What I am doing wrong in new adult friendships?
May 4, 2021 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I (35 y.o. hetero cis f, married) met a guy (36 y.o., hetero cis m, single) through work whose company I really enjoyed. We both expressed that we would like to grow a friendship with one another. I made it clear to him that I am married, and discussed everything with my hubby so that everyone was on the same page. My new friend and I decided to meet up outside of work, and it was kind of weird. Since then it's been radio silence from him. What is going on here?

I am an only child and have always had difficulty relating to my peers. I had close friends as a kid, but now at 35 I really only have two real friends (both from high school) and a handful of acquaintances. Neither of my closest friends consider me to be their 'best friend' - painful, but I have to accept it for what it is. They both have large, rich circles of friends and seem to much more socially successful than I. I had a non-traditional career journey and spent many years studying and traveling around - I never lived on a college campus or had a steady cohort of college friends. I lost touch with many previous friends during the tumult of my 20s.

I don't often meet people that I connect with. I am shy and introverted, have a rich interior life, and I tend to ask a lot of big existential questions and like to ponder the nature of existence. I also have a very dry sense of humor. I think I am good at talking to people (my job requires that I have in-depth, emotionally sensitive conversations with people all day every day). I ask a lot of questions and am genuinely curious to understand other's perspectives. But generally I feel pretty lonely, like my life is devoid of connection. My husband is a great partner to me in many ways, but we are unable to have intellectually deep conversations and I miss this facet of human interaction.

When I met this guy I was excited, because we have great conversational chemistry and talking to him is always a fun experience. He opened up about his struggles to maintain friendships due to people getting married and drifting away. We both agreed that it was hard to be friends once married (esp. between men and women). I want to make a conscious effort to avoid this trap, as I consider myself very open to connecting with people and I want to be able to pursue friendships with people of all genders/relationships statuses etc. without jealousy or misunderstandings.

I made a great effort to stay above board on all fronts here, communicating clearly to my husband what my intentions were with the new guy friend to disarm any weirdness. I let the guy friend know that I had this conversation with hubby and that we were all communicating clearly. My husband and I are great at giving each other space to live our own lives and pursue separate interests (it's one of the things that makes our marriage great). We regularly go out and socialize separately, with different groups of people. We are sexually monogamous with each other, just to be clear.

So guy friend and I hung out together for the first time outside of work (this was his idea and he initiated, btw). It was an afternoon 'friend date' and we sat in the park with food and wine. The first thing that was odd to me was that the guy kept checking his phone and texting (he doesn't usually do this when we talk at work). I found it rude, but didn't say anything. I did a lot of the heavy lifting conversationally, asking him many questions about himself with not as much reciprocation. When we parted ways I felt a little embarrassed, like I had higher expectations for our friendship than he did.

In the days leading up to our hang, he was texting me frequently (memes, inquiries about how work was going, etc.) Since we hung out that one time in person, I have heard *nothing* from him. I did see him once at work but our interaction was brief (like a 5 minute chat). A few days ago I sent him a text (some pics from a trip I was on) and he responded "cool!" but didn't engage any further.

I am so sad and disappointed! I had high hopes for this friendship and I feel rejected. I don't want to make things even weirder by asking him about the change in tone, as he obviously saw something in me that was a red flag or should be avoided in some way. I think my loneliness causes me to put too much pressure on people. They see how excited I am to be with another human and they must assume I'm a weirdo.

This is a somewhat familiar pattern for me - I feel like I am always making a great effort to forge connections with people I find interesting with little response from them. I like to think I am a normal person - I shower, floss, wear deodorant etc. I am sensitive to social cues and adjust my behavior to match the appropriate dynamic (I can actually be a little TOO sensitive to this). I am conscious not to use offensive language or get too sarcastic with new people.
Is there a lesson to be extracted from this? Am I overthinking? Jumping to a negative conclusion? How can I approach the friend-making process more successfully next time?

PS - he did make a few comments to me about my husband: "don't get me in trouble!" and "your husband knows I'm not trying to holler at you, right?" But he did say at the end of our hang that he would love to have dinner with hubby and I sometime to meet him. Maybe this is just a social nicety that people say and don't mean?
posted by key_kat to Human Relations (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's entirely possible this had nothing to do with you and he's caught up in other things at the moment. It's also possible that he was hoping to date you, or that he didn't enjoy spending time with you. Perhaps testing it with an invitation to do something with you and your partner and maybe one of their friends would be useful to sort that out? Sympathy and best wishes.
posted by eotvos at 9:38 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]

Your post went in a different direction than I expected.

I wonder if, when he felt a connection and agreed that it's hard to make friends in adulthood, he was hoping to become friends with you and your husband. Friend-dates and work-spouse situations are laden with all kinds of potential thorns, so inviting him for dinner or drinks or game night or whatever, with your husband there, seems like a logical first step out of the office. A picnic with wine sounds like a date-date.

That's really how larger friend groups are formed, in general. New people get absorbed into the group - the group in this case being your husband and you. He clicked with you, so the assumption would be that he'd also click with your people.

But he did say at the end of our hang that he would love to have dinner with hubby and I sometime to meet him. Maybe this is just a social nicety that people say and don't mean?

I'd have taken him at his word and invited him to dinner.

But all of the conversations you relate sound quite heavy/serious for new acquaintances. That often happens with introverts (myself included) - we put a lot of expectation into those few people we connect with, and that vibe can be off-putting.
posted by headnsouth at 9:39 AM on May 4 [33 favorites]

It sounds like you (both, perhaps) set up this friendship with heavy expectations before it got off the ground. It went from fun and casual to something kind of official but without the kind of natural progression of friendship that can take years to develop -- or never does -- into something more defined. A lot of people aren't sure how to consciously and e xplicitly "start" a friendship without it seeming like a relationship. The "date" sounds a lot like, well, a real date, with wine and an expectation for deep and self-revealing conversation. For some people, friendship has a lighter and more spontaneous feeling, and this might have confused him on some level, especially if he's attracted to you and needed to assert boundaries for his own clarity. A lot of good and significant friendships *do* play out at the office only.
posted by nantucket at 9:41 AM on May 4 [44 favorites]

I really don't think it's you.

