Normally the awkwardness is part of my charm
August 30, 2012 8:01 AM   Subscribe

How do I minimize awkwardness when I see a couple I stopped being friends with because, in part, I found myself falling very hard for one of them?

I'm super honest all the time, very blunt and straightforward. I've always believed that it's best to put things out on the table so nobody's feeling left out and we can all proceed with respect. When I'm attracted to someone, I tell them pretty quickly, and when I'm not liking someone even as a friend, I try to maintain civility but I don't spend time with them if I can at all help it.

I've been friends with a girl, let's call her Zelda, since highschool. A big part of our friendship was based on how she'd appreciate my honesty and ability to be so straightforward about stuff. We've spent years apart during college and after but then we both moved to the same city a few years ago at about the same time. She's smart and sweet and hardworking and deserving of every good thing she has, but at this point we have very little in common. That's fine, and we've talked about how we both consider each other more on the level of family than friends. We started spending less and less time with each other.

Part of why we stopped spending time with each other was also her boyfriend. Let's call him Bart. Bart's also smart and sweet and hardworking, young and earnest and enthusiastic, and he and I have a lot more in common superficially than Zelda and I, as far as mutual interests go. I immediately took a shine to him, and encouraged Zelda to get closer to him. She would confide in me about Bart, all the various "oh my god, I have a boyfriend, what do I DO??" things that girly friends do. Zelda knows me as the friend she can talk to about sex stuff, too, so I know a lot about Bart in the bedroom. The more she talked to me about him, the more I'd catch myself thinking about how I would be more compatible with him than she is.

I felt really guilty, and to mitigate that I was pretty honest with Zelda, about how I really was crushing on Bart pretty bad, and that I never had any intention of doing anything about it, but wow, I just think she's so lucky to find a guy like him. Zelda is MUCH less blunt than I am. She's generally honest but to use MeFi terminology she's a "guesser" not an "asker" like me. I'm never quite sure if I've upset her or not. Her response to my telling her that I was fancying her boyfriend was something like "haha, well you can't have him!" in a cheerful tone.

As far as I know, Bart has moved in with Zelda and they've lived together for almost a year now. They're happy and in love and working hard to have a good life together. Like I said, I consider Zelda family, maybe like a first cousin, and I would never want to do anything to make her or Bart uncomfortable or sad.

But I haven't talked to either of them since shortly after they moved in together. Zelda extended invitations to some of their casual parties to me, but she knows I'm kind of a recluse and didn't expect me to show up. I didn't.

I don't regret not seeing them for so long. I just don't enjoy my time with them, not really. It feels like spending obligatory "visiting" time with weird aunts and uncles - like I HAVE to be there, not that I actually have any fun doing it. Even when we're doing something we both love!

But this coming weekend is a big event in our city that I know Bart will be attending, and Zelda will probably be there, too. I'm going, and the chances of me running into the two of them is really high.

As far as they know, I stopped spending time with the two of them because our schedules were really hard to find time when we were both free. That's a really fragile lie, because everyone knows I'm not busy at all and if we really wanted to hang out we absolutely could. The real reason was that my simple crush and admiration of Bart was rapidly turning into a fullblown thing for him. I felt extraordinarily awkward around the two of them, and even worse around Bart, because the whole time I would just want to flirt with him. There are smaller reasons - Zelda and I had a weird fight/culture clash about something but we both apologized and called it even, I'm jealous of her drive and dedication and success, she told me that whenever I tried to teach her a skill I had that she admired she would feel awful and useless... Just basic "we've fallen out of friendship" stuff. But it's the boyfriend thing that clinched it for me. I don't know how I feel about Bart now because I haven't seen him in so long, but considering my past history it will all come back right away. I'm single (if that matters) and have had fleeting crushes on other people since, but nothing to the extent I felt about Bart.

