Can you be friends with someone who was attracted to you?
December 25, 2017 1:45 AM   Subscribe

Recently, I made friends with this guy who I know likes me romantically. I want to stay friends with him but don't think this is possible. This question is to ask for strategies for sidestepping this problem, or at least to get a weigh-in on if such problems are inevitable between straight women and men.

I have not had the best luck making platonic guy friends in general because they usually treat it like a secret means of dating. This is not to brag or anything like that, because the guys in question are all types I would be very interested in having a friendship with, and even a close and gushy friendship where we share feelings and all of that kind of stuff, but not date. Basically what happens is when the guy first approaches me to "hang out," I get all excited and then ask if they mean platonically or as a date. Once they say it's as a date, I say I don't want to date them but would be open to hanging out. Sometimes I say this twice just to check. I am trusting them to be able to manage their own decision making and feelings around this. Usually, we keep hanging out and I guess at a background level some crush is still a possibility (or there are hints that they're still trying to make the friendship more) but I give them some space around it and trust them to figure out something, since of course crushes come and go. If it feels unethical or like stringing them along to proceed, I'll raise the issue. These conversations have never been effective - well I guess sometimes they end in the guy dropping off the face of the earth, but the alternative has also happened, which involves a friendship that feels tainted and basically is.

So. Is it sort-of my fault for ignoring the warning signs and barreling straight ahead in these situations? As in, not fault, but tactical error? In this day and age, does anyone have time to really be friends with someone they used to be attracted to?
posted by karmachameleon to Human Relations (30 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you believe Harry in When Harry Met Sally; no, men and women cannot be friends. But that's a movie and I personally don't agree. I have three good male friends with varying levels of crush/attraction between us and it's fine because we don't act on it. I've known and been friends with them for 15, 8, and 4 years. In the 15 year friendship, it's been about 12 years since he asked to date and I said no. He's never brought it up or hinted at it again. On the other end, the 4 year friendship, I wanted to date him and he turned me down and now we are friends. In both cases if anything were to happen between us now -- given that we are all single -- it would have to initiate from the party who turned things down. So, with my oldest dear friend, I'd have to say something. With my newest friend, he'd have to say something. In both cases nothing romantic would happen, and I trust we'd move on with our friendship. I'm 35, to give some context here.

What I want to stress is that this isn't your fault. You're being upfront and honest and clear. If they are holding out for a different relationship, they are jerks who don't view you as a full autonomous human being. That is not your fault. This is yet another example of the toxicity of the patriarchy. You aren't stringing anyone along by being a woman who wants to have a different relationship with a guy than he wants with you. You are being a human! It's ok to be a human woman, contrary to popular belief.

And whether you want to walk down this road again is totally up to you. It's fine to say "enough" and just walk away and not attempt a friendship. I have three examples from my own life but I have a much bigger pile of men that I have lost because they got mad that I "friendzoned" them, which is a disgusting word designed to make me feel bad for not catering to some guy's whim about what his relationship with me should look like. It is totally ok to decide not to try this dance again, because it's usually ugly and demoralizing and depressing. Those three guys I talked about are all exceptional humans. It's why we are friends.

Best of luck. You're awesome and I'm sorry you're feeling this way. Fuck the patriarchy.
posted by sockermom at 4:23 AM on December 25, 2017 [37 favorites]


Once they say it's as a date, I say I don't want to date them.

This is where you should stop. Don’t propose to be friends with someone who said he was interested in dating you. This is what you might call a tactical error.

Merry Christmas 🎄
posted by Kwadeng at 4:47 AM on December 25, 2017 [17 favorites]


I think the initial interaction may be the tipoff here. If you're meeting guys and they ask you to hang out in a dating sense right away, or as their first suggestion of getting together, then no, I don't think you can steer that ship into a friendship. Those relationships can happen, but that generally happens when you have friends or schedules in common so that you're interacting on a nonromantic basis for long enough that any desire wears off or is replaced with familiarity. If you ask a guy if "hanging out" means a date, then trust him - that's what he wants.

