Crushing like a teenager, handling it like an adult
May 10, 2017 8:02 AM   Subscribe

I have a serious crush on one of my good friends. I told him, sort of (details inside) and he told me no because he's not over his ex. I've spent some time with him since (in groups) and it's been pretty horrible for me. He initiated and is spearheading an activist project that I have committed to. It is VERY important to me that I continue this work, so I need to learn to be his friend and not pine over him.

I've only known him for a few months but we've spent a LOT of time together. He's not flirty in that charming, bedroom-eyes kind of way but he clearly enjoys my company and often initiates our outings (which haven't been labeled dates but have included dinners and walks in parks). It's been about half alone-time with him and half in groups. We have a lot in common and we seem so compatible that about a half dozen people have asked me if we're a couple.

I realized I had a crush when we were sitting next to each other at a party & he touched my thigh while he was making a point about something and I felt a jolt of electricity. I decided to "rip the bandaid off" soon after so I wasn't agonizing over him and analyzing his every move to see whether he liked me. The next weekend, he was in my neighborhood so I invited him over to see my apartment. During a lull in conversation I said "I've been meaning to ask if I could kiss you." He acted surprised and immediately said he wasn't over his ex. They broke up about two months ago and he's talked a lot about him since so I believe this is the truth. I was hurt and disappointed but played it cool. The conversation fizzled after that so he left.

We both went to a party later that night (b-day party for a close friend that I didn't want to bow out of) and it was pretty awkward. After a few drinks we did talk but not about The Conversation; mostly about mutual interests. It's possible he thought I was asking to hook up, not to date, because I spent hours with him yesterday and he wasn't awkward on his end at all, whereas I'd give someone more space if they expressed feelings for me. He hugged me and touched me a few times (but he does that to others, including women). The person we went to dinner with later asked me if we were dating.

ANYWAY, this is only the second person in three years that I have felt butterflies for, and the first person I have EVER initiated interest in. We're both trans guys so the normal hetero gender roles don't apply, and we don't have any experience in the cis gay realm either. We're both in our early 40s and came out in the last few years.

Can I wait and ask him out again in awhile (using the word "date" so it's clear)? Or must I never broach it again unless he does? HOW DO I LIVE? I'd never do anything non-consensual but it's hard to keep my hands off him. I think about him constantly. Again, I cannot avoid him without abandoning this project that is extremely important to me. Even without the project it'd be hard because of the amount of mutual friends and the small size of the local trans community.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think he's interested. It sucks, I'm sorry. The times you hung out with him weren't tabled "dates" because they weren't, to him it was just two friends with a lot of mutual interests hanging out. I would probably take a break from being around this person for at least a little while, but if you really can't do that, time will eventually help. I think you'll get some advice that you should just play it cool and see if anything develops on his end, and you could do that, but I think it would be better to just try to move on.
posted by cakelite at 8:07 AM on May 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

He isn't interested now. He might be later. I say leave the ball in his court and invest all that glorious crush energy into personal projects.

Or if you want to tone down the crush you could read about the Jungian psychology explanation of having a crush and try to own whatever you have rejected or left unprocessed in yourself that you're projecting onto him. This isn't nearly as fun as riding that intoxicating wave, though.
posted by crunchy potato at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

It might help to be really honest with yourself about this: after a few months, you don't know him well enough to really fall in love with him, so if you feel like you have then you are in fact in love with a version of him that is, at least in part, one that exists only in your head.

In the past when I've had these brutal crushes, it's helped to sort of try and separate the "my-version" person and the actual person, and to have an explicit conversation with my brain about this. Sort of like:

Me: Ok brain this is no good, you need to stop making the googly eyes at this person


Me: ok but you in fact love the version of them you're imagining. what if the IRL version hates the outdoors or is REALLY REALLY into sports

Brain: oh no I wouldn't like that it would spoil everything

Me: ok so can we have a deal whereby you get to think a lot about "omg what if we dated" but we both remember that the other party in those scenarios isn't really real

Brain: I'll try

On reflection this sounds demented but whatever works right?
posted by greenish at 8:25 AM on May 10, 2017 [25 favorites]

Agreed, you don't have any choice but to play it cool. There's not much you can do about him, and enforcing a serious chill buffer should help you create some distance in your head.

