When even "let's just be friends" is too much?
November 14, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

My one-time crush is looking most definitely unrequited but now I'm worried that my feelings of friendship are. This deeply saddens me. How to proceed after being rejected on what is looking like two fronts?

I posted before about a co-worker who'd talk generally and often about the two of us hanging out outside of work, but would never follow through on it.

Well, he turned in his two weeks notice two weeks ago. At this point we still haven't hung out outside of work, but not for lack of him asking. He asked me a few times a few weeks ago to get drinks spontaneously after work, but it was on nights I legitimately had something else planned that I was unable to cancel (I work two jobs and recently have been spending support time with a good friend who is going through a rough breakup, both of which he is aware of).

Since then he'd been sending the usual baffling mixed signals. He'd tell me he's going to text or call me about something and then fail to do it (as of yet he has never texted or called me). He'd been spending less time with me at work since turning in his notice, but still generally helping me without my asking. He'd still be extremely attentive to me in conversation, still treating me like I'm the only one there in the middle of a group. Last week he said that he is going to miss me when he goes and said that he "hopes that I will respond" to the work email goodbye he'd planned to send to me and a few other friends he's made. This seemed to me to indicate, unequivocally, a desire to be friends beyond work.

I started getting itchy with lack of resolution as his leave date came closer and told him I'd like to get him a card. He said that would be awesome. So I did it. I was not supposed to work on his last day, but I came in specially to drop it off and say goodbye. I wrote in it that despite all of our joking, I am seriously going to miss him; how I hope that we can be friends outside of work because I like him too much to not see him again. I complimented the traits of his that I admire, and re-wrote my phone number to reiterate that yes, I do want him to contact me.

He was visibly uncomfortable when I handed it to him, for the fact that I had actually done it and was nervous about giving it to him and for the fact that I had come by to see him on my day off after already saying a cursory goodbye on our last actual shift together. But he opened it and read it while I was standing there. He made polite noises of approval and polite laugh noises at the parts he was supposed to but said nothing more. Then someone came up to him and asked him a question before he had finished and he walked away with them immediately, leaving me standing there awkwardly. I lingered, waiting for him to return so we could talk about whatever he was feeling, good or (probably) bad. When he returned, it was with another co-worker -- essentially a buffer -- with whom we both made light chit-chat, and who, to my dismay, furthered the awkwardness by asking what I was doing in on my day off anyway. So I said goodbye and just left. He didn't say goodbye to me.

I am dumbfounded by this. Even though he is a bit younger than me and naturally gregarious and I am 100% OK with the likelihood that he is not attracted to me, having let what was once a crush settle into a more platonic love...I thought we were at least friends. And now it seems that's not even the case. My heart is hurting a lot right now and I am desperately needing some perspective.

Where do I go from here? Is it better to forget this person whom I care for sincerely but who may lack the maturity to talk about his feelings? Or should I contact him on Facebook to clarify that I was not trying to pick him up or make him uncomfortable? How does one move past what looks to be an unrequited friendship from someone whose more-than-casual-acquaintance interest you never thought to question?
posted by houndsoflove to Human Relations (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am dumbfounded by this.

By what? His less than ideal reaction? You have no idea what he was thinking or if that guy was a buffer or just someone who happened to walk over with him. Just slow down and give it a few more days before you start making assumptions about his interest, or lack thereof.
posted by amro at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Or should I contact him on Facebook to clarify that I was not trying to pick him up or make him uncomfortable?

Cripes, no.
posted by amro at 8:58 PM on November 14, 2010 [12 favorites]

stop guessing start asking. Let him know directly how you feel.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:59 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Since he's already asked you to do stuff outside of work, but you haven't been able to, maybe he's just waiting for you to return the invite. I don't see anywhere in either of your posts where he's flat out rejected you, either romantically or platonically, largely because you haven't reciprocated any advances or invitations.

