Friends WITHOUT benefits?
July 10, 2013 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I've declined romantic overtures from X in the past. Subsequently, X made repeated friendly overtures toward me. My reciprocation of friendly overtures made X angry. I'm not sure if I need a reality check, or if X does.

Apologies for the tortured, anonymized structure of this question.

X is in my outer circle of friends: not a close friend, but one who I see at social gatherings once every month or so. I generally enjoy talking with X. About a year ago, X indicated to me that X was romantically interested in me. At that time, I very clearly told X that I wasn't interested in romance, but that I was interested in friendship. X thanked me for my straightforwardness and we went on about our daily lives. Since the time I told X that I wasn't interested, X has continued to act friendly toward me. X basically acts like a normal not-close friend would - X chats with me at social functions, etc.

Recently, X and I were both present at a social function and all seemed well, so when I subsequently hosted a social function, I invited X. At both of these functions, the person I am currently romantically involved with was present. After X left the social function I hosted, X sent me several long, angry messages telling me that I should not have invited X and that X was crushed I was involved with the person I am involved with. X also accused me of stringing X along.

Um, what? I've been trying to unpack what confuses me and makes me upset about this situation, and there are a few things:

- As I stated, X and I are not close. How is it possible that X has spent a year carrying a torch for me when we are really little more than social acquaintances? I am sort of offended by the idea, to be honest, because it makes me feel like X thinks of me as an object: otherwise, how could it be possible for X to (evidently) pine for me for so long when X doesn't even know me?

- This behavior does not seem normal to me. I am the type of person who is eventually able to be friends with an actual ex. I am almost always able to be friends with someone I briefly dated. And neither of those situations applies here. Am I missing something?

- Have I strung X along? This idea seems insane to me. I have never so much as flirted with X, and when X pitched romance I balked immediately and in no uncertain terms. The only thing I can think of that might have even planted this idea in X's head is this: a few months ago, X was not present at a mandatory professional function, and I sent X a Facebook message asking whether X was all right. Does this constitute stringing X along?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You behaved totally correctly; X is a crackpot. I would put some distance between you and him/her. This person doesn't sound like a friend.

I wouldn't respond to the messages, and I'd block them on social media.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:53 AM on July 10, 2013 [27 favorites]

You haven't strung X along. X is a weirdo. Avoid X.

X is the kind of person who is either your SO or not. You can't be friends with X. Nod to X at social functions but invite X to nothing.

X got confused, thought 'friendship' was just a slower way to being your SO.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:54 AM on July 10, 2013 [26 favorites]

You have not strung X along. X thinks you should sleep with him because he is a "nice guy." X is a douche. Stop inviting X to things. Don't shun X at others' events, but be coolly cordial.
posted by bfranklin at 7:54 AM on July 10, 2013 [17 favorites]

Everyone is going to jump in and say the same thing, but it seems unlikely that you've strung X along, X sounds like they need to mature a bit (at best) or are creepy and stalkery (at worst).

If X is young, X probably hasn't adjusted to the idea that you can't make others responsible for your ordinary feelings, so it's not your problem that X feels crushed to see you with someone else. (I mean, everyone gets silly, OTT crushes from time to reason that X can't pine sadly for you except that it's a waste of time for X, but they can't pester you to make them feel better.)

Or maybe X is one of those people [dudes?] who feel that they're entitled to something from you and they're going to kick and scream until they get attention.

If X strikes you as basically young and innocuous, you could contact them and say "hey X, I'm sorry to hear that you feel bad. When we had that conversation about how we weren't going to be romantically involved, I thought that it was clear that we'd interact as friends only, so I was surprised that you brought up your feelings about my [significant other]. I would be glad to see you socially as a friend, but your romantic feelings are your own to manage - they're not appropriate to bring to me". It's possible that X is just a seething mess of youthful feelings and hearing this whole thing laid out clearly will be helpful to them - I found a [social, non-romantic] conversation like this in my early twenties really transformative.

If X isn't young and innocuous or you just don't feel like dealing with them, then totally block them.
posted by Frowner at 8:01 AM on July 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

X has confused correlation with causality and should either be whacked upside the head by another person of X's non-preferred gender for sexual hookups and/or avoided/ignored by you.
posted by kalessin at 8:01 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

X carrying a little torch for you isn't necessarily all that weird or creepy -- crushes can work that way.

But X being angry at you for behaving in a very straightforward, friendly way IS inappropriate. X has likely been holding out hope that being friends with you would possibly lead to more than friendship and you inviting him to see you with your current love interest has dashed that hope. You've behaved pretty impeccably up to now, and X has failed to maintain healthy emotional boundaries.

