shy guy
October 1, 2012 1:25 PM   Subscribe

(Does-he-like-me filter) : How do I proceed with this shy, younger guy?

I am a woman with a friend who is male. He is early 20s, me early 30s. He is from an Asian country and me, a Western one. We have known each other through work over a year, and currently do not work together but spend time one-on-one pretty often, maybe once a week.

We meet one-on-one to: study and chat and go to the movies, sometimes. We usually meet in the evening for several hours, at least 2. Often I initiate the meetings but sometimes he does too. When we meet together, we have lots to talk about, and he usually sits right next to me, as opposed to across the table or something. Sometimes I catch him seeming to "check me out", but not that often.

He is very introverted and very smart. Sometimes he looks quite embarrassed to see me, especially if I pass him on campus when we weren't planning to meet. He is not that responsive on IM in terms of chatting, so i don't IM him much.

In the past, he has bought me two books as gifts. He is always willing to help me with things, and I help him too. When we get together and talk, I feel like we are really connecting, but he has to have a specific purpose to meet up again or be prompted by me. He often phrases things like, "if you want, we can do xyz" or he waits for me to suggest things but agrees right away.

I am also an introvert, so this is moving slow (if it's moving?). Sometimes, in his culture, spending lots of time one-on-one can be an indicator of dating. I am starting to like him...

I now people here will tell me to "just ask him". There are two problems I see with that:

1.) I am afraid of rejection (I know it's lame but it's there, and

2.) I am afraid if I tell him I kinda like him he will interpret that as I want a relationship, when I am not sure if I am ready for that.

3.) age and culture gap

Is it best to wait until my feelings are so strong that I *have* to do or say something? I haven't really reached that point yet and am afraid of sticking my neck out.

Also, I know people are fond of the whole "ask him on a DATE"' but I don't think he will explicitly understand that word's significance as English is not his first language.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That's kind of a big age gap if you don't mind my saying so. Also, you've got huge cultural issues (as you've noted) and I wouldn't broach the subject from a personal standpoint (direct questions.)

You don't say which Asian country and that might be important. China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam all have very different cultures.

If I wanted to suss him out without showing my hand, I'd ask about dating, courtship and marriage in his country. In some cultures marriages are still family affairs, where the expectation is that the family will have some input into the match.

Husbunny was friends with a Chinese guy in his PhD program and we had him over with his new wife for an "American" dinner. Turns out that they knew OF each other before dating but their parents introduced them to each other.

What are your friend's plans, does he see himself staying in your country? Does he expect to go back to his country?

These are all questions that can lead you to his state of mind.

I once had a guy who had a girlfriend in Japan, but he wasn't above having a fling with me. I'm not interested in relationships that are specifically going no where, so we just stayed friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:35 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding that's a big age gap, at your ages. Given the set of constraints you are working with (both the ones you mentioned, and that one, which per me is a serious issue) I think you should continue proceeding with caution. Just enjoy the time you have together, and if something else comes of it, eventually, great.
posted by parrot_person at 1:49 PM on October 1, 2012

Ask him whether he has a girlfriend.
posted by windykites at 4:08 PM on October 1, 2012

Society tends to be less harsh with such an age difference when the genders are reversed, and that's an unfair expectation, which you don't have to heed. The thing about age, in my experience, is that it's about common goals, behaviours and expectations, and being ready to support each other. Since you don't want a relationship, this is quite simpler. He might not want a relationship either for all you know.

Are you in a Western country, an Asian country or neither? You should mind the cultural gap, but you seem aware of it, and a lot of people date cross-culturally with great results.

As for rejection, he probably already knows if he likes likes you or not. You just get to find the answer. If yes, great! You can discuss what kind of relationship you want afterwards. If he says no, rejection sucks, but you would be free to focus your attentions on other guys who would reciprocate and you'd stop wondering. As long as you're not asking, the answer is no.

