Unwanted Attention From An Unwell Friend
September 16, 2010 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Snowflake Filter: How to deal with unwanted attention from an unwell friend?

I'm a straight female college student. I've known "Jason" for three years, but had never really spent any time with him until last year when we had several classes together. This year we don't have any classes together, and despite living in the same apartment building, we hardly see each other. A series of events these past couple of weeks have left me feeling a little weirded out and uneasy for his health.

Our relationship last year was pretty academic—we were lab partners and we usually saw each other a couple of times a day. He always struck me as kind of lonely, and I felt sort of bad for him. I later learned via his housemates that he had a tendency to drink a lot, often by himself and/or on week days. Towards the end of the semester he began to show up to class and lab drunk or high. I would get annoyed, but I never felt that it was my place pry into his life and figure out why or force him to stop.

Fast forward to this year. Jason now lives alone in a apartment in my small building after his housemates kicked him out for his smoking, drinking, and not paying for anything. Since we no longer have class together I never saw much of him—which was okay with me. I was curious to know how he was doing and would occasionally bump into him on campus, but we never spent anything more than five minutes talking. Then one day I find a plastic bottle full of wild flowers outside my door with a “From Jason” note. I was sort of shocked and embarrassed, but I wrote him a polite thank you that I slipped under his door.

A few days later he chases me down on campus between classes to declare, “Gumtree, you look gorgeous!” Again, I was kind flattered but mostly embarrassed to be receiving that kind of attention from him.

Tonight Jason texted me, “Hey beautiful.” I quickly learned that he was drunk, and passed out while drinking alone in his apartment. This is all before dinner time on a Thursday night. When I asked him what’s up he replied, “I just wanted to remind you that I exist, I guess.” The texting ended with a “Goodnight beautiful.”

I’m really uncomfortable with the creepy flirtations, but I also feel horrible simply ignoring him. To my knowledge his former housemates were his only friends. Something clearly must be going on if he is drinking to excess like this, but I’m not sure what I should do in this situation. Help, Hivemind!
posted by gumtree to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He's drunk and lonely and sitting around thinking "Why didn't I hit on Gumtree when I had the chance? Gumtree's a babe, man! *hic*"

That's all. You do not have to feel horrible about ignoring him, and it is precisely the thing to do in this situation.
posted by kmennie at 8:35 PM on September 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

He's depressed and lonely, and obviously the drinking is exacerbating this. You could be his friend, as in a friend friend, but you might like to direct campus health/counselling services to him, or direct him to them, which would be an even friendlier thing to do for him in the long term.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:39 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't have to do anything you're uncomfortable with. It does not make you a horrible person if you ignore him.
posted by desjardins at 8:42 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might try telling him you're not interested in him and see if that stops his weird behavior. Past that, just because he drunkenly compliments you doesn't mean you're obligated to be grateful. If it makes you uncomfortable, say so and then ignore. Responding with embarrassed politeness just reinforces the behavior as ok.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:51 PM on September 16, 2010

Your campus almost certainly has a hotline you can call anonymously if you know of a fellow student with a drinking problem. Search on your school's website for "drinking" or "alcohol". Or you can call the campus health center general line, and ask who to talk to.

They will be able to tell you what kinds of resources are available on campus for him as far as drinking/psych help, or what kinds of things they suggest to concerned friends. (I realize you're not in the usual "concerned friend" position.) They may also be able to help you with "is there anything I can do to get him connected with help, but at the same time maintain boundaries".

But it's possible there's nothing effective you can do (that is, even if you struck up an incredibly awkward flirtation/friendship with him in an effort to get help, there's a good chance it would not work anyway) and distancing yourself is the only option.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:57 PM on September 16, 2010

Back before text messaging was a thing (thankfully) I was once a lonely young bloke who drank far far too much than was good for him and gave unwanted attention to a young woman who told me:
Fiasco, you don't really know me and you're not helping your case with all the attention. It's not that I don't know you exist, in fact, it's that you're worrying me—do us both a favour and sort your life out.
And then she ignored me, entirely and uncompromisingly. Very wise woman.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:03 PM on September 16, 2010 [50 favorites]

He sounds like an alcoholic. Many alcoholics could have been diagnosed with this disease even earlier than their college years.

I have a lot of years experience working with alcoholics and I think you can view what he is doing as reaching out to you. I believe the most you can do is find where on campus he can go to get help -- a substance abuse counselor or an AA group on campus. Then, one day if he speaks to you or asks to see you; you can tell him he behaves as if he is having a problem with alcohol and you are not willing to talk to him unless he does something about his drinking problem. Then give him the contact information.