You are married, he is single, and my guess is that's what's causing him to apply the brakes.

Maybe he's worried about developing feelings for you that go beyond friendship. Maybe he already has, to some degree. Maybe he doesn't want your husband to become suspicious. Maybe it just feels wrong to him.

I'd ask him if you being married is causing him concerns. If it is, be respectful of that.

Yes, I know your husband is OK with the two of you being friends, but he doesn't know your husband. And humans are humans. Irrational gut feelings often get in the way of reason.
posted by vitout at 9:43 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]

as he obviously saw something in me that was a red flag or should be avoided in some way

This is...quite a stretch, and it's okay to have better self-esteem here. The simpler explanation is that his feelings coming out of this aren't quite as clear as he had anticipated. I would guess that this meetup turned out to be (or at least feel like it looks like) too intimate for him to know how to deal with. Possibly he had a better time than he expected, and despite all disclaimers it ended up feeling like a date with uncomfortable (for the circumstances) date feelings. And now he's being awkward about it.

You don't have that much to lose at this point, I think you can politely ask if you offended him or if he's uncomfortable and give him an opening to say if he's feeling weird about it.

I do find that to have guy friends, especially early on, means trying to make it as non-datey as possible, which often means (under normal public health circumstances) doing brocialization - parallel socializing instead of face to face. It's hard right now to go to a ball game or do a sport together or fix/build stuff. It's possible you two will have to wait a while and try something like that later when it's possible. But you should talk to him about it, because he may be feeling weird for completely social reasons that one clarifying conversation can fix.

Worst case scenario: he does have some kind of problem with you, in which case you will know for sure this is a rejection and don't have to wonder or let it linger. It will sting but it is not lethal.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:54 AM on May 4 [10 favorites]

You are married, he is single, and my guess is that's what's causing him to apply the brakes.

That was my thought too. Either he's realized he wants to date you, or your being married is making him nervous about the friendship for some reason, or both. He said himself that he finds it harder to maintain friendships with married people, and I bet his feelings about that are playing into his distance right now. Also a picnic in a park with wine sounds pretty cozy and date-like and is kind of a curious choice for a casual new friend hang.

How much do you see each other at work? Could you continue getting to know each other there, over workday lunches or whatever, without putting too much emphasis on get-togethers outside of work just yet?

You didn't do anything wrong, and I very much doubt his pulling back has anything at all to do with you as a person or how you handled the situation. Please don't be hard on yourself here.
posted by anderjen at 9:55 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]

Despite your pre-meetup comments, it's possible he was waiting til you were alone together in your date location to see if in fact you had more to deliver than that. As you have told the story, it sounds (to me) like he was hoping for more, and you did not offer it; so he's now lost interest in his mental image of you vs. "real you".

Any relationship that starts out with chat and email etc. causes you to build up a lot of expectations. From experience, I know how problematic this reality check can be.

People are complex. I am sorry this happened- but as others mentioned- invite him to dinner! You never know!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:58 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]

I am not saying you did anything wrong here, but a "friend date" like that would be very confusing to me! Like... it just sounds like a *date*? And I know that you were very clear that you were married, etc., but then you went on a date with this guy. I definitely have friends who I wouldmeet up with for a picnic in the park, but it's something I would reserve for either very close friends or a group of friends. It's a lot of pressure for a first friend-date, just talking to each other. In general, with friends, at least at first, I would expect to be doing an activity - maybe going on a hike or going to a movie or show.

Again: not to say that you were doing anything wrong, but maybe to point out that this guy could have been legitimately confused or uncomfortable. And maybe you two are not meant to be "private picnic" friends.

So I say, don't invite him to dinner! But maybe invite him to a movie or an art museum or a sports game or whatever you think you would find to be of mutual interest (and pandemic-safe, obvs).
posted by mskyle at 10:02 AM on May 4 [19 favorites]

Well I think he did leave a friendship open to pursue, in a week or two if there's an opportunity (Covid etc.) to invite him for a low-key meal with your husband or walk or something there's your next step if you want to take it - although given the wine and everything, I dunno, man, he might just have oversold himself. It sounds like you're taking on all the awkwardness when he has a big chunk of it.

How can I approach the friend-making process more successfully next time?

What I would recommend is in the future if you want to become friends with anyone try inviting people to tag along with you rather than having deep conversations about your needs for friendship first and on the first 'friend date.' Like, if you have a dog/run/play tennis, invite the person along for that. If you are catching an art show or a book launch or wanting to try a new bakery and then eat pastries in the park, invite the person along for that. Start with shorter things and move to longer things.

I myself am 100% awful at remembering to do this, but when I've remembered to do it, it's worked really well. It forms connection without making "The Friendship" the focus which helps kind of ease the way.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:02 AM on May 4 [28 favorites]

Just chiming in to say that I (cishet woman in a LTR) can empathize with you here. Throughout my life, the majority of my friends have been men, and I don't make new friends easily. I am on the margins of a very conservative religious community, so all of my socializing with new male friends is at dinner parties with my husband in attendance. He has zero problems with my going out for beer with the guys, but it just feels weird these days. So I say give it a rest for a few weeks and then invite him for a meal with the both of you.
posted by 8603 at 10:12 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]

Work friendships can be (but don't have to be) more complicated. I'd try looking outside of work to make new friends. Such as a local hobby group or a meetup.com group. If you do want to have social events with your coworkers, try a group event with 3 or more people.
posted by mundo at 10:14 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]

I think your instincts are correct and that there was too much build-up and intensity before you hung out. Also, I know that it sucks because you don’t connect on a friend-level with someone every day, but it’s tricky verging on impossible for a straight woman to establish new, platonic, not-weird friendships with straight men once you’re in your thirties. I’ve done it, but it has to be extremely organic and usually in the context of a larger group.

