How to Initiate "Operation: Disambiguate"
November 24, 2009 3:11 PM   Subscribe

So, this dude has been sending me extremely mixed and just plain weird signals for awhile. I've decided to get to the bottom of this. Problem: I'm hella awkward. Help me start this conversation, MeFi!

For the past two and a half months or so, I’ve had an odd relationship with this one special dude. For various reasons, we see each other a lot (I’m a queer guy in college, for context), and our interactions with each other have been oscillating between blasé casual friendship and hyper-engagement with me for multiple hours. At times, I could swear he was flirting with me, which I had taken as a fairly probable signal for romantic-sexual interest, as I rarely think anyone is flirting with me, even if they in fact are. However, the disconcerting disconnect between the two sets of moods—combined with my own passive nature—led me to be really confused as to whether I should try to pursue anything further. (Obviously, I’m very interested, or else I wouldn’t be making this post!) One night when we’re up late working, though, he mentions that he “may as well” talk to a boy who he later identifies as his boyfriend, who is abroad far, far away. Weird, I think, for him not to mention a boyfriend when we see each other regularly, but my thought is that I must surely have been reading things incorrectly, as, duh, he’s taken and probably not actually interested in me. “Well, that sucks!” I think, and go back to my collegiate life.

The weirdness (or, at least, my perceived weirdness) doesn’t cease, though. At one party, he makes a big deal out of talking about his boyfriend in the past tense for about five minutes, then half-heartedly corrects himself into the present. At another recent party he invited me to, he did this strange thing where he would come up to me, start talking for a bit, retreat to the corner (talking to nobody), and then coming back up and talking to me again before restarting the cycle. This was apparently so noticeable that my friends there all noticed it as well, coming up to me to offer their own statements of confusion while I stood there, boggled with a drink in my hand. More importantly, at a party I invited him to in turn he takes me aside at the end, and pulls out some small cultural artifacts from his trip abroad this last semester, and hands them to me as a gift. (I had referenced them in a really, really passing verbal communication that I can’t even recall the context of now.) “These are my last [artifacts from my abroad trip.] I wanted you to have them,” he says before his friends drag him home. Today, he barely acknowledges my presence. lolwhut?

WTF WTF WTF. I’m stumped—my friends are stumped—it’s very possible that God himself is stumped. I’m still feeling like I’m getting mixed—and just kinda strange—signals. Most importantly, all this nonsense I've been putting myself through with regards to trying to analyze each individual unit of information, change of mood, gesture, et cetera has been driving me nuts, and I’ve decided it’s time to finally break out of my typical passivity and have a conversation with him directly addressing some of the questions I have. I wish I had just come out in one of these previous situations and just recognized the elephant in the room, but the best I can do at this stage is address it as soon as possible, probably as soon as we get back from the Thanksgiving holiday. It’ll suck if the answer isn’t what I want, but at least I’ll have an answer that I can process and move the hell on from, rather than keeping my psyche in this constant, vigilant holding pattern. I’m pessimistic, but want a consolidated reality rather than a gazillion possible realities.

The Question, Restated: However, this is so out of my comfort realm that I have near-literally no clue of how to go about this. How do you begin this sort of conversation? An e-mail message… what do I say, how do I preface it? All I can think of is, "Hi, we need to talk," and that just sounds awful and confrontational.

And, say, I get him down talking (in-person's the only way to go for the actual discussion, I realize)… what are some acceptable ways to go about this? Especially if this somehow all ends up being from my end and not from his, I don’t want to make things totally awkward and awful for him. In my mind, I’m thinking something like: “Hi, [dude,] so for awhile now I feel as though I've been receiving some messages that you may be attracted to me, but at other times I have not. I don't mean to accuse you of doing one or the other, but I just wanted to know how you actually feel, so I can figure out what's going on.” Does this sound OK? Could I say anything better? Is that laying it on too heavy, or sounding too accusatory? My main interest, after all, is just figuring things out in a way that can be best for everyone's emotions involved—I don't want to deal in any nonsense about him "leading me on" if that's the case, I just want to disambiguate the situation and move on from there. Does anyone have any experiences with this sort of thing that they could share?

It's a big step for me, personally, to even think about having this kind of awkward conversation with someone, and I'd really appreciate the advice on how to go about doing it, because I'm determined to do it. Thanks so much, MeFi!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He totally likes you. He's also dramatic and insecure, and doesn't want to break up with someone until he has someone else lined up. Do you want to deal with that? ("Yes" is an ok answer, but go into it with your eyes open).

What you wrote sounds pretty good, I'd mention the boyfriend too, and I'd describe your own feelings, eg: "I'm really attracted to you, and I'm confused because it seems like you're in a relationship you might not be that into. I want to talk this through because whatever happens I want things to be straightforward between us".