He might think he hates you for saying this and he might say mean things to you, but he might just hear you and act on your suggestion. You might be giving him the right message at the right time for him to hear it and act on it.

I take this very seriously because it is possible he is one of those who will die very young unless he comes to his senses.
posted by Anitanola at 9:04 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

You have no obligations. Tell him to get help if you must, but someone like him can, worst case, be dangerous to you. Please be careful.
posted by kjs3 at 9:06 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Likely he's been attracted to you from the beginning but never showed it or acted on it. Something changed and he's more desperate for romantic company.

Having gone through lonely clueless clingy phases in my own life and having seen it around me, I want to point out that your friend is unlikely to get any hints you drop that his attentions are unwanted. Any communication with the slightest hint of politeness or friendliness will be perceived as possible reciprocation, or at least non-rejection. Example: a thank you note for the flowers. She liked them! I should keep flirting. It is painful for you to ignore him or to bluntly reject him, but the kind thing to do for him is exactly that. It will save him more pain in the long run.

The drinking is not a problem you can solve for him. Your concern for his well-being may well be mis-interpreted. The best option is to speak to a friend or relative of his, if you know of any. Other than that, a terse message: "you seem to have a problem with alcohol and should seek help." No "I'm worried about you" because then it means you like him, see how it works?

On preview: Fiasco de Gama hit it right on. Or at least, the author of that note did. (sorry Fiasco)
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:10 PM on September 16, 2010

Out of state boyfriend
posted by Ironmouth at 9:19 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I guess it depends on how much drama you want in your life right now. I don't know you from eve, but if you are into drama, I'd say just tell him "no," and move on. It'll most likely escalate.

If you want to stop it dead, you'll tell him not to contact you again... period. Tell him that if he does, you'll take a restraining order out on him for harassment.

Pretty hard line, I know, but your description of him raises alot of red flags and seeing as you aren't "friends" with him, his behavior is completely inappropriate.

- Take a hard line and put it out of your mind.
posted by TheBones at 9:25 PM on September 16, 2010

I hear, in your description of the situation, a tone of feeling like you're maybe a little bit responsible in some way for being helpful to him or friendly to him or [something] to him. It's ok that you want to be helpful, but it's not actually your responsibility or imperative to do anything to help him get more friends, or not be an alcoholic, or have a good day, or anything. If it makes you uncomfortable, you don't even have to say "thank you"! You can stop responding to his texts if you want to. You can tell him something like people mentioned above--"you seem like you need to get yourself together... here are some resources on campus". You could even, if you wanted to, completely stop being involved in his bad situation, and walk away not being a bad person or a mean person at all.

(I'm a person who tends to see people in pain and then wants to reach out and help them and be friendly, but I frequently get into shitty situations because of it, and have only recently learned that setting stronger boundaries is the only way to keep myself out of those entanglements with unstable people who I'm not actually responsible for in any way.)
posted by so_gracefully at 9:31 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

This question worries me. His gift made you feel "sort of shocked and embarrassed," but you thanked him; you feel "really uncomfortable with the creepy flirtations," but you're having conversations with him and responding to his texts. This guy is trouble, and you're getting entangled with him because you don't want to be rude. My advice would be to stop lying to him and communicate clearly that his gifts make you feel shocked, his flirtations make you uncomfortable, and you would like it to stop. Be honest and communicate clearly.
posted by salvia at 10:11 PM on September 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

You are not obligated to respond to him simply because he is paying attention to you.

You describe him as "unwell" -- he has choices in his behavior, and they have lead him to where he is now. You also have choices in your behavior, you chose to write him a note, and to text back and forth. You can make other choices.

It's OK to ignore him, it's OK to tell him no. He is continuing to flirt with you because you have responded. If you keep responding in ways that make him happy, you will find that you are doing things that make you progressively more and more uncomfortable.

You seem so afraid to say no to this guy. Please don't ever let him into your apartment, gumtree.
posted by yohko at 1:32 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're uncomfortable with his attention, but because he hasn't outright asked you out or declared romantic interest he's made it awkward for you to reject him. It's hard to say "I'm not interested in you that way" when he hasn't actually declared himself.

Try ignoring his overtures from now on. He'll either get discouraged and leave you alone, or he'll try being more direct at which point you can tell him you are not interested.

