How do I move past being an unsuspecting & unwilling wing woman?
January 17, 2017 1:49 AM   Subscribe

I just learned that some people I consider friends only befriended me in order to pursue my best friend romantically. Where do I go from here? A veritable flurry inside.

Me: A socially anxious, chronically ill twenty-something geek. No romantic relationships since high school, due to health reasons.

Her: Poetic, noble, land mermaid. The Ann Perkins to my Leslie Knope. Best friends for nearly ten years, roommate for most of those.

Them: I have been blessed this past year with some fantastic friendships based out of a common hobby I'm new to. I've never been happier in terms of my social life. I've always been a socially anxious introvert, so finding a large group of loving, kind people has been both strange and amazing in so many ways. She and I found this group together, and have really developed (What I thought) were some great friendships. The group ranges from 8 years old (member's kids) to late 50s, give or take, and includes husbands, wives, single people, different races, religions, orientations- it's a great community. I love the group as a whole, and it's generally not problematic at all.

Now: So this past weekend, a friend asked her out. And a second friend came to me to cry because they had been beaten to the punch. Through a series of related events it was confirmed that I was considered her gatekeeper, sort of? In order to get close to her, you had to be friends with me, so they were being extra nice to me in order to get on her good side. (This isn't something I'd ever encouraged, wanted to encourage, or even thought about). Double-edged: I'd been kind of crushing on one of them, and thought they returned my feelings. Turns out, they were using me to get to her.

I don't know what to do with this. I'm hurting, a bit, but feel silly about it. Should I feel happy they wanted my approval? Or used? I have all these conflicting feelings about it, and I don't want to go to my usual sounding board because I also don't know what to say to my best friend about this- How might she feel about this? She deserves her happiness at the date offer/s, and I don't want to shit on that excitement. On the other hand- shouldn't she know this going in?

I've been ignoring texts from the two individuals all weekend, but likely have to face them again this week at an event I run. Due to group commitments and other stuff, I'll continue to see them over the next, oh, forever. Is time the only thing that's going to help this hurt, or is there something else I can do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was roomies with a beautiful woman who I didn't realise was conventionly beautiful because she was delightfully weird and we connected through work (knew each other online through work for 3 years before we ever met), and to me, she was just delightfully Andy. Anyway, it was weird when we went out and people stared at us (we are both straight, and I'm older and not anything to write home about) and I asked her. Being my delightful Andy, she was both forthright and uncomfortable - it happened all the time. The really weird stuff was when her erstwhile suitors would cry on my shoulder, which I suspect, was meant to get back to her, you know, their devotion and pain.

I'm not sorry - i entertained these miserable stains (autocorrect from swains) and listened, but gave no advice or hope or help. It was, frankly, ridiculous. Andy is in her 30s. As if she'd pick a guy because her roomie thought he was cool, as if she'd have a roomie who would try to influence her that way.

I get that you're hurt and I'm sorry for it. I'm only in contact with one of her previous swains now (and Andy and I haven't shared for 3 years) and it's because we enjoyed each other's company regardless of the Andy factor, and what made that work was I said to him - I will not discuss her with you, though you can tell me how you feel. You need to know that I won't discuss you with her either (unspoken, not necessary - I am not a conduit).

So tell them - sucks to have unrequited love you poor bugger, but I must make it clear, I won't discuss ypu with her or her with you.

The arseholes will soon evaporate.
posted by b33j at 2:09 AM on January 17, 2017 [47 favorites]

Ouch, I'm sorry. I can't say I'd be flattered by that treatment, which I think, honestly, is insulting to both you and your friend. (As b33j said, is your friend supposed to be that mindless? And what, they think gatekeeping is your best quality?) Also, these people can't rely on their own interactions with her? It's guys doing this, right? I don't think you often see women trying to sidle up to targets of attraction through their friends... because we usually assume people have minds of their own, which is not a favour that's been granted to either of you.

If this is happening, I think, unfortunately, that going forward, you might have to take on an attitude of cynicism and initial suspicion. Or humour, as b33j did (and definitely boundaries!) - but you might benefit from questioning people's motives. Man, I hate saying that to an anxious person! WTF, dudes, come on... But I think it'd be helpful to learn to spot these types early on so you don't get too attached to ones who seem nice. I think having a sense of control over this phenomenon might help things hurt less.

