Does my platonic friend have romantic feelings - and what should I do?
July 13, 2015 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Does a platonic friend who is in a relationship feel more than he is letting on?

We met over 10 years ago on a chat room but never met due to distance. Despite this we talked constantly via phone & video chat. Three years later he announced he was moving to my country and asked me to meet him on a few occasions - I felt a sense of paralysis and did not meet him. I had a boyfriend and subconsciously, I now believe, was terrified that he was moving to be close to me.

After this he made it clear that he would always be my emotional support even if we never met (why?). And he saw me through some terrible bereavements. At one point he said I was exactly his type physically, called me sweet nicknames usually reserved for a partner and told me I had a "wonderful mind", supporting me as a I began my career. He even joked about the day that he would propose and I entertained this. Eventually we lost contact due to studies & partners but finally we reconnected & met last year. He mentioned a girlfriend he had been with for over 1 year.

After the meeting he said he had a great time and hoped to do it again. He asked me lots of in depth, intellectual questions - but he also made a fleeting joke relating to f*ck buddies. Again, he said I was beautiful. I moved abroad for a year & he has kept in relatively consistent contact and sent photographs that made him think of me. Now, we are finally going to be close together again and he wants to see me in a couple of weeks. I made up an excuse, although I do want to see him.

Although I have dated other men this past year, he hasn't left my mind. But, when I come home I want a fresh start - to have a real chance at a loving relationship, which I think might be possible with him was he not taken. I have no interest in pursuing something with a taken friend & might feel more comfortable if I knew he wanted friendship only. So how do I know? What can I do? And should I meet him, trusting his motives, until proven differently?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (30 answers total)
You could, you know, ask him,
posted by asockpuppet at 12:41 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh no. It could wreck everything and put him in a horrible position if he says no. I'd like to know your thoughts based on the post...please...
posted by Kat_Dubs at 12:43 PM on July 13, 2015

I mean my thoughts based on the post are that you should probably actually ask him. There's not really another great solution, only a bunch of weird game playing that will do literally not one thing except stir up a bunch of delicious drama.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:44 PM on July 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

he also made a fleeting joke relating to f*ck buddies.

Almost certainly not a joke.

You say you'd give this guy a chance if he was single, but the picture you paint of him here seems pretty skeevy. It sounds like he may be trying to work one or more of several angles:

1. To bail on his current girlfriend and get together with you when the circumstances are right
2. To have you waiting in the wings if things with his current girlfriend don't work out
3. To straight up cheat on his current girlfriend with you

Etc, etc. Based on what you've said here, "Maintain a healthy platonic friendship" doesn't really look like it's on the menu? He does not appear to be pursuing whatever it is he wants with you an an above-board, straightforward way.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:45 PM on July 13, 2015 [19 favorites]

After this he made it clear that he would always be my emotional support even if we never met (why?)

Because he cares about you. Look, even if he does want to fuck you or be with your or want more than be "just friends", people can still care about someone they never met in person.

But I don't see how you can not meet up with someone who is your friend without it seeming weird now that you'll be near each other. Do establish boundaries and tell him honestly when something he says that makes you feel uncomfortable.

My advice? Say, "Yes, I'd love to meet with you and your girlfriend!" If he somehow tries to explain to you that this isn't a good idea or gives you a lame excuse as to why that's not possible, then bail. Tell him that you won't be a secret from his significant other and wish him well in his life.
posted by inturnaround at 12:50 PM on July 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: How do I bring up "boundaries" without wrecking the meeting? We barely see each other as it is and I don't want to turn it in to a serious inquisition. Also, I would quite like to know whether the girlfriend knows I exist. But - I need to tread carefully.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 1:04 PM on July 13, 2015

Don't meet him. You said it yourself, you want a fresh start, and it sounds like he really gets off on stringing you along.
posted by xingcat at 1:09 PM on July 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: xingcat - is it not possible that he had feelings at some point (he did ask to meet me several times after he broken up with a girlfriend and became single) but moved on because I didn't want to meet? And now might actually be struggling with his feelings now that I reappeared?

all hypothesis of course.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 1:14 PM on July 13, 2015

How do I bring up "boundaries" without wrecking the meeting?

