Boundary Setting After Being Friend-Dumped due to His Unrequited Feels
September 10, 2016 11:42 AM   Subscribe

My now ex-friend, a friend of ten years, close friend for seven, and best friend for one, broke up with me as my best friend and friend after it became clear that I wasn't going to date him. How do I set and enforce good boundaries to keep it from backsliding into the same nonsense drama (or new drama) when we share so many spaces, including living space?

Background: He, X, is nearing 30 and has never been in a relationship for more than a month. I, ostensibly a lady, am a student and professional a few years junior. He will live in our small flat with me and my housemate (his family member who will remain oblivious to this situation) until he gets a job and an apartment of his own. I have a dozen couches to crash on but moving out wouldn't be feasible right now.

He, "X", wanted to be "more than friends", I wanted to be "just friends", and our attempts to resolve this over the past six months have been painful failures. It came to a head after a month-long break in a conversation that neatly sums up the pattern: he was hoping that I would give him a "clean slate" and let him maybe-possibly date or fuck or escalate with me, I was stating I would not date him and that we could define ourselves as just-friends and build a sound friendship on that premise, and furthermore I didn't wanted him to bring up me dating him again. In the course of conversation, he told me he that, while I was an "irreplaceable friend," he "wouldn't be satisfied" with being my just-friend and that it would be best for him to break up the friendship with no guarantee of return. After some heat and tears, we parted on kind terms, and I told all our mutual friends that our infamous bro-duo was no more.

While he was frienddumping me, I laid down some rules of termination: there was no going back, I would tell all our mutual friends, and if he ever got to the point where he felt like he could attend the same event as me it would be his job to make sure our friends knew that. He stated he would avoid going to mutual events for awhile. I made good on my word, and told all our local mutual friends and then some.

One day later he was backtracking. He texted me to come by when I was done with homework (due the next day). Curiosity got the better of me, since his room is next to mine. He told me "It's really annoying to not be your friend" and offered me a handwritten contract stating "no talking about feelings" "no talking about relationships" and "no hanging out at the house except on special occasions" and a couple jokes and room for signatures. I said I was in agreement with not talking about feelings or relationships but was more concerned about what this contract was not keeping out: hanging out at all and conversing about non-housemate things and not hitting on me anymore. Keeping with previous patterns, he mentioned that he felt like he couldn't be my best friend without some kind of physical connection and would prefer a friend with benefits situation but would let it fade away into his subconscious, and that he'd be fine with one-on-one trips. I did not sign.

The next day he was at a movie night with my friends at a friend's house, the place we gather for most get-togethers and where both of us have spent a lot of time chilling and studying. My friends, warned me and even offered to kick him out, but I don't want them in the middle of this, just aware. I was offered a ride back so that we wouldn't have to walk home together, and X invited himself into the ride. I allowed it. The following day I had intended to speak with a friend alone for a little while, but he showed up at their house and we agreed to postpone it.

Over the course of the week, he tried inviting me to a trip that he and a mutual friend were thinking of going on, and I asked him to lay off for a couple weeks. He said his goal was to establish a sense of normalcy. Today he was wandering around shirtless. We've made a bit of banter with and without his family member around, mostly while making food, mostly about nerd-stuff, but it leaves me feeling angry and hollow. I'm flat-out not ready to have fun conversations. I do NOT trust it to escalate into him subtly hinting that he wants to do me again.

All of this indicates to me that he is not engaging with this at all, and I am concerned it will explode at some point, as it has in the past. (He once got drunk and yelled at a guy I was snogging.)

It's only been a week. While I'm grateful for all the good the friendship has served us, and he was an important confidant when I had no others, I am done. More done than I ever predicted. The pattern is clear in retrospect, I'm not even the first "best friend" he lost because they were seeing other people and not him. I don't care, I don't want him back, and he's on his own insofar as figuring himself out now. There's hurt by many names, but that's grief for ya, and I will continue to channel it into screenplays and rock music and conversations about exoplanets and finding other nerds to create worlds with. I have couches to crash on for when it gets too much, and right now it's too much for me. Fake normalcy doesn't feel very nice and distracts me from the awesome life I could be living, not to mention all my Very Important work and study duties.