The tell to watch for is gaze. If they're often looking to your friend immediately after saying something kind or whatever to you, instead of focusing on you (like just a quick glance for her reaction, but right after some comment like that), maybe mentally put them in the column of suspicious dudes. If they refer to the plural when you'd expect them to focus on you, if there were a romantic intention (e.g. asking questions like, "so, what do you guys have planned this weekend"), maybe that's a notch in the jerk column, too. Obviously, if they ask about her a lot, they are right in there. (I know this from high school shenanigans, how are grown people still doing that, smh.)

Yeah, I think she should know what kind of tools these people are. I'm sorry this happened and that they're jerks and that you've been disappointed.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:45 AM on January 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

I mean don't write people off completely unless they get right into it, but I suppose, entertain it as a possibility.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:11 AM on January 17, 2017

Well these assholes are high school as fuck.

If I were her, I'd want to know. As b33j said, these are at least two people that don't regard either of you with the minimum respect you'd want starting out in a partner. They see roles, not people, because they're emotionally immature. That's a red flag.

I also don't think it's necessarily a good idea for you to have to swallow these feelings indefinitely. They probably won't go away, and it's difficult not to draw your friend into them anyway. If it were me, I'd do what b33j suggested -- calmly but firmly tell these people (over text is fine!) that they've crossed a boundary, that you are not your friend's keeper, and that you won't be discussing her with them as it's inappropriate. The only change I'd make is I might tell your friend. This one is kinda tricksy, boundary-wise. She can't be dating people based on how you feel, either way, so it's important that you don't ask her to. But also these guys are red flaggy! It's a tough situation to be in, and I think you can just...tell the truth.

Hey, this is a weird situation to be in, but X and Y revealed, maybe not on purpose, that they'd been kind of using me to get to you. I don't know how I feel about them as friends, but I'm figuring it out, and I've told them I won't be discussing you with them at all. I feel like they didn't respect me, and I'm worried they don't respect you, though obviously I don't know how you feel. This isn't your fault and I'm really sorry they've done this. I want to respect appropriate boundaries, so I won't talk about them with you going forward.

A simple, truthful explanation. Honestly, idk! But that's probably how I would approach it, with the understanding that she might still end up dating one of these dudes. I think I'd probably have complicated feelings about that, but you cross that bridge when you come to it.

I am really sorry, fwiw. But I want to point out that you've been able to sustain and develop friendships in this group with people who have not been hitting on your best friend, and that shouldn't be overlooked. Your life didn't just get better because of these dudes; it wasn't all a lie. You made your life better, and you can continue to make your life better. This is a (painful) speed bump, not an obstacle.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:41 AM on January 17, 2017 [14 favorites]

(Of course, she might want to talk about it with you! That's a boundary you get to work out together. But you still did nothing wrong, and you still know you have the skills to develop a social life. Seriously, please do not let this undermine your confidence -- people having ulterior motives (that they sometimes aren't aware of!) or just generally being emotionally unaware and inconsiderate is unfortunately par for the course with humanity. It's a bumpy sea. But you already know you can navigate it.)
posted by schadenfrau at 5:45 AM on January 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

We all use each other. Even in the most loving and sincere and genuine of relationships, we all have something to give and something to get out of every interpersonal relationship we are involved in. This includes family; this includes your friendship with your Ann Perkins.

A few people in your new friend group have shown you one of the ways they are using you. That does not mean they don't also like you, enjoy your company, want to spend time with you, etc. It just means a friendship with you included the perk of getting closer to Ann Perkins.

You were also using them - to feel accepted, to feel pride in the diversity, to help you break out of your shell, etc. An uncharitable view of that would be to say the individuals in the group don't really matter to you, just the overall effect on you of being part of a group. Someone in the group with low self-esteem may think you are just using them.

Of course you probably care about your new friends as individuals in addition to what they give to you. And it is likely the same with the Ann-Perkins-schemers. It sounds as though perhaps they are socially awkward, if they are so unskillful that they've hurt you even as they were hoping you could help them. But it doesn't mean they don't also like you for you.

You say you "love the group as a whole" so perhaps you are seeing it through somewhat rose-tinted glasses. I suggest taking a step back and looking at each person in this group, and assess what you gain by considering them as "friends." They are not all the same; as you said, it is a diverse group, and no group of people brings the same thing to a friendship. Maybe there will be one person, possibly two, who you really do click with one-on-one, and a true friendship will develop. Maybe each one of them will remain a hobby-acquaintance, whose company you enjoy but you're not "friends." But it's not cynical to say "what's in this for me"? and give all of your relationships only the emotional energy they deserve.
posted by headnsouth at 5:56 AM on January 17, 2017 [26 favorites]

If I were her I would want to know - it's a pretty clear sign that someone is a shallow asshole if they deliberately befriend someone to get the inside track to a different person's bed.