How do I handle seeing them? They're going to say the typical "oh wow I haven't seen you forever! What have you been up to??" and I'm going to have to use every cell in my body to hold myself back from blurting "Well, I've been deliberately avoiding you both because I want to marry your boyfriend, who at this point is probably your fiancee!"

What on earth can I say instead? Help me form a nice, believable, few lines? What do normal, polite, not blunt people do in this situation? I feel like by continuing the farce of "oh, we're just so busy!" I'm disrespecting Bart and Zelda. They're not going to pry, because they're both not like that, but they're both smart enough to know that it's a lie. And they both know I almost never lie, so they'll be worried. I don't want to lie to them but I know that this is a situation where I can't tell the truth. How do I act? I want to be friendly with them when I see them, but I'm going to want to run away. This is just such a stupidly juvenile kind of situation and I have no clue how to handle it. Please share your wisdom!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total)
Dude, you are so over-thinking this.

If you run into them, do the superficial thing, lie about trying to get together for lunch sometime, and then spy a friend in the crowd that you simply MUST talk to.

You have every right and reason to not be hanging around with Zelda and Bart and you don't have to apologize for it.

I'm sure that they too have moved on. Keep it light and friendly and then bow out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

While I appreciate that you have straightforward, direct honesty as a value, this might be a good opportunity to try to appreciate that face-saving, smoothing-things-over fibs exist for a reason. I have people who have become really unpleasant to be around, such that I don't want to be around them, and I feel like it's okay to let those friendships fade into the background rather than to have some confrontation about why I think they are a jerk that just brings every interaction down to some horrible level.

"I have a full-on obsessive crush your boyfriend to the point where I would split up your relationship if I could" is another one of those things that it's okay to keep to yourself. At some level, you are respecting their choice to be together by not introducing a potential wedge into their relationship. You are respecting their desire to be friends with you to the extent you can be their friend. You are respecting the arrangement that you have with them.

Smoothing things over is almost always the wrong thing to do when there is injustice, or abuse, or fraud, or a whole host of other things where someone is hurting another person. This isn't one of those times. This is one of the times when being direct and honest has the potential be more hurtful than fibbing a little.
posted by gauche at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Sometimes the truth is less respectful than the lie.

I mean, the truth is that you wanted to be with her boyfriend. That's always going to introduce wrinkles into a friendship with someone.

You're an adult. You have self control. Just don't go to the "I still want to fuck your boyfriend" well and keep things superficial. "Hey, how are you? Great to see you two. Have you tried the canapes? Look at the time, I gotta jet!"
posted by inturnaround at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

And, if you want to run away, that's okay too. You check your email on your phone, you close it, you say "Man, I hate to say it, but something just came up that I absolutely have to attend to. It was so great to see you guys again." And then you leave.
posted by gauche at 8:15 AM on August 30, 2012

I am very blunt and honest. I would try to find a truth I could comfortably tell, even if it was a half-truth that left out important details.

I made my peace with divulging selective portions of the truth on the grounds that a) there isn't enough time in the day to tell everyone all the time "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" b) due to time constraints, we routinely leave out large parts of "the whole truth", so it is actually the norm to only state some portion of the truth and c) it is often kinder to share selectively. It isn't a moral failing to carefully share selectively in order to avoid trouble, avliding hurting people, etc.

I am not so sure honesty is the virtue it is painted as. I just know I don't lie well. Telling a half truth also does not require me to try to keep my lies straight, something that frequently trips people up pretty badly. If there is virtue in honesty, that is part of it : It helps you keep your story straight.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2012

Be polite, smile, then graciously (and quickly) depart the situation. The above excuses work well, as does "I was on my way to the restroom."

does not work if you are actually in line for the restroom
posted by squorch at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, I REALLY admire the fact that you bowed out of the friendship rather than doing what a lot of other women do (the continuum from just silently resenting the gf, to lots of "innocent" and plausibly deniable flirting with the bf, to actively sabotaging the relationship.)