So what to do? What code of conduct should I have when we're both at home? At the same event? When everybody's at the table discussing nerd things? If he makes too much eye contact? Is the banter a warning sign or is it fair game once I can handle it emotionally? When he tries to bring up subjects he knows I'll like and invite me on trips in small groups? If he physically escalates again, e.g. sitting next to me, putting his arm around me for a photo? And how much do I need to tell him directly and how much do I just need to enforce? Is it enough to just say "I don't want that" without explanation and be physically absent where possible? When to confide in mutual friends if it gets too much, and what to ask of them that isn't too much?

Is there any way to tell that he's actually moved on and that I can trust his overtures of a platonic friendship if FutureMe decides she's into that? Could we ever work on creative projects together again? Am I right to think that it will be at least six months if not years before that happens? Should him getting a girlfriend be a prerequisite? Might it be best to write him off forever?

It'll be fine in the end, but it'd be nicer if it didn't get much worse.

posted by Mouse on Mercury to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any way to tell that he's actually moved on and that I can trust his overtures of a platonic friendship if FutureMe decides she's into that?
At least a year out and maybe more. When he's dating someone else he's really into and but isn't showing off his girlfriend to get a reaction out of you. It's not on you to judge the exact moment when he's really over you and ready to be friends, and jump back in at that moment, though.

In my experience being the friend who wants more, when I come around after a month or three months or however long announcing I'm ready to be friends - I am not ready to be friends. When I am ready to be friends with someone I don't feel the NEED to befriend them or to make it happen. I just figure if I run into them in the future I can be genuinely friendly. And I don't actually spend much time thinking about it because I've moved on.

Could we ever work on creative projects together again?
Maybe? But you're better served looking for new creative partners.

Might it be best to write him off forever?
This is my vote. As much physical distance as you can get. You say it's not feasible to move right now, but you have couches to crash on. Can you stay with friends until he's out? I wouldn't say much to friends about why, it just sounds like you're very uncomfortable and would be happier with some distance.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 11:58 AM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is a lot of drama for a guy who's shown, by not respecting your boundaries and acting like an adult baby (a handwritten contract? Seriously? Who does something like that outside of middle school?), that he's not really your friend. He's taking up a lot of your bandwidth when it sounds like you have lots of good friends you could be spending time with, doing creative projects with, etc.

Cut ties. Move on. Get a new apartment ASAP. Maybe at some point your "friend" will get therapy in which he addresses his inability to be a friend to women. In the meantime, not your problem.

P.S. I'm a bit concerned that you're living in close contact with someone who continually tests your boundaries not only emotionally but sexually. This is why I urge you to find a new living arrangement.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2016 [56 favorites]

Good gravy. Get out of that living situation and go no-contact. He will never be capable of platonic interaction and will always have an agenda. Disengage.
posted by Threeve at 12:00 PM on September 10, 2016 [23 favorites]

Do you own or partially own the house? If so, kick him out. Have an honest talk with your other housemate who is his relative, who will probably figure out something is going on anyway. It's better for him to hear it from your side than from X's, who seems the type to easily badmouth you in such a way to put you in a negative situation with his relative/your housemate.

If you do not own the house, I think it's either in your best interest to move out (sorry, it's not fair) or, again, talk to your other roommate about kicking out X. You can't live with him and have no contact, and he has shown he has no respect or interest in your boundaries.

He has repeatedly ignored your wishes, gone back on agreements you've made, and generally been an asshole. I don't see that there is anyway to come back from that, and I wouldn't ever trust or respect him again. And I can't see any circumstances where'd I'd be willing to be friends again (no matter how casually or seriously.)

Quite honestly, if you continue living with him, I worry for your safety - he's proven your feelings don't matter to him, and that he doesn't have control when he drinks, and it seems to me it's not a stretch that he might assault you or otherwise harm you.

