Can We Be Friends?
December 23, 2013 8:36 PM   Subscribe

I had a sort-of breakup recently, and I'm wondering whether I should move forward as friends or never speak to this guy again.

Hi everybody, I'm back again. The good news is I've finally found a therapist who "gets" me and I'm making an effort to stick with it to deal with my issues. The bad news is that I recently blew an opportunity to date a guy I really liked. I'll call him Sean (which isn't his real name).

Sean and I met on Facebook a couple of months ago and started chatting regularly. We live in the same state but at opposite ends. He's ten years older than me, unemployed and looking for work, from a middle-class background, has a college degree, and white. I'm a Ph.D. student, South Asian, and I come from a privileged background. Despite these differences, we got around to video chatting on FaceTime almost every day for about four weeks. We found each other very attractive, shared funny stories from our lives, had meaningful conversations about working class politics, discussed the struggles we faced as gay men, and just really seemed to enjoy each other's virtual company. Two weeks into all of this I gathered the courage to ask Sean if I could visit for a weekend. He gladly agreed and we decided on the first full weekend of December. Along the way, he said many sweet, romantic things to me: "My mother would love you if she met you," "You're my hope," "I could see myself coming home to you," "I think you could make me happier than I ever thought possible," "I'm falling for the idea of you," etc.

I travel quite frequently; the week before Thanksgiving I went on holiday with my family for two weeks. I was 16 hours ahead of our time zone, so we weren't able to video chat at all, and I began to sense that he was less enthused in his messages. He admitted to insecurity about the difference between us in level of education and, since he's terrified of flying, he didn't want me to be bored with him by not being able to travel around the world. I tried to assuage his fears, but he started to respond less frequently and his tone grew more somber. Something felt "off." I knew that he was running out of unemployment benefits and was stressed out trying to find a job, so I tried not to read too far into it. About a week before my visit, though, I saw in my Newsfeed that he'd left a very flirtatious comment on a guy's shirtless photo. It stung me. I realized then that I'd allowed this guy to fill my brain whereas he was still wanting to flirt with other men. I'm only able to give my heart to one person at a time, and don't have it in me to date more than one person simultaneously. He'd not done anything wrong; we weren't boyfriends and there was no understanding between us. But he knew that I could see the comments, and I felt that it was inconsiderate of him.

By the time I got to see Sean in person, I felt conflicted--he was sweet but not as enthusiastic as I remembered him in our video chats. The first two days were nice. Things were pretty hot and heavy in bed, but he didn't seem all that emotionally connected during intimacy. Still, he was gracious and even texted a mutual friend of ours to say that I'm wonderful. The evening of the second day, we went out to dinner. In the middle of conversation he noticed a buff guy walk into the restaurant and exclaimed, "oh, muscular!" I felt that it was extremely rude of him to do that in front of me since we'd both talked about the weekend as one long date. I started to feel insecure. The next day I made some poor choices. I needed to use his computer to check my e-mail, and thought I might log into Facebook as well. When I went to the website, though, the computer was already logged into his account. The first thing I saw was a series of flirtatious messages between him and the guy whose shirtless photo he'd commented on a week earlier. The guy had sent an explicit photo to Sean, who was responding flirtatiously and even said "hopefully we will meet soon!" the day before I got there. Later that day, we went out drinking, and I did a few annoying things which he was not too happy about. I apologized once we got home. I confessed to violating his privacy earlier in the day and apologized for that too. He said, "that's okay." He explained that the guy was a friend's ex and that it was nothing serious, but also that it's "nice not to have any rules." He saw that I was upset about the fact that I'd foolishly made him a priority while I was just an option for him. He tried to comfort me by saying, "Why would I want to date anybody else when there's you? The key is not to rush." I'd gotten carried away with the idea of a romance that was never actually unfolding.