What are your hobbies or interests? Joining a club or volunteering are great ways to meet likeminded people and are always recommended in these kinds of asks for a reason. I sort of think people say things like “I’m too much of a deep thinker / too dry-humored for most people” as a defense mechanism because it’s scary to put yourself out there.
posted by cakelite at 10:15 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]

I'm a little confused about the efforts you describe going to telling both the friend and your husband that it's just friends. Like I'm not at all saying YOU have any weird intent, but I can see being the friend and being a little bewildered that the supposed casualness and the "I talked to my husband!! it's cool!!!" are at odds with each other, like, "why would she say that unless there's a nonzero possibility that it's not cool?"

I don't think you did anything wrong, but it's possible he got the wrong signal about it. I agree to give it some space for a week or two and then suggest a less datey activity.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:23 AM on May 4 [46 favorites]

I empathize with what you write in your third paragraph here about your difficulty finding people that you really connect with on a deep level, but I also think that if you have verbalized any of these thoughts to your new friend, it could make him wary. (If you haven't said anything like this to him, feel free to ignore this comment, but it sounds like you have already had deep conversations with him and this is a possibility that might account for his behavior.) I'm especially concerned by your statement that you feel like you can have more intellectually satisfying conversations with your new friend than you have with your husband! If a married person said anything like that to me, I would worry that they were falling in love with me (even if they didn't realize it themselves), and I would likely pull back for fear of getting ensnared in a love triangle.
posted by clair-de-lune at 10:29 AM on May 4 [23 favorites]

Came here to say what nakedmolerats just said - I'm know this varies across social circles, but within my social circle, there isn't anything weird about a partnered person having a friendship with someone of whatever sex they're attracted to. If I (a partnered het woman) started to become friends with a man, I would certainly tell him about my partner and at some point they'd undoubtedly meet, but I wouldn't announce "Oh hey, don't worry my partner is cool with this!" Likewise, if I was in the man's position here, I'd be a little weirded out that you felt the need to state this - it would make me wonder if your husband was the jealous type, or if you had a history of cheating on him, etc.
posted by coffeecat at 10:32 AM on May 4 [12 favorites]

the fact that he said, after your park date, that he'd like to hang out with you and your husband says to me that he likes you but he felt like the time he spent with you was too date-like and he didn't like that, but he's open to having a friendly relationship along less fraught/intense lines.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:49 AM on May 4 [36 favorites]

"When I met this guy I was excited"
You never specify *when* you met him. Have you been working together for years? Did you just meet the week before you hung out? That makes a difference. If you just met him and your first two non-work conversations were a meta-conversation about adult friendship and a wine picnic (see below), that's... a lot to start a friendship with.

"I want to be able to pursue friendships with people of all genders/relationships statuses etc. without jealousy or misunderstandings"
Takes two to tango.

"this was his idea and he initiated"

"It was an afternoon 'friend date' and we sat in the park with food and wine"
You have one too many words in your quotation marks.

"the guy kept checking his phone and texting (he doesn't usually do this when we talk at work)"
Because you're at work. This is pretty normal in 2021 social settings TBH.

"I did a lot of the heavy lifting conversationally, asking him many questions about himself with not as much reciprocation"
Also pretty normal. Guys are kind of famous for not being good at this.

"like I had higher expectations for our friendship than he did"
Likely true.

"Since we hung out that one time in person, I have heard *nothing* from him"
Has he heard anything from you? Conversation is a two-way street, and the only conversation you actually mentioned was you sending him pictures of something he doesn't particularly seem interested in.

"he obviously saw something in me that was a red flag or should be avoided in some way"
Did he?

"I like to think I am a normal person - I shower, floss, wear deodorant etc."
There's more to being a normal person than this. :) And actually, as I think about it, I know a few people (friends) who don't do one or more of these things. Hygiene has a pretty tenuous relationship to friendliness.

"But he did say at the end of our hang that he would love to have dinner with hubby and I sometime to meet him"
Well, there's a really easy next step, huh?

So I think a couple of things happened here. First of all, you're expecting a lot from people, specifically with regard to the texting thing, but also with regard to the conversation leading. I don't think it's totally unreasonable, because I personally share those expectations. But I'm also willing to not pursue friendships with such people. To some extent, this is a numbers game - you have to meet a lot of people to find someone who doesn't spend a ton of time looking at their phone.

Second, there's a pretty good chance that this guy thought that you were going on a date, and, well, you didn't really do anything to disabuse him of that notion. Most casual acquaintances don't start out with huge DTR conversations, and pretty much no casual friendships ever go on a wine picnic. Both of those things are pretty much exclusive to romantic relationships. Add that to the natural horniness of most heterosexual guys, and I think we can be pretty sure he expected a different ending than "let's hang out with my husband sometime". Or, hey, this is the 2020s, maybe he expected "hanging out with your husband" meant something else. "My husband is cool with this"... see where I'm going?

Third, you're trying WAAAAAAY too hard to make a friend. Like, this is not how friendships happen. It's not a contractual relationship where you have to disclose everything at the outset and agree to proceed. There is no schedule. You just chat a bit, and then you hang out, and then you chat some more, and then you hang out again, and eventually you realize "hey, we're friends!". Let that happen here.

