He loves me, I love him not
April 8, 2014 11:10 AM   Subscribe

A few days ago my training partner/coach/ friend professed his feelings for me; I don't feel the same way. Help!

A few days ago my training partner/coach and friend professed his feelings for me; I don't feel the same way. Now I feel uncomfortable around him and I am avoiding going to practice and training with him. Sorry for the length of this.

Just to be clear so no one thinks there's anything inappropriate: an I am a female in my 30s and he is a male in his early 50s. I have know him for a few years now - we both belong to the same sports training group and we have often hung out socially outside the group. I have (or so I thought I had) made it clear that I am only interested in friendships and training, (as the group frowns on romantic involvement between group members, which is fine, since I am there to train and get better at my sport).

Whenever we hang out socially we just talk about training, sports, music, movies, upcoming races, etc. I am a very guarded person - I don't share a lot of personal details about my personal life and I like to keep things superficial when getting to know someone socially. I only share personal info with people that I feel close to. I view him as a training partner/coach and I don't feel close to him.

Over the past few months, we were training for a major event that required a lot of time being spent together - training. The event is now over and now we are maintaining a lesser training schedule, but we are still training together. Alone.

What has started to complicate things is that he has started buying me gifts that I have tried to give back. I told him that I don't feel comfortable accepting them. He flatly refused to take them back and that he would throw them in the garbage if I tried to give them back (in a semi-jokingly manner).

Fast forward to last Friday: a mutual friend of ours, my coach and I went to the movies (our mutual friend sat between us). My coach was in a bad mood and I couldn't figure out why, so I blew it off - I didn't want it to spoil the movie. After the movie, we all went to our cars (we arrived separately). He walked me to my car to make sure I got there safely since it was late. He then started to profess his feelings for me. Ugh, so uncomfortable. I was dumbfounded and didn't know what to say so I just stood there. After his speech, I told him that I appreciated his honesty, but that I didn't want feelings to get in the way of our FRIENDSHIP and that I hoped we could just move on. The next day, he sent me a text saying he wished he had never told me how he felt. (I wish that too.)

To further complicate things, (oh, it gets better), my on again/off again boyfriend, (let's call him Adam), of the past 10 years is starting to become on again. We have a LDR because of career choices and we try to visit each other when work schedules permit, which is maybe 2-4 times a year. Adam and I took a break a few months ago, but have remained friendly and talk a few times a week. Adam and I have decided to give it another go -- he's trying to get a transfer with his job and move to my city and he'll be coming to visit next week. My coach has met Adam a few times when he has come to visit, but I had only introduced Adam my "friend", because at the time, we were off again and I didn't feel comfortable calling him my boyfriend when he technically wasn't. I haven't shared the details about Adam and my relationship to my coach since I consider it personal and I don't share personal stuff with many people.

I feel SO uncomfortable now. I don't want to train with my coach anymore. I don't even want to train at all. I thought I could put it behind me and move forward, but now I feel like this friendship is tarnished.

How do I deal with this situation with my coach? How do I make it even more clear that I don't feel the same way without him hating me (I still want to belong to our training group)? How do I get over feeling betrayed or violated (for lack of a better word)? Should James "mark his territory" and will that resolve it? Help!!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like he received your message loud and clear, so I think all you can do now at this point is move forward. If he really makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to train with him anymore. Just go to group events and keep your distance. I think time will heal the awkwardness.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:17 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

You cannot control your coach's feelings towards you, so let go of that desire because you literally will never succeed in managing someone else's opinions since they're actually none of your business.