I understand missing your friend and grieving the loss of friendship, but I would cut all ties, and as much as I'd "want" to be friends because I miss the friendship, it doesn't sound like he was ever actually your friend.

I'm sorry that you are dealing with this. It sucks. :(
posted by firei at 12:01 PM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

You've stated your boundaries. Repeatedly. He is trampling all over them. There is absolutely zero hope for friendship at this point. Who knows what the future holds? I hope your immediate future holds a new apartment and zero contact with this guy.
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:02 PM on September 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

I know you said moving out is not an option, but I feel like this situation would be worlds easier for you if you didn't live together. Is it possible to make it an option?
posted by moons in june at 12:06 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

This guy is ignoring your boundaries and has been for ages. Nthing the call for you to find a new living space if at all possible. This guy isn't safe to be around. I would sever contact.

Captain Awkward has a ton of letters in her archives dealing with guys like this that you might find helpful.
posted by diffuse at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'm very sorry, because this is totally unfair, but the only safe response to this situation is moving out. This is also the lowest-possible-drama route, and the easiest to accomplish.

You can't, in any case, make him act like a reasonable, sensible, or polite person. There is literally nothing you can do to change his behavior. He will continue to be exactly this unacceptable and disturbing indefinitely - all you can decide is whether or not to subject yourself to it.
posted by SMPA at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2016

Also: it is already the point where you confide in friends. You need to make this situation unambiguous for everyone. Please start with your housemate.
posted by SMPA at 12:13 PM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

If this guy is friend dumping you, he can move out.

If he is not willing to move out, then he can get his feelings for you under control until you move out.

It's really unfair to tell someone "I can't be your friend anymore unless you're willing to have sex with me", and double unfair if this now explodes the other person's living situation. Also, yes, there is absolutely zero reason to keep any of his disgusting manbaby behavior a secret.
posted by Sara C. at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2016 [26 favorites]

The way he's completely ignoring your clearly-stated needs in favor of his own selfish wants is disrespectful and gross. My vote is to write him off forever - or at least get in the mindset that this is what you're doing, as right now it seems like you're hoping to one day repair the 'friendship,' and that's leading you to give him far more leeway than he's earned. And this:

The next day he was at a movie night with my friends at a friend's house, the place we gather for most get-togethers and where both of us have spent a lot of time chilling and studying. My friends, warned me and even offered to kick him out, but I don't want them in the middle of this, just aware.

I think it would be 100% appropriate for you to accept your friends' offers in situations like this. This manbaby is tramping over your boundaries in a way that is incredibly immature (a handwritten contract? Are you kidding me??) and frankly getting threatening, and it's absolutely right for you to unambiguously insist on distance from him. No, he can't "invite" himself along with you. No, you don't want to go on outings with him. No, you aren't going to stick around and banter with him alone, with his shirt off. It sucks that you'd have to be the one to police your boundaries so much when he's the one behaving so inappropriately, but I think you need to do everything you can to make it clear and firm that you're done - and enlisting your friends, especially when they're offering, is something that I think will help you.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2016 [16 favorites]

Oh hell no. He's infringed on far too much with this. Kick him out and let him fend for himself. He's a grown ass man and needs to start acting like it -- regardless of whether he has a job right now or not.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:31 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is untenable;
one of you needs to leave the house

If he can't be made to leave
(and it sounds like if he agreed, he'd only come back the next day saying he changed his mind, and "here's a handwritten contract, and oh by the way I want to be physical with you")
you need to leave and find a place that you can be safe.

Because right now, you are not safe in that house.

Talk to your friends, it is time that everyone knows the abusive, coercive shitshow that is going on so that your friends can have your back.

I am worried for your safety, especially if he chooses to get drunk again. Do you have a padlock on your bedroom door for when you are sleeping?
posted by blueberry at 12:50 PM on September 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

He will live in our small flat with me and my housemate (his family member who will remain oblivious to this situation) until he gets a job and an apartment of his own.