To me, there are three obvious next steps, if you still would like to try to be friends. Keep texting/chatting with him, especially about low-pressure stuff like work. Invite him over to meet your husband. Maybe go out somewhere, if you're comfortable doing that. No wine, or candles, or walking on the beach, or anything else that shows up in date scenes in cheesy rom-coms. Just like, get some burgers and beers at a bar or something. And if your workplace culture is conducive to it, maybe try to organize a work happy hour with other co-workers. That way you can see him outside the office but not one-on-one. If he wants to be social, he can take the lead. If not, well, there's your answer. I'd probably try this before inviting him out with your husband.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:51 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]

The single best thing you can do to both gauge his friend-interest and make it non-hetero-weird is to invite him to a joint thing with you and your husband. You'll see if this has a future or not. If he doesn't bite, let this one go.

In fact, for future male acquaintances I'd do that before organising any other friend activity.
It means your intent will be clear without you needing to talk about it Very Seriously and bogging down a budding friendship.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:52 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]

I find texting incredibly rude when I've made time to hang out with someone face-to-face, I don't care if people think it's "normal".

I also don't see the problem with hanging out in a park with a friend, with or without wine, but I can also see where it might be too much pressure on making conversation if you don't know somebody that well. I like to do activities with people when I'm getting to know then because it takes the pressure off.

Also, friend dates are definitely a thing. I make dates to hang with friends, old and new. People who think friend dates aren't a thing must be kinda lonely?

I'd say, take him at his offer to have dinner with you and your husband. If he comes and texts the whole time, well, no second invite for Rude McRuderson. If he doesn't want to come, I'd take that as disinterest in what you're offering (friendship, not romance) and move your emotional energies elsewhere. I feel you on wanting to pursue those connections you find, but in my own experience longing/pursuing friendships when the other person isn't into it hasn't been happy or fun for me -- it never feels mutual even if they "relent" and hang out with me. Better to branch out and eventually find someone you click with who also clicks with you!

Good luck!
posted by cnidaria at 11:01 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your responses so far, I'm gaining a lot of insight from reading them.
Just a few clarifications:

-I've known this guy for about a year and see him 3-4 times a month. He has always sought me out to talk to me, spent a lot of time talking to me, made a big effort to get to know me, was texting me like crazy, etc. To the extent that I think I really let my guard down in terms of intimacy - I felt like we were on the same page and had a special connection.

- Wine in the park is one of a few ideas he suggested for our hang. The eating alternative right now in our city is making reservations at a sit-down restaurant, which I didn't want to do. Sitting in the park (the only one in our part of the city) has been one of the few social activities I've been able to do consistently over the past year, so it's become a go-to. I appreciate your advice about lower-pressure hangs with activities and in a group, I will try that next time!

- During our "it's hard to make friends while married convo" I shared with him that I was currently trying to navigate a friendship with a former boyfriend, and that my husband felt weird about it. I wanted to make sure guy friend understood that our scenario was different than the other one within the context of my marriage.

- From reading your responses I realized that my idea of casual conversation topics are very different than most people's. I think I tend to over-share and get too "intense" right away. It appears to be my natural way of relating to others. I know it can scare people away, I just don't know how to tone it down :(

Again, thanks all for your input. I appreciate the perspective and the kindness!
posted by key_kat at 11:24 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]

Maybe he's bad at this. I also think that your choice of activity for your first get together was not a great one. Picnic with wine in the park is very date-date, and it might have gotten awkward fast because of that energy. A better choice would have been to go to a sculpture garden or installation, grab some drinks at an outdoor cafe, urban hike, or do some kind of activity or class together. Sitting on a picnic blanket with just the two of you would be fine once you're far down the line of established friendship, but it's a far more intimate activity and one that may already be programmed in his head as date-date. It introduces romance vibes in a way that's uncomfortable.
posted by quince at 11:30 AM on May 4

I think your takeaways are spot on. I'll also note, it's possibly a pessimistic viewpoint, but in my experience a lot of affairs do start with the sort of interactions you are talking about, including the pretense that you are both being smart and appropriate and going in with boundaries, that later devolve into inappropriate territory. Some people will even purposely utilize this method to do exactly what happened here - get the person to let their guard down and get close - and then try to shift it toward a crossing of that previously established line. Given that some of what you've described here does sound like romantic chemistry more than friend chemistry - being excited, intimate, etc - I think that is a possibility here.

In terms of lightening up your approach with people, do you have any hobbies you could utilize for social contact? Going to the dog park, hiking, or tackling projects is a good way to connect without getting deep. Try adding activities vs focusing on just talking.
posted by amycup at 11:31 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]

I just want to note, in case it benefits you, that intense topics don't scare me at all.

What does put me off a budding friendship sometimes is a feeling of obligation - like the sense that in committing to the next friend activity I am committing to a longer term relationship. For me that first couple of years of friendship is much more about wanting to hang out than feeling like I've committed to being there.

For most of my really close friends, I would say there was an intense chemistry (of the friend sort) right away - you know that "bosom buddy" thing. Like I have this category of people where our first meetings were the kind where you just feel - home.

But that feeling is just a feeling - I've had it with people here and there where the friendship did not end up being great (and others where I never had that feeling, it took like, years to appreciate the people, and now they are amazing long-term friends.)

So for me, I need space to manoeuvre between my feelings and my time/energy/commitment. And by space I just mean lower-obligation activities, things with built-in entertainment, and frequency that isn't like, 3 times a week.

But I totally have friends who are intense people and that is a-ok, so hang in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:34 AM on May 4 [16 favorites]

I think in spite of what you were telling him, he really thought he had a shot with you (or maybe a shot with you and your husband). He suggested wine in the park, which is a total date move, and you agreed, which might have bolstered his hope. Then the thought of that crashed and burned when he realized you were really, really married, this was not a date, and this was not a possible romantic relationship, upon which he lost interest.