Ask him (or ask him to ask you) on a date. If his English is good enough to spend time with you for over a year, it's probably good enough to understand what dating is. Since you're both introverts, it's a big step, but the less ambiguity the better. Good luck!
posted by ersatz at 4:28 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the reason people are mentioning the age gap is because you mention university, and I for one am assuming he's an undergrad. College life and dating is just something else entirely, and this is something you need to consider. I'm an older student in class with younger students (I'm 27, working on an undergrad degree) and I feel the difference a lot. Now, if he's an introvert and not really into partying, or if he's graduated and working on a campus, these of course negate the college lifestyle factor.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:53 PM on October 1, 2012

While I understand the concern about him being a college student, I'm a bit surprised by the focus on the age gap- seems rather judgy by AskMe standards.

OP, I'm going against the grain to say don't worry about the age gap - ersatz put it best.

And while it's true there are differences in Asian cultures, I'll go against the grain on this one as well and say yes, there are things you can consider.

For one, do neither of you drink? In Asian cultures, drinking is often a passport to "embarrassing" behavior, and a testing ground for things people are curious about but wouldn't have the nerve to ask/do sober. You say you go to the movies - how about a lively discussion afterward at a bar?

The gift thing is also significant - usually, gifts are tokens of appreciation for a service rendered. You say you help each other a lot - but if the gifts came at a time when you weren't "owed" anything, then it could be an expression of a different sort.

Generally speaking (this whole comment is speaking in generalities, it should be obvious), if you're the one interested in him, you have to make the effort and give him as many opportunities as possible for him to "make his move" without seeming aggressive. (Hence the alcohol - neither of you are "responsible" for what may happen.)

The key word there is "seeming" - because it's all about appearances, and allowing things to happen. Again to quote ersatz, he probably already knows, and if you cue him, he'll respond, one way or the other.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
posted by war wrath of wraith at 5:31 PM on October 1, 2012

I wouldn't worry about the age gap. I would agree that from his perspective, for all intents and purposes you are dating.

Not sure what he is studying, but engineers are the same in every culture in terms of communication, and this can get squared if the person is from northeast Asia.

What do you want, by the way? You say you don't want a relationship, so what is it going to be?

Anyway, your only option is to make the first move, and since it's highly likely he is inexperienced around women, you will have to lead the way.

If you decide to go ahead, it sounds like a good time to invite him over to your place for dinner and drinks. That would be a very clear message on your part.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2012

Ask him on a date - East Asians do definitely understand what that means. While the specifics may be different, a date (like, the English word "date") has its own romantic / blushing / 'I-like-you' connotations built up and created by Korean and Japanese cultures, and most probably Chinese as well.
posted by suedehead at 9:02 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second the need to find out which Asian country -- for example, Chinese students often look for company and prefer hanging out with others when in western cultural settings, so weekly get-togethers might not mean much. Japanese are much shier about such things, so I'd read more into it. etc.

No rush, but I like the suggestion to use the word date if/when that seems like something you'd be interested in. That way, you don't rule out continuing the friendly hanging-out if he isn't actually interested.
posted by acm at 1:15 PM on October 2, 2012

I agree that the age gap doesn't sound like an issue. If you are able to enjoy your friendship, despite the age gap, then presumably it isn't a problem in itself for a romantic relationship either.

From your post it sounds like you spend too much time weighing up whether he's interested in you romantically or not - counting how long he spends with you, who initiates contact, and where he sits when you meet. This is pointless speculation, even by careful reference to his cultural context.

Despite your excuses, you only have two options, and they are to ask him out, or to wait and see if he'll ask you with enough encouragement.

Don't play that game of combing through the evidence and agonising over it. You'll miss the chance to enjoy your friendship right now. If you choose to wait and see, make your mind up not to obsess, to accept the consequences of your decision, and to enjoy the ambiguity of your friendship in the meantime.

Ask him or don't. But stop obsessing! I'm in a very similar situation, so this is advice I can vouch for personally.
posted by JeanDupont at 1:14 AM on October 3, 2012

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