I've accidentally been leading a friend on.
December 5, 2009 1:59 AM   Subscribe

Help me clean up a complicated friend-triangle before it becomes a messy love-triangle.

Ok, context: three classmates (John, Jane and Jannet) at my grad school and I have become very close this semester. The four of us hang out almost every day.

The problem is that Jannet thinks that she and I have a thing going. I guess you could say I have been leading her on... but it's more complicated than that.

I actually like Jane a lot, but Jane likes John (who likes her, but may not be entirely serious about it). So the result is that Jane, who doesn't want to lead me on, has sort of been avoiding me and being close to John when the four of us hang out, which leaves Jannet and I together all the time. Like whenever we sit down, John is on the end next to Jane, then Jannet, then I. It's just the social dynamic of the group leaves Jannet and I paired. Since the four of us spend hours together every day, it has been looking like Jannet and I are "an item" and I was oblivious to it until recently. It seems I am always the last one to know about these sort of things.

I dearly love all three of these people in the most platonic sense, crushes aside. I don't want things to become weird, but I don't want Jannet to be hurt either. I feel that she deserves more than the cold shoulder.

What should I do? I'm not going to act on my feelings for Jane at any foreseeable point in the future. I love Jannet dearly, but not in a romantic way. How do I gently make it clear to her that there is nothing happening between us? Or should I do something else entirely?
posted by brenton to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Jannet may have already worked this out for herself. Is there a reason that talking to her about this honestly, when John and Jane aren't in the room, isn't an option?

You could make a few joking remarks about how Jannet deserves a better "boyfriend" than you, maybe one who isn't such a jerk who'll actually treat her like a lady, but that may go over horribly, depending on your dynamic.

Really, the best, clearest, nicest and most respectful way to clean this up is to be straightforward with Jannet about it. Leave out anything about being attracted to Jane, of course, and say something like, "I'm a little oblivious sometimes, but I wanted to make sure you knew that I'm not trying to lead you on or anything. I like you as a friend, but with the way John and Jane have paired off recently, we've been put together. I like hanging out with you and think you're awesome, and am glad that we get to spend all this time together. I was worried though, that you might think I was trying to make our friendship into something more, when I'm not. Are you okay with that?"

It is possible that Jane has asked Jannet to pull you off to the side so she has more time with John, too. Either way, stress that you've really liked spending time with Jannet, and that you're worried about a future misstep. That way she has a sort of easy-out.
posted by Mizu at 2:21 AM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe where you live things are different, but from over here this sounds bonkers.

Sitting next to someone is not leading them on. Being friends with someone is not leading them on. Hanging out with someone does not make you "an item", it makes you friends! Unless you are playing footsie under the table or something.

If she enjoys being friends and would like to take it further, that's natural, and letting her know that you're not interested is polite, but that doesn't make the whole situation your fault.

A possible easy way out: Next time you want to hang out with her, say "Do you want to get coffee later? I don't mean a date, by the way; I wouldn't want you to think I would hit on you. But I enjoy hanging out with you".

This makes your situation very clear, and gives her an easy way out if she doesn't want to push things. If she does, she can say that she would in fact like to go on a date, and you can say "I don't feel that way about you", and Bob's your uncle.
posted by emilyw at 3:24 AM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: It just sounds like you're friends from here, like emilyw says. If you're still worried though and don't want to create awkwardness by bringing it up explicitly, maybe have a mushy gushy moment sometime and say how happy you are to have formed such a great group of friends. Emphasis there for you rather than for her; you shouldn't need to belabour the point I wouldn't think. If she's only thinking you're friends, she won't have reason to blink; if she's thinking your intentions are romantic, referring to your relationship as friendship should be an 'Ah crap, misread' moment.
posted by springbound at 4:06 AM on December 5, 2009

I'd recommend meeting more girls outside your little grad school clique, btw.

Or at least giving the impression to Jane and Jannet that you already are.
posted by hermitosis at 6:27 AM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you and Jannet been secretly making out or something? It doesn't sound like it from your question. It sounds like you're friends who sit next to each other and walk together often. Maybe she has a crush on you, or maybe not. Has she directly told you? Has she asked you out on a date, or to be her date to a wedding or other formal event? If she does, that's the time to have the "thanks but I only like you as a friend" talk. If not, and you pull her aside and gently tell her that you only like her as a friend, well, that's just weird. She's probably think you were nutty and/or really full of yourself.