Since your friend is a guesser and didn't say anything about this, and I am not a guesser, I will say it myself: a lot of people would find it to be at first awkward, then weird, then rude and annoying if you keep mentioning your crush on their significant other. That's another reason why it's good that you just bowed out.

About what to say when you see them, it is perfectly fine to say some version of, "I've just been doing my own thing." Other variants can be, "I've just been dealing with things in my own life" / "I've just been making a lot of changes" "I've had a lot going on." None of those things are lies, they are all 100% true. You don't need to elaborate on what those things are and if Bart and Zelda ask you can just say, "Oh, just some personal things" or "Oh, it's really a drag, and I'd rather not get into it." If they ask further you can keep repeating the lines, "Just some personal stuff" or "I'd rather not get into it.

That is the best way IMO of handling questions about things you don't want to talk about without lies. It is okay to just very simply say that you don't want to talk about it and / or that it is personal.


This is just such a stupidly juvenile kind of situation and I have no clue how to handle it. Please share your wisdom!

It seems that you haven't talked to them in over a year and yet Bart would still be such a big thing in your head if you saw him. I have an inkling that maybe you don't meet a lot of guys or have a ton of experience in relationships? I apologize if I am totally off the mark there, but this seems like one of these situations where Bart is built up into this big fantasy in your head of a guy who would be perfect for you, but the reality is that you don't really KNOW him that well at all and if you got to know him IRL, you might find out that in many ways Real Bart is pretty different from Mental Bart. That is something that I think most people learn after having had a bunch of crushes that end up turning into relationships.

I think the best thing for you to do here is to really try your best to get out there a little more, meet more guys, develop more crushes on guys who are actually available for dating, and date some of those guys. Then you might find this Bart and Zelda problem totally resolved.
posted by cairdeas at 8:25 AM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

I feel like by continuing the farce of "oh, we're just so busy!" I'm disrespecting Bart and Zelda.

And the truth would be more respectful how? Honesty can also be used as a bludgeon and a way to manipulate, and it can be more egotistical than polite social fictions. Always telling the Truth doesn't automatically make one a better, more moral person.

You sound like a nice person who's not nuts, so you're going to have to lie if you value your relationship with Zelda and if you respect her relationship with Bart. "I've been so busy, and then I caught that stupid cold that's been going around blahblahblah..."

And get a hobby or go out and meet some people or something to get Bart out of your head. It kind of sounds like you're using your obsession with him to avoid other things. Stop that, because in the long and short term it's not good for you.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

In most social settings telling someone in graphic detail that you want their partner is a no-no. I am aware of some guys who have crushes on my wife, and I totally don't give a shit. But if one of them were to come up to me and tell me about his crush and how she should be with him instead, I'd shift my mental categorization of him from "harmless but sad crush guy" to "crazy and potentially unpleasant weirdo." Not because of the crush (which is depressingly normal and everyone gets them) but because if he can't follow small social rules, can I trust him to follow the larger ones like not stalking her?

So I'll give a rather muted "yay" for honesty, but a much louder "Yay!" for kindness and pleasantness. If there are issues preventing you from being kind and pleasant in these interactions, you need to solve the underlying issues, not worry more about the interactions themselves.
posted by Forktine at 8:39 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to just answer "what have you been up to?" without addressing why you haven't spent time with them? "Oh, it's been a great summer... I've been working on XYZ... took a trip to ABC. Did you hear that so-and-so such-and-such..." -- that sort of thing? You can then ask them how they've been. In other words, think of it more as catching up and less as making excuses.
posted by cider at 8:40 AM on August 30, 2012

I feel like by continuing the farce of "oh, we're just so busy!" I'm disrespecting Bart and Zelda.

This might be correct if their minds worked like your mind but you've already established that this is not, in fact, the case. Having empathy for their situation which you already know is something largely going on in your own mind is to try to make this situation okay for everyone.

