How to deal with her feelings for me?
April 11, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

My best friend has expressed sexual feelings for me in a disrespectful way. I'm uncomfortable. How do I deal with this?

I'm 20 and female; she's 27. We've been friends for three years. We're from quite a conservative area, and she is indeed conservative and religious, while I'm the opposite. I haven't told her I'm bisexual because, like most people I know from home, she's homophobic and it's the one thing about me I always thought she couldn't deal with. Until last night I thought she was completely straight, and she insists that she is. I've never been attracted to her in any way, though I'm physically and verbally affectionate with all my friends.

I've been out of the area for months (it's temporary), and we've been talking a lot on Skype. Last night we talked about our sex lives in more detail than we had before. She actually doesn't really have one because she doesn't believe in sex before marriage; I do have one but it's not that interesting. She started telling me all kinds of (heterosexual-type) things that I had honestly thought she was too prudish to talk about. And then she confessed to me that she sometimes wants to kiss me. Actually, that's something she'd said to me before, but I had just cluelessly brushed it off as a rush of especially intense platonic love. I don't know. Then she told me about a night when she had wanted to touch my breasts. She blamed it on the dress I was wearing and the alcohol I had served her, and at first I thought she was making some kind of weird joke. I kept going "haha ok" and, you know, that kind of thing. I told her it was all OK, but that we were just friends. Then she got more aggressive. She started saying I shouldn't dress the way I dress, and asking if I would kiss her, or let her touch my breasts just once. She told me she was going to masturbate while thinking about me. She told me that she would have to stop telling me she loved me because it was affecting her actual feelings. I couldn't believe what was happening. I told her many times over that no, like anyone, she couldn't always have what she wanted and that she could have her feelings but that she had to respect mine too. She asked me not to bring it up again, with her or anyone, and I agreed. And we said goodnight.

If a male friend had behaved like that with me, he would no longer be my friend. But I'm inclined to forgive this girl because we have been so close, and because I get that she has been pretty repressed and doesn't really have any experience dealing with her feelings in an appropriate way. I don't want to lose my best friend. And in any case, when I go home it will be impossible to avoid her.

At the same time, I feel extremely disrespected. I almost feel like she, having learned some new details about my sexual experiences, suddenly saw me differently, like I was dirty, and thought she could degrade me and talk to me any way she liked. It reminded me of the way some men treat me on the street. Friends are not supposed to do that to you. I know that. And yet...?

The more I think about it the worse I feel. I'm alone in this situation... I can't talk about it with my other friends because they know her, and I feel like that would be betraying her, and I don't want to do that. And I can't talk about anything with her until I figure out how to proceed.

I hope this post is coherent; I'm just confused and kind of shocked and wondering what else I don't know about my life, and I really don't know what's relevant right now. Am I reacting the right way? What should I expect from her? What should I be trying to do, and how should I do it? Thank you in advance for your advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If she's conservative and religious, she's probably lashing out because she's ashamed of the feelings she has for you. She sounds very confused and appears to be discovering something about herself that is foreign to her (both sexually and romantically)--you just happen to be the unfortunate recipient of her advances.

I don't want to totally defend her actions, but it makes sense that she would be so blunt with you. If you two normally talk candidly with each other she may have difficultly turning on the appropriateness "filter" when she talks to you about her feelings.

It's unclear what "having learned some new details about my sexual experiences" refers to.

This sounds like an uncomfortable situation and I hope it works out.
posted by null terminated at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Had she been drinking? The style of the conversation, which moved so quickly to aggressiveness sounds a lot like the kind of thing that people fall into when they've had too much. If that's the case, she'll probably be mortified the day after and "not remember" anything.

If not drinking, this sounds like the kind of conversation that happens when someone who's been closeted tries to open the closet door ever so slightly. The wishes and desires and fantasies that have been disowned, denied, and shut out can burst forth in an extremely crude and upsetting way, where her different sides will be battling it out. In this case, it's really about her, and the evolution of her sexuality - not "about you" at all. Again, it's likely that she'll be mortified or confused afterwards.

You certainly have the right to have your feelings be taken seriously by her, regardless of why she went off like that. If you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, I'd suggest you tell her that you were really hurt, confused, and deeply offended by the way she talked with you. I'd even encourage you to use your words, that if she had been a guy, you would never talk with her again. You can even suggest that she might want to get into therapy to figure out why she talked with you, her friend, in such a disrespectful way.

