Please help me phrase an uncomfortable but important email.
January 16, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I thought he was attracted to me. I'm really attracted to him. Turns out he's just really excited about my creative work. Help me find the words to be honest about the attraction and the fact that I'd like to get past that imbalance so we can do all the collaborations we want to do.

I had a misunderstanding with someone I contacted on an online dating site. I thought he and I were getting excited about each other romantically as well as getting really excited about each other's work (we're both accomplished pros in the same creative field). He just thought we were getting really excited about each other's work.

I was under this wrong impression for long enough to develop plenty of fantasies about him -- definitely sexual fantasies, and more importantly creative fantasies (about the potential for working together specifically in ways inspired by our feelings for each other). That kind of mutual creative+romantic inspiration is what I'm most looking for in life, so it's logical for me to have projected it onto someone's purely platonic excitement.

I don't know whether this was a miscommunication all along (i.e., he was never considering a romantic relationship and assumed I contacted him on a dating site just because we're in the same fairly obscure field) or a situation where he needed us to spend more time together in person before he could decide whether he was attracted to me. I am guessing it's the latter, which of course also stings on a surface level beyond the deeper disappointment.

So, now that he's been clear that he's extremely excited about my work and thinking, and certainly wants us to be good friends and collaborators, but is not interested in anything "more intimate," I need to communicate to him the following (which I was not able to communicate in the moment when he said that; my best guess is that what he sensed was some disappointment but not my actual level of surprise or disappointment): - I misread the situation and was really attracted to him; - although I'm disappointed and kind of embarrassed, my best guess is that this won't be a long-term issue, that I'll settle into being quite comfortable with being his friend and collaborator, if that's also comfortable for him.

This is hard in part because I've never been in this situation before. Pretending the attraction never existed is not an option - transparency's always important to me, but it's especially crucial if I want to do any real work with someone else.

He and I are both mid-30s, mid-career, each working at a level where collaboration would clearly be mutually beneficial beyond our admiration for each other's work. (Also: I'm female, just so nobody has to assume / reach for pronouns.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most likely you can be totally open and honest about the depth of your feelings or you can have a rewarding collaboration with him where he doesn't realize your exact levels of disappointment. The awkwardness the former introduces would likely prevent the latter. Maybe not for you, but for him.
posted by schroedinger at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't have a particular phrasing for you, but I recommend you try and see the humor in the situation. Don't go into detail about your romantic fantasies, but maybe comment on how tragic it is that he's not interested. Laugh at yourself (a little, gently) and move on. There are other fish...
posted by jon1270 at 8:53 AM on January 16, 2013

I'm not clear why you need to send him an email. Do you think he's feeling uncomfortable now? Or thinking you don't want to work with him? Need to know the exact purpose of the email.
posted by Dansaman at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

I agree with schroedinger. He's made clear where he stands and to disclose your feelings to him is just bound to create more awkwardness. I understand that "transparency is important to you" but this seems like one of those cases where it will only make things much, much more awkward for him. If he already said he doesn't want something more intimate, then chances are, he knows of your attraction. There are situations where it's not really great to foist your feelings upon others, no matter how much you value honesty, and I suspect this is one of them.

Really, I think the best thing to do would be to say, "Sorry, I was looking for something romantic. Best of luck to you" and move on.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2013 [25 favorites]

I wonder if you could explain why you feel you need to send him an email laying this out? It's not lying, or not transparent, to just set those fantasies aside in your head, and if it came up in conversation with him to acknowledge them. But I don't see why you have to go out of your way to put this information in front of him. You said that he probably sensed some disappointment on your part when he made it clear that he wasn't interested in you romantically; why does he need to know the FULL extent of your disappointment? It seems like that is a recipe for making him really uncomfortable.
posted by coupdefoudre at 8:59 AM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't understand why you would even send him an email explaining any of this. That would be really awkward for the both of you. If you feel good about being platonic and collaborating, then do that. If it's going to be problematic for you emotionally, bail.
posted by crankylex at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you are intent on communicating this (and I don't necessarily think you should be afraid to), then why not do it in person. You've already phrased what you want to communicate in the question itself. Get off Metafilter and tell him what you've told us. Then go from there.