I do think you should be prepared for him to respond in an immature way though, he might just not have the emotional tools to talk something like this through. He's not treating the boyfriend in a way that's honest or respectful, remember.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:35 PM on November 24, 2009

Oh, as to how you begin it - next time you see him somewhere around (during the day when it's not a charged party-type situation and no one has been drinking), say "hey, can we go grab a coffee right now?" and go sit on a bench or in the corner of a cafe together and talk.

If that's not likely to happen soon enough, call him or send him a casual email inviting him to grab a coffee somewhere asap, like "hey, what are you doing this afternoon". Don't plan way ahead, don't let there be a lot of build-up.

Good luck!
posted by crabintheocean at 3:41 PM on November 24, 2009

Dear (mercurial college crush),

I can't tell exactly what your situation is because you've sent some pretty mixed signals, but in an effort to clear things up I'd like to let you know that I think you're (hot/groovy/amazing/sweet/whatever) and the two of us should get together sometime if you're available."

posted by hermitosis at 3:41 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guarantee you if you've read things wrong, he won't be shy about letting you know. Conversely, if he's a real nutter you should figure it out pretty quickly once he's done with his bee-dance and actually lands.
posted by hermitosis at 3:42 PM on November 24, 2009

Keep it simple. Next time you're at a party or something together, say, "Do you want to kiss me?"

Proceed according to his answer.
posted by tamaraster at 4:11 PM on November 24, 2009

Why not just ask him out?
posted by marimeko at 5:20 PM on November 24, 2009

I've found "Are you flirting with me?" to be a useful phrase. Say it as light-hearted-ly as you can. If the answer is "Yes," then you're set. If the answer is "No, gross," then you can laugh and pass it off as a joke.
posted by ErikaB at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

“Hi, [dude,] so for awhile now I feel as though I've been receiving some messages that you may be attracted to me, but at other times I have not. I don't mean to accuse you of doing one or the other, but I just wanted to know how you actually feel, so I can figure out what's going on”

The problem with is that all it does is ask how he feels. It should be more like you inviting him to land from his "bee-dance" on you, rather than you saying, "hey, why are you flying around? are you going to land or what??" It should be at least as much about you saying "I think you're hot and want to date you" (or whatever it is you want).

Second point. You say, "I don’t want to make things totally awkward and awful for him." Don't worry about that. This guy sounds like he's awkward of his own volition. If he doesn't immediately say "Yes OMG!" he may very well go away and turn off his phone for two days, then flit back over, then go hide away. Be prepared to not blame yourself when he reacts awkwardly, because this seems likely. He may need to go have drama with this ex, or who knows what.

Finally, I'd decide in your head if you're okay hooking up with him while he has some on-again off-again ex and to go into this with the expectation that at some point he may treat you like a chore he "may as well" do. Decide right up front what you're willing to put up with and not, and signal that early.
posted by salvia at 6:02 PM on November 24, 2009

I meant.. ask him out and then you will know if you need to bother unraveling this mystery. It's not a question of whether or not he likes you imo, it's the way he's playing games and the question of "why".

If he says yes, then you get to continue figuring this guy out = fun with mysteries. If he says no, then he's (full of it) just playing games.
posted by marimeko at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2009

Sounds to me like he might want to cheat on his long-distance boyfriend with you. Figure out whether his boyfriend is (1) no longer his boyfriend or (2) OK with him having an open relationship. Only after you pass that threshold can you allow yourself to pursue this guy (and he's clearly pursuing you so I'm sure y'all will move forward if you express straightforward interest him or extremely overt flirting/touching).

But yeah. Careful about being his booty call while he's lonely b/c the love of his life is so far away and blah blah whine whine. Even if you win him over that way for a real relationship with the guy, there are ethical problems on both sides - taking him from someone when you knew he had a relationship, and knowing that he's cheated on someone - that are really not a place you want to begin from.
posted by lorrer at 6:39 AM on November 25, 2009

you sound like a charming, sweet, very intelligent and thoughtful queer dude. he, on the other hand, sounds like a bit of dork who can't seem to move past being juvenile about expressing interest (his moves so far sound all amateur league, or junior high school at best).

the simple answer? let this one slip back into the sea of guys and keep your eye peeled for someone who clearly articulates his interest in you. from what you describe you have an active social life, friends, and are engaged in life. it's really only a matter of time before you lock eyes with a true sweetheart, one you will not waste valuable time fretting about and attempting to guess his intentions!

i speak from similar queer dude experiences ... oh, the list of boys in my life that fit everything that you describe about this guy. each one of these awkward OMGs cleared up like sunny day when i realized it was best to move on, and let go. the hottest relationships and encounters i've ever had? when the dude (or I) are unambiguous about what we're feeling. others here have given you great suggestions on how to be direct. practice those while life moves on and presents new guys for you to meet!
posted by kuppajava at 9:35 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

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