Just Friends, Just Friends
May 14, 2019 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I can't figure out whether to take a friendship at face value or be cautious about what this person wants from me.

Back in September last year I briefly dated a PhD student who was on the verge of handing in his thesis. For various reasons, it never went anywhere and things fell apart very quickly. He also asked me the favor of handing in his thesis for him over the new year holidays. We agreed to just be friends in mid-January, mainly because I didn't want things to be awkward if we ran into each other again on campus. From my perspective it was just the standard break up line, and I didn't mean it in earnest, and I was also pretty disgusted by how I had been treated and had no real desire to reconnect.

Fast forward just a month (during which neither of us contacted each other), he gets back in touch and invites me to events (movie nights 99% of the time) with his group of friends. I say no at first, then relent after a few more invitations, thinking I would go to one so he could get off my back and realize that things were okay between us.

That is not what happened, however. The invitations continued and escalated in frequency for another two months. I never initiated any communication throughout this time, but I found I still had latent feelings for him because after I while I stopped refusing when he arranged something. If I said I wasn't available on an occasion, he would tell me when the next event was likely to happen. The expectation was that I would turn up. I also went back to cooking for him (he asked), but of course this was food shared among the group.

We were always careful that we hung out with other people around, but by the end of April our contact time was at twice a week (around 4-5 hours each time). Some of his behavior confused me in that it seemed to be what he was doing when we started dating, e.g. offered me his coat if it was cold, teased me a lot.

By May I couldn't handle it any more and confronted him about what this was and where it was going. Before saying anything directly, I tried to move the needle by inviting him to dinner (I was deliberately non-committal on the date/time), which he turned down point-blank. I also asked whether we would be doing any other activities, to which I received no response. When I asked him outright if he was essentially keeping me on the backburner, he said it wasn't anything like that and that he'd been clear since January that he didn't want a relationship (true) and that in January he had already found someone else he was interested in. He didn't consider me an ex (fair enough) because we had barely dated (true). He said he had never had strong feelings for me (can't argue with that).

I can't figure out if he is being genuine about the friendship and I've over-reacted because of my own biases/wishful thinking, or whether he has some other agenda in mind. He apologized that I was hurt by his rejection, but although I asked for space so I could move on, he has persisted in inviting me to things. Needless to say I said no, and I don't intend to turn up again.

Help me figure out how I should respond to this going forward. If he is genuine about being friends I would really have no problem with this, but I really can't tell what he wants. I've fully accepted he clearly doesn't want a relationship with me. I feel like I should take what he says at face value, but I also think the parameters of the friendship are very strange. Thanks in advance for the insights!
posted by radiantsquirrel to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He seems genuine about being friends. It seems like you are not interested. That means you do not want to be friends. You should tell him that you do not want to be friends instead of making this all about what he wants. (I do this too! No judgment! But it's worthwhile to own your own preferences instead of waiting to see what a man wants.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:15 PM on May 14, 2019 [31 favorites]

You don't give any reason why you shouldn't take him at face value. You both agreed to be friends and he's treating you like a friend. If you're getting a vibe you don't like, or you just don't like hanging out with him, then tell him that. Otherwise it's ok to keep hanging out if you want.
posted by bleep at 2:24 PM on May 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Block him.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:25 PM on May 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Without knowing more about the circumstances of your breakup, it's likely he is being sincere about wanting to stay friends. I also think that it's possible that by mostly inviting you to group hangs and just sort of keeping you in his social orbit he is trying to allay any guilt or perception that he treated you badly. Only he knows which it is, but it sounds like you resent the way he treated you and that's a bad way to start a friendship either way.
posted by cakelite at 2:27 PM on May 14, 2019 [12 favorites]

It's not really that weird to say you want to be friends and then do friendly stuff. It sounds like you're finding his friendship gestures confusing, and maybe some of his actions are unwise, but I'd take him at his word that he has platonic intentions towards you.

If you are happy with this friendship, then keep it up. If it makes you uncomfortable (I personally would be unimpressed by him continuing to contact you after you asked him not to) then stop hanging out with him. But I definitely wouldn't look for anything beyond friendship with this guy.
posted by hungrytiger at 2:31 PM on May 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

For your own sanity, so you're not reading tea leaves on every move he makes, be done with him. Don't answer, unfriend, block. He's been consistent if weird (why keep inviting you to things? Everyone knows "let's just be friends" is usually a fiction, here's why!)