Maybe that's not what happened, but that's what I'm taking away from it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:52 AM on May 4 [15 favorites]

A few thoughts:

(a) This reminds me of the time I went on a friend date with a lady--nothing sexual for anybody--but she definitely lost interest in me after that and never wanted to hang out again. That happens. Maybe you just weren't as awesome for them one on one as you hoped to be. Nothing really caught fire with us like I had been expecting. Sounds like you two were great over text and then IRL he fell flat, somehow.

(b) Even though she's focusing on girlfriends rather than guy friends, I recommend looking up the work of Shasta Nelson, who talks very well about building friendships and how it's done.

(c) That said, I have to concur with everyone else that heterosexual cross-gender platonic friendshipping may have been The Problem here. A lot of guys--not all of them but a lot--may be secretly shooting for more than you were wanting to give, and then he lost interest. That's why cross-gender heterosexual friendships can be a bitch to build/maintain.

This one may have fizzled, honestly. But maybe try one more time to have a "meet the hubby" time and see if that, I dunno, improves anything or if it just didn't work out.

I'm sorry you're disappointed. I would be too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:05 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]

In general it seems like a lot of weight was being put on this particular friendship working out. I've backed off of this level of intensity before, and had other people back off from me being this intense, too. Looking back, I think that sometimes that intensity is a bit of a sign of putting some of your own baggage on someone else without seeing them as they really are; it's rightly a red flag, and I'm saying that as someone who's also done it.

I'd also be pretty put off by someone's spouse giving me permission to speak to them; counter-intuitively, that feels a lot more sexual than just hanging out.

Taking your coworker at his word up to this point, he might be consciously or unconsciously backing off because it felt like too much too fast. I agree that socializing in a group (you and your husband, you and a few other coworkers) might cut the intensity and let the friendship develop more naturally/easily.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:20 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]

Given that he suggested the wine in the park, I’m going to go with “he hoped for more”. What he’s doing now is telling you he’s still friendly, but he now is recalibrating his viewpoint of you.
posted by corb at 12:23 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]

Might also be coincidence that something else has come up and is holding his life attention. In the future if you meet up with someone and they seem unusually distracted, it is ok to mention - like, it's not the most #chill thing but it's not actually good to live your life in "whoever cares most loses" mode. Sometimes people don't realize how noticeable it is to others that they're distracted (I know, it's obvious, but brains lie to us when they say we can just check that text thread "real quick"), and in that case he might be embarrassed and stop, or if there's actually something going on (a family emergency, a new girlfriend that he's distracted by) it might be a chance to have a discussion about whatever's on their mind.
posted by Lady Li at 12:29 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]

I don't necessarily think it's the heterosexual attraction thing -- I'm a heterosexual lady and have acted like your friend to other heterosexual ladies. I think I'm probably very similar to your friend. I really like the idea of having close friendships but I am terrible at maintaining them for several reasons:
1) I'm great at making conversation in casual or work settings, but I definitely have some social anxiety and freeze up one-on-one (you doing the heavylifting during your hangout: been there, as him!) 2) As such, after a one-on-one hangout I need to decompress for like a week 3) Like warriorqueen said, I hate feeling obligated to people. If they come across as REALLY wanting to hang out, like, all the time, I will definitely pull back to indicate that I don't want a friendship to be that intense. It's not often that I don't like the person, I just want to be alone like 90% of the time 4) I feel very uncomfortable sharing/oversharing, particularly early on in a friendship. I will again pull away a little and try to keep things superficial/light/text-y if I feel like things are going down that road

To be clear, I never think the other person is a weirdo. I don't think you are a weirdo. I think maybe you two just have different expectations for what 'friendship' means. It kind of sounds like you're looking for a best friend right away and he's just looking for a friend, if that makes sense. And I think the fact that he said he wanted to have dinner with you and your husband sometime is a sign he still wants to be your friend!
posted by thebots at 12:42 PM on May 4 [8 favorites]

Another possible explanation is that you just had a dud hangout. With many of my friends 80-90% of the time our hangouts are top-notch friend-chemistry, but then the other 20-10% of the time fall somewhat flat. Who knows why - maybe one of us is stressed, tired, grumpy, whatever. Given that you've built up a rapport with this guy over a year, and you admit to sometimes overthinking things, you might be overthinking this - can't hurt to invite him over for dinner or to plan some activity with a mutual friend (if that's possible).
posted by coffeecat at 12:49 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]

I've known this guy for about a year and see him 3-4 times a month. He has always sought me out to talk to me, spent a lot of time talking to me, made a big effort to get to know me, was texting me like crazy, etc. To the extent that I think I really let my guard down in terms of intimacy - I felt like we were on the same page and had a special connection.

I think he might be interested in you romantically. The old adage -- People don't approach or seek out others they are not interested in. I might get blasted for this but it's generally true that heterosexual men don't approach heterosexual women, text them a lot, and make big efforts, unless there is a romantic interest.

I am interested in big questions and probing the psyche and tend to focus more on analyzing people and ideas rather than some of the regular, down-to-earth topics that need to come first as a friendship develops. I tend to want people to like me too much, or wonder too much if new people like me. I am prone to idealizing people and fantasize about potential friendships. That kind of intenseness can be palpable and can create too much pressure. My advice is to let it breathe and approach your next friendship slowly and with minimal expectations. If you're anything like me, know that longing for connection with a person that we idealize can mean that we are ignoring or dismissing the connections we already have. I want to be understood and known and loved --- and I'm continually searching for this when it's already there.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:00 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]

I'm a cishet woman. Several years ago, I really hit it off with a new male coworker, and I was so relieved when I found out he was gay. That made it so much easier to pursue a friendship (I even told him so at the time). He is now one of my dear friends. Friendships between straight women and men can be fraught, including and sometimes especially in a work context, as you have said. With my work friends who are men, we have either kept it to work (chatting at work or lunch or coffee during the work day) OR shifted quickly to making it a couple friendship, which is to say, including our partners if either of us was partnered. It just makes it easier and more comfortable. I'm not saying this is how it should be, but that this is our current cultural context.