When the weekend was over, he told me that he wasn't pleased with what happened on the last day. He said that I wasn't able to trust him, and that he can't have stuff like that happening (i.e. snooping). He was also still angry about my making too much noise climbing up the long flight of stairs to his apartment and poking fun from a distance at a group of people making silly faces while taking photos at one of the bars we went to. I accepted full responsibility for all of that. Then he said that he found my behavior snotty and stingy. He mentioned that, as he was getting my change for me from a bartender for a $7 drink, he was ready to leave a $3 tip, and I asked whether it was custom where he's from and said that where I'm from we usually leave one dollar. I left the $3 tip anyway. He also said that he found it awkward that I asked another bartender the price of a drink, which he said he's never seen anybody do. I explained that it's not considered inappropriate where I'm from to ask the price of a drink if there's no menu and you're not sure if you have enough cash on you. I had to remind him that I paid more than $50 for one of the meals we had, which was not exactly proof of stinginess. It felt to me as though he was projecting his insecurity about our class difference onto some harmless things I did. He was also irritated that I changed a few songs in his car without explicitly asking for his permission, and that I didn't like his playlist. So ... he was done. After I shared my thoughts with him and said, "I guess we go our separate ways now," he said (to my surprise), "So you don't want to talk to me anymore? We don't have to be cut off, you know." I explained that I needed time to process my feelings of shame and regret.

It's been two weeks. My question is ... Can I contact him to try to preserve the friendship we were building? Or have I ruined everything with my poor choices? On the one hand, we were not very well matched as a couple. My feelings for him were obviously stronger than his for me. My insecurity caused me to violate his privacy; his insecurity caused him to angrily make unfair accusations against me. We also live in different cities, and he was in no position to contribute financially to my flying to see him. I realized that all the sweet things he told me online were an illusion, that none of it was ever real. On the other hand, it somehow feels extreme for me to never speak to him again. So ... should I send an e-mail at any point or just accept that I totally screwed this up, learn from it, and move on with no further communication? Thanks.
posted by cscott to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wow, this guy sounds like a real dud ... high-strung, prickly, untrustworthy ... just a hot mess. YOU did not screw this up. HE did. I think it would be a huge mistake to continue contact with this hot mess. You don't need the negativity and weirdness of someone who would actually berate you for asking the price of a drink.

And about the snooping ... don't feel bad about it ... Jayder's Law of Snooping is that if the snooping uncovers lying, cheating, or any kind of duplicity by the snoopee that is to the detriment of the snooper, then the snooping is justified even if the snooper didn't know about the lying/cheating at the time the snooper began the snooping.
posted by jayder at 8:52 PM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

I don't think you screwed this up. I mean, iffy on the snooping, as I don't really like that sort of thing, but the stuff with making noise on the stairs and the $3 tip on $7, and asking the bartender the price of the drink - that's such picky stuff and should not matter, especially when you're seeing each other for such a short time.
posted by sweetkid at 8:57 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Er. He seems incredibly shallow and it doesn't seem like you'd have had an amazing relationship anyway. I'd say...ignore him. There are other great guys out there for you, I promise, ones you can connect with both emotionally AND sexually...and ones that won't be criticizing your every move.
posted by rhythm_queen at 9:07 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to, like, declare that you're not speaking to him again ever. But he's not a friend and you shouldn't try to make him one.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:07 PM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes a person will try to find problems with you to make themselves feel better about their own crappy behaviour. Sean asked you to come visit, knew you had feelings for him, and slept with you -- all the while trying to hook up with another guy. Then he tried to make you out to be snobby and stingy so he didn't feel so bad about using you.

This is all on him, not you.
posted by Georgina at 9:14 PM on December 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: When we spoke over the phone so he could tell me it was over, he said, "If it makes you feel better, I hardly know that guy [with the shirtless photo]. I don't think he's that good-looking and wouldn't date him." How comforting!

I left out a detail in the original post because it was already so long. My best friend was in virtual communication with him because she saw all the nice things he was saying about me on Facebook. He told her all about how the latter part of the weekend sucked and how angry he was about the things I did (i.e. snooping, stomping on the stairs, my supposedly stingy behavior) in rather dramatic fashion. He told her he would call me, but he didn't. And I had to text him to get him to talk over the phone. Seems craven to me.
posted by cscott at 9:19 PM on December 23, 2013

"If it makes you feel better, I hardly know that guy [with the shirtless photo]. I don't think he's that good-looking and wouldn't date him."

In my experience, people who say things like this to you will say the same thing about you to other people.

