"Just tell him how you feel" - really?!
May 8, 2012 5:23 PM   Subscribe

You're supposed to bite the bullet and tell someone how you feel -- because life is about risk and vulnerability and Going For It, I get that. But I also can't shake the feeling that by the time it gets to that point, it's already too late. Disabuse me of this notion (or not)?

I tend to think of myself as pretty tuned in to flirting, non-verbal cues, etc. There's a person I like, and my sense is that he doesn't like me back In That Way... but I can't quite give up hope. We've known each other as acquaintances for a few months, but it's only in the past couple weeks that we've been hanging out regularly -- 4 or 5 days a week, say. Half that time is spent in the company of mutual friends, and half one-on-one... but the one-on-one time is us working on a project we're doing together. I've tried sending signals both subtle and less-so, but while he clearly enjoys my company and we get along great, there's never any signal of interest on his part. Which itself is a signal, right?

I'd just try to repress my crush in deference to our budding friendship, but I still have some nagging hope I can't quite get rid of. I've been told he is notoriously dense about realizing when girls are interested in him. Sometimes he touches my arm when he totally doesn't need to. But I'm also always the one initiating contact. I figured I'd take some classic MeFi advice and ask him for drinks -- but although we closed the bar down and had a great time discussing all sorts of things, at the end of the night he just said, "Bye, see you tomorrow."

The man must know I like him. I invited him for drinks! I asked him to hang out and watch a movie at my house once (he declined, said he had to get up early the next morning)! I smile at him! And he consistently responds the way you would to a new friend: eager to hang out, no intimations of afterhours interest. He is, I assume, politely trying to dictate the boundaries of our relationship.

My devil-on-my-shoulder friend thinks I should say something -- thinks that our obvious enjoyment of each other's company plus his rumored obliviousness means it's worth a shot. She says that I made a mistake in using our mutual project as a pretext for drinks, instead of just asking him -- maybe he just thought it was strictly business; I'm worried that the whole situation is starting to sound like a sad chapter out of He's Just Not That Into You. Would it really be possible to not notice what's going on? (We're in our thirties!) How obvious does a person have to be before rejection actually counts as rejection? Does an overt confession ever change the game, or does it just mean even more awkwardness?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need to say "I have a huge crush on you" or any other professions of undying love. You do need to say "Would you like to go on a date with me". The word "date" is super necessary. I have gone out with people that still, years later, I don't know if they were dates or not, because those words were never said so it was confusing (in at least one case I would have liked for it to be a date, and in at least one case I would have turned down a date).
posted by brainmouse at 5:33 PM on May 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

Exactly. Ask him on a date. If he agrees, and by the end of the date, there's STILL been no overt signals or discussion of romantic interest, then you're simply going to have to ask him directly if he likes you "that way."
posted by quivering_fantods at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2012

Kiss him, you fool.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Would you like to go on a date?" is very different from "Would you like to go out for drinks?" and "Would you like to come to my house and watch a movie?"

The answer to "Would you like to go on a date?" might be "No," but.

Also, you don't say whether you're a lady or a gentleman. And, whichever is your gender, whether you know that this guy even dates people of your gender.

I mean, yeah, it doesn't sound like he's super interested in having a date with you, but maybe he doesn't know you're super interested in having a date with him? You can at least ask that without making the whole working on a project together and having mutual friends business awkward.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take this as a positive.

When someone talks to you, two constructions of what is going on can appear in your head (both at the same time).

[1] The on-the-nose construction: everything they do means nothing more than what it is in and of itself. A brush on the arm is just a brush.

[2] The deep-meaning construction: everything they do means more than what it is on the surface. A brush on the arm means they like you.

Assholes think only 2 is happening, they never have a moment of self-doubt that 1 is happening. Persons of Quality invariably think about the possibility of 1, even when there are signs screaming that it is a type 2 situation. That is to say, this isn't necessarily rejection.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:42 PM on May 8, 2012

The man must know I like him.

You do not know that. Be gentle with him. You're probably less forward than you think you are, I'd wager.

More drinks, and kiss him.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:50 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Until pretty recently I might have thought that your tale suggested he wasn't into you. But I've had cause to discover that some gentlemen are just very shy and uncertain about expressing interest. I say you should take the advice offered above and say, "I've really been enjoying your company these last few weeks. Any chance you'd like to go on a proper date some time?"