It was an afternoon 'friend date' and we sat in the park with food and wine.

The lead-up, with all the texting in advance, does make this seem more date-like to me. It's interesting that this was his suggestion. He might be attracted to you. Maybe he thought you were flirting (straight men often think women are flirting with them when we don't think we are flirting with them). This might be a lot like romantic dates he goes on. He did express interest in seeing you again, with your husband. That tells me he likes you and wants to make sure it's on the up and up. I agree with others that activity dates are great with friends. In Covid times, that can be a walk rather than sitting in a park. Go to a new neighborhood or a park. Moving next to each other can be a good way to be doing something and chit chat, with less pressure.

In the bigger picture: you said you have difficulty with maintaining friendships. I have too. It can be hard to make new friends in your 30s. You also noted, and I agree, that it can be extra complicated to have a friendship between a straight man and straight woman. My very strong advice is to focus your friendships on women. Like, if friendships are difficult, don't dive all in to advanced friendship right away.

During our "it's hard to make friends while married convo" I shared with him that I was currently trying to navigate a friendship with a former boyfriend, and that my husband felt weird about it. I wanted to make sure guy friend understood that our scenario was different than the other one within the context of my marriage.
I'd say this sounds like a very intimate thing to share with a new male friend/potential friend especially. It's pretty intimate to say something negative/critical/private about your marriage or husband to a male coworker like this. Did your husband know you said this? Would you feel comfortable telling him? Would you be comfortable if he were a fly on the wall while you had this conversation with your coworker? Affairs (physical and emotional) often start at work between two people who are basically complaining about their marriages/relationships/spouses. I understand why this is relevant to your friendship, but I really wonder about your reasons for sharing this with your coworker who is a straight man. He might have taken this, unintentionally, as a signal or clue. Do you know if he's dated coworkers before?

I am also wondering about your friendship with your ex. I again want to suggest that you start pursuing friendships with people who aren't in your theoretical dating pool, past, present, or future. I'm a woman who sometimes finds it easier to be friends with men than women, and I think that's ... not great. I don't know if it's internalized misogyny. I also think it can take longer to build up a real friendship with women but that the friendships can be stronger and outlast other relationships (because the friendship isn't a threat to our romantic partnerships). It can also hurt more when it ends, but I think that's because they are good, intimate friendships.

Bumble, the dating app, has a friend-dating feature. You'd definitely want to talk to your husband about this to give him a heads up, but it is possible to friend-date other women via Bumble without being on the dating side of things. I met up with three women doing this, and it was great. So maybe try that?

Also, I do think you're personalizing his lack of contact. He could be busy, or maybe he's dating someone new, or something else is going on. There are loads of explanations that don't lead to red flags with you, I promise. But, again, pursuing friendships with straight men is only going to make this harder. Start chasing women friends.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:01 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]

I think for a lot of people this would have been too much too soon. As others have pointed out, friendship usually needs to develop organically and over a long period of time. So for you guys, maybe the first step would have been to take 30 mins to grab a coffee inside of work hours rather than have a wine picnic date. That seems way too intimate for this level of 'knowing each other' and would automatically make me uncomfortable.

Also, men and women can of course be close friends - I'm married and one of my best friends is a man who was my flatmate for 7 years . We know each other incredibly well. We talk about deep things sometimes, but we also talk about a LOT of rubbish. Despite being friends for over a decade, if you put us in a park alone with wine right now, I would be awkward and make stupid jokes. I think the venue for this friendship date was the wrong choice and probably created the weirdness.

If you still like this person and want to be friends with him, dial it way back and make it much lighter. Ask him to go on a hike somewhere nice with you and your husband/part of a bigger group or ask him over one afternoon in the weekend for a coffee or something. I go to the gym with one of my male colleagues/friends, though that's probably not for everyone.
posted by thereader at 1:13 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]

Like someone upthread I was really surprised at the ending. I’m wondering if your read of this was more pessimistic than realistic because of the buildup in your own head. (For which I don’t fault you! I have also had friend dates I was needlessly amped about.) I’d wait a few weeks and see if he accepts an invitation to some activity that you and your husband both enjoy. Worst case scenario, I think you will stay work friends.

(I have only once really scored a conversion from work friend to regular life friend! I don’t know if I’m doing it wrong or what, but it actually does not seem like easy mode to me, at all.)
posted by eirias at 1:42 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

It can be hard to figure out social conventions around making new friends. I used to be pretty much exactly like you, once upon a time, and I can totally see myself doing what you just seem to have done.

One of the social conventions about friendships is that you are expected to approach it much more casually than you're doing right now, otherwise you end up sending romance vibes. Let me put it this way. If meeting a new person can be compared to watching a new movie at the theater, "friend energy" is like when you go to see a movie that has excellent buzz and an interesting cast, huh, cool, this might be fun! And if it's bad, it's not like your evening is ruined. "Romance energy" is like going to the midnight release of the last movie in a franchise you're deeply invested in, where you've spent months discussing fan theories online and there is a real possibility of actual heartbreak if the movie doesn't deliver.

In this post you sound faaar more like a Star Wars uberfan talking about your experience of watching Episode IX than someone who went to watch Knives Out at the matinee. By which I mean, you're putting out a decidedly romantic energy in this post, even while your words say friendship. Your entire identity and personality and hopes and dreams are coming into play when you talk about "friendship" with this guy. People who went to watch Knives Out didn't bring their hopes and dreams from their adolescent selves into it! Only the Star Wars folks would talk that way.