As far as strategies go, I think a lot of male-female friendships start when one of them or both of them are in a relationship, because then at least one person is clearly off the table (though that's also how affairs start, so maybe I should change that to 'when one or both people are in a happy relationship). If you meet someone and both of you are available, keep your hanging out to group activities at first. Over time, a friendship may form, but if not, at least you're less likely to get into the situation you describe.
posted by Mchelly at 4:54 AM on December 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


For the record, I think Friendships With Intent tend to get rarer as you age - partly because people are partnered, but also because people do get better at that whole "manage your feelings" business.

I guess I would suggest being proactive and inviting guys you find interesting to socialize with you in a group setting - get a few friends together for a movie or dinner or whatever, something that will not feel datey.

Also - and this may not be your problem exactly, so ignore if needed - set your expectations higher for men. When I was a young person and had this problem, I was almost always seeking out less grown-up guys as friends. Perfectly nice, often very smart, but emotionally young for their years, didn't live like adults, etc. I think I was intimidated by the kind of guy who was able to be a grown-up, but perversely those were the very men who would have been more likely either to be sincerely interested in being friends or able to recognize that crushes come and go and hence manage them.

When people are all "men and women can't be friends", I always wonder why, if this is true, queer people can be friends with the gender to which they are attracted. (I mean obviously queer people can have platonic friends of the relevant gender.) Men and women can be friends; patriarchy discourages men from getting wise to their feelings or empathizing with women about not wanting to be creeped on, but many men are - at least with age - capable of both.
posted by Frowner at 5:06 AM on December 25, 2017 [31 favorites]


Here (SLFB) is a possibly relevant post which outlines how the patriarchy has poisoned heterosexual friendships by discouraging men from being friends with each other, so that they associate friendship activities (such as sharing feelings and being supportive) with sexual relationships, and then (sometimes) become resentful or confused when actual friendships with women do not come with sex.

In my experience, being friends with people I've dated (mostly in my 20s) did not go well and - this may not be your situation - looking back I realize that I was often friends with people I had dated and rejected because I was certain of their interest in spending time with me, and I was lonely, insecure and a little desperate for friends. It is very uncomfortable to realize that you've been using people - again, this wasn't always the case and may not be the case in your situation.

In some cases the "friendship" track right after dating meant that one party or another didn't get the time and space they needed to move on. Pursuing friendships by doing datelike things together - like getting dinner, going to movies, etc., did not help.
posted by bunderful at 5:27 AM on December 25, 2017 [9 favorites]


a close and gushy friendship where we share feelings and all of that kind of stuff, but not date

I think this is your tactical error, actually. This kind of friendship is common between women, but I've yet to see it happen between men, or between men and women. Probably has a lot to do with how we are socialized very very young, patriarchy, etc etc. As a corollary, a lot of the things that women do to signify friendship between each other (e.g. sitting with a leg tucked under you, touching the other person's arm to make a point) can come across as flirtatious when a woman does it to a man.

It's not clear how long you've known these men, and in what context, before the "let's hang out" conversation happens; it sounds early on. The fact that they are upfront that they mean "date" makes me think they are pretty emotionally mature, actually. But they may be misreading signals that you are inadvertently sending. If there is a pre-existing actual friendship, however, there's a better chance that the friendship will survive. That's been my own experience (on both sides of the crush), anyway.
posted by basalganglia at 5:33 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think it is human nature for that hope to spring eternal. Some very few people can get past it, but lacking real evidence of that ability, you should assume a person can't or doesn't want to do so and will always be dreaming or wishing the friendship will lead to more.
posted by spindrifter at 5:43 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've stayed long term friends with several people I crushed on and was romantically rejected by. Sometimes it felt a little difficult and awkward for a bit, but working through that with minimal drama is part of being a competent autonomous human being.