You seem to be saying that for you, not telling the absolute hard-core truth shares a level of importance or is more important than not hurting your friends' feelings or making them feel awkward. If they are guessers not askers then saying "Yeah been busy with whatever and then had a cold" is a totally okay response to "What have you been up to" as is just outlining whatever you've been up to.

The fact that you repeat, several times, that you drifted apart for totally reasonable reasons seems like an okay starting point if you feel you need to be honest while at the same time not being hurtful. To me this feels like you are more trying to find a way to actually tell the truth and get it all out there but are concerned, rightfully, that this is a terrible social faux pas. Realistically if you almost never see these people, it sort of doesn't matter what you do since you'll probably continue not to see them, but I'd be very very cautious about taking any path at all that opens you and Bart up to some sort of shared confidence or other thing that is just between the two of you [if Zelda is not there] because, as you've already stated, your obsession with him isn't really good for you and you need to find ways to decentralize it from your life.
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 AM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have similar mental wiring to you in many cases.

I don't have anyone I've stopped being friends with for similar reasons, but I do have people that I have either stopped being friends with or refused to date for reasons that would be absolutely hurtful if said aloud.

I've managed, as someone said above, to get by by telling a part of the truth. YOU ARE NOT LYING. I say again, you are not lying by telling a part of the truth. You are doing them a favor by not introducing an element of major complication in their life.

I immediately took a shine to him, and encouraged Zelda to get closer to him. She would confide in me about Bart, all the various "oh my god, I have a boyfriend, what do I DO??" things that girly friends do. Zelda knows me as the friend she can talk to about sex stuff, too, so I know a lot about Bart in the bedroom. The more she talked to me about him, the more I'd catch myself thinking about how I would be more compatible with him than she is.

This stands out to me. You've already not been honest. You had a crush on Bart back when it would have been completely reasonable to say "I really like this guy, it may complicate our friendship if you go forward with this." You didn't divulge it until after you'd already given Zelda advice and sex talk advice. You kind of pushed her towards him, in some ways it sounds, maybe as a substitute for you, as though you were living vicariously through her, and now you're uncomfortable with the situation.

I can't help but wonder if the part of your mind encouraging you to be honest is your most helpful part of the mind. I wonder if part of you, maybe buried a little, wants Bart, not Zelda, to know you have a crush on him, and maybe even has secret fantasies of him leaving Zelda once he knows. It wouldn't be wrong for you to have those fantasies, but it would be wrong to take actions based even in part on them.

I think your best action going forward is to talk about what's been going on /other/ than your crush - and yes, spend more time with RealBart, not BartSeenThroughZelda'sEyes. You may find the crush dissipating.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Hey, how are you? It certainly has been a long time, hasn't it? You guys look great. Tell me about what you've been doing."

A useful and honest answer to questions like "Why do we never see you anymore?" is "Well, you know how it is." Especially when Zelda knows how it is, whether she's shared that with Bart or not.

"That could be fun" is always an honest answer to any suggestion of future get-togethers. Because it could be, even though it probably wouldn't be.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:26 AM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm an asker too but I do know that sometimes we can come across as overbearing and aggressive. This is the perfect time to try and meet your friends in the middle and the little white lie of "oh I've been so busy" is the way to do that. Almost everytime someone says this everyone knows that it isn't the real reason but it's just a way of smoothing over what could be an unnecessary and uncomfortable conversation.

I do think your handling of the situation by staying away is a very mature and kind reaction. I also think it sounds from your question that you're feeling a bit jealous and competitive with Zelda and this crush probably has a lot more to do with that than with Bart himself. It might be helpful to realize that.
posted by hazyjane at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like by continuing the farce of "oh, we're just so busy!" I'm disrespecting Bart and Zelda. They're not going to pry, because they're both not like that, but they're both smart enough to know that it's a lie. And they both know I almost never lie, so they'll be worried.