(Keep in mind that if he says no, you will not have lost anything, not even the smallest bit of your pride, by expressing interest and getting turned down. Life is short, and there's nothing inherently wrong or humiliating with liking someone romantically who doesn't like you back -- we're not in grade school anymore, after all! Also, only assholes aren't flattered by expressions of interest, requited or non-. This guy does not seem like an asshole, so either way, you've got nothing to worry about! If he says he's not into you that way, just laugh, say, "Oh, well, it was worth a shot," and then bring up something about the project and add, "I hope to see you on X day so we can keep working on it!" That should defuse any awkwardness and move you back onto the friend track.)
posted by artemisia at 5:55 PM on May 8, 2012 [14 favorites]

Really, people? Kiss him? Why does this advice always get trotted out? It could be horribly awkward for this poor guy, not to mention they freaking work together! DO NOT just kiss him out of the blue or get him drunk and kiss him, wtf. Flirt using your words. Say things like, "Ha, we'd make a good couple." or "You're so attractive, how are you single." or I dunno, those are both kinda lame but you get the idea. Flirt with words a lot. If that STILL doesn't work, ask out using the word date.
posted by quincunx at 5:58 PM on May 8, 2012 [11 favorites]

Don't ignore your feelings, but don't go plunging straight into them by kissing this man as some have suggested. This would be so incredibly awkward, especially when you stated "and my sense is that he doesn't like me back in that way."

Instead use words to express how you feel by saying something like "I just wanted to let you know that I've been enjoying the time we have spent together lately. Would you be interested in going out on a date together?"

PLEASE let the man know that this is a date and not some hang out session with a friend.

Try to avoid making more assumptions. You won't truly know anything until you hear it from him.

Good luck!
posted by livinglearning at 6:03 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I really like the advice thinkpiece gave in a thread a few days ago here.

"You are off, away from the group, talking, laughing. He says something personal, amusing. You look up from under your lashes, pause, and say, "Are you flirting with me?" OR you say something personal, amusing and when he doesn't laugh, you elbow him and say, "Hey, I'm flirting with you!" Then the eye contact. Boom."

Since you don't have the same premise as that post (you are assuming the answer is more likely a no thanks than a yes please), then the trick would be to wait for something that carries innocent type innuendo in the conversation. If he's not interested, all he has to do is laugh it off. On the plus side, I think his reaction could give you much more to work with either way.
posted by skrozidile at 6:22 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, I recently went through something similar and the question that answered my interest was "Do you want to go to blah blah with me?"
posted by rhizome at 6:31 PM on May 8, 2012

Speaking as a guy, all the signals in the world bounce right off me and there are a considerable number of women that have had the "Why didn't you ever make a move? I sent you all the signals in the world!" talk with me. (My response has always been a genuinely baffled, "Signals? What signals? You liked me?").
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:36 PM on May 8, 2012

At one point in my life (about a year ago) I was once having dinner regularly with a woman who had a boyfriend of eight years, and she flat out asked me at one point whether I was attracted to her, telling me that she liked me but didn't want to lead her on. I responded that I liked her and was attracted to her but I respected that she had a boyfriend, and I wasn't going to make a move on her as long as she was together with her (with the caveat that if she broke up with him, she shouldn't be too shocked if I put a move on her). She responded by telling me that she appreciated my honesty and that if she ever broke up with her boyfriend I'd be the first person she dated.

My point is that admitting you're attracted to somebody doesn't have to be this huge thing that makes you vulnerable or reduces your status relative to the other person. Simply acknowledge your feelings in a mature way without the expectation of reciprocity, emphasize that your friendship and romantic feelings are a separate issue (ie, that they don't have to worry that you are pretending to be friends simply to get in their pants), and don't make a big deal about it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:37 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Apologies for the typos above)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:38 PM on May 8, 2012

Really, people? Kiss him? Why does this advice always get trotted out?

Because it BLOODY WELL WORKS and I have proof!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:44 PM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with those above who advise directness. (Though I'd ask, not kiss, myself. I think the potential invasiveness of a kiss outweighs the potential romanticness.)

A couple of times I've been in situations that seem similar to yours, and I asked the people out because I just couldn't bear the uncertainty anymore. I got rejected, but in the end I was glad to have things out in the open. I recovered the friendships I wanted to recover, and it enabled me to move on, rather than pining after someone ambiguously for years (which I have been known to do). Aaand, arguably this gave me practice so things worked out just right when I asked out my current boyfriend.

I hope things go well for you!
posted by mlle valentine at 8:05 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is where you get over yourself and just do it.

posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:08 PM on May 8, 2012

Faint heart ne're won fair lady/laddie. He's not going to sue you if you plant one on him. Next time you're with him, grab him by the collar or labels and just kiss him. You're swept away by the moment, and if he's got any blood in his veins, he will be too.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:10 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, just answer the question, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:14 PM on May 8, 2012

I've hardcore hit on a guy in the past who was expressing no interest in me over an extended period of time and it ended up being one of the most passionate relationships of my life, and I ended it, and he was heartbroken. "Rules" garbage works some of the time (I mean, obviously a guy who's chasing you is into you), but it's not necessary. Women can chase and court men too. If you're the kind of woman who wants a very traditional courtship and nothing else will do, then yeah, I guess follow The Rules.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:14 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can think of two might-have-been relationships that went nowhere because of my obliviousness at the time. I listened to an old mix tape three years ago and was like "um, self, this is full of **LOVE SONGS** HOW DID I MISS THAT??" Another time I was remembering, "oh, that guy, he was great. Too bad it was always so ambiguous whether it was romantic or not. I remember all those road trips including that one where HE TOOK ME TO MEET HIS GRANDPARENTS AND WE SLEPT IN THE SAME BED?? Then he stopped taking my calls out of the blue, for some reason?" I was apparently quite clueless. In both those situations, a little bit of "hey, I'd love to take you out on a date" or "hey, I'm really into you" would've gone a long way.
posted by salvia at 9:36 PM on May 8, 2012

