly getting-to-know-you stuff and common interests I suppose. He would jokingly censor himself when I complained that he ranted too much. We had a strange relationship. It was still strictly platonic on the surface, even somewhat paternal, but clearly we were getting very attached to each other. Eventually, we decided that this wasn't very healthy, and decided to cut back to chatting only once a day. The next time he traveled, he didn't bring his laptop. He started attending adult classes and working on a writing project, so he would have some accomplishments to show for when he comes back from his leave. Good, right?

Three months into it, I'm not sure how, our voice chat turned somewhat flirtatious when he complimented my voice and my laugh. I was flattered, and of course I really liked him, but I wasn't sure if I could put any stock into it, since we hadn't met. He had sent me his picture, but while he wasn't unattractive, I wasn't sure if I was attracted to it, or to him physically, so I kept myself in check. Then, maybe a week later, he started acting strange and distant. I didn't catch him online for days, and he didn't leave any notes. It seemed like he was avoiding me. So then I ask what's up, and he goes "What am I going to do with you?" Then he admited that he had a drinking problem, that he couldn't lie to me, that he had been thinking hard about it because he wanted to be more than friends, that he knew he could be very charming, but that he didn't want me to make any emotional investment in him without knowing this very huge thing and he was worried I would write him off.

Well, dear MeFites, I didn't write him off but I also didn't know how to handle the bomb he dropped. (I mean, up until this worldly older man, I had mostly been involved with geeky types, engineer types, and sensitive indie musician types.) I really, really, really liked him, but I told him that it was something I could handle if we were friends, but that it would definitely be a problem if we were to be more than friends. So, we stayed friends, and of his own volition, he started seeing a doctor and going to AA meetings. I tried to be very, very supportive and help him stay positive. He had previously kicked his smoking habit, I knew he could do it. The tenor of our conversations changed: deeper, more serious. We both expressed a desire to lighten up, but for some reason it would constantly tip towards the heavy end.

In spite of myself, I started to develop feelings for him. Rationally, I knew it wasn't a good idea, but I couldn't help feeling tender and affectionate after he showed such vulnerability. I started becoming uncomfortable with the nature of his friendship with an attractive married colleague he had a crush on, and even more uncomfortable that he vaguely implied having had "friends with benefits" and outright upset at the possibility of him jumping on an opportunity if it arose. Yet I didn't necessarily want to be "with" him and it felt unfair, I didn't own him. But I liked him a lot and felt very attached to him. He had asked me out to see a certain movie and he planned on coming to my city for a week, but that no longer seemed to be on the horizon (he said it would be December at the soonest) given all the things he wanted to do (lose weight, attend more classes, do the 90 meetings in 90 days in AA, complete the writing project), and so we chatted less and less.

And then the disaster happened. I won't give any details because I don't want to turn this into a pity party, but a major natural disaster ravaged the region, and we were pretty badly hit. I sought him out for comfort, and he in turn was supportive towards me. He seemed to really want to help, but realistically there was nothing I could ask him to do.

I lost my Internet, and we no longer chatted regularly. Then I learned to tether my mobile phone and logged on more, but he would no longer go online at the "regular" times, unless we set up a time to chat. But even when we set up a time to chat, and I would be late for a few minutes because I had trouble connecting or grabbed a bite before logging on, he would not wait for me like he used to, now that I didn't have a constant connection. One time, just to prove my hunch, I was online right on the dot and stayed invisible. He was late, stayed online for 3 minutes, and left without leaving an offline message or e-mail. I felt him growing cold. Maybe he lost interest. Maybe there was someone else. He did say there was a woman he liked who he wanted to be his sponsor, but according to AA rules it had to be another man. I asked him to tell me if something was up. He said the only thing that had changed was his schedule, that he couldn't keep up the same hours he used to, and that it would be the same if he went back to work.