At this point, you should probably ratchet back from your already mild friendship with X. No more chatting at parties past the very basic pleasantries of hello/how are you/fine, no more inviting X to things. You don't need to be rude or treat X like X doesn't exist, just pull back a little and establish the healthier boundaries that X has been unable to. It shouldn't fall on you to do this, but in this case, it appears it does.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:02 AM on July 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

How is it possible that X has spent a year carrying a torch for me when we are really little more than social acquaintances?

I think the fact that you are just acquaintances is exactly why s/he can be carrying a torch for you - you are correct when you note that X is treating you like an object rather than a person. You're kind of a placeholder here that X gets to fill in with details of his/her own.

So yeah, as everyone else is saying, you're in the right here. X is behaving inappropriately, and not at all like someone who would be good to have as a friend. If it were me, I'd probably stop responding to X altogether and drop any friendly overtures you might otherwise have made, since s/he doesn't seem to be hearing you even when you're very clear about not wanting a romantic relationship.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:04 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

This situation is not confusing. X is behaving inappropriately and does not understand what "I like you as friends" means. If this question were different, I might think of this sort of thing as possibly stringing someone along

- frequent late night texting
- confiding in them about problems with your current relationship
- sexless sleeping over or cuddling

Some of those things can be legitimately confusing if you've given someone a "let's just be friends" talk. X may be bummed that you have an SO that is not X but that is X's problem to manage. Them dumping it in your lap is either (as Frowner says) them being immature or them being a probelmatic creep. You are not in a relationship with X and do not have to have these back and forth email exchanges with them as if you were. Do not engage.
posted by jessamyn at 8:05 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

X's behavior is decidedly abnormal and inappropriate. Push this person as far away as you can. Don't message or call X or "announce" what you are doing. Just purge X from your life.
posted by Dansaman at 8:05 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're fine, X is being a giant bag of dicks.
posted by elizardbits at 8:07 AM on July 10, 2013 [15 favorites] could it be possible for X to (evidently) pine for me for so long when X doesn't even know me?

He's not attracted to you in particular, he's attracted to the idea of someone like you. You are something of a placeholder in his imagination. Unfortunately, you are also a placeholder for the rejection and disappointments he's faced for however long.

This has nothing to do with you personally. DTMFA. You're not losing anything.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:08 AM on July 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

How is it possible that X has spent a year carrying a torch for me when we are really little more than social acquaintances?

My husband carried a torch for me for seven years before he told me. It happens. He also never pulled the bullshit X is pulling on you.

My guess is that X thought those invitations were dates or overtures on your part, was disappointed, and then acted like a jerk.

You have my permission to no longer consider X your friend and dismiss their immature whining.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

X got confused, thought 'friendship' was just a slower way to being your SO.


X carries a torch for you because X has a crush on you: that's how crushes work. X has made up an imaginary "you" in X's mind, to fill in what X doesn't know about you with an idealized version of you that happens to be a perfect match for X: again, this is how crushes work.

It's not weird that X's crush on you has endured, but it's weird and inappropriate for X to send you angry emails and claim you strung X along. You were honest, but X decided not to listen. X thought if X waited long enough, your interest in being friends would turn into an interest in being involved. You did nothing wrong.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:11 AM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Unless you left masses of info out of your question then you have the right of it.

Given X's history of misreading signals, I would actively avoid/freeze out X in future. I would not recommend reopening the topic with X.
posted by the latin mouse at 8:13 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Drop X like a hot rock.

Anyone who can't evaluate for themselves whether they are comfortable attending a social gathering hosted by someone they are attracted to who turned them down and is now with someone else is not really worth wasting your time on.

I've carried plenty of torches and had plenty of crushes. And yet I've also managed to figure out what I was comfortable with in terms of ongoing social interaction. If X doesn't want to see you socially, he/she is welcome to not attend your parties. If X cannot do that, there is nothing much you can really do for it but stop trying to be friends.
posted by Sara C. at 8:14 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

X was crushed I was involved with the person I am involved with.

The only way I can think of for this to make any sense is if there is some personal animosity between X and your SO. Is there any chance X has a problem with that person in particular but wouldn't have a problem with you being involved with someone else? Not that that would justify the X's behavior or make your behavior wrong in any way. I'm just trying to make sense of what X might be thinking.
posted by 0 at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

After X left the social function I hosted, X sent me several long, angry messages telling me that I should not have invited X and that X was crushed I was involved with the person I am involved with. X also accused me of stringing X along.

The fact that X sent several long and angry messages indicates that they're being immature and ridiculous.

It's understandable that someone might carry a torch for another and get things a bit mixed up in their head. But when confronted with the fact that they're wrong, they shouldn't take out their hurt and anger on the object of their torch, but reassess their own state of mind and feelings.