To me it sounds like your coach repeatedly stepped over boundaries and ignored your protests whenever you made them. I would personally cease using him as a trainer and seek out someone else. You don't need to tell them why, and if your current coach is smart he'll refrain from telling others the truth, too. The bottom line is that you do not have to be uncomfortable any more. Cut your ties and move on. You handled yourself well -- coach did not.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

If I were you, I would:

a) send him an email saying you are uncomfortable continuing your coaching/training relationship; sorry but that's how it is.

b) Find a new training partner/coach. If this means leaving your training group, that sucks, but the odds of it not being hideously awkward for at least the next couple months are low.

c) get yourself a glass of your favorite intoxicant, a couple of female friends, and let loose about how unbelievably fucking inappropriate this was and how some men just cannot take a goddamn hint and have to let sex get in the way of fucking everything.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:22 AM on April 8, 2014 [31 favorites]

I think your coach already knows you do not reciprocate his feelings. He said as much in that text message.

What is left to be done?

You're being unkind towards this man whose only crime was liking you and telling you so. You did not react favorably and it sounds like he's dropped the issue.

Is there no possibility you can be gracious and ignore that he ever said anything?

It's fine if you want to switch coaches! Just don't feel so petty inside towards this man. Geesh.

Your on/off dramas with Adam have ZERO to do with your coach, unless your coach is your roommate or neighbor. Since you don't mention this type of proximity with your (ex) coach, why are you trying to bring Adam into this?

Not to be harsh, and it doesn't seem like you made a poor choice of words. I understand that the group frowns on romantic entanglements, but I guess this is for you to discuss with whoever runs the group?

Maybe they will ask your coach to leave the group?

But for real, maybe you should just put this out of your mind, find a new coach, and then Live and Let Live.

Y' know?
posted by jbenben at 11:31 AM on April 8, 2014 [19 favorites]

To further complicate things, (oh, it gets better), my on again/off again boyfriend, (let's call him Adam), of the past 10 years is starting to become on again.

This doesn't complicate things further, it simplifies them.

"I have a boyfriend." Done and done.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on April 8, 2014 [20 favorites]

It sounds like you haven't interacted much, especially not in person, since he said he had feelings for you. That's probably good, but it also leaves a lot of room for simmering weirdness. Among the high number of AskMe questions involving how to handle socio-romantic awkwardness, one of the common threads is that it tends to be a situation that's been allowed to grow out of control. So take control - which you've done. You've told him no, he's probably pretty much accepted that; you've said you don't want it to ruin your training together, but it has, and surely he's aware of that, too. Now you need to tell him that you're upset, and you plan on finding a different training partner.
- I would hesitate to say anything implying that it's all his fault; he did you the favor of telling you how he felt instead of letting things get inexplicably weirder and weirder, and he's given you an opening to say 'no, thanks' instead of just hanging around looking hopeful.
- I also wouldn't want to say something implying that it's all your fault, if only your pesky emotions didn't get in the way things could go right back to the way they were before. Because that tells him"wait around until I feel better" which isn't really the message you want to convey.
- If the outcome you want is that both of you start training with other people, don't spend much time together, but are polite and not-too-stilted when you do cross paths, then your first action is to find someone else to train with. Keep up the sport, demonstrating that the sport was all you wanted from this guy in the first place.
- Should you hide behind "but I have a boyfriend!"? I'd say no. That encourages him to recognize himself as the kind of person you date (i.e. male) and the kind of person you apologize to about already having a boyfriend (i.e. a prospective boyfriend), and to label himself as "next in line". If Adam is all that's standing between you and having Coach ask you out again, that's going to influence the on-and-off nature of your relationship with Adam in a way that's not necessarily true to yourself.
posted by aimedwander at 11:38 AM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


I missed the thing about the gifts. My bad. Apologies!!

Still. I think you can end your coaching & friend relationship with this man without feeling ugly towards anyone.

Your thing with Adam still has nothing to do with putting distance between yourself and your (ex) coach.
posted by jbenben at 11:38 AM on April 8, 2014

He professed his feelings for you. It could have easily been the other way around.

Such is life; we have little control over others. You tried very hard, super hard to keep things the way you wanted them to be - but, it still happened. Now, you want badly for his feelings to go back in the bottle. But it's too late and don't kill brain cells anguishing over how this has "ruined" your training, group, and motivation. It has done no such thing .
posted by Kruger5 at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

In the 30-age range, you are far from out of the woods as far as people confessing their feelings.