A month after the disaster, I was grasping at straws, I couldn't stand it anymore. I wrote him a longish e-mail explaining why I was acting strange, that I felt that I was losing him, that I felt confused and may have feelings for him, that I missed him, and lighter times. I said that I had to lay low for a while, and maybe later on I would be back to my rational self and be happy for him and the new developments in his life. I told him he didn't have to reply. Well, he did reply and say that he could go online at 9:00am his time the next day. So I went online and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour later, he was still not online, so I fired off a line about how it was getting ridiculous. He e-mailed back and apologized for forgetting, noted that I seemed mad, and said that since I kept late hours, he thought he might still catch me. I said that it was just that after I had sent that embarrassing e-mail, going online to chat with him felt like having to face the firing squad, and that when he didn't show up, I felt like an idiot, but that I meant it that he didn't have to reply. (I partly wished he wouldn't, as I wanted it to be a swan song of sorts.) He sent a couple of e-mails a few days apart, pretending to work on a response, and when the actual "response" came (a one-word text file) I wondered if he was just dicking me around or if it was part of a running gag between us (him building up something which ends up being nothing, applied to jokes, anecdotes, faux documents). However, I was too sore about previous events that I didn't dignify it with a response until two weeks later, just one line. He asked me how a trip I took was. I replied with just information about the trip and nothing more. Since then, silence.

It hurts so much.

I know, I know, I know, it was a stupid thing to do and this only means he doesn't feel the same, and he has offered no reassurance. I can't seem to get it into my head that even though he once indicated he wanted to be more than friends, he no longer feels the same way.

I can't stop thinking about him. Why am I so attracted to his words? It feels like an addiction, and I'm experiencing withdrawal. But I know that even I got what I wanted, it would still be unhealthy, that continuing to chat with him would be an incredibly bad idea for both of us. I know I need to stay away. Yet I do still want to be friends with this man. I still value his insights and opinions, and I like him a lot as a person regardless of all that has happened.

How do I deal with my feelings for him?
How do I make it hurt less?
Most importantly, how can I save our friendship?

I am at the end of my rope. I don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Romantic feelings destroy friendships. If they're mutual, they turn the friendship into a relationship. If they're one-sided, the other person is driven away. He thought you didn't really return his romantic feelings, so he moved on, and part of moving on is ceasing to torture oneself with old love interests.

Also, you're a pretty good writer.
posted by Electrius at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

How do I deal with my feelings for him?
Stop talking to him for a while.

How do I make it hurt less?
Stop talking to him for a while.

Most importantly, how can I save our friendship?
Eventually, after you've stopped talking to him for a while and are confident that you no longer have feelings for him, reconnect.
posted by brainmouse at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You've developed a crush on someone you don't actually know. You don't know each other, so you're projecting ideas of how you'd like each other to be. But those projections aren't realities, they're just that - projections.

You're both lonely and there's nothing wrong with that. It sounds like he has a lot to contend with in terms of his AA, job, feelings for other women, weight loss, inter alia. This person isn't accessible to you.

How do you deal with your feelings for him?
Remind yourself you're dealing with a mirage, not a person. This isn't someone you know. I repeat: you don't know him. Talk to a counselor about why you've developed such an intense need for someone who can't give you want you may want, which I imagine to be presence, continuity, respect, health, etc.

How do I make it hurt less?
Give it time. Stop communicating with him. Focus on what is present in your life, whether it's a job search or recovering from the natural disaster you mention. Volunteer, lean on friends, take a class. Again, counseling will help with the pain.

How can you save your friendship?
First off, there really is no friendship here to begin with because you two do not really know each other. He sounds like he's working through some difficulties; please give him the space to do that. He's repeatedly shown you he's not interested in the same type of relationship you are (not responding, not being online at specific times, not reaching out to you). Accept that. Stop communicating with him.