I'd suggest you make sure the conversation is entirely about her behavior, NOT about her or your sexuality. If she brings her sexual wishes up, tell her firmly that you are absolutely not going to talk about making your relationship anything other than a friendship, and that that will occur only if she is able to treat you and your wishes with respect.
posted by jasper411 at 11:54 AM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your friend may be carrying a torch for you and/or be in denial about the real nature of her sexual preferences. I don't think her behaviour towards you was degrading, though. She was coming on to you, just got too carried away, and there wasn't anything really insulting or demeaning in what she said.

As for whether you can go on being friends with you... don't know what to advise here. Being friends with people who want you in a way you don't want them is an uncomfortable proposition (see what I did there?). You could take the very real risk she'll do something like this again and just bear with the awkwardness hoping it'll get better, and be prepared to discuss this again if needed. Alternatively you could keep your distance for awhile until your friend has dealt with whatever issues she has. It's your call.
posted by orange swan at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2010

Are you positive it was her? It could be as simple as a brother of hers using the computer and impersonating her, to a hacked/hijacked account.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:58 AM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

"If a male friend had behaved like that with me, he would no longer be my friend."

That's your answer right there. Don't make excuses for her, any more than you would make excuses for a male friend.
posted by ErikaB at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

If a male friend had behaved like that with me, he would no longer be my friend.

Why would there be such a double standard? This is not a rhetorical question; I'm not saying there should be no double standard. I'm honestly asking why.

I think the reason there would be a double standard, if any, is that you would actually be hurt or harmed if a man did it (even if he was a very close friend of yours, and even if he had "been pretty repressed and [didn't] really have any experience dealing with [his] feelings in an appropriate way," right?). But you wouldn't actually be hurt or harmed if a woman did it -- or so the rationale would go.

But is that the case -- that you weren't actually hurt by her doing it? What you wrote certainly seems to express that you felt very hurt, demeaned, unsafe. ("I feel extremely disrespected ... suddenly saw me differently, like I was dirty, and thought she could degrade me ... Friends are not supposed to do that to you.") So I don't see why you feel the need to protect her from any of the negative consequences that would befall a man who did this.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2010

Are you positive it was her? It could be as simple as a brother of hers using the computer and impersonating her, to a hacked/hijacked account.

I haven't used Skype, but isn't it done by voice and not text?
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:16 PM on April 11, 2010

Aside from ArgentCorvid's possibility, it seems likely that she is not saving herself for marriage but is in the closet, hiding behind chastity.

You also seem to be sending mixed messages. You don't seem to reject her advances, you merely stipulate that you have feelings and that she "can't have everything she wants." Well, OK.

Maybe I'm just from a different part of the country, but to me it sounds like she was horny, came out to you, came onto you, and her aggressive flirting turned you off. Well, OK. Don't be surprised if your friendship is ruined anyway, since from what you wrote here she does not know where you stand on the issue of doing the nasty with her.
posted by rhizome at 1:20 PM on April 11, 2010

This sounds like drunk-Skyping. Put it on the back burner for the moment and see how you go.

If a male friend had behaved like that with me, he would no longer be my friend.

Oh, well, in that case, it seems you need to resolve a few personal confusions and inconsistencies. Maybe you should confront her directly.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:40 PM on April 11, 2010

When someone is disrespectful to me, I often feel worse if, on top of how their behavior has made me feel, I also felt like I didn't stand up for myself.

You did stand up for yourself when you told her she couldn't always have what she wanted and she had to respect your feelings. But if that still strikes a chord for you --

If you still want to be friends with her, you might feel better about attempting that if you told her *exactly* what you told us in this paragraph:

"I feel extremely disrespected. I almost feel like [you], having learned some new details about my sexual experiences, suddenly saw me differently, like I was dirty, and thought [you] could degrade me and talk to me any way [you] liked. It reminded me of the way some men treat me on the street. Friends are not supposed to do that to you."

And you know ... even if you do say that to her, and she apologizes, you still have the right not to be comfortable being friends with her anymore. There is no right way to react, you can react however you want. And FWIW, your post was perfectly coherent to me.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:59 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like the awkwardness of inexperience rather than disrespect. But you're her best friend, so you're in a better position to judge. If you get an apology and basic explanation, I don't see why this should kill the friendship.
posted by mpls2 at 2:31 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was going to say what Ashley801 said. Maybe end the conversation sooner, too. It was unacceptable to you, and in the future, you don't have to stay in a situation that is making you uncomfortable.
posted by salvia at 3:27 PM on April 11, 2010

She's your best friend. You should be willing to forgive her. You'd forgive her if she got upset and you had a fight, so why not forgive her for this?

