How can I make it clear to new female acquaintances that I just want to be friends?
January 31, 2010 10:56 PM   Subscribe

How can I make it clear to new female acquaintances that I just want to be friends?

I (male, single, mid-20s) am interested in making more platonic female friends. I have an easy time meeting new people, but when I ask girls if they want to hang out (casual things like going for lunch at work), some of them assume I am interested in them romantically. What's a minimally awkward way of making it clear that I definitely just want to be friends? Given that I prefer hanging out with people individually rather than in groups, it's easy to be confused for a guy who's pursuing them romantically. Any suggestions?
posted by wireless to Human Relations (34 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey, I like hanging out with you. I'm not really looking for a girlfriend right now, but I'd enjoy having lunch with you sometime."

Always worked on me, and I'm still friends with them.
posted by rhiannon at 10:58 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

when you are hanging out with these girls, talk about other girls in whom you are interested.
posted by violetk at 10:59 PM on January 31, 2010

no no no, wrong answer. i've never had more women interested in me than when i'm in a relationship. just be up front about it.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:05 PM on January 31, 2010

uhhh…not wrong answer. as soon as a guy starts talking about other girls, i'm over it. and read it carefully—i didn't say talk about a non-existent relationship.
posted by violetk at 11:07 PM on January 31, 2010

yeah, sorry, skimmed over it too fast.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:08 PM on January 31, 2010

Just be upfront like rhiannon says. Some girls probably won't believe you, others may be put off by someone being honest, but the vast majority will be cool. And they're the reasonable, drama free girls you want to hang with anyway. This way there's no wondering, no beating round the bush and no hoping they get the hint, just straight forward moving onto the friendship thing you're looking for.
posted by shelleycat at 11:35 PM on January 31, 2010

I love rhiannon's advice. It worked on me, and I also am still friends with them.
posted by bebrave! at 12:25 AM on February 1, 2010

I've not tested this theory, but I suspect girls will be sceptical of your friendly claims - you need a way to show some kind of investment in the platonic viewpoint.
posted by curious_yellow at 12:40 AM on February 1, 2010

Yeah, I think a lot of girls take a hint way better than most guys do. If you say anything along the lines of "just friends" or "I'm into this other girl" there shouldn't be a problem. If there is, well, don't accept any advances. Pretty simple. *Most* girls are very appreciative of platonic relationships because they're rare. If they're not, don't hang with them again.
posted by smeater44 at 1:34 AM on February 1, 2010

Never use the phrase "No strings attached" because that's used by guys who want more than friends. Being very upfront "I'd like to hang out with you, you know as friends, cuz I think you're cool" actually works when said right.
posted by dabitch at 1:36 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok, I'm imagining you're very attractive, the kind of charismatic person that would cause women to want and hope that this is a date, or at least that you guys can have a long mutual crush on each other.

In that case, you want to do two things: make clear that it's permanently platonic, and let them down easy in the process.

So, my theory is to ask her advice about your love life. Ask her this question. Ask her where to take your date. Ask her how to handle something. These things say that you're not interested while flattering her that she's your expert advisor.

Rhiannon's suggestion concerns me because (a) you bring up romantic stuff, so now I'm thinking in that ballpark, (b) you don't want a girlfriend, so I guess we'll keep this fling casual?, and (c) you don't want a girlfriend right now, but what about after we get to know each other?
posted by salvia at 2:08 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be contrary and recommend not talking about other girls if you want to pursue friendship - if a potential friend is the least bit attracted to you, she's going to feel like chopped liver, and who knows, she might try to win your attention. If a just-met guy friend started talking to me about a bunch of girls he liked, apropos of nothing, I might even wonder if he was trying to pull some pick-up-artist "neg" stuff.

Something straightforward that doesn't involve the words "dating" or "relationship" even in the negative (you know, the "don't think of an elephant" effect) should work - "I'm looking for platonic friendships. I think you'd be a really good friend to hang out with."
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:14 AM on February 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Just be (politely) upfront about it: "I'm really not looking to date anyone, so this totally isn't meant in a romantic way, but do you want to grab coffee sometime?" You don't want to come off so blunt as to offend a girl (who may think "Oh great. He wouldn't DATE me? What's wrong with me?" even if she wasn't interested), but upfront enough not to give the wrong impression.

I would feel out the vibe and only use this if a girl really seems to be on the fence about hanging out. Don't bring up to a girl who obviously isn't interested in dating you that you don't want to date her - as I mentioned, that can just be flat out insulting in a kind of "Well, I'm not interested in you either!" kind of way.