I feel like the card doesn't count because it's not a specific invitation. He might view it as a confusing, I-don't-know-why-she-gave-this-to-me, why-do-I-always-have-to-ask-her thing. I would invite him to a couple of things before deciding he doesn't want to be your friend.

Invite him to something interesting you're already doing with a couple of friends. No pressure if he can't make it, but it would be fun if he did, right?

Organize a fun coworker night with all of your fellow coworkers - drinks, maybe a potluck, game night, barbeque, bowling - the possibilities are endless! Something with lots of mingling is good. Invite him too, since he is after all one of your recent coworkers.
posted by pluot at 9:02 PM on November 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Yeah, sorry, but pluot raises a good point - you turn down all of his invites and never invite him to anything. Definitely take pluot's advice to at least organize a group event and invite him.
posted by amro at 9:04 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Wait, he asked you out twice, you declined twice, and it's from that you're deducing that your crush was unrequited??

This guy sounds like he has made every effort to be friends and is just awkward. It is possible to be both hot and awkward.

I don't think you should spend any time talking about your feelings on being friends or asking his feelings on being friends, or clarifying anything. If I were you I would feel free to go ahead and be friends. Next time you are free, call him up or email him and ask him to do something with you.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:05 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: amro: Well, I did see him stop on his way back from helping the person who approached us and motion to the other guy to come with him. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have assumed anything.
posted by houndsoflove at 9:07 PM on November 14, 2010

Well, he turned in his two weeks notice two weeks ago. At this point we still haven't hung out outside of work, but not for lack of him asking. He asked me a few times a few weeks ago to get drinks spontaneously after work, but it was on nights I legitimately had something else planned that I was unable to cancel (I work two jobs and recently have been spending support time with a good friend who is going through a rough breakup, both of which he is aware of).

Since then he'd been sending the usual baffling mixed signals.

HE'S send baffling mixed signals? He asks you to hang out outside of work, you laugh it off. He makes a specific invitation, you say you're busy. Yes, you were legitimately busy, but did you say "I can't tonight, how about tomorrow"? Nothing in your question suggests that you did. Christ, how many times can you blow this guy off and expect him to keep pursuing you?

And then you give him a card... what, quasi-confessing your love? At minimum, that's awkward. On top of which, given that you kept (arguably, from his perspective) blowing him off, your "call me" is still ambiguous.

Have you ever told him what you want, or have you only hinted at it? He's too immature to talk about his feelings? What does that make you? Look, if I like like someone, I don't want to be just friends. If my romantic interest is unrequited, the step back from that isn't platonic friendship, it's casual acquaintance. He either understands that you're interested, and is letting you down easy, or he doesn't. You have two options here: (1) move on, and if he happens to call you, great; (2) man up and tell him directly and straightforwardly what you want.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:16 PM on November 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: amro: I did see him motion to the guy who ended up coming over with us to come with him. This is why I took it as a pointed gesture, rather than just something that happened. But you are probably right that I am reacting too quickly and that this is probably something that he needs time to think about.
posted by houndsoflove at 9:18 PM on November 14, 2010

What do you want here? Do you want closure? Ask him on a date. Do you want a date? Ask him on a date? Do you want to avoid embarrassment? Don't ask him on a date; leave him alone unless he tries to initiate something. Do you want to be friends? Set up a friends-hanging-out situation. Do you want us to tell you what he's thinking? We can't do that. Instead, see "do you want closure," above.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know about pursuing this further.

The whole thing seems awfully lopsided, and clearly, it is causing you extreme distress. Something worth pursuing should NOT cause pain - for whatever reason - and that is a firm criteria to follow in most matters.

It's troublesome already, and you haven't even been anything to each other beyond co-workers! If he should contact you in the future, of his own volition (and remember he does know where to find you if he wants to,) then go ahead and enjoy getting to know this person in a context outside of work. But don't hold your breath for this to happen, rather, try and forget about him for now. (Easier said than done, I know.)

