Please just go away!
October 9, 2012 2:48 AM   Subscribe

Pulled away from a friend and now he's pestering mutual friends about me. How do I tell him (nicely) to back off?

I used to be acquaintance-friends with this guy. Earlier this year we hung out once or twice. He's fun enough in short doses, but I never really feel comfortable around him, even as a friend. The one-on-ones especially are exhausting. Afterwards he tried to invite me to some events, but reticence and my natural forgetfulness meant I never got around to replying.

A few months ago he started asking a mutual friend about me, saying that he hadn't seen me recently and asking how I was doing. I didn't feel like engaging him and requested that my mutual friend say I was busy, or I hadn't been around much, etc - hoping he would take the hint. He didn't, and now it's gotten kind of.. creepy. Whenever mutual friend posts something on my wall, acquaintance-friend will immediately start up a chat with him asking about me. I stopped replying to his messages too.

This has gone on long enough and I guess I should have settled this earlier. I can understand his confusion because - from his end - we seemed to have a great time last time, and then I just stopped talking to him. Seriously though, is my radio silence not enough of a hint? Do I just tell him point-blank that I don't want to hang out with him anymore? With the weird way he's been acting, I'm afraid I won't know how to handle it if he gets aggressive and confrontational.

I'm female and we're all in our 20s, if that factors into anything.

Thanks in advance, MeFites.
posted by cucumber patch to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He's probably trying to figure out if you're ignoring him on purpose, or just not getting around to replying.

Next time someone invites you to something, and you don't want to go, say "no thank you".

I think you have to trust your mutual friends to know that there's something weird about a third party approaching them and starting up conversations about you, and to act accordingly.

The fact that he's approaching the friends, and not you, suggests he knows the answer and doesn't want to face it. Just carry on as you are, and continue not to talk to him.
posted by tel3path at 3:02 AM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Talk to him.
posted by devnull at 3:37 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like he has a crush on you, but because you weren't ostensibly dating the radio silence brush-off isn't being interpreted as it would be in a dating situation. When you're explicitly dating there's more of an expected progression, and an interruption to that progression is a clear cue that the train isn't going to reach the station you both hoped it would get you to. When you're not explicitly dating, there's no mutually agreed goal, so his hopes are not dashed -- merely deferred.

I think you're going to have to be explicit.
posted by jon1270 at 3:51 AM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Some people genuinely can't take a hint. He's one of them. You're going to have to write him a brief, explicit email stating that you're not interested in hanging out, and he needs to stop contacting you and your friends.
posted by Specklet at 4:11 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some people can't take hints. It sounds like, if you are uncomfortable with him continuing to act weird around your mutual friend, and you want to make sure it ends here, you'll have to talk to him, briefly.

You can say something like "I just didn't feel like we would be good as friends" or "Our energy levels are too different" or, if he pushes it or seems particularly oblivious, "I never was able to get comfortable with you."

Try not to act patronizing, but be very clear. Say that you don't want him to worry about you, and you don't want him to bother your mutual friend about you, and that you're asking him to respect you and your privacy. By phrasing it like that, if he refuses to do so, you can call him on it very obviously. "So you want to be my friend by not respecting me? I'm not comfortable with that." Hopefully nothing like that would happen at all! But basically, if you frame it like the only choice he has is to either leave you alone or offend you, he'll take the option where he comes off in a better light. Possibly in the hopes that you might come around, but nobody says you have to do any such thing.
posted by Mizu at 4:19 AM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

It sounds like he's trying to guage whether or not you're dating, and because you've not given him an explicit No, he's bugging your friends trying to find out that information. You need to tell him to stop, not to tell your friends to tell him to stop. This is your responsibility. But once you've told him, tell your friends to ignore his requests for information.

You don't need to tell him whether your dating or not if he asks.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:26 AM on October 9, 2012

is my radio silence not enough of a hint?