As a datapoint: I've had a huge crush on somebody for a while, and thought surely they must know. Recently I invited them for what I thought they must know was a date (although I never called it that). It went swimmingly, but I still couldn't read their feelings for me. Eventually, I had to ask. I told the woman how I felt and asked if she wanted to go on an actual date. She was very kind, but she said no, that she didn't want to date me. Ah, my heart. Now, though, things are much easier between us (at least on my end) because there's not this huge unspoken question hanging over us. I still have a huge crush on her, and I haven't given up hope (maybe I'll ask her out again in six months?). Ultimately, though, I'm glad I said something because the lack of knowing was driving me crazy and making me act in awkward ways.
posted by jdroth at 5:42 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I generally need to be (um, metaphorically) beaten with hammers before realising someone likes me, even if I like them. I got chatty with a girl I liked once after a tai ch'i class and she offered me a lift home. I beamed winningly at her and said,'Nope, I'm okay. The bus'll be along in 5 minutes'. Stood at bus stop. Smote forehead.

I'm not alone in this.
posted by aesop at 6:19 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, count me as another vote for asking him out, clearly. Confessions of feelings tend to be awkward and weird, and are best left to movies and middle school. Asking him out is much better, because then he can say yes or no, instead of having to tell you how he feels about you, which he didn't sign up for.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:39 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent and observant person. Yet there have been times in which women have done everything short of taking off their panties and putting them over my head, and I was still too dense to figure out they were interested in me until they plainly stated so. Don't count on signals.
posted by Silvertree at 11:31 AM on May 9, 2012

Let me tell you a story: I perceive myself to be fairly sensitive and good at reading other people's signals. Once upon a time, I liked this guy. I was also fairly, FAIRLY sure that while he liked me as a friend, he wasn't interested in anything more. But, you know, like you, other people gave me the advice that if I liked him, I should just tell him or ask him out or kiss him. You have nothing to lose, they tell me. So, over the course of the next month, I proceeded to flirt with him. He was nice, but in a platonic friendly way. Still I persisted, telling myself that since I never made any overt and direct advances, I could remain in this ambiguous state and tell myself stories that he secretly, secretly liked me. Not helped by reading AskMe replies from guys who say they were too shy or too blind to act on what they wanted. Truth was that, deep down, I knew. NOT by any conscious signalling activities (e.g. "he didn't touch my arm!" "he looked the other way when he should have looked my way!) but by unconscious signalling. Every unconscious signal was telling me that he didn't like me that way. And you know what? He didn't. I could have saved my precious flirting energy and time with someone who had the potential to like me that way.

We communicate in more than the sum of our words, our direct actions, and our overt signals; we communicate in many hundreds and thousands of different ways, unconsciously, that cannot be expressed by words or direct actions. Speech is only one small aspect of communication. All of which is processed by the other person as having a "gut feeling" about the person, which undermines how complex human interactions are, how subtle these signals can be and how they cannot be expressed by speech alone. This is why we have literature and art, conversation and dance.

The key is to not think through this too hard, and NOT to make up a metaphorical "Does-he-like-me-does-he-not" list, but rather, to calmly listen to what your beautiful wonderful brain and heart is telling you about the entire situation in general.

Of COURSE you can ask him out directly, and I guess you don't have that much to lose but your time and effort and energy best spent on someone else. But, you know, you don't have to ask him out directly in order to know the answer. Sometimes, especially if you trust yourself and your instincts, you just KNOW. It sounds like you do, and it sounds like you are not overthinking things. I think AskMe answers skew too much on the literal, on the side of making everything crystal clear and to clarify everything. Really? 100% clarity is good in certain situations, especially when someone's "gut feelings" are not 100% developed yet. But in my opinion, I think everyone would be better off trying to develop communication skills other than in speech form.
posted by moiraine at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

tell him how you feel?

yes, really.

those unconscious cues a few respondents above mentioned? guess what? a lot of us are pretty conscious of them.

when going through the occasional Awkward patch, i become hyper-aware of my body language-- where i'm looking, when i make physical contact, etc., and since i am in my Awkward patch, i'm too dang self-conscious and stuck in my head to embrace what may seem like a potential suitor's wooing maneuvers. basically, i chalk it up to charming friendliness and hide any of my own desires to woo beneath layers and still more layers of conscious avoidance of unconscious social cues. i cannot be the only one who does this.

in other words, if you're really really interested in this dude, be direct! be frank! call attention to your charming friendliness and say something like, "i'm being more than just friendly."
posted by chyeahokay at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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