You did nothing wrong and I'm sorry these people were dishonest and hurt your feelings.
posted by winna at 6:09 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is how people are in their 20s. It doesn't mean they don't like you or you're not friends, they just had a vision of you all being one big happy family or whatever. Unless they suddenly drop you it's meaningless that they had a crush on your roommate. And I personally think that the better kind of suitor makes the effort to get to know your friends and be liked by them. I'd say that's to their credit as people, not a bad thing at all. I wouldn't have gone out with someone who didn't like my friends at that age at all.
posted by fshgrl at 6:16 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I obviously don't know the whole situation regarding the related events and how all of this evolved, but I would suggest that it could be more coincidental than it might seem for one or both of them if they did in fact take up friendship with you and later developed interest in your friend or otherwise weren't purposefully using you to get to her. It does sometimes happen that shared familiarity with a mutual contact can aid in developing feelings for another. I've seen this and had it happen to me, so I wouldn't jump the gun on assuming there weren't good intentions involved unless or until there is some more certain evidence. It may be that things weren't entirely honest from the beginning, in which case they indeed may not be friends one can count on, but the interest may be more of a side effect than planned too.

Unfortunately, either way now will likely provide some degree of difficulty now that the feelings have been aired since people tend to have some difficulty being friends in situations where more intimate acquaintanceship is desired. It's quite possible, due to that, the immediate situation will sort itself out soon enough given the interest now being made vocal and that might give enough indication of their motivations to make the friendship worries sort themselves out as well.

As to the future, the "wing woman" issue should probably be something to keep in mind with future encounters, not in the sense of necessarily discouraging it if it fits both your interests and your friends, but in the sense of being more on top of it, where you each look out for each other to develop new relationships when that is applicable. Good friends can provide a wonderful background of support and awareness that an individual alone may not have. I've played "wing man" for a dear friend of mine many times, not in a seeking out people way since he had no problem attracting people, but in facilitating the conversations and giving input into the proceedings afterward when we met new people. This may not be something either of you would want of course, but it needn't be seen as a bad thing as there have been a number of occasions where initial interest in a friend turned into a closer relationship with the "wing person" due to getting to know both people and finding more commonality with the wing than the lead.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:26 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel like I should point out this may be how people in their 20's behave, but probably because it's a super-common cultural trope - you be nice to the not-hot friend because they've taken on the duty of gatekeeper for their hot friend. Hell, the whole concept of "wingman" (at least in its origin and still in use among men) is that the wingman flirts with or draws the attention of one girl's friend(s) so the other guy can get some one-on-one time with her. "Wingwoman" is, IMO, a whole different set of behaviors and motivations. (Although it of course does sometimes happen IRL that one friend will specifically take on gatekeeper duties for another, but these two guys assuming that's what was happening is immature at best.)

So you definitely shouldn't feel silly about having conflicting emotions about this - you're getting conflicting answers here, which shows that it's not a simple situation. Maybe it's guys trying to genuinely be nice but it's gone off the rails, maybe it's a couple of dudes being clueless, maybe it's actual intentional manipulation.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:44 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Of course you tell her what's happened. It's not clear to me from what you've written if they actually were just using you to get to know her or if they wanted to be your friend but also had a crush on her but if the friendship was motivated purely by the possibility of getting in her pants then yeah, she might not be interested in dating guys who would use you (and her) that way.
posted by Polychrome at 6:49 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hell, the whole concept of "wingman" (at least in its origin and still in use among men) is that the wingman flirts with or draws the attention of one girl's friend(s) so the other guy can get some one-on-one time with her.

That is largely true, and that part of the concept should be lost as dishonest, but while the notion of providing support and an extra set of "eyes" for a friend should be saved as having some benefits.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:52 AM on January 17, 2017

That does not mean they don't also like you, enjoy your company, want to spend time with you, etc. It just means a friendship with you included the perk of getting closer to Ann Perkins.

Chiming in to second this. These people are not very noble, and I would be put off at the way they seem to be objectifying both you and your friend (seriously, if she is an adult she's going to make her own decisions about whom to date, rather than having people "vetted" through you), but this behaviour doesn't mean they don't like you as well. Someone acting only out of opportunism might be able to sustain a single conversation in a bar with someone they don't like or aren't interested in at all, but multiple interactions and ongoing warm contact is much less likely. Most people simply don't spend that much time with someone if they're not enjoying it.

In your shoes, I'd tell the jerks that you don't like being put in this position, that you are not going to act as any kind of intermediary re your friend, and that you won't be discussing her with them any more. If you want, you can also pass this on to your friend in a "hey can you believe what idiots these two were, I told them I am not going there so hopefully that's the end of it" kind of way. Establish those boundaries and stick to them.