Short answer: no.
Hints are easy shortcuts for the hinter, but often difficult to deal with on the other end.*

Some sincere and open communication seems to be called for.

*There are astonishingly many questions on AskMe from the other perspective: people who have no clue why someone has "dropped" them, un-friended them on fb or whatnot. It seems, like, almost a thing, not knowing what other people hint at.
posted by Namlit at 4:35 AM on October 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

I didn't feel like engaging him and requested that my mutual friend say I was busy, or I hadn't been around much, etc - hoping he would take the hint.

Don't do this. Your mutual friends can say "ask cucumber patch" or "she's doing ok" or, if he persists, "call her yourself." By bringing his queries back to you, they add to the drama, and by trying to send him messages indirectly through mutual friends, you add to the drama.

If you aren't interested, tell him. It's not creepy to have trouble reading mixed messages, so be clear. If he persists after that, then it's creepy.
posted by headnsouth at 4:56 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Either I'm reading this question wrong, or you're pulling our leg..

The very first consequence of radio silence after a seemingly good time is the other person trying to figure out what happened. Confusion prevails.

It would have taken you the same amount of time to tell him what you told everyone here. And, you should tell him.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:28 AM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am not so sure that engaging him by contacting him directly is the best idea. If he has a certain kind of bad persistence, he might be the kind of person who sees any kind of engagement as encouragement.

If you do contact him, asking him to stop contacting you, and to stop pestering your friends, I'd suggest that you make that your last contact with him, regardless of how much he tries to get in touch with you.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:36 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, he sounds like he has a crush on you. Send him a message on FB that you're not interested and block him.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:41 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Telling him you're really busy and don't have time to hang out is fine (probably, too, making it clear "I don't have time to hang out with you") and then blocking him or defriending him or whatever would probably work. Even telling your friend, "I am just not into that guy at all" would probably end up passing on the message to him.

I'm going to dissent a bit from what others are saying by pointing out that gauging interest via a third party as a long tradition. ("How is your friend so-and-so doing?" is either met with the reply of, "Busy. Dating someone else these days" or "Hey, she thought you were pretty cool!") There's nothing wrong with it per se, but if you and your friend are going to bungle the third-party-relay technique, then at least brush him off directly.
posted by deanc at 5:59 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

is my radio silence not enough of a hint?

It appears not.

Do I just tell him point-blank that I don't want to hang out with him anymore?

Yes. It's hard, but just think, if it works, problem solved! Like pulling off a Band-aid quickly instead of peeling it off slowly.

With the weird way he's been acting, I'm afraid I won't know how to handle it if he gets aggressive and confrontational.

It's possible, but isn't it better if we assume the best of people? If he does get confrontational, you get firm and business-like and brusque. "Please do not talk to me like that. I am not comfortable with this conversation and I am ending it now. Do not contact me again."
posted by Rock Steady at 6:04 AM on October 9, 2012

The problem with hints is that it takes a while for people to get the hint, and in the meantime, you get precisely this kind of reaction as they try to figure out what is going on.

You don't have to tell him he creeps you out, but directly saying no, you don't want to hang next time he invites you could save him and you time and stress.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:24 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd send a short email: "Dear Clingy, this is really awkward to say but the reason I've fallen out of touch is because I'm not interested in pursuing a friendship. I don't think that we have enough mutual interests to make it worth while to keep in touch. Regards, Cuke.

Then unfriend him on FB, block his emails and phone calls.

After receiving that note, which isn't mean and is very unequivical, he should know that you don't want to spend time with him.

There are people in this world whom we can take in very small doses, or only in large gatherings. That's okay, you don't have to be everyone's friend.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:35 AM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm going to take some of these answers a step further by saying that people who use radio silence as a method for dealing with potentially delicate or awkward social situations are gaslighting others and themselves by calling it "hinting". Even folks who aren't epic beanplaters are going to spend a lot of time wondering what's going on when someone shuts them out like a cocker spaniel who's pissed on the carpet one too many's childish, rude, and, if that someone has been your friend, lover, or even just has positive feelings for you AT ALL, it is humiliating and dismissive. For many/most folks, a quick and painful severing of ties is far better than a prolonged period of the kind of dehumanizing self-doubt and second-guessing that being totally shut out can provoke.