You're not responsible for other people's feelings. Your only obligation is to remain civil as long as they do too. If they can't handle being around you after you've politely let them know that nothing more intimate than friendship is on offer, that's their problem to deal with, not yours. If they're competent adults, they will find a way to cope. If they're not, you're better off anyway for their disappearance.
posted by flabdablet at 6:02 AM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Here you have two people who want different things from each other.

There’s nothing wrong with you wanting friendship. There’s nothing wrong with them wanting to date. Trying to work out a friendship instead may take a maturity from them they don’t have, which sucks. But to be blunt, I don’t think they owe you a relationship that doesn’t work for them anymore than you do. I would pursue friendships with people who want to be friends harder than friendships with people who want to date you.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:05 AM on December 25, 2017 [11 favorites]


You can be friends, but you can't repeatedly do date like things together. This may also mean more hanging out with a group instead of just the two of you.
posted by TheAdamist at 6:38 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yes, but it's too much work. If the guy doesn't give up the idea that "I don't want to date you" probably just means "I don't want to date you right now (but maybe later)" then every interaction with him is fraught with potential misleading signals. Did you invite him over to your place in the evening? Oh man, he's probably fantasizing about you confessing your love for him. And then he'll be somewhat let down when it doesn't happen, even if he knew intellectually it was a fantasy. It's just too hard to analyze everything you say to not encourage any romantic thoughts. (Which shouldn't be your problem, but it's easier to head off than to deal with afterwards)

There are exceptions (see: sockermom's great friends) but your percentages aren't going to be high. And some fraction will eventually behave badly.
posted by ctmf at 6:48 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sure. guys should be able to manage their decisions, and you've been very clear about your intentions, but I don't think either side of this equation is being very caring of the other side. On the male side they see you as a potential romantic partner who just needs a little persuading, so they're pursuing a strategy that says if I'm close enough and show her what a great guy I am, eventually I'll get in there. On the female side, you're saying you are everything I want in a possible romantic partner. We can hang out and share our feelings, and you'll be there to do stuff for me and support me emotionally, but I don't find you sexually attractive. That's not your fault, and it's unfortunate, but it's a big ego blow to somebody. However, rather than a brief rejection where the guy can tell himself it must be something wrong with her, you're setting up a situation where the rejection has to keep happening. So the guys will try to ignore the rejection for the sake of their ego, but they will be reminded of it every time you interact about the boyfriend you're not happy with or how hard it is to find somebody to date. You're not responsible for it. You were up front and the guy made his decisions, but knowing that's probably what is happening why would you want to do that to somebody you say is your friend?
posted by willnot at 7:01 AM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Men with the character and maturity necessary to abide by your particular terms of friendship are going to decline those terms and wish you well. This is not to say they shouldn’t, or won’t, be cordial to you, or that this is the pattern that should apply when they, or you, aren’t reasonably free to date each other (partnered, age gap, religion gap, etc.)
posted by MattD at 7:06 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't have any suggestion for making these guys want to be platonic friends, but I do have an idea for not getting into this dynamic in the first place. I suspect you might avoid it if your initial response is stating that you would like to hang out but not as a date, rather than asking the guy if he wants a date then telling him you don't.

If I were the guy in this situation and someone asked me if we were hanging out platonically or as a date, I would assume it was because they did want it to be a date. I know you don't mean it this way, but your response would feel sort of like a "gotcha" to me: oh, you want it to be a date? Well, too bad, I don't! Then I would want to say we'd hang out platonically in order to save face, even if I didn't really mean it. If I knew right away that it wasn't going to be a date, it would be easier for me to call off hanging out and move on.

Good luck!
posted by ferret branca at 7:14 AM on December 25, 2017 [16 favorites]


a close and gushy friendship where we share feelings and all of that kind of stuff, but not date

I think this is your tactical error, actually. This kind of friendship is common between women, but I've yet to see it happen between men, or between men and women.


Yikes. As a bisexual woman with a bff who is a bisexual man, I can absolutely say we have a close and gushy relationship where we share feelings. I even have a great friendship with my straight male ex of 5 years. (We’ve now been platonic friends longer than we were together) - so it’s possible to have friendship after attraction.

