Help me figure out boundaries for this friendship
February 6, 2018 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I am friends with a guy I met at an old retail job several years ago. I have mixed feelings for him and I know our friendship isn't healthy, but I do not want to end it and neither does he. He knows I have feelings for him, and he's okay with it. I need help setting and sticking to boundaries because things tend to get out of hand between us at times. Some NSFW details inside.

I am late 20s and identify as gay. He's mid 20s and identifies as straight. We'll call him Dan.

Dan and I formed a close bond almost immediately after meeting at work. Within a couple weeks we were talking or texting daily, sometimes literally all day long. Truthfully, I had been instantly attracted to him and formed romantic feelings for him as we got to know each other well in those first few months. At work, in our group of friends, we were known as a pair. Anytime a work social event was planned we met up an hour or so beforehand to hang out and “pre-game” before joining everyone else. If one of us didn't hear from the other in a day or two we'd ask other people at work if they'd heard from us.

It wasn't long before we started fighting. If one of us didn't respond to the other’s text quickly enough there would be an argument, for instance. We were both guilty of this and we would both sometimes not respond right away to get a reaction out of the other. Dan would come up with these hypothetical situations, like him and two of our friends trapped in a burning building and he'd want to know who I'd save if I only had time for one. Sometimes he seemed to get really depressed and would say how we weren't going to be friends forever because “nobody stays friends with people from one of their first jobs.” The moods would pass in a couple days or so, but I often felt a lingering tension that our friendship was on the brink of ending. There were a couple of times where we did not speak for a few weeks or a month because we were fighting about something.

Dan was always single so I never had to face the reality that we would not end up together. That is, until he started dating a coworker, who we'll call Jen. I think they had always had a bit of a crush on each other since first meeting, but Jen had been in a long term relationship. After she and her boyfriend broke up we started hanging out as a trio. Freshly out of a several year long relationship, Jen didn't immediately want to jump into a relationship with Dan, but the attraction was obvious. A couple months passed and they started hanging out alone. It was actually kept from me for a while because Dan was worried I'd be upset, according to him.

Jen was jealous of how close Dan and I were, and she knew about my feelings for him. She would lie to Dan and tell him that when he and I hung out I would text her and brag about it, as if to rub it in her face. This never happened. Jen would, however, send me Snapchat pictures of Dan when they were hanging out alone.

One time Dan came over to go swimming. It was the first time I'd seen him shirtless and I'd never known how hairy he was. I joked that his hairy stomach hid his abs. A couple days later he sent me a Snapchat of his now shaved chest and stomach to ask me if it looked good. Well, yes it did, and frankly it suddenly became too much for me. This was coupled with the fact that when Dan and I hung out he insisted we lie about it to Jen so she wouldn't get jealous. I was more confused than ever about where we stood.

On a particularly bad night I confessed my feelings for Dan, said I knew he would not reciprocate them and told him I could not be his friend anymore. He said he had known I liked him and wanted to stay friends, but he knew the dynamic between the three of us was bad so he agreed to stop speaking.

I didn't talk to either of them for about 2 years. I quit my job and did my best to move on with my life.

A little over a year ago I messaged Jen. In my mind I had forgiven her for the lying and was over Dan, but I missed being friends with them (there were a lot of fun times before/mixed in with the bad ones). We slowly started to talk again. Eventually we would get lunch together, the three of us.

Dan and I were friendly but distant for a long time. We steadily became closer and in the past couple of months we became best friends again and my feelings for him have unfortunately fully resurfaced.

This is where the NSFW details come in. A couple of weeks ago my feelings for Dan came up in conversation over the phone and he again reiterated that he's always known about them and he's okay with it. That same night, while still on the phone with me, Dan went to the bathroom. I joked that the strength of his pee stream sounded like a garden hose. He laughed and eventually we were discussing the details of his penis and what he liked during sex. When describing his ideal blow job he explained it like this, “You would take one hand and place it… With your mouth you would…” Etc. This drove me wild and I feel like he was intentionally doing so. Sometimes when the conversation is coming to an end he'll say something like, “I haven't decided yet but I might go masturbate. Who knows…”

The problem is I like when he talks to me like that. I've never been able to say no, even though it's sort of a mixture of painful and enjoyable for me.

I feel like I come across as someone emotionally immature in this whole thing. Especially for my age. I'm definitely not fully developed in that sense. I've never had a healthy, long term relationship. And he may come across as very teasing. But he's also been incredibly kind to me throughout our friendship. He knows a lot about me, has been there for me through bouts of depression and anxiety. We're always making each other laugh. We have the same tastes in music and hobbies.

I think a lot of people would tell me this friendship isn't good for me, or Dan, or Jen and that I should move on. I would probably tell a friend in this situation the same thing. But I'm not ready to do that. I'd like to at least try to make it work, because when things are good with us, they're great. What are boundaries I should set and how should I phrase it to Dan? Has anyone been in a situation like this?

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Has anyone been in a situation like this?


What are boundaries I should set and how should I phrase it to Dan?