X's behavior is messed up and you should definitely pull back from a friendship with them due to their inability to accept responsibility for their own feelings.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hey, I don't think X is all that weird. Sounds like X managed X's response poorly, that's all. I do not think that what you've described was "leading" in anyway, but you sound hurt and a little defensive. How much time passed between X declaring interest and you inviting X to your own functions? I mean, if we're talking years then yeah, it's pretty weird, but if it's been weeks (god!) or even months, that might make a difference.

X liked you and balled up to say so. You declined, X thought, "What the hell, Anonymous is so cool that I can deal and be friendly." So you both stay polite and friendly, while X nurses a crush from a distance -- a bit too much of a distance to realize that you got involved with someone and really didn't see how X might still have a crush.

Then X gets your messages and invites. "OMG OMG OMG, Anonymous thought of me! Maybe Anonymous remembered that I had that thing . . . maybe, maybe . . . " So X's hopes get up (not your fault and not because you strung X along, but because we all long for our crushes to like us back).

X is now doubly humiliated and let down because X harbored hope. People lash out when their feelings are hurt. Not everyone can be friends with exes or even with their crushes. If you feel you must defend yourself to X for X's accusations about leading X on or anything, please be gentle, but firm, and then cool your social interactions considerably -- no more FB messages and certainly no more invitations.
posted by mibo at 8:30 AM on July 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Rereading your post you seem to avoid assigning gender, but for simplicty only I'm going to ruly under the assumption that X is male.

I'd say you're in the clear on this one. I definitely wouldn't reply to his messages, that is just going to keep all this nonsense going. Plus any attempts to plead your case or apologize or explain isn't going to help X, he is pretty unlikely to hear you out. In his mind things are pretty cut and dry, and he's hurt and upset. You trying to explain why he had it all wrong is just going to make him more upset.

I think it is time to stop socializing with X as much as possible. No friendly chatting at parties. No inviting him to things unless NOT inviting him isn't a possibility. Remove him as a facebook friend and other social media. If mutual friends/contacts asks why, don't go in to details, just say it is a personal matter between you and X. Basically, keep your nose squeeky clean in terms of badmouthing and whatnot, no matter how tempting it is. It will eventually get back to X and will just make everything worse, PLUS it will would possibly make HIS version of what went on more plausible. Let X be the crazy one. You get to play the role of mature grown up who is attempting to diffuse and avoid drama instead of engage in it.

I'd also fill your new partner in on all of this. Go through what happened in the past and what is going on now. That way if crazy goes down your partner won't be totally taken off guard.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:32 AM on July 10, 2013

Carrying a torch for an acquaintance is normal. Being sad (or even angry!) that the crush is dating someone else is not normal.

Telling the crush about the anger and so on in several emails? Might be normal, but it's not okay. It doesn't sound like you did anything wrong; the only thing you're "missing" in this is that X needs to level up in the maturity department.
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Dear X,

I was clear to you that I had no romantic interest in you; I was interested in friendship. You seemed to accept that. At no time did I ever tell you that I was moving away from that earlier statement. Any hopes you had to become more than friends were not supported or encouraged by my actions and any disappointment you feel is as a result of your unrealistic expectations.

I'm afraid that it would seem that we can no longer be friends. This pains me, but it is necessary. I wish you a wonderful life, but please do not try to contact me again.


posted by inturnaround at 8:38 AM on July 10, 2013

You are done with X now. Don't reply, and if you must interact in public merely be civil and move on as soon as possible.

People get distraught and send those kinds of emails, but it's narcissistic and manipulative and you should regard X as someone you just need to not have much to do with anymore.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on July 10, 2013

Being sad (or even angry!) that the crush is dating someone else is not normal.

Missed the edit window. This should read " also normal."
posted by rtha at 8:45 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Carrying a torch for an acquaintance is normal. Being sad (or even angry!) that the crush is dating someone else is not normal.

I dunno, I kind of think it's normal to feel a bit jealous that one's crush is giving their time and attention to somebody else, and that jealousy can bring with it sadness and maybe even anger. But it's totally immature and inappropriate to live as though one's own jealousy is someone else's problem, no matter how sad or angry it makes one.