I don't know who the family member is or how close they are to him but honestly, having them remain oblivious to the situation only protects one person. And that person is not you.

For their safety and for yours, let your housemate know what is going on. Wouldn't you want to know if you were the housemate? You may think you're doing the right thing but get everything out in the open and stop protecting others from what is happening here. Ex friend moving in is a super creepy and potentially dangerous situation, and all parties have a right to know what is going on. Perhaps if the housemate did know, they would change their minds about letting him stay in the flat.
posted by the webmistress at 12:54 PM on September 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

Shortly after reading the answers here I told a friend that yes, things had gotten awkward and I'd like to take him up on his offer to stay. He's coming to pick me up now. He said I can stay as long as I need to, and he's not the only one to make that offer. I asked another friend if he knew anybody in the area looking for housemates. He won't be the last.

X's been a royal dick. I really would prefer to write him off forever, especially now that the cognitive dissonance of "he's a dick" "but we're best friends" is out of the way. It feels necessary to play nice when we have so many mutual friends and live together. I integrated him with several branches of my social network when he moved to the area, and while I can't quite undo that, I can make sure everyone knows what's going on.

I can't kick him out, his fam holds the lease. I will start asking around about apartments and housemates ASAP. Real estate is not cheap here, the location is ideal for a carless person working this job, and I'm poor, but I have enough friends in the area that I might be able to figure something out, even if it is temporary. I've been told by multiple friends that I can stay there as long as I need to, meaning I can alternate if I overstay my welcome.

I will make sure that mutual friends know more about this. He's fun to be around and I don't expect all our friends to dump him unless he crosses a more obvious line, since "oh I've been in the situation of unrequited feelings before" will be heard before "he kept pushing boundaries and was mean to only me." That said I'll make sure I have a battle buddy when we're attending the same events, especially if there's alcohol involved (he never gets drunk at home). The one time he made a move on me drunk he stopped when I told him to, but there were other people there.

It's funny, I kept on saying "don't do these things, I have a history with jerks that makes shit feel extra awful" and it just made it get subtler.
posted by Mouse on Mercury at 12:57 PM on September 10, 2016 [24 favorites]

He will live in our small flat with me and my housemate (his family member who will remain oblivious to this situation) until he gets a job and an apartment of his own

How is the progress with this getting a job and apartment? I am guessing, nonexistent except for providing excuses as needed. I think moving is your best bet, although, as noted above, it's really unfair to you.
posted by thelonius at 1:08 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It feels necessary to play nice when we have so many mutual friends and live together.

That's the trap. Don't fall into it.
posted by fshgrl at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2016 [22 favorites]

That's the trap. Don't fall into it.

This. This is of course much easier said than done but please try to unlearn everything you've ever learned about how women should be quiet/play nice to make other people happy. Bullies and boundary-pushers totally count on your reluctance to "cause a scene". Don't make anyone else's possible uncomfortableness a priority here. If you lose a friend or two, they weren't worth having in the first place. Good luck. Keep us updated.
posted by the webmistress at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

Re: being friends again in the future -- I've been in your position before and friend-dumped a dude who wouldn't take no for an answer.

After 3 years of no-contact, we crossed paths again and started talking again. I quickly figured out he hadn't changed, but he was directing his obsessive feelings at a new girl and clearly wasn't into me anymore. So I kept being friends with him, and he never pulled his boundary-pushing shit with me again. It actually worked out pretty well as a friendship (although we're no longer friends now, for other reasons).

So, it can happen, but don't expect his true behavior to ever change.
posted by a strong female character at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had a friend who had feelings for me in high school and college. I didn't reciprocate. We talked about it, once. He accepted my position. At times, he had to pull back from our friendship when it was too hard for him but we were both gentle with each other, understanding that the heart wants what it wants. Mutual friends knew what was going on but never took sides or got involved. Eventually he got over it and fell in love with someone else. I went to their wedding and am friends with his wife. They have hosted my husband and I when we traveled to their city. We love each other's kids. We are almost twenty years out from his confession of wanting to be more than friends, and it's hard to remember that there was ever any awkwardness or pain.