Also: This has the feel of this person getting the enjoyment/companionship of a dating relationship but just kiiiiind of hoping you won't notice/mind you're being used or call him out or make him own his behavior. Please, with that disingenuous surprise when you made addressing it unavoidable. If people are asking YOU if you're dating, really has nobody ever asked him that? He's never had to even consider the concept?

I think he's kind of a shit. Let that percolate a few days, it should do a pretty good job of letting the air out of the crush.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 AM on May 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

You did something really brave - be proud of yourself. He may be feeling awkward too and not sure how to act around you, so you can set the tone for your interactions by avoiding being alone together, being polite and relaxed - friendly if you feel like it.

I get that you are really committed to the the work he is involved with but it's hard not to suspect that the crush might be fueling your enthusiasm somewhat. That sort of thing has happened to me. I've known very passionate committted people to step back from an organization for a couple of months, engage online but not in person, or just focus on something else for a bit. There are a million important and valuable things you can do with your time and energy, and if you find it hard to move on from the crush then it's okay to explore one of those and work with him later when it's more healthy for youz

Meantime, look for other people to date and connect with.
posted by bunderful at 8:35 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

My take is that your friendship can survive one awkward conversation but not two. If it's literal torture for you and you'd rather torpedo all friendship and burn bridges (instead of suffer with a crush) then go ahead and have that second awkward conversation. But my feeling is things will crash and burn after that. I do not think it is likely, considering the facts you have presented, that he will say "why yes! I have been dying for you to say that! I feel exactly the same way! Let's get into a serious relationship immediately!" Odds of that happening are about 1% or less in my read. Other people thinking you'd make a cute couple does not have anything to do with anything.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:48 AM on May 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

Infatuation is intoxicating. You should be really proud you were brave enough to put yourself out there, as a lot of people lack that wonderful trait. I'm sorry it didn't work out for you, but it really isn't the end of the world. You don't really know this person, so take off those rose tinted glasses. If you were the right person for him, he would have responded in kind.

As others have said, the best thing for you to do is just play it cool and don't react. Continuing to spend time with this person might be bad for you, but you have to be strong as it sounds like you share things with him other than mutual interests, such as friendship groups. Think of playing it cool as practicing the art of rejection, to be able to be around someone who doesn't share your feelings while you are able to control your own. Do beware with some of these answers, I don't believe this person is going to turn around and realize he feels the same way after some time has passed. Moving forward with that kind of sentiment is very unhealthy and will likely lead to you falling for him even harder next time.

I'm sure you're an amazing person! Pick yourself up, try again with the next person that comes into your life - there's a lot of them, especially if you're as young as the topic title implies.
posted by Lewnatic at 8:50 AM on May 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's not much you can do about him, and enforcing a serious chill buffer should help you create some distance in your head.

Yup. Minimize contact, keep everything on a professional basis, and above all -- do not allow physical contact. You backing away from a hug or whatever will make it clear to both of you that Things Have Changed.

Also agreeing that you're better than this guy.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:58 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just pine. What's the problem? That's what you do in this situation, you put in the pinetime. I did this same ridiculous shit a few years ago over this AMAAAAZING creature. He was hot as the surface of the sun and deliciously fraught and Heathcliffian and nine feet tall and ice blue eyes and yayaya whatever else besides being politically a perfect match plus an activist. I dicked around in exactly the manner you describe for months and it was all tortured and fun. It seemed he might be interested at first and we went on one date, but I of course ruined everything by being obsessively interested and clearly barely able to resist grabbing him, so he thought, "um... naaaaaw." This was evident to all observers except me. Eventually I figured it out and it was THE END OF EVERYTHING! My friends weathered my howling. Finally it wore off. You might think looking back on it would be embarrassing or painful: no.