And honestly, unless you walk in on someone sodomizing blind orphan altar boys while clubbing baby harp seals to death there is no reason an adult should ever inflict this kind of behavior on another adult. People who do this are behaving like cowards and control freaks who can't seem to muster the basic respect for someone's dignity to send them a one line text or email saying "I think we just aren't a good match", or "I'm dating someone else" or "I've decided to leave Earth and raise free-range heirloom scruffy nerfherders in the Alpha Centauri system".

What you're basically saying is "Dear X, Sorry, but keeping you from having gnawing thoughts about this for days or weeks isn't even worth the thirty seconds of mild discomfort I might have while typing a non-ambiguous reply". What utter selfish crap! OK, rant over. I'm sure you're a lovely person BTW, it's just that this kind of thing drives me nuts.
posted by SinAesthetic at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2012 [16 favorites]

Thanks guys. I've talked to him and sorted this out. He's agreed to let me be the one to reach out again first, if I want to. There's nothing romantic between us, for the record, I think he just thought we were closer friends than we were. I can see now that ignoring him and hoping he'd go away was a bit silly of me. I've never been in a situation where I could pick and choose friends before (or at least, have the confidence to do so), so this is the first time I've let someone go like that. Looks like I could have handled it better from the start.

But live and learn, as they say! Cheers everyone :)
posted by cucumber patch at 7:14 AM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I kinda agree with SinAesthetic here. This is a life lesson that a lot of people really need to learn: how to make a sharp, clean, unambiguous break with someone. It's a learnable skill, and once learned you'll be showing people much more respect to up the explicitness of communication until a message is understood, than just going limp and hoping they read your mind.

The skill is to say something that is just blunt enough to leave no possible room for them to argue or imagine a different outcome -- this requires the message be short and somewhat callous -- while reasonable and kind enough to leave no room for them to feel disrespected or slighted. The most important thing to convey is finality: that this is just how things are, forever, and there's no opening for further debate or trying-harder.

(Aside: this is the hardest part to get good at conveying because it goes against years of our training in polite conversation. Our normal inclination when speaking and writing is to downplay finality, leave future possibilities open, tell people we'll see them again later, etc. etc. Even when we expect we'll never see someone again, we use words like "see you later" or "until we meet again". In this case, you are trying to convey just the opposite. This guy will meet other people again, but not you. Ever. The skill here is learning how to say that kindly.)

Seriously, learn the skill now and use it the rest of your life. You'll be doing anyone you use it on a big favour.
posted by ead at 7:19 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oops. Just saw your update. Read more into your question than was there, probably. Glad it worked out :)
posted by ead at 7:19 AM on October 9, 2012

I think you are being a bit naive to discard the "romantic" dynamic involved. Unless he's gay, there's almost certainly a romantic element here, even if he wasn't explicitly asking you on dates or if he denies it's there. Rule of thumb - one-on-one activities with new friends of the opposite sex are effectively dates, even if you don't call them that. I'd wager that's 95% of the problem here.
posted by yarly at 7:33 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well played by talking directly to him. I think you should mark your own update as best answer and mark this as solved.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:47 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think he's not slightly romantically interested in you, and therefore completely puzzled at the derail of an ordinary friendship.
posted by Goofyy at 9:06 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

ignoring him and hoping he'd go away was a bit silly of me.
I have no idea how your conversation went, but it wasn't at all silly to expect someone to get a clue when you ignored him. If he bugs your or your friends again, be cautious. This guy creeped you out; your intuition is likely to be accurate.
posted by theora55 at 4:45 PM on October 9, 2012

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