Men can be open and honest. The patriarchy is a thing, but we can’t hold them to a different standard because of it. Be really upfront and say when meeting people (before they ask you out) that you know this is the kind of place where people go to find dates, but you’re looking for friends. Reiterate how much you love your single life or whatever the first few times you hang out. If someone still thinks you’re interested romantically, but playing hard to get at that point, this is someone you probably don’t want in your life anyway. If they can’t respect the words coming out of your mouth, why would you want to be friends with them?

Good luck!
posted by greermahoney at 7:42 AM on December 25, 2017 [19 favorites]


Men and women can definitely be friends. I have no patience for people who insist that it's not possible.

But I've been through this too. The truth is that if you're romantically inclined toward someone, hanging out with them a lot can just make those feelings stronger. Even if you're dealing with an honest man who's telling you the truth when he says he wants to make a friendship work--well, if you try to have a close friendship it can be hard to move on. It's counter-productive.

If it was someone I just met, I wouldn't think it was worth the hassle.

First, because there are a lot of men who aren't honest and will still have ulterior motives, and if it's someone I've just met I won't have a good sense of whether that's true of them. I'm sick to fucking death of men who don't respect my "no." Second, because I wouldn't be losing an existing friendship; the mere opportunity of a friendship isn't worth the risk.

If it was someone I already had a friendship with--let's say their feelings developed over time, or we hung out a lot in a close group, etc--then I'd have the "it's never going to happen" conversation, and back off of the intensity of the friendship. Stop hanging out one-on-one, keep things a little more distant, etc. Give them space for their feelings to cool and move on. Then see what happens. Sometimes people do move on entirely.

On the male side they see you as a potential romantic partner who just needs a little persuading, so they're pursuing a strategy that says if I'm close enough and show her what a great guy I am, eventually I'll get in there.

This whole paragraph right here is exactly why I wouldn't bother with this type of man. There are too many men who won't accept what a woman says she wants, because it hurts their ego; they'll lie and manipulate and then they'll cast her as the one who's being dishonest and taking advantage when it turns out they can't get what they want. The part where they whine about how awful it is that you did friend things like talk about your life is pretty textbook; these fuckers are so emotionally stunted and entitled that they'll interpret any scrap of emotional intimacy has you leading them on.

Because they've been taught to undervalue women so much, they don't see the value in your companionship apart from as a romantic partner. This is the role they've assigned you to. People ask how misogynist men can love their wives? This is one small part of the answer: They can love you, but only in this limited role.

If this is the type of guy you want to avoid, then don't start friendships with men who say they want to date you. I'm sorry, but the culture is broken, and it breaks men too; there are men who aren't like this, but the risk is high enough that I don't think it's worth it. As you can see in this thread, men like this are everywhere. There isn't anything that you can do, as the woman, to identify or dissuade them--because they'll lie and they won't respect your no.

This isn't on you to fix.

If it's a guy you already know and have developed a friendship with, and you know enough about him to make a judgment about his character, then I think the answer is different. Men and women can definitely be friends. I even think they can be friends if one person develops romantic feelings--it just takes careful, respectful, and self-reflective navigation that not all people are capable of.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:04 AM on December 25, 2017 [11 favorites]


No, it is not your fault. These dudes are assholes. They don't value you as a whole person. They don't want to interact with you unless there's a possibility of sex. They are treating you like a sex vending machine -- if he puts in enough coins, he thinks maybe sex will come out. They don't care about you.

The best way to deal with these dudes, in my experience, is to cut off contact.

Oh and -- no, this is problem is not inevitable between straight men and women. Men exist who actually care about women as people and genuinely want to be friends.
posted by a strong female character at 9:58 AM on December 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


a close and gushy friendship where we share feelings and all of that kind of stuff, but not date

I think this is your tactical error, actually. This kind of friendship is common between women, but I've yet to see it happen between men, or between men and women.


I have multiple friendships with men that are like this. They do exist.