The crux here (IMHO) is really about your rather intense attachment to him. It would do you well, I believe, to address what that's all about.
posted by December at 8:49 AM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

Think seriously about some of the things he did that were less than friendly and ask yourself why you still want to be "friends".
posted by marimeko at 8:51 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Immerse yourself in the offline world, which was the entire point of this exercise in the first place.
posted by kathrineg at 8:59 AM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

How do I deal with my feelings for him?
How do I make it hurt less?
Most importantly, how can I save our friendship?

I think the answer to all three is to be a friend, and realize that he's an alcoholic trying to get control of his life and he needs to concentrate on himself right now. Be a friend and let him do what he needs to do.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:02 AM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't think you can ignore the timing. Your more romantically inclined feelings developed after a, at the very least, stressful time and possibly even a traumatic time. Would they have developed had you not the experience of the natural disaster?

From his perspective, too, if he is in regular AA, AA is likely discouraging him from entering into any new romantic relationships for the first year. AA's goal is get you sober, and then get you on with the rest of your life. Dating is strongly discouraged for the first year in the program. I won't go into whether I think it's merited or not, but this is a fact of AA.

And I think, given all of the above as well as what you stated regarding your interactions with him, this is one of those times where you let the friendship go in the interest of long term health.
posted by zizzle at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're "so attracted to his words" because they're just words.

It's so easy to be whoever we want to be on the internet, so easy to present ourselves as perfectly witty and charming and sexy and funny at all times. You're not really attracted to this guy, you know. You're attracted to his internet persona, which means you're not attracted to a real flesh-and-blood person, but to a fictional character.

Now you need to figure out why you're going for someone you know you can't have. That is the much bigger question here.
posted by balls at 9:35 AM on November 23, 2009

an extrovert

I normally wouldn't nitpick over the OP's word choice, but I have to say ... you're calling him an extrovert based on having communicated with him for 6 months and never meeting him. You don't really know someone you haven't met. You don't really know if he's an extrovert or what he's like at all. And judging by his behavior, maybe he's not such an extrovert.

You know, "online dating" and "internet dating" are somewhat unfortunate misnomers. They actually mean dating that begins online as a way to access people you wouldn't have otherwise met. But it should move into real life sooner rather than later. If the communications stay online for 6 months -- while you do live in different cities but you say he can easily travel anywhere -- that's not a productive relationship. Or, what kathrineg said.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2009

The one thing I'd like to point out is that electronic communication can really distort emotional content. Everything tends to look worse--starker, snarkier, colder. Where in person you'd have a whole wealth of facial expressions and body language to work from, online you just have words, which convey orders of magnitude less information.

In much the same way, not being online to chat--or not chatting when online--isn't quite the same as being "distant" in person. You can't know what's going on at the other end. It does sound like your friend has been busy, and has been going through some problems of his own, and probably hasn't handled any of this as well as he should. But I think it's best to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he has reasons for his behavior that may not have anything to do with you. It takes a lot of mental and emotional effort to maintain a connection over such a long distance, and he may just not have it in him right now.
posted by fermion at 9:52 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's never ceased to amaze me how much personality can come across through freshly minted words on a cold, bright screen. Most especially in real-time, in chats. I'm apt to stumble F2F, to stagger, a big streamer of drool running down as I careen about when speaking with someone I'm attracted to, but online is perfect for me -- I enjoy writing, I'm a fast typist, I'm reasonably 'fast on my feet' in words, I'm not looking at this beauty who I'm attracted to so I can be more at ease. I inititially wrote 'more natural' rather than 'more at ease' in that last sentence but of course F2F is more natural than words.

But words are powerful.

For centuries, marriages were conducted with words on a page, sometimes years at a time, and courtships were, too -- you maybe didn't meet your sweetie til you showed up at the dock to meet the boat, or showed up at the alter. It seems they did fine; it was what they had. And since it was what was available at the time, people were held to their word, even their written word, or words.