Wrecking it? What kind of friend would wreck a meeting if you told him you weren't comfortable with something?

Some friend.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:14 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

And now might actually be struggling with his feelings now that I reappeared?

Maybe, but this sort of murky history of unexpressed feelings, combined with the fact that he's currently in a relationship, is pretty antithetical to the "fresh start" you say you want (and which you have every right and reason to want).
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

is it not possible that he had feelings at some point (he did ask to meet me several times after he broken up with a girlfriend and became single) but moved on because I didn't want to meet? And now might actually be struggling with his feelings now that I reappeared?

It is also possible that he's actually a spy and has been writing to you in code for 10 years, but equally unlikely. I think you should probably stop with all of these hypothetical situations that are secretly exactly what you want, unless you're simply bored and find it entertaining to twist yourself in the wind this way.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2015 [21 favorites]

It's my impression that you've been having this chat relationship for many years, while one or both of you was was dating someone else. In my estimation, that means you've been having an emotional affair with him all those years. You've been giving him signals that you're willing to be an affair partner because any time you've been that close while either one of you was partnered up, you were both cheaters. He thinks you're comfortable with that, and has suggested extending the affair to be physical, too.

If you want a strictly platonic relationship with him, you need to back off emotionally.

If you want a committed, faithful relationship, don't expect one from him. He's been unfaithful for years with you, and is certainly capable of doing the same kind of cheating on you.
posted by Capri at 1:19 PM on July 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

xingcat - is it not possible that he had feelings at some point (he did ask to meet me several times after he broken up with a girlfriend and became single) but moved on because I didn't want to meet? And now might actually be struggling with his feelings now that I reappeared?

The beginning of a relationship should be the most fun part, in my opinion. You're not likely to have more fun in any relationship than when everything's brand new and you're all giddy over the possibilities. If you're both coming into this with so much baggage from the past, it just seems like it's going to be a drag.

There are lots of people in the world. I think it would make sense to try dating another one of them.
posted by xingcat at 1:23 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Regardless of what he wants (secretly, subconsciously, whatever) you owe it to yourself to tell him what you want out of your relationship. If you want to date him, tell him so. If you want a strictly platonic relationship, tell him that. If your honesty "wrecks" your existing relationship, then so be it; it's not worth making yourself miserable in an unclear relationship where you are not sure exactly what he wants out of it.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:28 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Comment removed. Kat_Dubs, Ask Metafilter isn't meant to be a chat/conversation space; once you've asked your question, one or two followup comments to clarify something can be okay but beyond that you really just need to let folks answer the question you asked as best they're able and not get into a discussion about it with them or argue about stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I feel like this is just an exhausting level of emotional and mental energy you're expending on someone that you've met once and have been thinking about, on some level, for TEN years. Just meet him, see if you even like him like that and then be really straightforward. Your relationship already has flirty aspects-- you wouldn't be crossing any unspoken lines to ask for clarification.
posted by acidic at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Inturnaround nailed it. I think, perhaps, that before trying to figure out his motives, it might be a useful thing for you to really sit with your thoughts about this for a while. Take some time, if you haven't already, to really examine whether you are being totally honest with yourself about what you truly want here.

Maybe he's truly in love with you, maybe he's had a series of placeholder girlfriends while waiting for you, maybe he's creepy as fuck. Who knows? For now, it doesn't matter; what matters is that you know exactly what you want. Being mindful of that can make things a lot easier when you find out what his motivations are.

FWIW, I agree with not asking him straight up. There's almost no way for that conversation to go that isn't going to include acute embarrassment for everyone involved. The suggestion to invite his girlfriend is genius.