It is not a woman's responsibility to anticipate and placate a man's potential romantic feelings in every platonic interaction.
posted by a strong female character at 10:04 AM on December 25, 2017 [13 favorites]


So, usually, "men and women can't be friends" is an insta-rage button for me. I have plenty of male friends, including "close and gushy friendship where we share feelings" with zero risk of romance happening, and...no. These guys are only going to remain friends with you because they think that they'll get to sleep with you eventually. This is not your fault, this is toxic masculinity at work, but the very early ask for a date is a clear indication that they're assuming you'll eventually, erm, cave. The best way I know to cultivate mixed-gender friend groups is to get together for group activities, in friend groups where there are existing committed relationships, and then have that naturally lead to more one-on-one chatting and get-togethers.

If someone does ask you out and you say no, the sign you are looking for is that he actually backs off on the intimacy and goes out and dates other people before trying to resume a friendship. (I know you described this as "falling off the face of the earth," but someone who actually wants to be friends will do that and then come back.) Going straight from a romantic rejection to pseudo-platonic emotional closeness means he'll be desperately pining for you for the next five years and probably trying to sleep with you when you're both drunk; don't do that. So just to be extra clear, this isn't a generalization about men, this is a generalization about those specific men who do that specific thing.

Also, can you date other people so it's clear you're not trying to make yourself romantically available? Totally fine if you don't want to, though!
posted by capricorn at 10:12 AM on December 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Friendships take time to groom, and effort to manage. Trust among friends is an important issue, and time is required to develop trust. Sounds like the guys you mention don't share that notion. You owe them only the courtesy of an honest opinion. It's not up to you to argue your point with them unless you sense a kernel of maturity that might eventually develop into friendship. Don't let worrying about it keep you up at night. It's been my experience (as best I can remember) that recreational sex is not the best preamble to a successful romance. I'm pretty sure opinions about that vary, but in any case it's a good policy to state your intentions clearly when a relationship is about to undergo a significant change.

Down the road you will enjoy your various friends while these guys are still looking to get laid. Keep in mind that some of your male friends may turn out to be hug-buddies who'll help you wipe away a tear, while others are simply affable crowd fillers who might come over to help you move your house.
posted by mule98J at 10:18 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I generally feel like most of the time it is not doable to be friends with someone if they want to bang you. This is why my few guy friends are ones that I am fairly sure aren't going to pull this on me, like they're taken or not into my type. Every other friendship has ended because of this.

"I am trusting them to be able to manage their own decision making and feelings around this."

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if you can do this. You're being upfront about not wanting to, but they are not necessarily always doing the same. Some guys will lie in the moment and say "no, I'm fine" and then you find out later it is not fine, like this example below:

If I were the guy in this situation and someone asked me if we were hanging out platonically or as a date, I would assume it was because they did want it to be a date. I know you don't mean it this way, but your response would feel sort of like a "gotcha" to me: oh, you want it to be a date? Well, too bad, I don't! Then I would want to say we'd hang out platonically in order to save face, even if I didn't really mean it. If I knew right away that it wasn't going to be a date, it would be easier for me to call off hanging out and move on.

Also, with guys: assume it's always because they want a date and it's not platonic. Been burned on that too many times. Do not ever assume they are platonic.
The other reason why we can't necessarily trust that a guy will manage his own feelings is summed up well below:

The truth is that if you're romantically inclined toward someone, hanging out with them a lot can just make those feelings stronger. Even if you're dealing with an honest man who's telling you the truth when he says he wants to make a friendship work--well, if you try to have a close friendship it can be hard to move on. It's counter-productive.