And then, keep your guard up for a while, and be guided by their future behaviour, and your own gut instincts down the line. If they seem annoyed and less friendly, well, back off from them. If they seem to make an effort to keep the friendship going, and to act with more integrity from now on, they might be worth keeping in your life. There are lots of different levels of friendship/acquaintanceship possible with people, and while these may not be the types you want to be terribly close to, they might still be fun to have around on some level. Or not.
posted by rpfields at 6:59 AM on January 17, 2017 [10 favorites]

Chiming back in to say that they might genuinely like her in addition to having at best problematic views of women and relationships does not mean that they are suitable as friends. Emotional immaturity is probably the most charitable explanation, and emotionally immature people -- particularly men, particularly when you are a woman -- make absolutely shit friends.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:12 AM on January 17, 2017 [13 favorites]

Wait, where is the "only befriended me" part coming from? Sure, maybe it was their attraction to her that initially brought the two of you to their attention, just because it usually takes less time to realize you're attracted to someone than to decide that someone seems like a likeable potential friend. But "I am attracted to this person and want to get to know her better, so I'll try to spend time with her and her friend group" seems like a totally honorable and decent approach to me. You both get to know the person better and make friends with their cool friends! Win-win situation!

It's not precisely the same, but I have friends whom I only happened to become friends with because they were a previously existing friend's housemate, but that doesn't make them "lesser" friends to me. At first I only hung out with them because I came over to see my existing friend and they happened to be around. As time passed, we became friends in our own right, and now we hang out on our own. No harm, no foul.

Put it this way: if you were genuinely confident that they liked you for your own sake, would the details of how you originally became friends matter to you? Probably not, right? So if you're now concerned that they don't actually like you for your own sake, I think that's your actual problem.

Honestly, I just don't think most people have the patience to spend lots of time with someone they don't especially like in order to get in good with someone they do like. Look how many people find it incredibly stressful to be friendly to a prospective partner's parents with whom they have nothing in common for the length of one getting-to-know-you dinner. I would be inclined to believe that these people do want to be your friends independent of how they feel about Ann Perkins.

But if you have some reason to doubt that (for example, if the only topic they ever want to discuss with you is Ann Perkins) I would approach it first with them and see how they respond. While this is still so unclear, I think your instinct to spare Ann Perkins having to worry about this in the bloom of a new dating opportunity is a good one. If you bring it up with the person and the conversation goes well and you feel reassured about the friendship, it's all good. And on the other hand, if they get shady or evasive or just douchey with you if you try to bring it up, then you will actually know something that Ann Perkins should know too.
posted by ostro at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just to make it clear, I'm not trying to question your instincts about this so much as the instincts of whoever it was that "confirmed" that you were "considered her gatekeeper." Because if the person who told you that isn't one of the people who's into Ann Perkins, it seems possible that it's that person, rather that the people who are into Ann Perkins, who holds weird instrumentalizing views of friendship with women and is projecting those views onto the tangle of relationships here.
posted by ostro at 8:25 AM on January 17, 2017

As a 40-year-old woman who is still putting up with emotionally immature 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-year-old men, y'know, you can be charitable and call it immaturity, and still personally want nothing to do with them because honestly? Immature masculinity of the patriarchal variety is almost always (if not actually always) translated by being shitty to women. Misogyny, of which objectification is a major part, is the socially acceptable way to be immature.

You know these people better than we do, and again as a 40-year-old woman, I can assure you that learning to listen to and trust your gut is the one best skill to learn. You sound like you have a pretty good feel all-around for what's going on and what feels right according to your conscience: I encourage you to sit with that (if you feel you need to), listen to it, side it up to your values, and act accordingly.
posted by fraula at 8:54 AM on January 17, 2017 [14 favorites]

Regarding the unrequited crush-type-stuff, I've been there. I was Plain Jane to a sister 10 years older than me and a best friend. So, when I was on my first dates in high school, my suitors were not in my sister's dating pool, but I felt they wished they were! And, when I got a bit older my bestie got all the cute boys, all the looks and attention. Most of the time it didn't bother me, but occasionally it did.

What I wanted to tell you is when you meet the/a right partner, you will be streets ahead of anyone else in their minds. You might be thinking, yeah, but wait til you meet Ann Perkins... You might be a little surprised (or not) to find out, really, they're interested in you, not Ann.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

For some time, one of my close friends was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous (among other remarkable qualities) and sometimes it could be irritating socializing alongside her, as, even if I wasn't interested in a guy, it was pretty offensive both personally and politically to be treated as semi-invisible socially simply because the guy wanted to fuck her more than me. (She was herself loyal and truly didn't encourage such behavior. In fact, it could often be funny, because those guys never had a chance with her.) So I recognize what you're talking about.