Another option is to go out for coffee. Talk about the fresh start you want, and how you are clarifying and defining relationships with everyone in your world to accomplish that. At that point you can say how you see him in your world, whatever that is. What I'm getting at is there are ways for you to make it crystal clear to him that are just short of asking the direct question. Allows you to both save face. (And I say this as someone who is almost always of the 'straight up ask' school.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:41 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone else: meet him. I also think you should call him out on his passive behavior. Directness is a virtue.

Just know you're probably going to be disappointed when you do, as the fiction you've created in your head is unlikely to be realistic in the slightest. When that happens (as it inevitably will), please buy yourself a copy of "Intimate Connections" and "Mr. Unavailable and the Fallback Girl," and find someone who isn't an emotional vampire. I bet he just likes that you're so available and--gasp--desperate for him.

Honestly, I think you should just find a guy who *really* likes you and doesn't wait a decade to make a move. This guy isn't that guy.
posted by aristotlefangirl at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Although I have dated other men this past year, he hasn't left my mind. But, when I come home I want a fresh start - to have a real chance at a loving relationship, which I think might be possible with him was he not taken.

He is almost certainly attracted. But, the thing is, you both are attracted to some fantasy. You are very clear that the reality of the situation does not work for you. You keep hoping that it will magically somehow work out, in spite of you repeatedly rejecting him, turning a deaf ear to his hints, etc. That is extremely unrealistic. Either work on making it work or work on letting go of this fantasy.

You can either let him know you are attracted but you don't want to just be the other woman (or whatever your condition is) or you need to make more of an effort to enforce boundaries and insist he stop making comments about your beauty and about being f*** buddies and so on. Pick one. If you want him, quit coming up with the excuse du jour for not telling him that, not meeting him, etc. If you only want his friendship, then make it 100% clear that "we are ONLY friends."
posted by Michele in California at 1:45 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Asking other people what they think about what he's thinking will only tell you one thing - it will tell you what other people think about what he's thinking.

And "what other people think about what he's thinking" is a different thing from "what he's thinking."

I know you're scared and that you want to know that everything is going to work out okay before you ask, and you're trying to avoid a bad situation in advance before you get into it, but - look at it this way, right now you don't know what he's thinking. And asking us isn't going to tell you what he's thinking. If you ask him what he's thinking, no matter what he tells you, then you will KNOW what he is thinking, and that will be information and information is always good - because then you can use that information to decide whether it is a situation you want to be in yourself.

Ask him. Not us. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here's something I've learned: if a guy legitimately just wants to be friends with you, then he won't make weird remarks about being fuck buddies or about how beautiful you are like this guy is doing. A real male friend will just talk to you about stuff you're both interested in and/or will ask you about your life the way your female friends do. I've also learned that guys who make promises like, "I'll always be there for you, no matter what" sort of out of context (i.e. you're not dating, you haven't been real-life friends for a really long time) are generally bad news, because over-the-top declarations aren't actually a good thing. I would be wary of this guy if I were you, and try not to put him up on a pedestal in your head as the one who got away.
posted by colfax at 1:57 PM on July 13, 2015 [28 favorites]

You're so intense about this guy with a girlfriend that I think you're letting his flattery and flirtation get you into a tizzy that is going to mess you up. This guy does not sound like a catch or a guy with integrity or a good guy. He likes messing with you, he likes making you feel things---he is not trustworthy.

And maybe see a counselor to figure out why you're being so crazy about him. This isn't really healthy.
posted by discopolo at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

The secret of functional relationships is communication. To answer the questions you have, you have to communicate with him. Answering that this may wreck everything precludes others actually answering your question.

Either you interact honestly as adults or you don't.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

You've been mooning over this guy here for a year and a half, so you're almost certainly dropping clues (consciously or subconsciously) to him that you're interested. Some of the other replies seem to be laying the blame on him, but it feels like neither of you are being fully honest with the other. Have a painful, grownup conversation with him and either make sure that you're in a platonic relationship with each other or find a way to start dating.
posted by Candleman at 3:37 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

The details don't really matter.