Men (or people in general) are not always in control of their own feelings. If they are looking for love and you're not, they may not be able to manage that no. (Maaaaybe if they find someone else to love instead. Maybe.) I honestly don't think it's worth your time to try to befriend anyone who was first romantically interested in you. Unless you run into them later and they're happy with someone else, but usually no. Hanging around with you usually only increases their feelings, even if you don't mean to "lead them on." It happens.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:55 AM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I want to stay friends with him but don't think this is possible.
With regard to this specific situation, do you think it's not possible because of this person and the circumstance, or do you think it has more to do with your experiences in similar situations? As many people have noted, there are lots of ways that our culture makes it harder than it ought to to be for men to put romantic feelings aside and be true friends to women. It hurts my heart to read broad generalizations that suggest it's impossible, but I admit it's probably the exception. Also, sometimes people unwittingly attract people who do do not respect their boundaries. That's not to say it's your fault, just that the odds for an individual woman finding a man who can be a close friend may vary relative to the baseline for all men.
These conversations have never been effective - well I guess sometimes they end in the guy dropping off the face of the earth, but the alternative has also happened, which involves a friendship that feels tainted and basically is.
For the guys that drop off the face of the earth, that seems for the best. They're either uninterested in you as a person rather than a romantic possession or they recognize they can't manage their own feelings. In either case, it doesn't tell you too much about the possibility for you to have real friendships with men who are attracted.

The "tainted" friendship situation sounds more enlightening, and I'd encourage you to ask yourself more about what that means. Has there been a violation of trust? Were feelings hurt in a way that cannot be forgiven? You mention raising the issue If it feels unethical or like stringing them along to proceed. Why would it feel unethical or stringing them along? There's no way for me to know whether you're being clear and consistent in your boundaries or whether you're sending mixed signals. It could also be different situations with different people, but these are the sort of questions to ask yourself (or trusted observers) if you want to know whether these sort of friendships can ever work out for you.
Is it sort-of my fault for ignoring the warning signs and barreling straight ahead in these situations? As in, not fault, but tactical error?
I don't think "fault" is a useful frame to view this through. Any tactical gambit accepts some risk to achieve a desired outcome. Your responsibility is to estimate the risk of failure and decide if the reward of success is worth it to you. The fact that you seem to have done this a number of times indicates that you have felt the reward was worth it in the past, but some self-reflection could be helpful in understanding why you value these opportunities enough despite previous failures in similar situations? As someone who has difficulty making close friends, I'm willing to take greater risks in establishing a close friendship. Others' calculus may be different. I don't want to take your inventory, but perhaps these situations provide something for you that you haven't consciously acknowledged. It can be nice to be wanted without the risk of vulnerability or rejection. That may not be it, but just an example to consider.

An additional thought that springs from the tactical metaphor is that you may need more intel. Some men certainly are not capable of this kind of friendship. Have you asked any of them if they've had success in similar situations? Have you asked other people who may be able to provide a candid assessment (especially women they're friends with)?
In this day and age, does anyone have time to really be friends with someone they used to be attracted to?
I absolutely think so. How rare that might be will vary a lot according to how you handle yourself and the kind of people you meet. Furthermore, how much you value a potential friend depends a lot on you.

To me, the most important quality in a romantic partner is that they want to be partners with me. Any initial attraction to someone fades pretty quickly after realizing they do not and I find that makes it much easier to become real friends. It's quite sad to me that the basic respect for women's agency and autonomy seems to be missing for so many men, but if you find one who really has that kind of respect, I think it could work. That said, there's always a risk, but I find failure much easier to stomach when I take a risk in a conscious way.
posted by Cogito at 5:27 PM on December 25, 2017


Basically what happens is when the guy first approaches me to "hang out," I get all excited and then ask if they mean platonically or as a date. Once they say it's as a date, I say I don't want to date them but would be open to hanging out. Sometimes I say this twice just to check.

Contrary to what others have suggested, your first “clue” isn’t that these guys accept your offer to hang out platonically instead of lying low for a while. That’s actually your second clue.

Your first clue is that these guys are the kind of guys who try to ask someone out without actually asking her out. They only specify that they’re looking for a “date” after you ask them to clarify.

Your instinct has been telling you to double-check that they understand your counteroffer of Friendship* *[SEX NOT INCLUDED, OFFER VOID WHERE PROHIBITED]. Double-checking would work if these guys were grownups who didn’t think “yeah, sure, we’ll just be friends!” was a pickup line, but (as they demonstrated in Chapter 1, The Soft Sell Non-Ask-Out Ask-Out) they are not grownups.