Reassure her that you care about her and won't drop her for this. She's probably scared to death that you are going to think horribly of her for what she said.

Of course, that doesn't mean that she should be given carte blanche to continue saying things like that to you.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 3:28 PM on April 11, 2010

I think I understand what you're talking about regarding this being disrespectful. Linking it to the way men treat you/us on the street made it clear to me. I'm assuming that you told her details about your sex life, either heterosexual or bisexual, where before there'd been an assumption of conservativeness and chastity because of your social circle/upbringing? This kind of reminds me of how men from certain cultures will treat women alone or dressed "inappropriately" (to them) on the street. Since if one of "their own" women were alone on the street or wearing pants, she'd be a slut, that means that you must be a slut if you're alone, and you deserve to be treated as one and they're entitled to talk to you/treat you however they want. Like you're "asking for it." I think maybe that's part of what happened with your friend, in addition to her being upset/angry about her own feelings, upset/angry that you didn't reciprocate, etc. But telling you that she was going to masturbate about you after you'd been clear that you weren't interested in making your relationship sexual is way past "awkwardness." Telling you she wanted to kiss you and you saying "no thanks" was awkward. Continuing on to say that she wanted to touch your breasts was not getting the hint. Implying that it's your fault and you were "asking for it" by wearing a certain dress or giving her alcohol and then throwing in the masturbation comment is way beyond the line. To me that is a violation of trust and your friendship and just common decency.

I'm upset for you. I think that you have the right to be upset, hurt, scared, whatever. Whatever the excuses, she shouldn't have talked to you or treated you that way. And even if she were drunk, that just means that those feelings are roiling around under the surface and you can never be around her + alcohol again without being afraid of what kind of mood she'd get into. I think she owes you an explanation for her behavior (we are all just guessing about her motivations, after all), but I think you would be justified in feeling the way you feel and wanting space from her and the friendship, if that is what you need to hear in order to confront her about this.
posted by thebazilist at 3:29 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think there's any One Right Path forward for you.

Maybe, after some reflection, you come to the realisation that you feel so hurt, betrayed and disrespected by your friend's actions that you can no longer be close friends with her -- maybe not even friends at all. If that's the conclusion you come to, that's O.K.

Maybe, after some reflection, you decide to forgive your friend: that even though she's acted in an offensive and painful way, the long history and strength of the relationship means that you're not willing to cut it off over this conversation. (in which case, it may be a good idea to have a sober conversation with her about last night's talk, at some point in the nearish future.)

In any case, you need to decide how you feel, what you're comfortable with. There's no such thing as "reacting the wrong way", in terms of "good" or "bad" feelings. Where you're at emotionally is not right or wrong. Just make sure that whatever decision you come to takes into account BOTH your own sense of self-worth AND your close friendship with her.
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:38 PM on April 11, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you, everybody. Getting your opinions is helping me to better see the reality of this situation. I'm realizing that even if I know intellectually what an enormous deal it must be for her to have these feelings, and I guess to really actually be gay, I still don't -really- understand it because I am happy with my gay side, and because I have had the luxury of living a mostly heterosexual life so far and being happy with that too. So I think I can get over whatever hurt I feel and focus on her now, depending on what she wants.

Now, I don't want to go on and on but I'm going to, because I want to clarify anything that was unclear.

It was a voice and text chat. She typed a lot of what she said, but she was definitely on the other end. I would be shocked if she was drunk, but then she has been shocking me lately. I think it was just a sudden feeling of liberation.

I felt disrespected because of the things she said (kiss me, let me touch your breasts, and don't dress like that if you don't like my reaction) but also because she didn't stop even though I asked her to many times. It was like she was taunting me. I had the feeling, and I don't think I'm wrong about this part, that she had (unconsciously) decided I had done immoral things and was an immoral person, and couldn't expect my boundaries to be respected any more.

I didn't mean to imply that I was applying a double standard to my male friends and this particular friend. I suppose I was thinking about my actual, existing (straight) male friends, who really have learned from years of living a socially-privileged sexuality how to act around people they're attracted to. If one of them acted the way my friend did I would think their intentions were more malicious (not the right word) because I know they know better. I can honestly say that if this particular girl were a guy I wouldn't feel much different (though of course he would be straight). So I do feel hurt and judged but at the same time I feel that maybe I can't expect her, given who she is and how she's lived until now, to have behaved differently.

rhizome, maybe I did send mixed messages. Thank you for your perspective. I was just taken by surprise while all this was happening, and I was mostly concentrating on not saying anything to imply that her feelings were wrong or evil. I love her and I kind of forgot about turning her down. I wanted her to know that I could accept her and her feelings but I couldn't accept the way she was expressing them. Maybe I should have been more clear. I did tell her many times that I would not do any of the things she wanted.