Good luck.
posted by hamandcheese at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2013

Dude, why are you embarrassed? You met him on a DATING site, why would it be such a reach for you to think that he was interested in DATING you?

Here's what I would write, but I'm Ruthless.

Dear Fellow Traveller,

It appears that we've had a bit of a miscommunication resulting in a bit of awkwardness. While I think that it would be interesting for us to network/collaborate, since we met on a dating site, I think you can understand how I might have misinterpreted your overtures.

For now, I'm more interested in pursuing a romantic connection, so I'll continue to troll the site for folks who would like to date me.

If you'd like to keep in contact in a creative way, that might be something I'm open to in a few months.



That will give you the space you need to get him out of your system, or to replace him with a new guy you can get all tingly about. Once you're ready to see this dude as a collaborator and nothing more, reach out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on January 16, 2013 [41 favorites]

If you feel like you absolutely have to say something (and I really don't think you necessarily do), keep it as light and short as possible. There is something to be said for getting it out in the open so that it doesn't color your future actions, but there is absolutely no reason to let him know your true level of disappointment. All it will do, as schroedinger mentioned above, is make things super-awkward going forward.

So here's what I'd do. The next time you email him, say no more than this: "You know, I was thinking about our last discussion. Man, I've gotta say that's a shame, cause I think you're pretty cute. ;) Despite that, I'm really looking forward to collaborating with you in the future as a friend. I think we've got great art chemistry!" Then maybe a quick bit about whatever practical art thing is a logical next step. "Want to get together on Wednesday to sketch at [local coffee shop]?", "Want to send me your next draft and I'll take a look at it?", etc.
posted by MsMolly at 9:03 AM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Follow Ruthless Bunny's script. I'm sorry. Try to see this as a painfully funny situation, which is nobody's fault except that it is kind of a little bit his fault, really.

Saying "transparency is important" - what you mean is, why the heck shouldn't you call him out on picking you up on a DATING SITE and then going "oh no, no, you misunderstood me, this is a purely professional situation!"

And what you really want to be transparent about is "YOU LED ME ON YOU BOUNDER YOU CAD boohoohoo i <3 u 4 evar" accompanied by a swift knee to the groin, because that's certainly what I would want to express, in your position. Unfortunately that would be no excuse for expressing it, except in the terms Ruthless Bunny has laid out above.

I mean of course he's got the right to decide, after interacting with you for a while, that he really wants to just work with you. But come on, it's not *you* that needed to be transparent about a social interaction not being what it seemed, is it?

Sorry, I really feel for you. Oh, dear.
posted by tel3path at 9:20 AM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

He met you on a dating site and began an enthusiastic correspondence with you, built around mutual admiration. This doesn't mean he owes you a relationship, but it does mean that he should have been way more up front with you at whatever point he realized that he wasn't interested in you romantically, but was interested in collaborating with you professionally. That he wasn't suggests to me that he's either manipulative or foolish, so I suggest that you be very careful in your further interactions with him until he earns your trust.

I like Ruthless Bunny's script, both for its honesty and for the addition of a period of "cooling off" so that you can get over your crush and make a more clear-eyed evaluation of whether/how to work with this person.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

Say nothing.
posted by jbenben at 10:29 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can conceive of no reason why you need to write this email. What, exactly, do you expect it to accomplish? I suspect you are writing this because you hope that he will respond in kind. He has already clearly indicated that he is not interested. If you intend on collaborating with him for work, this email will in no way further your cause.
posted by murfed13 at 10:31 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was in your shoes once, and I sent the guy an email to explicitly clarify my feelings and my confusion. I do not regret this at all. I'm glad I did it.
Here's where I went wrong: I didn't give myself the space to get over him, as Ruthless Bunny's prescription includes. I thought I could just be friends/collaborators with him, but then the continued connection made my feelings even worse. And he was dating someone else. I was miserable for months before I finally managed to get over him for real. It would have been less painful if I'd given myself some time and space. However, I'm glad that I did become friends with him; he's one of my closest and best friends now, years later.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:49 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't understand why you need to explain the situation to him at all. It'll make things more uncomfortable, and it won't help anything at all. There's no obligation to make sure he knows how you felt.