And I wholeheartedly agree with the above that you should meet some new girls.
posted by emd3737 at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2009

Best answer: I agree that you might not want to have a conversation with Jannet unless you have a very strong reason to believe that she expects something more from your relationship. If she just thinks of you as a friend then such a conversation would be very off-putting and possibly make her feel strange around you going forward. But don't give her the "cold shoulder" either. Continue to have the relationship you want to have with her, and don't assume that she's pushing things to another level unless you have good evidence.

Also, as an aside:
Why are American's such friggin loony bins about sex?

Anyone who might be qualified to make this assumption might also know that "American's" tend to pluralize nouns without the use of an apostrophe. Really, it's not much help to the OP to call him (along with 300 million other people) a "friggin loony bin."
posted by tractorfeed at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

So on one hand, I agree that the very best way to communicate to Jannet that you think of her as a friend and not as a romantic partner is to act like her friend, not her romantic partner.

On the other hand, I have had the experience of having someone apparently think--and apparently tell other people--that I was his girlfriend even though we were not dating and had never had even the slightest romantic encounter, not even a friendly kiss. Sometimes people are just weird.

I'm nth-ing the suggestions that the way to get out of all of this is by getting out of the four-wheeling rut. Why don't you and John hang out a deux? Or why don't you invite a couple of other people to join you for a larger group hangout?

Yeah, this probably looks like a double-dating situation to the other people in your program, and that might interfere with you meeting someone really awesome to date, like the super-fun roommate of that guy you hate from the seminar but who has great parties. So just shake up the status quo.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:20 AM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's an easy solution. The semester is almost over, so just hold out until then (because, honestly, I think you're beanplating this), then, once the new semester starts, find new people to either hang out with or bring into this fundamentally dysfunctional dynamic. I mean, things are already weird--Jane, who you hang out with daily, is still managing to avoid you, so I think that your fantasy of this being a happy platonic group is a little offbase already, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - please take "wtf america" comments to metatalk, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:30 AM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: Hi everyone. Thanks so much, all really good and useful thoughts.

A few clarifications for the suggestions about letting other people into the group, etc. We're not really an exclusive clique, in fact, most of the time that we hang out there is one or more other people as well. These are not my only friends, but they are definitely the inner circle. Avoiding them is not really an option, both because I like them and don't want to avoid them, and because all my other friends are always around them all the time too, so I'd have to give up on almost all my friends altogether!

Also, it's not always all four of us there at the same time. It is frequently just two or three of us, every combination. Usually with other people as well, but frequently just members of our clique too. Jannet and John are both "social hub" sort of people: they are the centers which hold together entire social networks.

I may have overstated Jane's avoidance of me: she is certainly attracted to John and makes an observable effort to not lead me on. But we're really close. Yesterday we studied together in a coffee shop together for 5 hours, then had lunch together before we joined up with Jannet and other people for some other social stuff. It's just that she always keeps an arms distance between us.

No I haven't made out with Jannet, or done anything that explicit. But there have been quite a few times that we've spent time together just the two of us, e.g. lunch or studying or whatever. Never explicitly as a date though. I know enough not to do that anymore though, I am only spending time with her around other people now. The spending time together alone thing isn't what got me in trouble though, I think. I really think it has been the way Jannet and I always end up together. Someone was telling me last night that I "always make a point to sit next to Jannet" and that we have a lot of "eye contact." That's what's so tricky about this sort of thing. A look that to me means "hello friend, how are you doing over there?" can easily mean to her "hello, dear! we're secretly sharing a moment!"

It's certainly not just me imagining things, as people have started to talk. I will think about the different ideas and suggestions and see if they fit. It's been very helpful to see a few different possible methods of action. Thanks!
posted by brenton at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2009

From the further information, there's still no indication that Jannet thinks you two are an item. It's other people making the assumptions. Just tell them you're friends and I think your problem is solved.
(Or you could do as a friend and I did in junior high and tell everyone you are cousins, because OMG stop asking if we are dating.)
posted by grapesaresour at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2009

Someone was telling me last night that I "always make a point to sit next to Jannet" and that we have a lot of "eye contact."

And that's when you say to "someone" something like "Jannet and I are friends with no romantic interest in each other. None whatsoever, so please feel free to get that through the gossip mill, because you're cramping both of our style in the dating arena with this nonsense."
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:30 PM on December 5, 2009

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