Sometimes even if folks have a bit of spark, it just doesn't happen. It's OK and it isn't a comment on your worth. I promise.
posted by jbenben at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

The fact that he hasn't made an effort to spend time with you one-on-one should be read as a lack of attraction and/or interest in a romantic relationship. Sorry.

You may be able to salvage a friendship, however. Start inviting him to group outings/events that are obviously going to be group things and see if he comes. It's possible that he likes you and wants to be friends but that your crush is obvious and thus he feels uncomfortable being alone with you because he's afraid you'll use it as an opportunity to throw yourself at him and then he'll be in the awkward position of rejecting you. If you can get him to come to a few group things, and control yourself so that you don't act all emotional and obsessive, he may gradually become comfortable enough to hang out with you one-on-one.

And if he's not interested in that, well, then it's best to not see him at all, don't look at him on Facebook, don't drive by his house or new workplace or hang-out spots looking for him or his car, don't ask mutual friends about him, etc. It takes about six months to a couple of years of excruciating emotional pain to get over unrequited love once you enter the no-contact phase, but every intermittent contact or other fuel source will delay that process.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:26 PM on November 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not everyone knows what to do when a card like that is presented to them in person -- there's a lot of pressure to read the thing and have the correct reaction to it on the spot, without any time at all to process its contents or figure out their own feelings. I would absolutely not read anything into the little details of how he reacted -- you sprang a sincerity-laden Moment on him at work (at work!) and he wasn't able to immediately shift gears. That's all.

That said, the card sounds like an unambiguous gesture. He'd have to be pretty dense not to pick up on your interest in deepening your acquaintance into real friendship (at least.) So give him a week or two and see what he does. If he doesn't contact you, send him a short email asking if he wants to get together. If he still doesn't reply, stop pushing -- you'll be happier if you don't waste your time on someone who doesn't reciprocate your interest.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:32 PM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Adding to the choir that you should invite him to something. If it feels too awkward to invite him to something one-on-one, invite him to a group outing. Something casual like a happy hour or a movie or something. Let him know that you'd be happy for him to join, but don't go over the top - other people will be there and you'll have a great time even if he can't make it. If can doesn't come or has a legit excuse for not coming, invite him to a couple more get-togethers. If after a few invites he still fails to follow through, take that as your sign to move on.

It seems you are reading too much into the little office goodbye drama than you need to. However, repeated failures to hang out is a pretty clear sign. SO, it's possible that he thinks YOU are the one sending mixed signals - you don't hang out with him after multiple invitations, but then you give him this heartfelt sendoff. He probably doesn't know what to make of it.

My advice would be, give it a week or so and then invite him out to some kind of event. See where things go from there. Do not contact him on Facebook, or try to explain your card in any more detail. If it's something that he want's to address he will, otherwise let it slide.

This can be a tough situation, I've been there myself. Just remember that the other person isn't a mind reader, and is probably just as confused about your motivations as you are about his!
posted by bloody_bonnie at 9:39 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Give it a week. Then, give him a call and keep it casual. Do NOT contact him on Facebook. Do not reference the card.

"Hey, so remember all those times we tried to hang out but never could 'cause my schedule was being a buttweiner? LET'S HANG OUT NOW! Whatcha doin' tonight?"

If he begs off and makes no attempt to offer an alternative, you were mistaken about the nature of the relationship between you two. I would then do yourself a favor and shut the door, both mentally and verbally.

Tell him: "Hey, listen. No pressure. I got the impression you were legit interested in hanging out outside of work the last couple of times we spoke. Was I wrong? Did something change between then and now? If so, just level with me. I just really enjoy your company and would love to get to know you better."

Then let him talk. Listen carefully. If what he says is ambiguous, challenge him and ask him to clarify. Keep it light, but be pointed. Get to the bottom of this. It's possible he's shy. It's possible he's stupid. It's also possible you misunderstood what was going on.

Regardless, it is, in my opinion, a win-win situation either way. Either he digs you and says yes, let's hang out and you move along merrily down the road to some new relationship, or the guy's a socially awkward douchebag whom you're better off without.