In simplest terms, these guys WANT to keep it ambiguous about whether the “hang out sometime” is platonic, because all those loveable-loser movies they watch follow a predictable trajectory from “friends who hang out” to “she cries to him about her boy problems” to “he wins sex for listening!”

The guys who say, “I really like you. Would you like to go on a date sometime?” might be trusted when they accept or reject your platonic counteroffer. (I even got this level of candor from a guy whose opener was, “I have a girlfriend but I’ll dump her tonight if you’ll agree to go out.” It’s seriously a low bar to clear, maturity-wise.)

The guys who make ambiguous initial offers to “hang out” and only admit romantic intentions when pressed? They are not past emotional puberty. You don’t want their friendship. Do not make the counteroffer.
posted by armeowda at 6:09 PM on December 25, 2017 [12 favorites]


(Oh, and just so we are clear: you are not a sucker for expecting them to act their age about dating. But your charity can and should run out as soon as their immaturity presents itself.)
posted by armeowda at 6:13 PM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


It sounds like a lot of people are saying that either you are making mistakes or these friends are bad people. I don't think either of these things are the case.

I have had many opposite sex friends, of various degrees of "gushy". It sounds like you are doing the most important thing, which is making yourself clear in the beginning. Just make sure you are reiterating your position and it should be just fine. It is your job to make sure everyone is on the same page, and no one gets ideas about the relationship changing. Everyone includes yourself. Any form of mixed signals will make a mess of the situation.

Simply saying "I am not interested in dating, but I would like a friend. Is that something you would be interested in?" should suffice. If the person had no intention of dating you, they will be more likely to be relived than offended if you start that way. If they were intending to date you, you are showing them what you would like and they can decide if that is what they are looking for. Either way, that should be enough to get started. If you ask "platonicly or a date" they may just be panic choosing a date, and then feel weird when they get "shut down". Better and easier to just take the initiative and make your own desires known from the start instead of trying to ferret out what they want.

Contrary to popular media, all males aren't just looking for sex. There are plenty who would prefer to be just friends, but few know that as a real option. Put yourself out there, be honest with them and yourself, and you should do fine.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 12:38 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is a super complicated question. A lot of the advice in this thread is already excellent. As a man who has had (and still has) several close female friends, as well as failures on that level where both parties have been at fault, here are some scenarios (first, the crappy ones; I/We here is editorial):

1) We used to date and now we're trying to be friends (but really the dumpee is hoping for a rapprochement). This is a recipe for disaster. Don't do it.
2) I'm only pretending to be your friend until I can convince you to date. This is a shitty way to behave, but a lot of people don't really realize they're doing it, or at least rationalize it. Don't do it (obviously) and don't put up with it. It's easy to spot, because the pretender will repeatedly attempt to nudge things in that direction.
3) I'm using you for emotional intimacy until I meet someone I want to sleep with, too. This is the boyfriend/girlfriend stand-in role. It can be an outgrowth of #1 or just a stand-alone thing. This is particularly disastrous when it's paired with #2 (where the pretender is the leadee and the user is the leader).
4) I would potentially have romantic interest in you BUT you're with someone. This is more common for men due to crappy cultural stuff about who 'owns' who in a relationship.

All those suck, are pretty common, and should be easy to avoid if you're looking out for them. There are some cases that don't totally suck though! Here are some examples:

1) I genuinely don't have any romantic interest in you, so we can just be friends. I think cultural norms make this one harder on men than women, often, because a lot of shitty patriarchy stuff encourages men to think of women as sexual objects first and people second (if at all). Obviously dudes who are aware of that shittiness can work on it and then this becomes easier.
2) Nothing has happened yet, but could. This can be surprising -- both parties don't enter into things with any kind of romantic intentions but feelings change. It's human, and can be messy if things don't work out, but that's life.
3) The complex, intimate, boundary-moving relationship. This is one that requires both parties to be honest and communicative. I have had a couple of relationships with women that progressed differently, from friends to FWB and back again, or from dating to nothing for a long time to friendship. What's the difference between this and say #2 or #3? Nobody is pretending or being dishonest. Both parties see the other person as a person, not as "a vending machine to put niceness coins into until sex comes out" (to borrow a quote from somewhere I can't remember or else I'd attribute it).