Your choices will always be to either reciprocate or decline, and then move on in the direction indicated by your response.

In this case, you declined. And, fortunately for you, the one with feelings seems embarrassed and ready to forget it ever happened.

Time to go on with your life.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

What to do:

At the minimum take a break from each other. Being around each other will be awkward for you, and painful for him. There's not a realistic hope of a successful coach/coachee relationship happening at least until he's gotten over this. Since that can take a long time, quite likely it'll be a permanent break.

If he wants one, maybe have a final conversation to clear the air and bring closure to the matter.

If you need to explain the break to the group, you don't have to go into details. You can always indicate you had a falling out of some kind without getting to specific.

What to consider:

People can't help who they fall in love with, or don't fall in love with. And when people fall in love, as a zillion songs tell us, it makes them a little crazy. So they do inappropriate and stupid things like the gift buying you mentioned.

It sounds like your message has now been received and understood. i.e. You're not interested in him that way, and never will be. There is no need to complicate that message with any other stuff. For example whether you have a boyfriend or not is irrelevant. Mentioning that might only give him the idea that if he waits long enough maybe the newly reappeared boyfriend will be gone again, and he might have a chance with you.

It won't hurt that he knows that you have a boyfriend, but don't give the impression that is your reason for turning him down.

Overall, be kind but clear.
posted by philipy at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I make it even more clear that I don't feel the same way

There's no reason to think you need to:

The next day, he sent me a text saying he wished he had never told me how he felt.

So unless he reverts to courting you, rejecting him again is just going to drag this out.

To further complicate things

No, it doesn't. Nothing with Adam has anything to do with your training. I get this is stressing you out and now you might lose this group you like a lot, but don't let everything else in your life start to orbit around it. Not everything is connected to this situation, which boils down to a tone deaf guy asked you out.

I don't want to train with my coach anymore. I don't even want to train at all. I thought I could put it behind me and move forward, but now I feel like this friendship is tarnished.

That's pretty normal. Can you get a new coach or training group?
posted by spaltavian at 12:01 PM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't use Adam (or James?) as your way to resolve this because (a) you've always kept your personal life private and you shouldn't have to change that, (b) you've already let him know you aren't interested, and (c) if things don't work out with this re-kindled relationship you don't want Coach to then think that means he might have a chance.

I think you should decide quickly whether you want to keep training with this Coach. Don't stop your training because of this. If you do want to keep training with him, then you have to force yourself out of the house and back into training. Things will be a bit stilted between you two for a bit, but you might get back to normal. His text is a good sign. If you decide the coaching relationship just isn't going to work anymore, start looking for someone else or another group now.
posted by Area Man at 12:04 PM on April 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

At this point, theoretically, it's actually quite simple.
1. He expressed his feelings
2. You politely but clearly told him that you do not reciprocate
3. He expressed regret for expressing his feelings

The only decision you have to make is whether or not you feel like you can continue working with this person. It will certainly be at least a little awkward in the short term, but there is no reason you have to break ties with him. He may handle everything from here on out perfectly professional, now that he knows where he stands.

That said, you are certainly within your rights to be so upset by this that you can't continue working with him. You can tell him (via email or letter if you don't want to talk to him) that you feel like it would be inappropriate for you to work together and that he shouldn't contact you any more. It's a bit harsh, but he had to know that was a possibility when he broached the subject.

Don't complicate matters by trying to reject him even more, don't bring the boyfriend into the situation, don't let him ruin your enjoyment of your sport. Just keep it cool and professional.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:30 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I disagree that there is nothing inappropriate here. You said "the group frowns on romantic involvement between group members" so I think he should not have proceeded unless there were very clear signals given by you.