Thank you again, everyone, for your help so far. Right now I'm hoping she tries to talk to me so I get an idea of what she's thinking without me pushing the conversation in any direction. But if she doesn't make contact I may have to. I'm sure she is feeling a lot worse than me right now.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:04 PM on April 11, 2010

She's your best friend. You should be willing to forgive her. You'd forgive her if she got upset and you had a fight, so why not forgive her for this? Reassure her....

I just want to say that it's also totally okay to feel disrespected, angry, confused, or whatever else you were feeling. Anger in particular is an emotion that gets a bad reputation, but feeling angry is not the same as hurting someone. Anger is an emotion that exists for a reason. Expressing your anger (or whatever you are feeling) in a constructive way could be beneficial. (Here's the first link I could find on the positive aspects of anger.)

It is so nice of you to be thinking about her comfort, but I think it could also be really helpful for you, her, and your relationship if you were honest about how it made you feel and how you'd prefer to be treated. If I was her, I would want to know what you were really feeling about it. I wouldn't want you to smother your feelings behind excuse-making and forgiveness without telling me what you actually felt. You're a person, and I care about you and want to know what your experience of the situation was. It was such an intense experience, and hiding your feelings actually keeps a distance between you two. (Note: if you want this distance, you can totally keep it.) Even though it would be hard to face it, because I would be embarrassed and sorry for hurting you, knowing how you felt would help me better apologize and understand, and it might even help me realize something about you and your sexuality, or about attitudes I had that I was unaware of. Honest and gentle communication would probably make our friendship stronger.
posted by salvia at 4:35 PM on April 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Speaking as a former 20-year-old bisexual woman who had a long, weird, upsetting relationship with a deeply religious 27-year-old woman who eventually decided she was straight: don't do it. Really. She might be attractive and intelligent, but I suspect you will eventually regret trying to balance any sort of relationship you're having with her conservatism and religious outlook. You don't want to be someone's dirty little secret, and so you'll have to tell her to cut the shit.

In addition, this woman is seven years older than you are and ought to know better than to treat anyone in such a fashion. When you're the grownup in a friendship-- not to say you're not, but at 20, you are an adult but you're not necessarily fully mature yet-- you have to check your business a lot more carefully and make sure you're not misusing your leverage.

Even if she is gay, she's not dealing with it on a personal level in a healthy manner. Throwing yourself at a younger woman and taunting her sexually, giving her the impression that you're doing it because she's a fallen woman and therefore it doesn't matter what happens to her? Major, major bullshit. Avoid. Find an out gay woman who isn't hung up on the sexual messages of her faith and who's not trying to play games with you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:10 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with your instincts; this was unacceptable behavior. You deserve respect, and her gender/sexual confusion/drunkenness doesn't excuse it. I've been drunk plenty of times with male friends that I was attracted to...I didn't pull that kind of shit on them, and I wouldn't have tolerated it from them. Plus she's 27, not 17--she's old enough to understand what is appropriate. I mean, you do and you're younger, no?

The age dynamic also makes me think there's disrespect here; it's one thing to make a pass at someone your age, another to make it to someone so much younger than you. It just feels wrong.

Plenty of good friendships to be had out there; don't waste your time trying to salvage a toxic one.
posted by emjaybee at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Huh. I agree with your instincts to be gentle about it, but I would, first, make it absolutely-no-giggles-completely-fucking-clear that what she did was NOT okay, that she does have to respect your boundaries, drunkenness is no excuse, and she'd better not fuck up again. Put on your baddest, meanest, most super serious voice and put her on notice.

Then you can do all the friend stuff. But take care of yourself first.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2010

It's not about you. If you're going to be out to someone like that, this sort of thing may happen. The only disrespect here was her own disrespect for herself and her feelings. Show some grace and be kind. Besides, seriously, isn't someone saying you turned them on ultimately a compliment, however awkward?

If you try to play the part of the offended party, you run the real risk that this woman will decide that you came on to her, that you were the rude and offensive party. Her own ego may require her to rewrite history to that effect. Then she may start telling other people how horrible you are, and it's an accusation nearly impossible to defend.

It seems from how you feel about the situation, the best thing that could happen here is you allow her to behave as if this exchange never happened. It is quite likely that will be her behavior. Allow her that, or risk more trouble than you care to handle.
posted by Goofyy at 10:21 PM on April 13, 2010

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