You're overthinking this to the point where you mistakenly assume you are some kind of star player in Bart and Zelda's "show." You say you're busy. Bart & Zelda kind of realize that you aren't that busy (no one is), and you all chalk it up to "growing apart" for whatever reason. Bart & Zelda go back to thinking about themselves and their lives, and are vaguely happy to run into you and get a brief update on your life. This is perfectly normal-- these are interactions that go on every day. Especially between couples and a third friend, and especially with people you've known since high school. There are various reasons this happens. Your reason is one of them. But it's accepted that one friend will end up being "busy" and you will start to run into them more and more occasionally. Maybe someday you'll get over your crush on Bart and find your own relationship (or not) and then start to be in touch with Zelda more again (or not).
posted by deanc at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2012

You still like both of them, right? Just be friendly. Sidhedevil's answer is a great example of this. It's unlikely they'll ask you directly why you stopped hanging out with them. I don't think you even need to make an excuse and leave if you're enjoying talking to them. Just accept that they've been downgraded to friendly acquaintances instead of close friends, and treat them accordingly.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:58 PM on August 30, 2012

I've got good friends who I have big crushes on, good friends who have big crushes on me, good friends whose girlfriends/wives I've got over immense crushes on, and in the end, it's all kind of pretty much OK. These things can remain unspoken.

For single people with crushes on me, I've been politely obtuse when hints were dropped, apologetic when asked and friendly and polite when they get boyfriends. And it's no difficulty. I don't feel like there's some huge weight of obligation on me.

So just hang out with these guys, revive the friendship if you want, and just try not to feel the crush on Bart. Friendship might even cure it. Just saying, if you've had this much time away, the crush is on someone vaguely based on the real Bart and may crumble into thin air with a reasonable amount of exposure to him.

They're people you really like. It's often worth suffering a crush in silence to avoid losing a good friendship.
posted by ambrosen at 1:23 PM on August 30, 2012

hi OP, it's really sad if a crush causes you to give up not one, but two friendships, each of which are deep and fulfilling in different ways (it sounds like). i understand that you're predisposed to be frank, or show-stoppingly honest about your feelings, and that doing so here would cause more drama than good, but anyway you can navigate, maybe even have fun with the crush until you start dating someone of your own?

another thing

i've been in a similar situation before, and what helped was switching up genres, or perspectives. instead of thinking about your relationship with these people in dramatic terms, go for a flirty comedy in which convention DEMANDS that you find at least one other love interest who you can actually commit to romancing. seriously, once you find that other love interest (OKCUPID!), that crush of yours won't feel quite so crushing, and you should be able to channel that attraction into a more boundary appropriate connection.

like some other folks above are saying, these things happen (in fact, friend crushes can be great) and life gets messy. but good people we genuinely like and want to be around aren't exactly waiting for you around every corner. find a way to navigate the immediate present with some pluck and humor, while in the near future, GO ON DATES.
posted by chyeahokay at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you were one of my friends, I'd tell you that it sounds like you need to get laid by someone who's not Bart.
posted by klangklangston at 2:28 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have been there, I think we all have, and I am also not too good at the tact and obfuscation thing (though it gets easier with age, and I'm not that old).

A point I didn't see raised above: B & Z are not idiots. At least one, if not both, probably knows you've got it bad for Bart. And they probably don't care--which doesn't mean you're not an important person--it just means they're happy together and are busy with other things in their lives.

Even though I'm not always with-it socially, being a loyal friend is very important to me. If it were me, I would think about my long history with Zelda and think about how important it is to show respect to her. Then I would show respect by not fucking up her life at all. For me, if I regarded it as My Duty As A Friend, albeit a presently inactive friend, the words would come.

And if they don't, just get out as commenters above say. They probably know and they will understand if you split. That's a respectful thing, too.
posted by skbw at 5:05 PM on August 30, 2012

I'm sorry! I missed the part where you TOLD HER DIRECTLY. Anyway. So what I said above goes double. They know and they don't care. Be friendly for old times' sake...they don't expect more, and maybe not even that much.
posted by skbw at 5:11 PM on August 30, 2012

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