Also understand that even if they know that you mean well, some girls don't want to hang out one on one with male acquaintances until they know you better - not necessarily Schrodinger's Rapist territory, but definitely Schrodinger's Creepy Pain In the Ass Guy. Furthermore, girls in relationships may not feel comfortable hanging out alone with you right away as it may be difficult to explain to their partners - "Yeah, there's this guy I just met and he wants to hang out. No, it's just us. No, he's not interested in me, he just likes hanging out. Alone. With girls."

Be understanding that not all girls will be into this no matter how you present it. Work in a few alternatives. It's less intimidating if there's even one more person present, so try coffee with a few female friends at a time and once you've established a friendship beyond mere acquaintanceship, then try moving to one on one time.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:15 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a woman who has had lots of male platonic friends, I think this isn't something you can force. Meeting women in a learning on interest-sharing activity (a class, etc.) will help or even getting to know someone through work well first. Wait until she establishes that she's not interested, then ask her to hang out, anyway. Though when I've been in these situations, I'm often still skeptical of a guy's motives, and experience has shown me that this is for good reason. But I'm more skeptical when a guy tries to take the initiative or force the issue.

Experience has shown me that guys like you aren't the rule--instead, guys like the former rongorongo are. Understand that it's nothing about you, but rather, a woman's experience, that makes her wary of offers of platonic friendship.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:21 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you invite people to hang out in groups? As someone with a serious boyfriend, I wouldn't believe your platonic interest in taking me to a coffee shop alone - it's too casual-first-datey. A better choice would be a concert/gallery opening/event that would be more plausible to not want to go to alone. Also, I have to agree with PhoB, in that even if you tell me you're only platonic, I'm not going to believe you (and this goes 1000% more if you don't want me to invite my other friends or boyfriend) I also like the idea of talking about/asking advice about girls you are interested in (if there are any) but I would do this prior to asking her to hang out alone, and to just leave her be if she backs off.
posted by fermezporte at 5:37 AM on February 1, 2010

Take a friend along and hold his hand while you're asking them to lunch?
posted by Phanx at 6:04 AM on February 1, 2010

Eh, don't take it so personally that a girl interprets your actions wrong. How many times have we seen on here questions about trying to decipher if a guy is romantically interested or just being nice? Just treat the potential friend like a person, and if she feels the need to clarify, maybe she'll ask. Maybe she'll just look uncomfortable, though, at which point you can bust out some of the previous suggestions (rhiannon, violetk, smeater, etc.) have made, but I agree that it's both presumptuous ("I'm sure you wanted to date me, but too bad") and awkward ("don't think of an elephant") to lead off your conversations that way.

I agree with the idea of making sure your invitations aren't too "datey" - think about ways we on the green have suggested that people clarify their interest in somebody by acting certain ways (mirroring, "how to flirt" lessons, etc) or giving certain types of invitations (just the two of us, get to know you better, dinner, etc) as opposed to certain other types (groups of people, talking about an event but not scheduling the outing, lunch of convenience not planned in advance, etc).

In short, be aware of what flirting is and don't do that; be aware of awkwardness and willing to be upfront about what you do/don't want, but don't feel you have to advertize your lack of romatic interest. And have fun! Everbody likes having friends!
posted by aimedwander at 6:17 AM on February 1, 2010

You know, not every girl will assume you fancy them. Most women have platonic male friends.

Please don't say anything until it looks like they are picking up wrong signals. There's nothing more upsetting or akward than someone you aren't interested in telling you they have no interest in you.
posted by mippy at 6:41 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Suggest going with more than one person. Groups are generally unambiguous as far as romantic intention is involved; asking said female to go along with Frank, Erma and Kim from accounts receivable is pretty innocent. Once it's "non-threatening" to ask them to a platonic event by themselves, it should be no problem.

It's good to not ask before you already have decent friendly relationship. And not every girl will think you are after them.

On preview: what the last two posts said.
posted by dozo at 7:25 AM on February 1, 2010

Don't neglect the non-verbal as well. A guy who is constantly glancing and talking to a woman's chest makes for an uncomfortable "platonic" companion.