Based on what you've said, I think that X is telling you that they can't be friends or even acquaintances with you, because any attention you may give them will be interpreted as romantic interest. And I think that X just showed you that they intend to make their jealousy your problem, which is inappropriate.
posted by gauche at 8:51 AM on July 10, 2013

Heh, whoops. Should have previewed.

rtha, we're in agreement after all.
posted by gauche at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with the others that it sounds like overreacting and immaturity.
However, we only have your side of the story. Reading your OP two things got me thinking why X might believe you were stringing X along and was crushed about your relationship with Y:

" At that time, I very clearly told X that I wasn't interested in romance, but that I was interested in friendship." PLUS
"the person I am currently romantically involved with"

Those two bits make me wonder if you were involved with someone else (Z) at the time of the talk with X? And used Z as an excuse for not being interested in X? Or phrased it in a way that X might have gotten the idea that if only Z wasn't in the picture you would be interested in dating X?
posted by travelwithcats at 9:01 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was once friends with a woman who i felt strung me along and handled it badly. Now I think it wasn't up to her to manage my feelings. I never told her how I felt she was giving me hope when she did X, Y, and Z. I mean, just cause I felt strung along doesn't mean she was doing it on purpose, or that it wasn't all in my head. What I should have done was told her something like "You said you wanted to be friends, but you keep doing things that make me think you want more. If you don't want more please don't do those things because it's giving me false hope and I can't handle it." If she kept doing them then I needed to stop being her friend.

This is a classic problem of boundaries, except it was a failure on his end. If he asked a question here from his point of view people would be saying either stop being her friend or set boundaries (i.e. to not let her string do the things that he thinks are stringing him along) and enforce them and if she keeps walking over them then stop being her friend.

Sadly neither him nor I came to AskMe for advice so instead I'll tell you that you shouldn't be friends with him any more.
posted by Green With You at 9:42 AM on July 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

You stated that all you wanted was friendship. If X chose to not take you at your word, that was X's mistake, not yours.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:38 AM on July 10, 2013

My reciprocation of friendly overtures made X angry.

He can feel whatever he feels, but putting his anger on you is inappropriate and shows a lack of boundary appreciation. He's the one with the problem here. Let him know that you think his email was inappropriate and say that you think a little breathing room is appropriate right now.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:49 AM on July 10, 2013

Technically, you weren't doing anything to "lead him on." Except, y'know, exist in his eyesight, being all tempting. Some guys (assuming X is a guy, which I would bet a lot of money on given the behavior) mentally don't take no for an answer and assume that as long as you are friends, or "friends," he has hope that you will give in someday. By bringing another guy around in his vicinity, you slammed reality in his face, and he hated that.

This kind of thing is why I drop guys who have had crushes on me (and it's not reciprocated) like a hot potato and avoid them from now on. Because as far as I can tell, they all seem to think they are being "led on" just because I am around them at all. Sad but true. Drop this dude now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:21 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll state right away that X's behaviour is immature and uncalled-for, and if X develops any personal insight, X will likely come to regret it some day.

That said...

Sometimes, when a person is rejected after making romantic overtures, that person elects to break all contact. Some people say that's a sign of a mental problem; I contend that it's exactly the opposite. Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries. (X's biggest mistake was not being clear about X's own boundaries.) When a romantic relationship is what you wanted, a platonic relationship is poor consolation. History has shown that the odds are against platonic friendships which are born out of romantic interest. This has been the case for as long as humans have existed and it's not likely to change anytime soon.

I have been on both sides. When I was on the receiving end of the romantic interest which I did not wish to reciprocate, I was surprised to discover in myself an impulse to keep that person "interested". This wasn't conscious at first. I was flattered. It was a nice feeling. I wanted to keep feeling it. I think this sort of thing happens more often than most of us would like to admit.

You didn't do anything wrong. X's behaviour is immature and unfortunate. But a more realistic approach to unreciprocated interest will probably save you pain and frustration in future.
posted by rhombus at 3:43 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

X is being x-tra dramatic. A calm response as Frowner suggested would work. If X is likely to show up at events, be calm and civil. X may (should) regret the emotional outburst.
posted by theora55 at 6:27 PM on July 10, 2013

X thinks he/she (I see what you are doing here) can be friends with you. X is wrong. This doesn't necessarily make X a bad person, just misguided. Some people can be friends with some exes; others can't. Neither stance is wrong. And if it were wrong to have crushes on people you barely know then everyone would be wrong at one point in their lives. But either, way it's better for X's sake to distance yourself -- reiterating why.

One question, though. When you said your current date Z was at the party, do you mean he was just there, or (be honest) were you being, say, liberal with the PDA? That isn't wrong, per se, nor would it be leading X on, but it would be a bit insensitive given the circumstances.
posted by dekathelon at 7:28 PM on July 10, 2013

It sounds like you've done everything right except for one thing - and this one thing may not be your fault: You failed to realize just how very interested in you X is. This person is interested in you to a degree that isn't healthy. Pursuing a friendship with X isn't wise.

I would probably rephrase inturnaround's letter a bit, but he's right.

You say you and X aren't close. It sounds to me like you and X are now done because X clearly wants something you don't. X is using friendship to get romance. That's not going to change. And X's jealousy sounds potentially scary.

Be careful. of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:51 PM on July 10, 2013

« Older Fruit-centric poems and stories for children   |   How to locate a lost relative. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.