There was this one hilarious time in the middle of this... Okay, to understand this story you have to know that in addition to all his other fantastic qualities, he had a really good name. First and last name were single syllables, equally stressed, beautifully melodic, pleasant to say, felt good in the mouth. I always called him by both names, and I talked about him to my friends constantly. My best friend, in particular, spent months listening to me go on about "Name Name," the icy blueness of the Name Name eyes, the towering Name Name stature, the perfect Name Name ethics, and OH, the lovely workworn, paint-dolloped Carhartts that Name Name filled so beautifully. And so on and so on. One day I dragged her to a house party that I knew Name Name was going to be at because his band was playing (obviously Name Name had a band). Then I wouldn't go into the party because I wanted to stay on the porch and keep a lookout for his car so I wouldn't get blindsided by the sudden presence of Name Name and get all stuttery, plus I didn't want to miss an instant, an INSTANT of his glorious presence there at the houseparty. So I made us sit out there forever while the party swirled around us and I gazed out over the road in front of the house looking for his car and failing to hold up my end of the conversation. Two or three hours into this I looked down for TWO SECONDS to get my beer and when I looked up again, my friend had leapt to her feet and was saying, "Why, NAAAAME NAME! As I live and breathe, HERE YOU ARE AT LAST, we'd purtnear give up on you!" and there he stood and I had to say, "oh, hey," and try to pretend to be all nonchalant. I could have strangled her at the time, but now this memory is one of my chief treasures. It's fun, I'm saying. It feels great to be all wrapped up in something EPIC. I mean, yes, it feels terrible and "HOW DO I LIVE?" But secretly, unbeknownst to you, you are having a good time. Enjoy the pine.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:18 AM on May 10, 2017 [37 favorites]

First, this situation sucks, and you're pretty remarkably brave for not fleeing the jurisdiction and/or entering the cloistered life after the first rejection.

But he's made his wishes clear, and you have to respect them. There's no fast-forwarding on the pining period, unfortunately. But you can adopt policies that don't prolong it. No alone time, unless it's required for the activist work, and no touching. Whatever you were doing before to meet people, keep doing it, and don't turn down dates unless you really don't like the person.

If you need sympathetic reading material, try the "Swann in Love" section of Swann's Way, which is like 300 pages of agonizing frustrated romantic obsession (following an initial success) and then its rapid but imperceptible collapse. It's so relentlessly detailed that by the end you may be ready to give up on love altogether out of sheer exhaustion!
posted by praemunire at 9:27 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am sorry that you are going through this.

Is there any way at all that you can continue working on the project without ever coming into contact with your crush ever again? Hanging around an unrequited love will just make the pain worse, I think.

If that is not possible, you might be better off putting your work on the project on hold until you have sorted out your emotional situation - until you have found someone who thinks about you in the same way that you think about them. Perhaps I'm being too selfish, but I think that no cause - no matter how worthwhile - is worth emotional torture.

Back when I was unattached, I learned the hard way that sometimes it is impossible to just be friends.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:59 AM on May 10, 2017

I half-seriously wish we had a societal ritual for this, wherein the crushee does the opposite of the mating display and showcases thier most unattractive qualities to the crusher.. I've often wondered if my last crush had farted in front of me, or expressed a really petty opinion, or did something else unappealing if that would have taken the edge off my hurt and de-romanticized him. It seemed too weird to ask though. "Hey, could you eat some beans and then come by to play card games for a couple of hours? Be in a bad mood if you can, thanks!"
posted by bunderful at 10:47 AM on May 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'll go against the tide here and maintain that yes, it is possible to wind up just friends with a crush. Happened to me. I was crushing seriously hard on a guy I met in one of the organizations I'm involved with. It was kind of "love" at first sight -- he was handsome, had a great speaking voice, confidence, all that good stuff. He actually approached me to ask me out for drinks and gave every indication of wanting things to become physical (including kissing me very suddenly at a bar without asking permission first, for which I read him the riot act). When I was all, "Ok, so let's go!" he suddenly got cold feet and declined.

I was really, really crushed and pined for months. I was like you -- thought about him constantly, worried about what he thought of me, etc., driving all my other friends completely bonkers in the process. We kept going for lunch and drinks and so on, and eventually, long story, he did something I viewed as really disrespectful to me, and I read him the riot act again. We then had one of those awful long conversations where we put everything on the table and then decided that yes, we really liked each other and wanted to be friends. And so we are, four years later -- very close friends, and nothing sexual or flirty about the relationship at all. Mostly we argue about art and politics, and talk about the organization we belong to.