He just doesn't sound that great. It's not your fault; it just sounds like he's sort of difficult to get along with and isn't looking for commitment. He sounds like the sort of person who likes to keep a few people waiting in the wings for flirting and sexytimes, and I suspect that if you stay friends with him, he'll see you as another potential sexy understudy. I wouldn't waste any more time with him.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:33 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

He got mad at you for being loud while walking up the stairs? He called you stingy the first time you guys even met when you paid for meals and drinks? Why would you want to be friends with him?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 9:37 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

To the curb. Sounds like he treated the whole thing as an all-expenses paid (by you) booty call. Then to avoid awkward talks about 'where does this go from here,' he picked a fight. Loser.
posted by spinturtle at 9:43 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

If somebody is policing your behavior early on, it's not going to stop. It's going to accelerate until you doubt everything you do. I don't think you should try to be his friend. If you continue with him in any fashion, I think you'll keep seeking his approval by trying to modify your own perfectly appropriate behavior in order to please him -- and he will always find something new to give you shit about. Not good. Find somebody who thinks you're great the way you are.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:47 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

He shit-talked you to your best friend??

Geezus! NO.

Please don't ever speak to this guy again.

I hope your friend and you immediately block this creep on FB, etc. etc.

You did nothing wrong. Stop thinking you did something wrong. Stay away from this guy.

Thank you.
posted by jbenben at 9:48 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Another important detail, which might swing the discussion ... I don't know. I lack experience in dating, and I had a false idea of how close we were prior to my visit. So on the last day I asked if both of us would not consider seeing other guys while he and I try to see if we can make a long-distance relationship work. He said he needed more evidence of how I interact with my friends/his friends before deciding on that. I asked for clarification of what he meant a few times and then agreed to his suggestion. But then we discussed his flirting with the shirtless guy, and he got rather defensive as per the account above. A couple of days later, he told my best friend that he felt he was being given an ultimatum, which felt a little threatening.
posted by cscott at 9:57 PM on December 23, 2013

This guy is hypercritical, hypersensitive, super insecure, and someone I would find very annoying as a polite acquaintance, much less a friend or partner. Even if there was no other guy in the picture and he was completely committed to you, I think you'd eventually be niggled to death. So just cut yourself free and be happy! Death by niggle is no fun at all.

p.s. He's not gonna change. You *shouldn't* change, as much as he's gonna want you to, if you continue to associate with him.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 10:20 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tipping $3 on a 7 dollar drink is weird. Objecting to someone asking the price of a drink is weird. He's the one being strange there. And stupid for someone who's unemployed. Smells self-destructive to me.

Snooping is not OK. That's on you. And in the beginning of an internet-innitiated relationship between gay men, monogamy is not implied. Unless explicitly stated one way or the other, nobody has any obligations or restrictions. That said, him flaunting attraction to other men in front of you while on an early date is kinda rude.

As for the little things he was irritated about, not exactly my kinda personality, but not totally abnormal. Being overly dramatic about how he felt about you at the beginning is also not abnormal, but immature if you ask me.

If you can deal with this guy not being a keeper, re-establishing contact doesn't seem all that harmful if you ask me. But don't put up with any more shit. And don't let yourself slide back towards more-than-friends.

I can't tell from what you've said if he's a total jerk or not. Your circumstances of meeting are unusual, and it sounds like there wasn't a lot of clarity from either of you in terms of what you were seeking from the connection. If it turns out he is still a jerk, walk away. And in the future, especially with prolonged pen-pal situations, but really in all romantic situations: clarity clarity clarity clarity. Disclose your intent and your feelings, ask others to do the same.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 12:02 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "I can't tell from what you've said if he's a total jerk or not. Your circumstances of meeting are unusual, and it sounds like there wasn't a lot of clarity from either of you in terms of what you were seeking from the connection. If it turns out he is still a jerk, walk away. And in the future, especially with prolonged pen-pal situations, but really in all romantic situations: clarity clarity clarity clarity. Disclose your intent and your feelings, ask others to do the same."

I was very clear about my intent and feelings the whole way through. I told him that I didn't view my visit as a casual weekend fling, that I wanted to see if it could be the start of something beautiful and lasting. He said he saw it that way too and that he thought I have many wonderful qualities. He said he saw the visit as a way to "check off that last box." That was before his enthusiasm started to wane, and before I saw the flirtatious stuff with the other guy. So there was always clarity at my end. At his end, though, there was a conflict of some sort. It seems as though I made some mistakes, but in the end got played.
posted by cscott at 12:11 AM on December 24, 2013

Do you really need the chaos that having this wild card in your life would bring? Move on and focus on healthier relationships.
posted by inturnaround at 1:25 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't call this dipwad again!