You don't want what he's offering, he doesn't want what you're offering.
posted by *s at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Heck, man. Who knows why he's doing this. Maybe he was hesitant to fully divest himself from your care-taking gestures (cooking for him, handing in his thesis...side note, uh what?) because he's getting some obvious benefits from that. Maybe he just genuinely enjoys your company and wants to be your friend. Or a little bit of both, or something else entirely. But my question to you is: how do you benefit from his friendship? Does he cook for you occasionally? Help you with your work?
posted by gold bridges at 2:32 PM on May 14, 2019 [19 favorites]

Yah, I've seen this behavior before (from graduate students, no less!) and I bet it's not so much "keeping you on the back burner" as "enjoying para-girlfriend services". You're....like a girlfriend in that you're an escort to events, you cook, he can tease you and do vaguely flirty things, but you don't actually require any kind of commitment or reciprocity.

Para-dating is fine if everyone's cool with it - I've definitely had "we're not interested in each other but we enjoy fancy dinners and a certain amount of courtly behavior" relationships with people over the years and it can be kind of fun - but an awful lot of people who are not wise to themselves semi-consciously keep someone on a string like this. The fact that your break-up wasn't so fantastic is a hint that this is what's going on - if he was a jerk to you in the relationship, chances are he's also basically being a jerk now.

The test of para-dating is whether it's something you do separately from romantic dating (a fancy friend-date basically) or if you're just using someone to tide you over until you have a romantic partner. His whole "whoops I'm pursuing someone else" bit leads me to assume the latter.

Someday you will never have to date grad students again and you will look back and wonder at your present self.
posted by Frowner at 2:42 PM on May 14, 2019 [53 favorites]

If you don't want to do things with him, don't do things with him. That applied directly after the breakup and it applies now. My advice: don't do things with him. He ignores your boundaries and you don't seem to be able to enforce them with him.
posted by praemunire at 2:59 PM on May 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

Are these invitations coming via email to a group of people? It could be that he's added you to his standard friends email alias and is inviting you to everything by default without even really thinking about it. In that case, the simplest thing would be to ask him to take you off the distribution list.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:31 PM on May 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the parameters of the friendship are strange or at the very least, one sided. He gets all the obvious benefits, someone who cooks for him and comes when called to functions etc which some might say could just be interpreted as friendship. Except. It’s only on his terms because when you invite him, he declines.

It’s like you exist as his quasi girlfriend/plus one when he needs one but he’s not interested in catching up with you as a friend when you invite him. And then he gets to say that well, he already told you what the deal was, and you knew he wasn’t interested in anything more.

Something tells me if you rang him to ask if he could help hang a picture or pick you up from hospital this guy would be nowhere to be found. Yet he expects you to be conveniently available at his beck and call. This guy knows you have feelings for him and is taking advantage. I would move on.
posted by Jubey at 4:01 PM on May 14, 2019 [15 favorites]

I can't speak to his motives but it's probably best to take a giant step back from him and put up some boundaries.

Stop showing up for things he invites you to. If he keeps inviting you say you're really busy for the next several months but you'll let him know when you're open to invites again (never). Start exploring other friendships and dating opportunities. Adjust him to the periphery of your life. If you were the sun in a model of the solar system, he's been in a Venus/Earth position in terms of frequency of contact (revolutions). But emotionally he's Pluto*.

*It took real maturity to use Pluto for this example.
posted by bunderful at 4:05 PM on May 14, 2019 [17 favorites]

You can just walk away at this point. Relationship terms are not just unilaterally decided solely by one party, but in this case they sure seem to be. You don’t want to pick up what he is putting down (and neither would I; I think you are very right to feel disgusted and annoyed by his behavior), so don’t.
posted by sockermom at 5:20 PM on May 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you don't want to hang out with him, stop hanging out with him.

If you don't want to hang out with him because you're not clear what's up, stop hanging out with him.

If you don't want to hang out with him because you still have feelings and he's treating you like a para-girlfriend in a way that you don't want or doesn't feel balanced to you, stop hanging out with him.

If you don't want to hang out with him and having to meet the new person he's into and pretending that's cool when it isn't, stop hanging out with him.

It's okay if you're hurt, or feel that he's exploiting your goodwill or whatever - any reason you want to stop hanging out with him is valid. If you are down with the situation as is, cool. If not though - stop hanging out with him.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:39 PM on May 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

What do you want?
posted by smorgasbord at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

although I asked for space so I could move on, he has persisted in inviting me to things

He may be genuine about wanting to be friends, but he isn't a good friend if he can't do something as basic as respecting your need for space.

(I was also in one of these relationships in grad school and it was a waste of my goddamn time.)
posted by sm1tten at 7:38 PM on May 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

Thanks all for your hugely helpful clarifications, especially around the phenomenon of para-dating which I had no idea was a thing! It makes a lot more sense to me now why I found this 'friendship' to be particularly draining, and will be taking your advice on board to remove myself from the situation.
posted by radiantsquirrel at 12:03 AM on May 15, 2019 [18 favorites]

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