All of them. Stop being friends with the straight boy that gets an ego boost out of fucking with your attraction. Stop being friends with his girlfriend and their toxic jealous dynamic. Find good friends who love you for you and don't manipulate you for their own jollies.
posted by French Fry at 6:31 AM on February 6, 2018 [55 favorites]

I think a lot of people would tell me this friendship isn't good for me, or Dan, or Jen and that I should move on. I would probably tell a friend in this situation the same thing.

Listen to your own advice to yourself in this one. Dan is marinating in any attention he gets, and knows how to pull your strings to get that attention. It's all a giant ego stroke for him. He's acting super sleazy.

What do you get out of this, other than being in a drama factory? You were able to set this aside and leave it alone for years, and neither of them contacted you in that time, right? This is toxic and one-sided. No good is going to come out of reconnecting with these drama llamas. Walk away, don't look back. Look forward, and make some new friends.
posted by Fig at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

Don't confuse drama for happiness.

The only boundary you should be considering right now is letting this "friendship" go. Forever.
posted by cooker girl at 7:09 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think a lot of people would tell me this friendship isn't good for me, or Dan, or Jen and that I should move on. I would probably tell a friend in this situation the same thing. But I'm not ready to do that. I'd like to at least try to make it work, because when things are good with us, they're great. What are boundaries I should set and how should I phrase it to Dan? Has anyone been in a situation like this?

Dan is emotionally manipulative - he's willing to lie to his girlfriend to hang out with you (at least at one point) and knows you have unrequited feelings about him and still exploits them for what sounds like his own pleasure. You may notice the sexual conversation you had was all about his pleasure because of course it is.

The boundary I would be putting up in your position if I was concerned with my own sanity and well-being is a hard one - I imagine Jen would be very upset about the details of your conversation with Dan. It sounds like you know it also creates pain for you. So - I would say "Dan, until you can respect the boundaries that Jen and I both expect of you given what we've expressed to you, this friendship is over." Ball's in his court as to whether he can be up front, honest, and respectful to the people in his life or not.
posted by notorious medium at 7:10 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can't set boundaries externally,vocalizing them to Dan is just more of your toxic unhealthy dynamic. Got it?

Ideally, you would have been naturally disinterested in being on the phone with Dan when he had to go to the bathroom. You would have said goodbye and that would have been the end of it. Instead, you have long intimate conversations with him, as if you are dating. You are not dating. I agree they are fucking with your emotions and you need to wake up, place more value on your personal wellbeing, and RUN.
posted by jbenben at 7:39 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Ugh. I was in not the same same situation, but definitely the same in terms of drama and complication.

Trust me: THERE IS NO GOOD THAT CAN COME OF THIS. Stop hoping there there is. No one is honest, no one is communicating, no one wants the greater good. It's all just layer upon layer of f*ckery. Get out now before you've wasted any more time, energy and your peace of mind on this mess. Whatever may be lacking in your life that makes this seem like a more attractive alternative, FIX IT. If that means therapy, see what you can find out about that. If that means going 100% No Contact, block social media and stop texting people. Save yourself.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:06 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'd like to at least try to make it work, because when things are good with us, they're great

this sounds like something that people who have relationships with folks who have borderline personality say a lot. there are a couple of books about this that have great, descriptive titles of what it's like to have to deal with someone with BPD - I Hate You, Don't Leave Me and Walking on Eggshells

I've dealt with people like this in my organizing - someone who starts off extremely warm and personable who skips all the normal steps people take when forming intensely close bonds. the same texting everyday about everything, the same need for affirmation, the same displays of warmth and affection. when it's good, it's warm and fulfilling. and when it gets bad, it's really bad - as fast as it gets warm and fuzzy, it turns into a shitstorm of accusations and backpedaling and defensiveness

people who are equipped to handle this condition: psychiatrists / therapists

people who often cease handling this condition because the emotional labor is too much even for them: psychiatrists / therapists

you're neither equipped to handle his or his girlfriend's issues, and you're definitely not even coming at it from a emotionally distant, semi-objective frame of reference

take this from someone who grew up in an emotionally and physically abusive household: you do not ever need to be abused in any relationship. you don't need to take that shit, ever. as an adult, as a person in the world, if you have to privilege of doing so then go intentionally choose your family - there are good, kind people out there like yourself who are emotionally intelligent enough to not draw others into their own hang-ups and burdens. your 'friend' and his girlfriend are not that. and you know you deserve better
posted by runt at 8:13 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it helps your peace of mind at all, because I know that maybe-maybe-not orientation can be such an enormous mindfuck when you’re out as gay and the person you’re crushing on is claiming to be straight, I don’t think Dan is straight, and I think he’s been attracted to you from minute one. I hope I’m not making assumptions here, but your relationship with Dan and Jen reminds me of a lot of the dramatic romantic friendships I and almost all my other queer (men, women, nb folx) had during our teen and college years with same-gender “straight” friends who were in straight relationships. In all of these, the “straight” guy basically had two romantic partners, but one was not acknowledged and didn’t go physically beyond certain boundaries. In all of these relationships, the pining gay kid always had a fixation on their friend’s orientation— all these intimate things we’re doing can’t be an accident, his parents treat me more like his girlfriend than his actual girlfriend, people say we’re married, maybe if he just comes out of the closet we can finally be together the way I always wanted... but you finally realize that your guy being straight or not doesn’t actually have any bearing on the way he’s treating you, which is as a disrespected side piece.