I think the crucial thing is whether both parties treat the other as a human being with feelings and agency or not. I also think culture/patriarchy makes men disinclined to do so more than women; this is why you are having a hard time of it. Find a dude who has figured it out (I think this correlates strongly with age; I was a lot more blind to this sort of thing in my twenties), and he won't want to pretend to be your friend.
posted by axiom at 11:43 AM on December 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


It is not your “job” to make sure you aren’t giving the guy “ideas” or “mixed signals” when he has made his intentions deliberately ambiguous, especially when you have already done your due diligence by making yours clear. Notice how, before a friendship dynamic is even established, the expectation is on YOU to manage all the communication lest you lead the poor guy on. How come? Why should you routinely have to check that he isn’t putting you in the girlfriend zone? Why can’t he just take your word for it the first time?

No, indeed, not all males are Harry telling Sally that they all want to nail their female friends. Not all of them are Mike Pence, saying he can’t even have a lunch meeting with a woman who isn’t his wife.

But (once more), guys who lowball you about “hanging out” when what they really want is a relationship/FWB/other non-platonic arrangement are not worth your time and effort — and it WILL be effort (see above re: tying yourself in knots trying not to give them false hope).

Aside: women can absolutely do this crap to their male friends as well (done it myself! so has T Swizzle! we repent!), but that’s not your issue here.
posted by armeowda at 4:06 PM on December 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


One of my most treasured friendships (now going on 9 years) is with someone I was in love with for at least a year, and then had a hookup thing going on until he ultimately kindly but firmly rejected me. He's a man and I'm a woman so the toxic masculinity thing isn't as much at play, but my life would be absolutely worse for me not having this person in it. It took a while to simmer down on the love stuff and start to see him as a friend but it did work (and we met when I was like 20, so it's not like I was the picture of maturity or anything).

As for the reverse (your situation) I find it's worked out infrequently but it is definitely possible. Either way it doesn't sound like you're stringing anybody along, especially if you're stating you aren't interested in anything romantic.
posted by internet of pillows at 10:11 PM on December 26, 2017


So there's at least one more form this can take. Where A is besotted with B and accepts the offer of friendship, perhaps even lying to themselves that it's also what they want ("Oh I'd probably go on a date but we're super cool as friends and this great.")

This can go a few ways but the more concerning ones, IMO are:
* Everything is great until B excitedly tells A about her new boyfriend, and A doesn't respond well. The friendship ends. (Variation: A stalks or harasses B).
* A and B hang out a lot one-on-one and A seems to accept the friendship but now and then after an extra glass of wine will confess that they still have feelings. B responds "Hey, I've told you I just want to be friends and that's final. How about we do dinner and a movie next week??" They continue to do date-like things together, maybe even sleep together now and then, and B enjoys being the object of infatuation while A is unable to move on. (AKA, keeping someone on the hook).

I'm not cut out to be friends with people I have strong romantic feelings for. Many of the responses above assume that this is something that a mature person can handle ... well, for me, doing the mature thing means just not seeing them until I get over them. Which takes over a year. When I was younger I didn't understand this and I dragged out a lot of painful situations, hurting myself and others. Now, I know to go cold turkey when I'm besotted with someone who doesn't want me or vice versa. It's saved me a lot of drama.
posted by bunderful at 6:16 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


If they are telling you they are interested in dating you in their initial invite, I would say no thank you I'm not interested and move on. Be more attentive to the friends you already have, life is too short to build complicated relationships you have to be delicate about. I don't think this is gender specific.
posted by complaina at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


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