I am particularly annoyed - on your behalf - that this guy made you doubt yourself: "I have (or so I thought I had) made it clear that I am only interested in friendships and training". I bet you made yourself very clear and he chose to ignore that.

The whole thing, from the significant age gap to his refusal to take back unwelcome gifts, reads quite a bit predatory to me.
posted by rada at 12:34 PM on April 8, 2014 [18 favorites]

You say you don't want to train with this guy anymore. If that's what your gut says, go with that. My gut would be saying the same thing! I don't like his threat to throw the gifts away if you wouldn't accept them ("jokingly" or not, it feels manipulative and aggressive), and I don't like how his response, when you stated your discomfort with receiving gifts from him, was to escalate by confronting you with his romantic feelings. It's hard to tell whether his hangdog subsequent text is a real apology or an attempt to reopen the discussion. And even if you're both adults interacting socially, if he's the coach (and it seems like he's leading this training group?) that means you're the one who's inconvenienced if he's chooses to make things weird between you, since you're the one who'd have to leave, so yeah, I think his behavior is inappropriate. Maybe he's just clueless, or he's a creep, or both, but with the examples above of him prioritizing his desires over your comfort, it's reasonable that you want to back away from the friendship.

Getting your boyfriend involved in this to make sure the coach knows you're spoken for might work, though you shouldn't have to--only an asshole creep would ignore your "no" until you can prove you're some other man's property.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:35 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only complicating factor here that jumped out at me is how you're characterizing this as "betrayal and violation." That seems a bit extreme, so you might want to look into that. Even so, if either of you can't deal with this turn of events, you could simply find a new training partner. This kind of thing happens all the time, and has throughout history. It's a bit of a hassle having this piece of stability disturbed, but it's not the end of the world.

Consider also that being a private person means that other people have to guess more often. It should come as no surprise that they're wrong sometimes. This doesn't mean that you should be more outgoing about your personal life, just that there are predictable quirks to this from the outside observer.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Having a feeling doesn't mean you have to tell anyone else about it. He chose to change the terms of the friendship - at his own risk - in hopes of something else, and tried to buy it in advance with gifts he made it impossible for you to politely decline in order to build a narrative in which he gets to have you. This is disrespectful and you don't have to like him or feel bad for disliking how he has treated you. I know we're socialized to feel bad for not liking someone simply because they like us, but fight it as best you can. You don't have anything to be sorry for.

I would absolutely feel betrayed and violated by this kind of behavior and I would probably go elsewhere because I just don't want to deal with it, but if you choose to stay and not participate with him that is your right. But you may have to live with him being mad, there's nothing you can do about that except go out with him.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:46 PM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

The only complicating factor here that jumped out at me is how you're characterizing this as "betrayal and violation." That seems a bit extreme, so you might want to look into that.

I wouldn't say that's extreme. He was your coach - in a position of mentorship and power over you. You've been training together, something which can get extremely physical, and one of the main things making it less awkward is that the other person is not seeing you as a partner but a gym buddy. They have access to your body in so many ways. In addition, the age difference between you means he could, literally, be your parent, which may have increased your comfort in the past.

Now he violates boundaries and declares feelings for you? Ugh, no. Complete ick. I would remove him as your coach as well. This isn't just a trivial "whoops, my bad."
posted by corb at 1:13 PM on April 8, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think it makes a lot of sense to end your training relationship. It's easy enough to say, "Since the marathon is over, I think it would be a good idea for me to find someone else to coach me."

He may be secretly wanting to sever that connection, but doesn't know how to do that without looking werid. This way, everyone saves face.

If there are folks in the group you like and want to stay there, perhaps change up your schedule so as to avoid running into this guy.

The guy made it awkward, and that sucks. You have some choices, so think about what would work for you and do that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:17 PM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

A few days ago my training partner/coach/ friend....