But nowadays it's easier by far to just duck out of something, most especially online, for any reason or for no reason at all; I've done it and damn sure had others cut and run from me. To the right (wrong?) person, this can be just as devastating as the loss of a 'real' relationship -- that same burning knife plunged into the chest, the same tears, the same confusions. The worst I ever got it was in 2001, she backed out a day or two day before I was to have gotten onto a flight and I still have no idea why, and it was the holidaze of course, which I then got to spend alone, just me and the presents I'd bought for her, clutching my Baltimore plans in my little fists as I moaned. It was so special!

I've learned to be considerably more careful with my heart, in an all new way, an all new medium, yet another lesson, right?

How do I deal with my feelings for him?
You hurt. No way out that I know of; you can't dodge legitimate pain. Ol' Buddha himself mentioned that life involves considerable suffering; my experience leads me to believe that he was/is correct. He also sortof touched upon the idea that the cessation of suffering takes some time. My experience bears this out, also -- it's a process, it's not an event.

How do I make it hurt less?
You don't. Time, is what it is. And, sorry to tell you -- time takes time. It can't be rushed. It does seem to help me to stop fighting it, when I can, to just stop -- "Don't just do something; stand there!" -- but this is easier for me to say than for you to do. I know.

Most importantly, how can I save our friendship?
I don't know. Neither do you. Maybe it can't be saved -- quite frankly, I don't think that it can, but I'm a pessimist on these things anymore -- but you can't know until time washes over it all, slowly scrubs off the sting, allows clarity to return. You'll know then, but not until then. When Elena pulled the dang rug out from us in 2004, I was all in a sweat to write her again or call her again, or both, probably simultaneously, and probably again and again; my mentor Bob told me that I could write her, sure, but only after I didn't want to anymore, by which he meant of course when the obsession to write and/or call and try to 'save' this thing was gone. I wanted to smack him in the mouth. But I knew it was sound advice, and I followed it, and never have written nor called that wacky gal. I hope she is well, and expect that she is.

Anon, I'm truly sorry that you're going through this, most especially at this time of year, coming into the long nights, and the holidaze to boot -- gruesome, a horror show. Walk slow, but hold your head up; you did nothing wrong. And you're doing nothing wrong. The only way to avoid lifes beatings is to close yourself down to the potential goodnesses, and I'd hate to see for you to do that. Sometimes this thing just hurts, is all; I'm sorry that this is one of those times for you.

posted by dancestoblue at 5:27 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

I acknowledge the distress and hurt you're feeling and think that, like all heartbreak, it WILL dissipate over time. Time that, whilst you are enduring these feelings, you stay offline, delete messages he sent so that you don't revisit them to ponder every nuance, and catch up with real life friends. Learn how to speak back to that inner voice that keeps nagging you about this situation with 'what is he thinking?' or 'what does this all mean?' etc I find meditation tapes help quell this voice, but research what might work for you.

If he's getting treatment for dependency and addiction, one part of his behaviour that he may be addressing is his addictive behaviours with you in recent months. Being online around the clock several times a day looks like addictive behaviour to me. Do you, or other friends, have such a 'friend' in real life?

I reckon you also need to kick a habit. Take some time to figure out why you became addicted to this person, and maybe ponder why having him on the backburner as a sexualised admirer was okay with you in this 'friendship'. When you were the 'isolator' [can't think of better word] it was okay to keep chatting, but him doing the same to you leaves you feeling so desolate. What was all this chatting REALLY giving you?

IMHO long-distance/cyber friendships are a bit of a cop-out from more fulsome and honest relationships with those who are actually around us. As someone has said above, the internet is an avenue to eventually meeting someone in real life, as you stated was your intention. [I've got to ask, why DID you two never meet if he could fly anywhere he wanted?]
posted by honey-barbara at 7:22 PM on November 23, 2009

Zizzle has it. The man's attracted to you, but believes that dating right now will derail his sobriety. Do not be surprised if he seeks you out around the time he hits one year sober.
posted by Citrus at 10:22 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

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