This guy is a narcissistic personality. Narcissists are heedless, critical of others, and lacking in compassion and self-insight. Their bizarre behavior stems from profound insecurity. They can be charming, though, and those of us who are less sure of ourselves can become bowled over by their persuasiveness.

"It seems as though I made some mistakes..."

No, you didn't. Don't ever internalize or give even the slightest credence to anybody's criticism of you. You're a sensitive, intelligent person with good intentions - you approached this guy in good faith and did your best make it work. HE trash-canned it, not you. Please fight this tendency to crumple up under hostility and blame-shifting without analyzing the source. A person who's got their shit together doesn't need to destroy anyone else's self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with you. As someobody said to me once, "Maybe the other guy's the asshole. Ever think of that?"

Chalk this one up to experience, learn from it, and move on! Good luck!
posted by cartoonella at 2:54 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

angry with you for giving a different tip or walking up stairs in a loud way or making silly faces? this guy sounds awful, not like a very good friend, much less lover. i don't think you lost very much, he treated you like a booty call and was lining someone else up after you...don't bother talking to him again. doesn't seem like much good can come of it. if he's so high strung and difficult to get along with why would you want to be his friend?

Also: "He explained that the guy was a friend's ex and that it was nothing serious, but also that it's "nice not to have any rules." Well one of the constant rules is be mature and communicate like a grown adult, but he may have been bending that one. You did not do anything wrong here.
posted by zdravo at 4:20 AM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Don't turn this into a debate please, guys.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 4:26 AM on December 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks very much for all of the great insights, guys. Happy holidays!
posted by cscott at 6:18 AM on December 24, 2013

To me it sounds either like he was into you as a fantasy but not as a real boyfriend, or like he met someone else (other's) he was really into shortly before your visit (and if the latter then the former is also true).

Either he's just an asshole, or the guilt and anxiety over your visit hen he knew you wanted more than he did brought out all the asshole in him. Someone who's really into you doesn't get upset over a difference in tipping styles. Really when someone is really into you it's shocking what you can get away with. See e.g. what he has gotten away with without alienating your affections.

At best, he's just not that into you and he acted like a jerk about it. That's why so many people are saying, friends, what friends?

I think this is a thing that comes with experience dating. Not every infatuation (and that's what you had with him and all you had with him) can support a friendship! Most won't! On the other hand, real romantic connections leave and reflect a real connection that will absolutely not be put in peril by decades, let alone years or months, of disconnection (which may permit either romantic rekindling or actual friendship, sometimes either and sometimes both).

So let him go. Chances are there's nothing there and once all the crush hormones wear off you'll see that. On the other hand if there is something there you'll be handling it in the mature and respectful (to yourself and him) way that actually is much more likely to permit positive feelings in the future than continuing to badger him now.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:55 AM on December 24, 2013

After I shared my thoughts with him and said, "I guess we go our separate ways now," he said (to my surprise), "So you don't want to talk to me anymore? We don't have to be cut off, you know."

It sounds like this person is interested in using you, on his own terms. Because he is a selfish jerk. I would say he's probably not interested in being your friend at all, but is potentially interested in using you.

Even if he was interested in remaining friends, what good would that do for you? You are not going to have the kind of relationship you want with this person. You are going to see him flirt with other men, without any consideration of your feelings. He's going to criticize you and make you feel crappy, and talk badly about you to your friends. You will get nothing out of this.

Consider yourself lucky you got to see him for what he really was before it went any further!
posted by inertia at 8:00 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: True. I just realized something else which supports the idea that he has some symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. He told my best friend [about me]: "He hides his insecurity well, he comes off as arrogant" and proceeded to criticize my alleged snottiness and stinginess. That line is the perfect description of a person with narcissistic personality disorder, a person who aggrandizes himself and behaves selfishly but has fragile self-esteem underneath it all. And he projected that onto me unfairly because, at some level, he probably loathes that in himself. Great advice here all around. Thanks again!
posted by cscott at 8:26 AM on December 24, 2013

Other people have good advice here. I'd just say for the future, I might focus on meeting someone IRL as soon as possible. Going from an intense online thing to a weekend together is actually sort of a big transition, and often reveals incompatibilities because people have different chemistry IRL, you're now interacting with other real people in real spaces, you might feel a lot of pressure suddenly, etc. Again, nothing you "screwed up" or anything, it's just a common pitfall in internet dating and it's best to not let things get to that point.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:30 PM on January 21, 2014

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