Occam's Razor says a guy friend who makes pretty intimate emotional statements and compliments you on your looks is somewhat sexually interested in you. Hell, Occam's Razor says that a close heterosexual guy friend is probably interested in his female friend. (Yeah, there are exceptions but...)

Manage his expectations very carefully and tactfully (this requires social finesse) and you could maybe have a once-in-a-while-in-person male friend and possibly future backup plan lover. Be careful- if he shows willingness to cheat on her, same goes for you.
posted by quincunx at 4:26 PM on July 13, 2015

Decide what you want. Tell him.
posted by amtho at 4:50 PM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, he 100% wants to fuck you. What colfax said about that.

But should you fuck him? I think no, given that he's taken and in all honesty, is giving me the creepy skeezer vibe from what you said. I strongly suspect he might be down to cheat on the girlfriend, if she exists. But either way, if you meet him in person, I'm pretty dang sure he'll make a sexual approach on you. I wouldn't recommend meeting him in person unless you are DTF, as it were.

I really wouldn't trust his motives.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 PM on July 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

This guy has a pretty good setup. He effectively has two girlfriends. He has learned that he can string you along and drop romantic breadcrumbs without being called out on it, and can thus enjoy the close company of two women at once -- you, and his actual girlfriend.

This is not an honest way for him to act. He's basically running the show right now, and you need to either confront him about his intentions or let this "friendship" cool off. It's interesting that you feel reluctant to ask him anything point-blank, as I'm sure he LOVES how willing you are to play his game of ambiguity.
posted by delight at 8:08 AM on July 14, 2015

I'm pretty unclear from your post what you want out of this relationship. That's what I would focus on figuring out, and then go from there.

--If you're interested in him romantically, meet up with him and go for it.
--If you're interested in him romantically only if he's single, say something like "I'd love to meet you and your girlfriend for dinner!" His response here could be "Oh we broke up" (yay, he's single now!), "Cool, let's do it" (disappointing, but at least he's being honest), or something sketchy that reveals she doesn't know about you or at least doesn't know the extent of your relationship. In this last case -- drop him, he is not an honest person, and the sort of person who will cheat on their partner will eventually cheat on YOU.
--If you're not at all interested romantically and want things to continue platonically, feel free to meet up with him but be very clear about your boundaries. Call him out on inappropriate comments. I work in a male-dominated industry and have many close male friends, but none of them ever comment on my appearance, sex life, proposing to me, etc. And if they did I would give them a weird look and be like "Um, inappropriate!" If he can't respect your boundaries, he's not a good person - drop him.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not sure what the rules are for posting a concluding reply on here but thought I'd do so anyway - because I appreciated all the helpful responses! I decided to meet him but thought very hard about the situation & my feelings for him beforehand - and found myself feeling quite a bit of empathy for this girlfriend I have never met.

Turns out his girlfriend had been seriously ill and is still recovering - there were still some gripes about her despite the fact he shares a life with her, so I still feel he may be leaving out his true feelings for her - either way he is standing by her/not making sexual advances and that has made me respect him more. Aside from this, we got on better than we ever had. The chemistry was strong and we had a wonderful time together. We had several goodbyes and our wires had got really crossed because he didn't realise I was moving so close by/he thought I was still going to be living far away until the last moment. All in all I do think he has had a "two girlfriends" deal a little bit but I do now think that there is true potential between us should we be single at the same time - but I think both of us would be scared to broach the subject with the other because of how close we are. It is very clear how important I am to him and vice versa. He once told me that if two people are meant to be together, they will find a way. He is probably right - if he ends up with the girlfriend, I'll certainly have my answer. I'll continue to be his friend and will be moving on to date other guys from now on.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 4:53 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Should we buy this house?   |   Quirky and meaningful wedding gift Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.