Screw your courage to the sticking place! You can do it!
posted by patronuscharms at 9:48 PM on November 14, 2010

I know you've already marked best answers here, but I wanted to add that if nothing transpires between you, you shouldn't agonize about how he might have interpreted your behavior. I'm prone to doing this, and it's not productive, in my experience. If he's not interested, he's not interested; either way, you should allow yourself to move on.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:18 PM on November 14, 2010

I'll just throw my two cents in: you're sending very mixed signals, and he has no idea what to make of you. Honestly, either let him leave your life when he leaves the job, or once he's left the job, contact him a few days later and ask him out as a date or a friend, and make it clear which.

Honestly, I fear the former solution may be better than the latter, because you two apparently suck at communicating with each other for whatever reason. Sometimes attraction is there, but compatibility isn't. Imagine yourself in a relationship with him, and a year from now trying to make sense of his mixed signals, while he's trying to make sense of yours.

Still, I'm not one to hang up the hat without a last hail mary, so a few days later, ask him out. Get it over with, for better or worse. Then move on (or enter a friendship/relationship in which you're both going to confuse each other.)
posted by davejay at 10:21 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: J. Wilson: What I want is another perspective than the one I have (which people are giving) so that I can be more fair to him in my reaction to this one moment and graciously respect whatever he decides to do after he has time to think about what I've said. My instinct is that he read into it more than friendship and isn't interested and yes, was trying to let me off easily. But the fact is that I wanted his friendship more than I wanted to be with him, and I wish that I could have made gradual attempts to deepen our relationship by inviting him to hang out while we were still co-workers after his invites fell through, rather than having made this one semi-overwhelming last ditch attempt to make up old ground AND cover new, more intimate ground at once.
posted by houndsoflove at 10:31 PM on November 14, 2010

On preview, I agree you should contact him, keep it light, and invite him out for a specific time and place. Even if it goes nowhere, you’ll 1. know better where you stand and 2. have some practice taking chances.

It sounds like you’re smart and on some level, you realize you’re suffering from “paralysis by analysis.” You also sound really thoughtful, but spending so much time and energy in you head can be the opposite of being truly open and inviting. And your risk-adversity is holding you back. Waiting for him to make a grand gesture, instead of acting on your feelings, keeps you safe and free from rejection. But it’s lonely and stagnant and really unfulfilling.

I agree he's awkward and not being clear. That cuts both ways here. For all you know, he made the first move by inviting you for drinks. You said no without proposing alternative times. It’s ok to meet a move halfway with "I’d love to, but can't tonight. What about tomorrow night instead?" Or you could have just invited him out somewhere before his last day. Risk is often the only way to find out what’s there.

I wonder why you pre-announced the card. Was it in part to gauge his reaction? Or maybe in the hope it would prompt him to ask you out? The card was probably a big risk-taking move for you, but he can't possibly know your intention or how much courage it took to do it. (BTW, to me, a card listing his admirable traits is more friend than romance. You even put in the card that you want to be friends outside of work, so mixed signals there.)

Also, it's not clear if you turned down his invitations specifically because of work or if one of those nights you were "spending support time with a good friend." If the former, I understand work trumping social life (even though that's a shame). If the latter, it almost sounds like a crutch. Loyalty to friends is important, but your love life is a priority too.

Finally, I know flirting can seem scary and fake, but you can find your own subtle-yet-effective way to express romantic/sexual interest. Do you know people who seem like natural flirts? Watch what they do. Check out some books on flirting if you don't know where to begin.
posted by Majorita at 11:00 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I dunno. Someone asks you put a couple times, you turn him down, and then a few weeks later you give him a serious card? That would be confusing to me.

I can understand your sense of rejection from him bringing his buddy over, but it's unclear what that means. It sounds like he felt awkward. Hard to know why without more info.
posted by salvia at 12:37 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

The crux of the issue seems to be that you don't want to put yourself out there, risking rejection, preferring instead to wait for some unequivocally obvious sign from him that he likes you and, indeed, recognizes that the feeling is mutual. Which, sure, would make things a lot easier for you, and maybe you'll eventually stumble into a relationship without even trying. But things don't often work out that way.