And that's probably exactly what happened with this guy! He was romantically interested in you, he thought you reciprocated his interest for a long time, but then you made an elaborate fuss about clearing this Just Friends date with your husband, that's what has interrupted the lovely romantic chemistry between the two of you.

As sucky as this feels, there is also a bright side to it. Because friendships are such a casual affair, you get to move on without having your whole week/month ruined. You don't have to feel awkward about this. Maybe you'll never be deep soul-friends with this guy, and it's just as well. Try practicing friendships with people whom you feel a lot less strongly about. Approach every coffee-date or introductory walk in the park like you're just going to watch a random matinee movie. Eh, whatever, it's not going to ruin your afternoon if this goes wrong. You're not looking for an identity-confirming, life-affirming, earth-shaking relationship. Nope! This is just something to eat popcorn to. If you get lucky, it might turn out to be the friendship equivalent of Knives Out: a charming, funny, surprising little thing that makes you smile when you think of it. That's the most you can allow yourself to expect in the beginning.
posted by MiraK at 2:55 PM on May 4 [13 favorites]

But he did say at the end of our hang that he would love to have dinner with hubby and I sometime to meet him. Maybe this is just a social nicety that people say and don't mean?

Maybe for some percentage of people, but why guess? In the somewhat near future, invite him to dinner w/ hubby and you. If he says yes, GREAT! If he wiggles out of it or says no, GREAT! Now you know! (While I'm not some gung ho "Ask Culture" person, this is one of those times when guessing isn't necessary, and will only make you crazy, given your tendency to analyze.)
posted by nosila at 3:06 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]

I don't think that you necessarily did anything at all to put him off. but, because as you go on to meet other people and make future friends some of them will probably also be men, I do think this is not the best approach:

I let the guy friend know that I had this conversation with hubby

like if a guy I'd known for a while wanted to hang out, and I already knew he was married because he mentioned his wife a lot, that would be all fine and good. but if he then took the step of letting me know that he had run the idea of having a woman friend past his wife and she didn't mind? that would be...very weird. there are probably men who would feel reassured by such information rather than patronized, but I don't think that speaks to a great mindset on their part.

there is also the kind of guy who would take all the man/woman/marriage/friendship preamble as protesting too much, and figure that you were working up to making a pass, and be let down when you didn't. That would not be your fault or your problem, but could happen and may have happened here.

again I don't think you should assume you did or said anything wrong at the actual event. it sounds like it was just awkward because it was an event, with date-like pressure even without the romance.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:05 PM on May 4 [12 favorites]

I had a work situation in which I went out to lunch with a group of coworkers. Mostly I was the only guy. One week, it worked out that it was only one woman plus me. It just felt weird. I felt antsy the whole time. Her husband was a dentist in town, and she was involved with church, school, etc. I didn't like risking the town gossip telling stories.

Another time, I was on a business trip to a far off city, and the woman I was there to see took me to dinner. That time, she was jumpy.

We humans are funny creatures.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:34 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

I think he was hoping to hook up with you. Then it became clear that wasn't going to happen, and he lost interest. Like I'm guessing he's moved on to another woman/women. All we can do is guess, but that's what it sounds like to me.
posted by wondermouse at 5:53 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]

The first thing I would think is that he was hoping for more.

The last thing I would think is there’s anything wrong with you! You know what? Maybe your “intensity” is not for everybody, but NOBODY is for everybody.

Between those is a range of things we couldn’t possibly guess. But the first thing is a tale as old as time. No matter how clear you were with him, he may have wanted more.
posted by kapers at 6:04 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]

As a general rule of thumb, friendships develop around a shared external interest rather than around the relationship itself. Typically, when a friendship becomes focused exclusively on the friendship itself, it either turns into a romantic/sexual relationship or dies. Here might there have been too much focus on the relationship rather than on the shared interest(s)?
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 6:52 PM on May 4 [17 favorites]

>> He has always sought me out to talk to me, spent a lot of time talking to me, made a big effort to get to know me, was texting me like crazy, etc. To the extent that I think I really let my guard down in terms of intimacy - I felt like we were on the same page and had a special connection.

Sorry to say, OP, I as a straight woman have never had a straight dude behave like this around me unless he was interested in me romantically, with the exception of one or two friends I've had since college/early years of grad school and developed family-like bonds with.

In my experience, women generally seem to be much more...capable? of totally platonic deep interest in people of their preferred gender, or at least not developing feelings in people they interact with deeply, and misinterpret men's behaviors as platonic.
posted by shaademaan at 9:01 PM on May 4 [5 favorites]

My experience with workplace friendships, especially with the opposite gender, is that it is somewhat fraught even with the best of intentions and clearly stated boundaries. Intensity/deep connection/regular communication is often misread as romantic interest. I understand the pull though - I, too, don't have a lot of friends and tend to dive into the deep end of connection easily if I feel that 'spark'. It's difficult to calibrate the intensity even when I know it either scares people off/comes off as desperate.
In my case, my 'friend' was deliberately cruel and ignored me till I apologized, every time he felt I'd slighted him (i.e., asked to speak at a later time because I was busy doing the work I am paid to do, in the workplace). He eventually asked me out to dinner when his wife was not around. I said no because I instinctively felt it was a bad idea. We've never spoken since. It sucked at the time, but I think, on the whole, it saved me from a situation that could've got far, far messier later.
You could invite him to dinner with your husband present as well. If that goes badly as well, perhaps this friendship cannot be what you hoped it would be. I'm sorry. This is always so disappointing. I still miss that friend occasionally because when it was good, it really was good.
posted by Nieshka at 1:12 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

In a way this reminds me a little of this recent ask: Why is a friendship breakup worse than a slow-fade? Obviously it’s from the other end of a friendship but the discussion was very interesting in terms of what a friendship is, and how they start and end. People have very different opinions.