That’s who Dan is. He is a man who wants to have one primary partner, and another lesser partner (or multiple partners) he can fuck around with on the side. He demands emotional loyalty from the people he’s dating— and exacts it either through generating drama or asking bizarre “who would you save” hypotheticals, but he doesn’t care about the emotions of the people he’s with and gets off on the ego boost of having them fight over him.

It sounds like you had the strength to pull out of this toxic, demeaning relationship before, and you stayed away for two years. You can do it again. Block him everywhere, no contact, get him and Jen out of your life. You deserve a real partner who cares for you, not a creep who is using you.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:16 AM on February 6, 2018 [53 favorites]

A couple of weeks ago my feelings for Dan came up in conversation over the phone and he again reiterated that he's always known about them and he's okay with it.

A good friend would not 'tease' someone who has Feelings. A good friend would respect that boundary by miles. Dan is not a good friend. Get out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:16 AM on February 6, 2018 [13 favorites]

You are basing all this on the incorrect assumption that because sometimes the highs are high that means there's something there to "make work" even though the dynamic is otherwise abusive.

That's addiction, not a relationship.

You can't just fix people or yourself by slapping some boundaries on, especially just sort of randomly, especially when you're not good at boundaries. You've already crossed way way way over the line of where any sort of boundaries should have been, and so now it is broken and both of you have proved in your own ways that y'all care more about whatever payoff (attention, mostly) than being respectful of each other, so it's over, it's done, walk away. Have boundaries from the start next time.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:22 AM on February 6, 2018 [15 favorites]

Lyn Never has it (as usual). Addiction is the most apt analogy for this dynamic. You crave the highs so much, because they get fewer and further between, but DAMN, they feel so good, and push so many buttons, you will literally put up with just about anything to get another one.

You equate "feeling good" with "being real," and you chase that high because you think it Means Something. But it's not real. It's just the illusion of real. Just like drugs or alcohol make you feel. Those feelings FEEL REAL because your body and mind are being acted upon by chemicals. But that shit is NOT REAL. It's just a by-product of the drug. Just like the way this "relationship" has made you feel. You can't trust feelings in this situation. The crash is what's real. The downside and the anxiety and the drama and the heartache is what is real. The rest is illusion.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:50 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh my god, this takes me back to college, except instead of the thing stopping him from wanting to be with me being his perception of his own sexuality, it was his religion.

So let me give you a little glimpse into your future, if you don't cut him off asap.

He will very slowly escalate things with you, as much as possible making you feel like you're pushing him, rather than the other way round. When you cross each boundary (whatever those might be), instead of feeling exhilarated and happy you will feel gross and kind of dirty, because he will quite quickly either turn cold, demand that you keep it secret for his benefit, or express thinly-veiled regret (or a combination, yay!) in order to make sure you don't expect it to keep happening (or to happen when and how you want it to). At some point, either Jen or another partner will find out and lay down the law or he will become too worried about being caught out, and he will ghost you, and the more you have invested in things by the point the more devastated you will be.

Seriously, get out of this as soon as you can. It is doing you emotional harm and you know it is. Please memail me if I can offer any other insights into this kind of gross denial-predator dude, or if you just want to vent.
posted by greenish at 9:00 AM on February 6, 2018 [14 favorites]

I agree you should walk away. But that’s not what you asked. So:

Dan sends you clothing-optional shot: “Dan, for fuck’s sake.” He sends you another one, you block him.

Dan discusses his penis with you: You say “for fuck’s sake” and hang up.
Dan discusses his fantasy life with you: ditto
Dan asks you if he’s hot: ditto

You do not have to have a conversation with Dan about it. Dan knows he is using you. He knows he doesn’t interact this way with his straight friends. He knows.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:02 AM on February 6, 2018 [10 favorites]

Just as an addendum for how harsh I'm being to Dan, I think the ages here are also pretty relevant. A lot of the people I know who were involved in these kinds of relationships as teenagers weren't doing it with any kind of malice, they were immature kids who weren't really emotionally equipped to have healthy relationships and didn't know what they were doing. It becomes a lot less OK to use people like this as you get older-- greenish's description of a "denial predator dude" is pretty accurate for someone in their mid 20s with a few relationships under their belt stringing along someone who has never been in a LTR. I don't know that I would agree with your categorization of yourself as "emotionally immature" in a bad way, but you are inexperienced, and I think Dan is taking advantage of that to keep this shitty dynamic rolling. Please treat yourself like you would treat a good friend going through the same thing. If you can get into therapy to process some of this stuff, that might be good too. Again, you deserve a healthy relationship with someone who cares about you and treats you well. Take care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:26 AM on February 6, 2018 [9 favorites]

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