That's why I'm concerned that you marked jbenben's comment and, to a lesser extent, Narrative Priorities' comment as best answers. Not because they gave bad advice, but because they allow you to give yourself a pass (hey, the card was obvious, wait for him to contact you, it's lopsided and troublesome) and continue what you've been doing: being mostly passive and not putting yourself out there.

Risking rejection is hard hard hard. I'm a former (or reforming!) shy person and won't pretend it's easy, especially not at first. But you might not ever get what you want if you don't at least try. For the record, it appears that he does like you and seems to have asked you out, generally and specifically, multiple times and was met with lighthearted joking, unavailability and, ultimately, a potentially confusing card.

I think the ball is firmly in your court at this point. Ask him out, and give him a specific time and location/event. Don't ask him out generically (I'd like to see you sometime...) or to a group event. Don't wait for him to contact you. Put yourself out there. Ask.
posted by 6550 at 2:56 AM on November 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

If you've never invited him to anything, he's probably crazy confused right now. He might feel rejected and want the coworker there so HE doesn't say anything weird. You never know. Neither do we. But nothing about him says "yes he hates you".

You have to invite him to things, you can still do it now.

If you have facebook, then message him to invite him to hang out.

There is no time limit on this; you don't stop being able to ask him to hang out just because he's not at the job.

You seem super-sensitive to rejection, which is fine. Lord knows that certain people push that button for me and I'm like OH NO HE DIDN'T RESPOND TO MY EMAIL WITHIN 4 HOURS OMG OMG OMG.

But if you really want to make this be a friendship, you have to make at least as much of an effort as he's made--meaning, ask him to hang out at least twice--before you decide that he doesn't even want to be friends. (I'm not sure what exactly led you to think that he didn't want to date you; nothing about his behavior indicates that to me.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2010

Best answer: I lingered, waiting for him to return so we could talk about whatever he was feeling, good or (probably) bad.

You're doing it wrong. You need to be DOING things with him at this stage, not expecting to have a big discussion about "feelings." You do not have a relationship yet that needs to be discussed in depth because there is nothing to discuss other than the drama you are making up in your head. At this stage, talking about feelings is not really relevant -- either you want to spend time together, or you don't. There's really nothing much to analyze or talk about, other than, "Hey, I like you, want to hang out?"
posted by yarly at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

You have to ask him out. I feel for you. It's easier to be passive and wait for him but you'll never get an answer until you do. It's actually pretty easy. Call or text "Hey wanna get a drink/meal on Date St. at 6?" If he tries to make an excuse without suggesting another time, you have your answer.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 7:56 AM on November 15, 2010

Touche, 23skidoo.

IF he makes an excuse, agree upon another date. Call again at that date. And then if he still tries to get out of it... Tell him to call when he wants to hang out and leave the ball in his court.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:40 AM on November 15, 2010

For cripes sake, call him. None of this rules BS where you sit around waiting for a guy to ride up on his white horse to prove he loves you. He's shown interest repeatedly, and you've shot him down without reciprocating. Men are people too, you know.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts. I try not to be dense, but most of your perspectives honestly did not occur to me in the moments for whatever reason, and of course now, I've done what I've done. I should have tried harder to hang out with him when he was expressing his interest regularly. I am going to give him time to process, see if he says anything, and if not just email him to say hello and ask if he wants to do something casually.

If anything, seeing how incredulous some response have been has shown me that this fear of rejection and chip on my shoulder that has come from being rejected by good friends in the past probably still requires some therapy.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:23 PM on November 15, 2010

I am going to give him time to process, see if he says anything, and if not just email him to say hello and ask if he wants to do something casually.

Sounds good. Wait like a week? No more than a week and a half from his last day? That would be my advice anyway.
posted by salvia at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2010

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