Friendships for me are vague, come and go, and have no definite start and end. Some are close and last for years or decades, while others fade in, out, in, out, with varying degrees of closeness. But for other people (and, from the answers to that question, other cultures) good friendships can have very clear, mutually agreed, starts and ends. They’re more all or nothing.

I’m not clear from your description exactly what this friendship has been like in the past. As a straight cis married man in the UK, when I think of straight women friends I’ve made through work, who I now sometimes hang out with outside work, they’ve been people where the friendship has grown in a work context first. We’ll have chatted together at work, enjoyed working on projects or meetings together, maybe gone for coffee together, gone out for a quick lunch from work, etc. So it’s all still kind of work-y, but the friendship slowly grows. Any meeting up that doesn’t start at work has come organically after that’s been happening for a while. Maybe even only after one of us has left the company, and we decide to catch up. At no point has either side defined the state of the friendship, or mentioned whether their partner was happy with the friendship.

I don’t know if any of this helps. I find friendships hard too. They’re such slippery hard-to-define things for a lot of their life! I can only advise to take as small a step as you can at each stage. It’s great that you consciously want to push a friendship forward, but sometimes a series of small, casual nudges works better than one big “Now We Are Friends!” push.
posted by fabius at 5:43 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

I've had several male friends whose friendships I cherished in my 20s, only to have those fizzle out the second they start dating someone. Not all, but most did go that way. I still occasionally think back and feel sad about some of them because of how close we were, but have accepted that many people are not really capable of platonic relationships, especially as we grow older. That is all to say, this probably wasn't you.

I can also relate to craving those existential pondering conversations (and miss some of my old male friends for that reason!). I think in general it's hard to find people you can click with on that level, male or female. No real advice here except to say that we're out here!
posted by monologish at 8:07 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

It can be difficult to switch the context of a friendship from 'work friend' to 'actual friend'... I have found this somewhat tricky to do intentionally and find that it tends to happen organically, and not with the people you necessarily expect it to happen with! There is something about work friendships that doesn't always translate smoothly to intentional, real-life, actual friendships. Add to that the difficulty of navigating a cishet, opposite gender friendship... No wonder it got awkward! As a cishet woman, I haven't had the best experiences with male/female cishet workplace friendships, and the only way I have successfully maintained a few is by hanging out with them in groups.

I don't think you did anything wrong and I don't think this friendship is doomed. I think the context just needs tweaking. Maybe he isn't your 'sitting in the park' friend. He can still be your work-day coffee friend or whatever else. I don't think he would have suggested dinner with you and your husband if he didn't mean it - that would be such a waste of breath, and risky if he didn't actually mean it! I know that if I wanted to not hang out with a person the last thing I'd do would be to suggest a hang-out!
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:23 AM on May 5

i agree with the others who are unconvinced that a red flag was seen.. maybe he's like me and finds texting/getting back to texts overwhelming, but does it in the early stages of a friendship because these days (unfortunately, IMO!) it's the norm to do a lot of text chit-chat. I've been on your side of things, too, because even though i loathe texting, I feel i'd be a social pariah if I refused to do it, so i do it, and sometimes it can be connecting .. but invariably one person can't quite keep it up ..and then the absence of it feels like A THING. but it might not be a thing at all, beyond the thing where one person just feels inundated by text based communications and kind of goes into overwhelm/hide mode (not from you -- i mean just from life generally, which is very text-based these days) and gets behind.

I think a fun approach is to do a thing I think of as "going full 90s" and just randomly call the person on a weekend or something. No problem if I don't get them, just leave a nice message "hi i was just driving to the store and this _ reminded me of you and thought I'd give you a try." There was a time when this was a TOTALLY normal thing to do... why did we change? why do we spend so much time and energy fretting over letters on screen that a) have way too little emotional content, because no tone of voice and b)just by virtue of being more letters on a screen, kind of end up adjacent to all sorts of obligations, rather than delights? So, I do a thing where I just do it. I don't ask, don't plan, just call. Because why not. most folks keep their phones on silent anyway, and i sure don't expect an answer or anyone to drop what they're doing.. just like, back in the 2000s, we understood that we didn't have to jump when the phone rang.. I don't know.. In the words of the Muppet Movie, life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing keep pretending.. : )

Texting causes so much anxiety and offers so little in the way of real connection (and feedback).. I really truly see it as a minefield.

hmm .. i guess this went in a "direction" lol.. thank you for bearing with me : P
posted by elgee at 9:42 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

I think my loneliness causes me to put too much pressure on people. They see how excited I am to be with another human and they must assume I'm a weirdo.

Yeah. I wish that wasn't a thing, but it's a thing. It's a bit like... you know when someone really wants to date SOMEONE, and you get that feeling on a date with them and think, well, I want you to want me, specifically me not just anyone who will date you.

I'm really sorry you're lonely. Making friends as an adult is hard. It is doable though. My suggestion is what others have suggested - try and meet people through shared interests, and put yourself out there as much as you can - be brave. And allow things to form naturally, don't rush them. Do things with people if you can. And if you're the instigator, then so be it - take that role if you need to, own it. Some people do want to be friends but they're terrible at making dates!

For the record, I like your friend date thing. I've done that with people, and sometimes it's worked out. This time it didn't, that may not be anything to do with you. Treat it like romantic dating - dust yourself off and when you're ready, move on and find new people to connect with. And if you can't easily move on from it, consider you might have a crush on this guy that you're not being honest with yourself about.
posted by greenish at 12:50 PM on May 6

So, I haven't seen this mentioned yet, but as another introvert, I've noticed that sometimes, a friendship primarily based on texting doesn't always transfer to real life connection. It's kind of strange, and I don't know the reason for it, but I've had it happen a few times, regardless of gender or sexual orientation of the other party.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 4:46 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]

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