Talk about topical stuff and be interesting. I find people who go on and on about their romantic interests to be uninteresting company.
posted by effluvia at 7:25 AM on February 1, 2010

I think you do have to talk about other women. If you don't, you're allowing these women to hold out hope, which, in the end, would be exploitation. If they're offended and / or all over you, that's their problem. You've been responsible if you make it clear that you are interested in other women and not them. But don't tell them why you're not interested in them. That's where the "chopped liver" feeling comes in.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:30 AM on February 1, 2010

I agree with those who say involve multiple people at first - better yet, if you're inviting her to some sort of show or event, say, "If you have any friends you think would like it, ask them along." Maybe they'll bring more awesome females for you to (hopefully) becomes friends with.
posted by shaun uh at 7:50 AM on February 1, 2010

Are you a naturally flirty person? That may make it more difficult. If you are, maybe try to tone it down when talking to females you would like to have a friends, and nothing more. I've met dudes who were just straight up friendly interesting people with no hint of flirting, and it is much easier to put them into the platonic box. Of course, defining/ describing flirting is always difficult....
posted by afton at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2010

Is the problem more that they think you are interested and are interested themselves? Or that they think you are interested and are scared off by that? Because I think the best advice might be different, depending.

I also think it's a great idea to suggest she bring other people along if she wants, as shawn uh and others said. I know you said you prefer hanging out individually to hanging out in groups, but I think after you say this once, and don't hit on her when you do see her, she'll get the idea that it's just friendly, and you could suggest non-group things after that.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:27 AM on February 1, 2010

(As a data point, out of all the times in my adult life where a male acquaintance asked me to do something non work related one-on-one with him, and I couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be a date or not, it only turned out not to be an intended date once. Including the guy who I thought "he has a live-in girlfriend who I met at the same time I met him, there can't be nonfriendly motives behind this." I think my experience is probably pretty common and that's why, as others have said, this isn't something to be taken personally).
posted by Ashley801 at 9:37 AM on February 1, 2010

Recently, I got a Facebook message from a cool, nice guy that I met via mutual friends. He wrote: "Hey, I think we should be friends! Want to hang out sometime?" Then he suggested a couple activities that we both like (and that we could do with other friends). I'm a girl and it worked on me!
posted by val5a at 10:04 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my experience, which may not be representative, there is only one situation in which this can happen: both you and she a) want to be friends, and b) aren't interested in being more than friends. She wants to hang out platonically too, but she has been afraid to suggest it for fear that you will get the wrong idea. When you say what she's been thinking, she's relieved.

If she is interested in more than friends, she will be hurt, angry, and/or insulted.

If she already thinks you're interested, and you tell her that you're not, she may not believe you.

Also worth considering: If she is attractive, then both you and she know that it's not as simple as you not being interested.

Maybe you're interested at some level, but your plan is to not act on your interest, because you know it wouldn't be reciprocated. And yet, you still want to spend time with her. This is not exactly an uncommon scenario. And it's quite possible that she understands perfectly, but just doesn't want to deal with it.

Because she's probably thinking: "Seriously? If all you want is a friend, then why don't you hang out with another guy? It's probably not that simple...." and she's probably right. You probably do want some degree of male/female chemistry to take place. You're just not planning on trying to use it to have sex with her. Well, you may change your mind. Or your frustration may be obvious. Or you may get jealous when she gets a boyfriend, etc.

Also: lesbians.
posted by bingo at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've also run into this problem, and I think the hardest part is after you've been categorized as "wanting" her. If she thinks you are into her, there is basically no getting out of that pigeonhole.

It is a good thing there are tons of people in the world, but the unfortunate part is that the "friend spark" is not nearly as common. There are women I'd love to hang out with, become good friends with, but I just can't. I'm categorized and that's it. Too bad.

Directly saying "as a friend" doesn't work for me. I'm in a committed relationship and I don't cheat. I'm not even that flirty, but some women simply cannot imagine that a guy isn't interested in them romantically. Too bad.
posted by Invoke at 11:47 AM on February 1, 2010

Please heed Mippy's advice upthread. Don't say anything. Eventually, they will get the message. But assuming they want you if they have not expressed that is not the way to go. I will agree that most women will think that you want them, but even IF you said otherwise, they'd still think it--and 9 times out of 10 it would be true, maybe not right away, but the chances that you would grow to "like" them are really high. That's just the way it is.

But I'm glad you asked this question. I've wondered the same thing, from a female perspective. How do you maintain male friendships, esp when feelings are "caught?" In some instances, as has been my experience, hanging out outside of work is just not an option in these cases. Sad but that's just the reality.
posted by GeniPalm at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2010

This is a hard thing to do, unfortunately. If a woman is attractive, she has almost certainly had guy "friends" who turn out to want something more. And then she has to go through the awkward, at best, task of shutting them down -- not to mention deal with the inner conflict and further confirmation of "guys only want me for sex!" She will probably flat-out not believe you, because she's heard it before. So just be ready for that.