It was just a few days ago. Go ahead and feel your feelings. But perhaps when you meet next to get training he will act normally and all those fears of him being creepy will dissipate. If either of you can't let it go after a few weeks then it would be time to sever the relationship.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:21 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you want to be part of this group, or not? Your last 2 paragraphs make this a bit confusing.

If you don't want to be part of the group, then the problem appears to be solved. You're not going to have anything further to do with this guy.

If you do want to be part of the group, then be coolly polite to Coach when you see him. He shouldn't have put you in that situation, I agree. However, he's also told you that he regrets telling you. he's likely feeling worse about this than you are, given that he's the one in the wrong and he's going to have to see you again.

You can't control his feelings or behaviours, so don't try. You'll end up tying yourself in knots. What has been done here can't be undone, so you just have to deal with the fallout. You said you weren't interested. He said he felt bad for telling you he was interested. Now is the time to take the high road, and behave in a polite manner around him, basically the way it sounds like you were acting before. I wouldn't go to the movies with him, or anything like that, but I guess you already know that.

Leave your boyfriend out of this, unless you want him to white knight for you. You're a grown woman, you don't need a man to rescue you.
posted by Solomon at 1:33 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly I think you need to give him the benefit of the doubt and go to some training sessions. You are both adults, this guy took a chance and actually told you how he felt which is what adults do when they are interested in each other. You said no you aren't interested, his text seems to imply he's ready to act as if he didn't say anything, which is the traditional face saving technique used in such situations.

If seeing him in a one on one training session would be too hard for you, try to go to a few group sessions/meets if that goes OK maybe you can go back to your one on one training sessions.

Now of course, if he decides to drop the handling things like an adult and goes all weird friendzoney passive aggressive on you, feel free to never see him again. But so far no one appears to have done any of this. Also not "blaming the victim" here in any way, but more a reference for next time, if a guy gives you gifts "for no reason" there's a reason, politely decline them.
posted by wwax at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, he has feelings, told you, and you don't share them. When you put people together, this often happens, with lots of variation. You can try keeping him as coach, might work out, might not. Be courteous, but don't go out together outside training, events, and an occasional group activity. If his feelings make it impossible for him to be your coach, move on.
posted by theora55 at 1:49 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, I think that once a crush like this is out in the open, there's no way to automatically return to the state things were in before the crush was revealed. It's not impossible, but it's not automatic. It's fine for you to find another training partner/coach or add another person to your previous training twosome if you want to train with him again at some point. He is not entitled to go back and have your friendship be the same that it was before his confession.

If I were in your place, I wouldn't want to have a lot of alone time with a person who I knew had strong feelings for me and who had already overstepped my boundaries (repeatedly giving obviously unwanted gifts, ignoring my friendship-only signals, etc). I wouldn't want to feel self-conscious about my gestures or comments lest they get misinterpreted as an opportunity to pursue something more. And, I wouldn't want to question his comments, gestures, touches, etc.

He has no right to hate you, make you feel unwelcome in the group, or feel entitled to your time and attention. You only need to be civil and polite. He's got the message that you're not interested and that should be it. If he can't manage his feelings going forward and oversteps boundaries with you again, he should leave the training group, not you.
posted by quince at 3:07 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I quit seeing an acupuncturist when he began making comments about my looks and leaving his hand too long on me after he'd stuck a point that especially hurt.

You've made it clear you weren't interested and he's refused to back off.

You have my permission to go Hot Topic Kitty on him.
posted by brujita at 4:58 PM on April 8, 2014

I'm trying to understand the outrage. I really am.

The problem is that after you got bullied into accepting gifts you did not want and actively refused, you continued to socialize with this man outside of the shared hobby.

I'm not "victim blaming" here because I do not see a victim!!

I know you were enjoying your interactions with this man as long as they were limited. I get that.

And sometimes as adults, we have to limit doing things we enjoy.

The gifts thing is a wash, I probably would have begrudgingly accepted them too just to avoid awkwardness.