However, this is also a situation custom-designed to evoke all your natural insecurities, and not necessarily for sound reasons. Unless your goal is simply to gain access to a person, it's not a bad thing to make friends with the friends of people you're drawn to and are spending time with. In fact, I'd say it's the human thing to do (I think most social groups form around a nucleus of appealing people). This:

Through a series of related events it was confirmed that I was considered her gatekeeper, sort of? In order to get close to her, you had to be friends with me, so they were being extra nice to me in order to get on her good side.

sounds like someone taking that dynamic and juicing it up radically with insecurity and anxiety (and the legitimately awful sting of finding out that someone you were interested in doesn't like you that way). Really? That's the only reason these people (and apparently many more?) were hanging out with you? Just to get to her? It is possible, it does happen, but it's not the most likely explanation. You are not some hideous she-beast with no appealing qualities of your own, I assure you. People can like you for yourself even if they met you through trying to hang out with your friend. I promise!

And what are these "related events" that gave you confirmation? Why were you having conversations like that? I have to be blunt here: sitting around gossiping with third parties about who likes who and for what reasons, and who is whose "gatekeeper," etc., which I'm afraid it sounds like you have been doing, is itself immature behavior and will only drive you nuts. As it already seems to be doing.

I'm not sure what you think you should be telling your friend. As far as I can tell from your post, neither of the people in question actually told you, implicitly or explicitly, that they were only hanging out with you to get to her. They only told you that they were interested in her. Your conclusion seems to be based on those "confirming" "related events"--i.e., THIRD-PARTY GOSSIP. Think three times before you spread it around. There's clearly at least one immature and malicious person in your friend group. Don't magnify the harm they're doing unless you have better grounds for thinking that the story is true.

Take a breath, take a step back, let the churn of angry, hurt feelings subside, and then think about whether you really believe that all these people are just users. I'm not saying ignore your instinct about any particular individual; I am saying learn to recognize the (understandable!) noise around the signal.
posted by praemunire at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is about boundaries, tell your texters that this isn't your drama to parse, you are too close to it and don't want their complications to overshadow your long-standing friendship. You know where your first loyalties are. They can find others to text to about (not) dating your friend. TMI sometimes wakes up the urge to parse boundaries.
posted by childofTethys at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, geez, don't go reading nefarious intent and Machiavellian scheming into this. Most people are absolutely not that socially savvy. If they were, they would not be obliviously crying on the shoulder of someone crushing on them.

I would not worry at all about your supposed wing woman status. When people reveal this idea, please look at them like they are stupid and make ridiculous jokes like "Why, yes, I do have the keys to her chastity belt and she sees no action without my say so." And if they seem to think you are serious, follow that up with obvious snark like "Now about that oceanfront property in Arizona that I would like to sell you."

The only thing I think I would address here is "Wow, I was crushing on you and it turns out you are an insensitive boor who so had no clue that you are literally crying on my shoulder over (roommate). Gosh, I think I need some space to wonder why I would be attracted to such an idiot. And I am not sure I can be friends with someone so oblivious to my feelings."

Though you might want to be less blunt than that framing.
posted by Michele in California at 12:22 PM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Should I feel happy they wanted my approval? Or used? I have all these conflicting feelings about it

You can totally feel both things simultaneously. Feelings are complicated. It is flattering, in a way, and it is also insulting, so it's reasonable to feel--well--anything you need to feel. Feelings are OK.

Now, what to do? These people need to learn better communication. If they have interest in your friend, it is your friend they should be talking to, not you. Next time any of them says anything about her to you, you could say something like that: "Yes, she is awesome. That is all I am going to say, anything else goes to her." I am blunt, so I would literally say it like that. Deflect, deflect, deflect. There is no reason you should be tangled up in this.

I also think she should know about it, if only because she is your friend and this doesn't seem worth keeping secret from her, which to me seems more like protecting them than protecting her. Maybe you could ask for her advice? She may have some perspective on it that would help you both. "Don't know if you realized but these people like you so much that they have been bothering me about you, do you think you could talk to them for me?"

When I was in my early 20's, I had a few situations like this, except I was a beautiful but clueless person and my friend was not so beautiful and more "approachable." I don't remember how it resolved but I wish I could have put a stop to it much sooner. Life is too short for mind games.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:36 PM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

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