So yes, I will say that it is possible to just be friends with a former crush. I won't make believe I don't occasionally look at him and think, "Whoa, he is good looking," because he is, but that's about it. I don't know if I can say anything very articulate about how my thinking evolved, but just wanted to give you my perspective. Feel free to MeMail if you think it might help.
posted by O Sock My Sock at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have no magic answer but I think something that's missing from previous responses is the reality that queer people (though maybe not the cis gay male world, dunno) do a lot of processing about stuff (like this). Maybe because it's often a small community where most people are potential date material for each other, maybe because it's a community of people who have already done significant internal processing to come out as queer. So I think talking to him more about this (NOT to try to ask him out but to make it easier for you to navigate sharing social spaces with him in a comfortable way) may be more acceptable in this situation than it would be for straight people.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2017

I think keep being fabulous at your shared project. Limit alone time with him. If he asks why, tell him that you are still crushing on him and that you want to respect his wishes, so it is easier for both of you if you limit one-on-one time. That way, if he does have underlying feelings about you, it might help jolt him out of his timidness. And if he doesn't have underlying feelings for you, he can better be a friend and respect YOUR feelings, too.

I think it was possible that the location of your kiss request (your apartment?) might have been a spook factor. New territory, definitely YOUR space, might have put a shy person off guard by asking that intimate of a question. Which is not to say that asking was NOT a good thing to do - that is very cool! Just a more neutral location (loud coffee shop) might have been easier for him to think about without too much pressure.

And if he does ask why you are limiting alone time with him, that might be a good time to clear the air on hookup-vs-relationship, too. The asking to kiss in your apartment might have been too much hook-up-y vibe. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Anyway, I'm excited for you finding a project you love and finding people who light your fire. That's awesome. It is really awesome.
posted by jillithd at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Or if you want to tone down the crush you could read about the Jungian psychology explanation of having a crush and try to own whatever you have rejected or left unprocessed in yourself that you're projecting onto him.
crunchy potato, would you mind sharing a source for this if you remember? I tried to google around but no luck. Sounds like an interesting theory.
posted by The Toad at 8:57 PM on May 10, 2017

I think he likes the attention but he's not interested. I also think it's kind of a dick move on his part to hug and touch and have long in depth conversations (to the point where others ask if you're together) when he knows you have a crush on him. Not kind. For that reason alone he is not the great guy you think he is. I would put as much physical and every other kind of distance you can between you until the crush goes away. Maybe then you can go back to being friends properly.
posted by Jubey at 9:52 PM on May 10, 2017

I know how this feels, and it sucks. I've been there many times. And I've held on to the tiniest shreds of hope. There will be a part of your mind going, "he said the reason was because he's not over his former boyfriend...but when he is..." Don't do that. I've done that. None of the people who have ever turned me down because they weren't over an ex have come back and said, "well, I'm over her/him now, let's date!" I'm not saying it has never happened in the entire history of the billions of lives on this planet, but it's highly unlikely and you will only hurt yourself by holding out hope.

As for pining being "fun," I beg to differ. I find it exhausting, consuming, and stressful, personally. The last time this happened to me, I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy focusing on the what-ifs and maybes of how a friendship that was purely platonic (for him) might go. I could have been creating great art or meeting new people to date or be friends with. I bent my friends' and relatives' ears about Mr. Wonderful to the point where they were sick of it. I let it go on to the point where when we had that second conversation several months after he had said "not yet," I was so invested that I literally got sick after his second rejection. And I felt led on, and was angry. Everyone who had seen me go through this thought Mr. Wonderful had acted like a dick. There was a lot of drama in the friend group, and it broke apart and re-formed. I felt unable to participate in our activist group after that, and I still miss it and haven't found anything quite like it since.

But I have found a truly committed partner who loves me back, and now I look back on the crush and laugh about it. I only wish it hadn't gotten to the point where I became bitter. He definitely wasn't worth it.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 6:43 AM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Focus on what's gross/annoying/bad about him and the crush will undo itself. Even if it's not rational or is something you would never judge another person by, it can help you to mentally file him in the "only friends/do not share bodily fluids" category. "Does he ALWAYS have to drink earl gray tea? How much earwax can one person have? OMG, his breath smells like a sinus infection. He has too much baggage; who wants to worry about someone pining for their ex? If he clears his throat one more time, I could scream!" Personalize your own script, and play it when you're together. Make something up if you have to.

The fact that he's the only person you've been interested in in years may be less of a sign of his amazingness and more of a sign that you're open and ready for romance. Good luck!
posted by defreckled at 8:00 AM on May 11, 2017

Pining for a while isn't terrible. Just so long as it doesn't go on endlessly, to the point where your mental health is consistently affected like mine was. Getting stuck in a bad mental loop can happen.

Once you start to feel better, throw the hook out and see what it's like to start dating others. I was once in a similar situation and felt things would never improve - they have got much, much better. Chin up, you're great.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2017

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