Afterwards, tho, I wouldn't expect that socializing on a friend-level was going to be manageable. I would expect that trying to continue with the status quo when the other person's feelings were clearly deepening would not be possible.

And now you know, too.

Please cut this guy and yourself some slack. Sounds like you've both learned some hard lessons here. I feel for both of you.

(I wish I could go back and erase my earliest answer because it was too strongly worded. My apologies again, OP. I wish I had the wits to have commented with this statement earlier. I hope everything works out.)
posted by jbenben at 5:10 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Been there....I would immediately drop him as a coach. If it was me, I would probably completely drop out of the group as well, but I'll leave that up to you. In my experience, guys like this (who aren't really taking hints, are kind of being pushy, etc., have a power dynamic over you....) tend to be red-flaggy for a reason. And I'll get in trouble for stereotyping for saying this, but most of the guys who ignored my "not interested" signals were over 40, so maybe age has something to do with it, I don't know.

Men are genetically prone to ah, thinking a girl is interested just because he's interested, which makes it incredibly awkward to get him to get the message to back off. It's not going to help him get over you if you are still in his vicinity being wonderful you. And god knows you're not going to be comfortable around him in workout gear in the summer months at this point.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:32 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Find another coach/train somewhere else for your individual workouts; continue with the group. It'll work out, I think. He sounds pushy, overconfident, a bit blind; grand gestures and gift-giving are I think typical of his generation. But he doesn't sound like a complete idiot and seems to understand you don't feel the same way.

You could say something like, "I am sorry to have to say this [he might cut you off here and anticipate the rest], but as I think you might have guessed, after the other day, I just wouldn't feel comfortable training with you anymore - I hope you can understand that [if he doesn't cut you off]. I do want to say I appreciate what you've taught me." (He did teach you things, right? Acknowledging that might take the sting out of his humiliation and help smooth interactions in the group setting.)

In group meetings, don't try to be overly friendly with him to compensate for having rejected him, that'll either embarrass him further or give him the wrong idea. Just be civil and carry on, it'll be fine. He took a silly chance and it didn't work out, but he's a grown-up and will handle himself.

(I think it's in the realm of normal to be just a little grossed out when someone you're not attracted to makes a move like that, fwiw. But, not ideal to show that too much.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:59 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man, the thing that really strikes me about this is that before explicitly stating that he wanted to date you, he made sure to find out what would happen if he pushed your boundaries. Maybe it wasn't conscious on his part, but he gave you those gifts and found out what would happen if he made a controlling and inappropriate stink about you objecting to him doing a thing you don't like.

Does that make sense? He didn't back off when you didn't want to accept a gift from him. Instead, he took that as a sign to demand MORE from you. That's not right. I think you should feel very comfortable firing him as your coach and training partner. You don't want to be alone with him or train with him anymore. That is a boundary that YOU are allowed to set. Anyone can fire a workout partner at any time for any reason. Maybe you could still go to group workouts and stuff so you don't have to interact with him one-on-one anymore.

Also, I think you did the best you could with the gift thing- it's not your fault that he was pushy and inappropriate.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:04 PM on April 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

Regarding the whole "if you refuse my gift, I will throw it in the trash" thing, this reeks of a spoiled child yelling that he's going to hold his breath until you give him ice cream. You relent and, in his mind, your coach "wins" because he just got everything he wanted.

If someone gives you that line in the future, please let them know "What you choose to do with it is entirely up to you--it is, after all, yours--but I cannot [and will not] accept what I find to be an inappropriate gift".
posted by blueberry at 9:48 AM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

We don't know what the gifts were. Could be completely inappropriate. Could be stopped at the bakery for a zucchini muffin and brought you some of those banana chips you like. World of difference.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:20 AM on April 9, 2014

It doesn't really matter what the particular gift may be, if it is given with passive-aggression and/or the receiver is uncomfortable (as in this case) with receiving it from that person, it's inappropriate and the intended recipient is under no obligation to accept it. /end-of-tangent
posted by blueberry at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

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