Also, I'd favorite so_gracefully's comment a million times if I could. People with who need caretaking are very good at figuring out who can be manipulated into feeling responsible for their well-being or their feelings, and they do it by being slightly inappropriate and seeing who lets them get away with it.

An alcoholic, deadbeat guy who starts wooing you hard before he really knows you is looking for a caretaker. But he'll also take note of how you reject him. If you're too nice or polite to be firm and direct with him, he'll know he can push your "wants to be a nice person" buttons. If you go to any trouble to befriend him or try to get him help, he'll latch onto your "rescuer" tendencies.

You can't help him because he's not ready for help... he won't even see the healthy path you point him to, he'll only see your finger pointing to it and latch himself onto your arm like a vampire. And then good luck trying to shake him loose.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:41 AM on September 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

You need to ignore him entirely; you are being emotionally manipulated into being his friend. Any friend, or even thoughtful person, would realize that repeatedly calling someone you hardly know - and are certainly not involved with - "beautiful" is uncomfortable and inappropriate and kind of creepy. (Maybe forgivable once because he was drunk.) But you feel bad for him, and ignoring him seems so "mean," and you want to be a good person, and so you politely acknowledge him, which will only escalate his behavior, I guarantee it. You are not responsible for helping him. He is responsible for helping himself. I worry though, because you mention that his lives in the same building, and so even moreso should you tread very lightly. It sucks that it's necessary but honestly I agree with Ironmouth, you need to invent a boyfriend or visibly hang out with a guy friend more often as a dissuader. I would invest in a chain lock, just to feel secure.
When the time comes for you to tell him "No," suggest he find professional help and give him some campus counseling pamphlets or something. Ultimately, do NOT be afraid to threaten legal action. You are responsible for doing everything in your power to make your life comfortable and happy and safe, do not feel guilty about cutting him off.
posted by mostlybecky at 7:57 AM on September 17, 2010

agree with the above...own ur feelings & make them more important than making him feel better.
posted by PeaPod at 9:06 AM on September 17, 2010

I'll give you the advice Mr. M. gives my single girlfriends who keep chatting with a guy at a club or bar who's not respecting their personal space, but they're afraid of being "rude": walk away. Don't respond, at all. Even the most polite "thank you" will be seen as encouragement. It's a hard thing for some women to do, no one wants to be bitchy/rude/hurt someone's feelings and (gross generalization warning) women are to a large extent socialized to be ultra sensitive to this.

You need to just ignore him. If you see him, nod noncommittally and move on. I know it will feel weird and you'll feel terrible, but you gotta do it. Mr. M. is helpful in these cases with my friends in that he has, in the past, physically entered the conversation or placed himself between my friend and the interloper (only when my friend has specifically requested help). Sometimes it has to escalate to, "Dude, she said no, she's not interested, buzz off." when the guy keeps following them around or gets grabby.

It probably seems horrible that you need to ask a guy to help you but it would help.
posted by micawber at 10:01 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would get some pamphlets from AA, sign them, "Hope this helps! Gumtree" and mail them to him. If he gets help, great. If not, he'll hate you which may be what you want anyway.

Truthfully, ignoring him is probably the best approach. His downward slide isn't your fault or your problem. If he was asking for help, that would be different.
posted by chairface at 1:52 PM on September 17, 2010

There are two different issues here: 1) someone you have a casual friendship with is an alcoholic, and 2) someone you have a casual friendship with is unexpectedly courting you.

On the first issue, well, he was an alcoholic a year ago when he was coming to class drunk and you weren't such close friends at that time that you felt like you should get involved with his problem... and that hasn't changed. It's super-hard for even spouses and family members to make a difference with addiction in their loved ones, so I don't see you having much luck trying to help him with that.

On the second issue, you just need to tell him, "hey, it seems like you are getting sort of flirty, so I need to tell you that if that's how you mean it, I'm otherwise involved/not up for any romantic stuff." He might say, "Oh, no! I was just being friendly!" and you say, "Cool. I just wanted be clear to avoid any potential misunderstanding." (Don't be drawn into any explanations about why you feel that way, or who you are involved with. "Not your business.") If there are further overtures, ignore completely (texts, notes or emails), or cut off the conversation immediately and walk away. At this point, though, it seems like you haven't said the behavior is unwelcome, so chances are you can probably expect more. Go ahead and shut it down.
posted by taz at 2:37 AM on September 18, 2010

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