That's what it looks like when someone isn't a boundary-trampling jerk.

This guy doesn't have your true interests at heart, as a friend or as a romantic partner. Get yourself out of situations where you feel you have to play nice with someone who's bringing drama into your life.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:46 PM on September 10, 2016 [24 favorites]

This guy is sending up all sorts of red flags. What happens when he comes home drunk one night and you're there alone?! He's not a friend, he's a boundary pushing creeptastic Nice Guy who was only pretending to be your friend so he could eventually get laid.

You need to get out of this situation, whether he leaves or you do. You said there was an offer made to kick him out (and later said you couldn't?!) if it's any way possible, I'd take them up on that. Why should you have to move out because he's a jerk? And if he doesn't have a job, and finds life problematic after that, oh well, lesson learnt to not burn those bridges again.
posted by Jubey at 2:54 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

In my experience, people who ignore/press/push boundaries set by others repeatedly don't really have a desire to change their behavior. It sounds like this dude cares way more about getting what he wants (in yr pants) than thinking of you as a human person with their own feelings, wants, needs, and rights. I had a "best friend" who repeatedly attempted to stretch my boundaries in many ways, subtly and less subtly, and it felt like a constant attack on what I felt, what I knew, and what I believed was right for myself, for years, until I was so stressed that I just ghosted. I still feel bad having done that -- but the erosion he was enacting on my life was unbearable.

Let this one go, friend. Spend time with people who respect you even if you don't want to sleep with them, and are considerate of your time, your space, your body, and listen to your words.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 3:26 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm glad you're going to get out of the house. I know it sucks that you're the one who has to move when he's the one in the wrong, but it doesn't sound like there's any way to compel him to move, particularly when his relative holds the lease. Moving, yourself, is the way to take control and exert power over your situation.
posted by bunderful at 4:41 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just a horrible postscript: you've never been friends.

He's been biding his time, all this time. If you're lucky it was the slightly-more-reassuring tack of "if I just wait long enough, she'll see how perfect I am" rather than "one day I'll get some kind of opportunity to do sex stuff at her" but that's still not friendship or honesty. That's opportunism. It's manipulation. It's false pretenses. He does not deserve slack cut, and he does not deserve your friendship in the future.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

Good for you. Echoing this has nothing to do with you, there is no way this friendship would have worked out, he's a missing stair.
posted by saucysault at 4:54 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thank you all for your responses and your concern. I will keep you updated.

Reflections after sleeping at my friend's house:

The amount of emotional bandwidth this guy has been taking is super dumb and I'm glad to dispose of it. It's a relief to downsize it, and it will continue to downsize.

I don't think I'm in any physical danger. I have stories from other girls X has been interested in (some crush-obsessively, some not), including one where X was the safe platonic space when some other guy was being a total creep. I laid down some absolute boundaries in text today. I don't think I represent a breaking point in X's chain of, to use his phrasing, knowing where the line is. He clearly didn't draw it very well, whether you're talking about his boundary pushing or his emotional explosions or whatever, but I still don't think I'm in any physical danger.

X is bottling things up. His supposed dreams of just having fun conversations about science and books are probably some mix of denial and hope and cluelessness. It might explode, it might implode, my money's on emotional explosion. If X ever causes a scene somewhere at least it'll be known, and if I'm only around X when other people are then I'm guaranteed back-up if that explosion happens around me. I will take precautions in case this turns into a Jekyll-Hyde story, but in the past I've been in close social proximity to predators and boundary pushers and gaslighters and yes, rapists (a fate I've avoided), and I peg X as more of a Sad fedora-wearing Panda.