And if she's attracted to you, she may well be pulling the same trick on you -- pretending to just be friends, just waiting for her Big Chance with you. And then you get to be the big jerk, try to let her down easy, or however you want to deal with it. Oh, and you lose a friend, too. The grass is brown on this side of the fence too.

So, as always, your sub-communication has to match your spoken words. (If she catches you checking out her ass, you're sunk! Ok, ok, it's generally gonna be more subtle than that, but you get the idea...) But so does hers -- you want to make sure she's being honest about the "just friends" thing as well. No point in stringing some poor girl along just to be let down. [Currently going through an uncomfortable "friend"-breakup myself.]

If you're serious about the "just friends" thing, then, even with explicit ground rules in place, I recommend against one-on-one scenarios that could easily turn to smooching. Hey, we're all human, we all have lonely spells -- and it's all too easy to go from "just friends" to, um, "cuddle-buddies" and beyond. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, just be honest about what you want.) Watching TV/movies together on the couch is probably a bad idea. Playing frisbee-golf together is safe. Mostly.
posted by LordSludge at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2010

Just be straightforward, if you can. "Hey, want to grab lunch sometime? Ever since [I moved to this town/I started this job/my best friend moved away/I realized at my last birthday that most of my friends are spread out around the country/some other genuine-sounding reason that you're looking for friends in general which clearly conveys that the fact she's female is coincidental] I've really been hoping to make more new friends around here, and you seem awesome, I think it'd be fun to hang out/I'd like to get to know you better."
posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:07 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding the lesbians.
posted by whalebreath at 4:21 PM on February 1, 2010

I wouldn't go 100 percent direct. It raises the question of why you even said that, potentially awkward in a few ways. Imagine: "Hey, want to come with me on a walk? I'm not going to give you a five dollar bill, but let's just take a free walk." the listener feels like "did he think I ASKED for money? Does he normally pay everyone he walks with? Why did he feel he had to explicitly rule that out?" I'd be thinking, "Did he think I was hitting on him? Does he think all women in the world want to date him? We just met and he's warning me we'll never be boyfriend-girlfriend?"

EmilyClimbs's approach is my new favorite. Just be totally platonic. Treat her casually, not like you have all of your attention on her.
posted by salvia at 10:40 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW, EmilyClimb's approach is almost exactly how I'd ask a girl out that I may have a romantic interest in. And any reasonably well-socialized girl will interpret it as such. (Some are truly oblivious, but they are rare.) Then again, salvia's correct in that shouting "JUST FRIENDS!" up front is pretty awkward and not likely to be well-received.

We don't have the back-story here, but since the submitter is asking the question, I think it's safe to assume he has had some bad experiences with girls misunderstanding friendship as romance. He just wants to avoid all that unpleasantness by being verbally clear up front. I'm afraid the real answer is... sorry, but people don't work that way. You can't just say "Hey! Don't be attracted to me!" and expect it to work. She can't choose whether she's attracted to you any more than you can choose whether to be attracted to a given woman, so the verbal instructions are rather useless. About all you'll accomplish is clearing your own conscience in case you have to break her heart later.

(Flip the script: Imagine a beautiful, amazing woman tells you that she "just wants to be friends". How would you handle it? Would you be able to instantly shutdown all attraction? REALLY? Or would you pretend you're okay with that just to keep her in your life? I'd think the best, most honest answer is "thanks but no thanks"... in which case she loses a friend -- not what she wanted.)

But just because a girl is attracted to you (or vice versa) doesn't mean you can't be friends. You have to make it clear to her that you just want to be friends not so much by words, but by your actions: don't be flirty, don't put yourselves into ambiguously romantic scenarios, hang out in groups, give yourself some distance if you sense her (or you) getting too close, etc. And this takes time and experience -- again, it's not something you can shortcut just by saying so up front.

You could also befriend girls who are already romantically attached (married or otherwise), but there's another whole set of complications lurking.

Sorry, no easy fix.

FWIW, I've pretty much given up on one-to-one platonic girl friendships, and it makes me sad. In every single case, either I'm attracted to her, or she's attracted to me -- and we're just fooling ourselves to pretend otherwise. So, by necessity, we limit our activities to group outings, where everyone can flirt with impunity and take silly pictures for Facebook. Everybody wins. :-/
posted by LordSludge at 10:59 AM on February 2, 2010

« Older Chrome, Chrome, Chrome, a bop bop bebop.   |   Scholarly military history... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.