If you feel confident that you'll soon be able to move forward with this platonic relationship, then just do that.
posted by Kololo at 11:10 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would suggest protecting your heart for now. When you are well and truly over the fantasy of what might've been with this guy, then you can re-consider a collaborative friendship. You'll know you're ready when he could say something to you like, "Hey, I met this great woman on the dating site, and I'm over the moon!", and you can genuinely react with happiness.

For now, all that's required is a simple email saying, "Hey, I've enjoyed getting to know you, but I want to focus my time and energy on romantic pursuits right now. Maybe we can reconvene at some point in the future for collaboration. Best of luck to you."

No need to stroke his ego or give away your power and pride by saying anything about your big feelings for him. Sometimes a little opacity vs. transparency is healthy, especially when dealing with less-than-transparent people.

(In my experience on dating sites, there are a surprising number of guys who are a bit slithery in using the lure of romance to bait women into ego-fluffer roles, or to provide e-muse services. They can really suck the creative mojo out of you.)
posted by nacho fries at 11:13 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like Ruthless Bunny's advice as well.

To those who are asking about why the need to tell him: we don't know what kind of collaboration it is. If it is anything in the creative realm where you are bringing forth your personal feelings/emotions (art, music, poetry, etc.), then, yes, transparency is a very good thing, and the work couldn't happen without that intimacy.
posted by Vaike at 11:40 AM on January 16, 2013

I think the folks saying that he did something wrong are off-base. We don't know the content of the emails exchanged, and he was responding to the poster's initial email. We also don't know at what point he ruled her out as a potential romantic partner. He may not have realized it until they hung out together, that there was no spark.

Poster, I understand your inclination towards honesty and transparency, but unfortunately I don't think there are many people who would be able to hear you pour out your romantic feelings and then feel comfortable just proceeding with a collaboration. If you're really sure you still want to collaborate, I think you should withhold the full details of your feelings at this point.
posted by parrot_person at 9:04 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Three thoughts:

1. Don't say anything in an email you that you are not prepared to say in person.
It's very tempting to say things over email. It's asymmetrical and very fire-and-forget. And that's often useful, however, some times it's not. If you want to collaborate with this person, it's probably best to have any emotional conversation in person. Over email, you will miss all of the emotion. Then it's just words that you write in a vacuum, he reads in a vacuum, and then you have to stand behind.

2. I question whether you need to say anything at all. The point about collaborating in an emotional space is valid, however at the same time, the attraction is your own. Part of having strong personal boundaries is also respecting other people's personal boundaries. In fact, people with weak personal boundaries often congregate, for it's often difficult to mingle the two types of people. It sounds like you both have reasonable boundaries, and thus it's best to honour that.

There's no right answer. If you want to collaborate to a greater degree than you are attracted, you can shelf your personal feelings and go collaborate. If you simply cannot manage the attraction, then I suggest you do not collaborate, for then you are violating your own boundaries and often nothing good comes from that.

If you take his words at face value, there's not really a choice on the attraction whilst there is a choice on the collaboration. If you can accept the former, the latter is available. If you cannot accept the former, than the latter is probably a bad idea. Again, this has nothing to do with him, but with yourself.

3. In terms of pretending the attracting never existed, first of all, it is an option. You may not like it, but it is possible. So it's an option, but not one you like. You need to own that and realise that you are creating the discomfort here for yourself. There is no discomfort inherent in the situation. Secondly, you do not need to be embarrassed or have any emotion at all about the situation. It happened. You took a risk, it didn't go your way, and another door opened. End of story really. And I'm not saying that to be harsh or rough, but rather objective.

I would imagine this chap triggered your attraction switch in a big way. That is fine. But it's important that the attraction switch is mutually triggered. If it's not, it doesn't mean that there was anything wrong with your button being pushed. We can't control that kind of thing. (If we could, life would be much less messy – and much less interesting!) So I don't think that you should feel bad or in any way negative about the situation. You're just being yourself, and the brain chemicals are doing what they do best.

I think you should feel awesome. You met somebody you're into, and they've become your collaborator. Love will come in it's own time.
posted by nickrussell at 6:22 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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