Of the physical escalation: Of the times where he did, one "no" and it was over. I DO think X was trying, in "ignore what I've said about not wanting this" fallacy, to imitate behaviors of some of the people I've been seeing, where they're subtle about making the move -- but X missed out on the part where the subtlety always looked for reciprocation and stopped in its absence. I decided to address this directly in a message today, which included "no more hitting on me or talking about wanting a physical relationship with me anymore forever." He was all "where did this come from" and I was all "the past five months" and now his messages are blocked. It will be as far as I'm willing to go to make a plug about helping X be less of an ass to the next girl. Him growing up is up to him; if he wants support he can get it from a therapist or friendships he didn't destroy.

He was my friend, once, but once those crush-feelings woke up the friendship was doomed, and I knew it based on who he was, fiercely as he denied it. He once told me that he could never consider dating me because we were bros (and he was in love with my little sister, that didn't end well), pity that changed. We made good and bad memories, and he helped me sort out some of the ghosts from the past, but it's over. Whatever he was, his role is done with in the story of my life, time to close that chapter. The next one will be better.

Bonus fact: He actually HAS to get a job or he'll be booted from the country (we're both expats), and he has one month to do so. Otherwise he'll leave for three months. Until he's gone, I'll be.
posted by Mouse on Mercury at 5:23 AM on September 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you talked to the housemate? I wouldn't even think of moving out until you do. Even if they're a relative, you are (presumably) paying money for your space and your ex-friend is not.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:46 AM on September 11, 2016

Definitely stay moved out. It's clearly unsafe there. Money doesn't matter, your safety does.
posted by shesbenevolent at 7:19 AM on September 19, 2016

While reading around related situations on metafilter I stumbled on the emotional labor thread which has caused a cascade of ever-deeper self reflection. Deep, life-changing stuff, holy moly. I've spent hours a day reading it for the past five days.

Once more I thank you all. The past few weeks have been a lot of reflection and adjustment and homework and processing rage at all the things I let slide. I'm sorting things out with finding a new and affordable place, spending time with my amazing friends, burying myself in schoolwork to the extent that I can, crashing in spare bedrooms, meeting new people, enjoying very genuine emotional labor on the part of friends male and female. People's reactions to my stories of X vary between laughing at his immaturity, puzzlement, a strained empathy that tries to remain neutral to him, and (ugh) saying "it's a shame you aren't attracted to him, since you like similar nerd stuff," as if attraction would fix his manbaby behavior and shit personality and refusal to seriously engage in self-reflection. (It killed the ghost of a spark.)

X has been offered a job. (Amusingly, one likely group of housemates who I get along very well with may be X's future coworkers.) As it was a little too late, he will be leaving the country for anywhere between a day and a month to reset his Schengen status. I will be using whatever length of time that is to set my affairs in order and pack. I intend to ask for help sorting through my things and getting things together, whether or not X is present. I worked hard to form this network and be a nexus and have real intimacy, but I still feel like the luckiest girl.

Especially in light of the emotional labor thread, I'm able to understand the dynamics of the emotional labor between us far better -- that he was doing that honeymoon phase where he was super attentive to someone he had the hots for rather than the merits of our friendship. I benefited from the appearance of listening, even if he ignored what lay outside his obsession. I can see that he didn't do a lot of his own emotional labor on the social front, which is why I was his last "real" friend. Sometimes I ponder sending him that thread on emotional labor... then I remember his refusal to self-reflect. Brick wall. I reread this thread to help my resolve, and think of all the people in my life who love and respect me.

P.S. I won't tell my present housemate. She's X's mom. He's her favorite person in the whole world. And her reaction, when I was trying to qualify whether or not an interaction with someone (different) who'd spent the night was sexual assault or not, was that I should tell that person that "it was awesome." It wasn't. It was sexual assault. She will not understand, she will not empathize, it will make the transition worse. I told her "things are awkward between us and I won't be around much while I figure out a new housing situation."

P.S.S. thank you thank you thank you.
posted by Mouse on Mercury at 3:46 PM on September 28, 2016

« Older Young adult Willamette Valley ghost book   |   Filling a prescription in London Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.