Couples therapy: definitely not your therapist, but I'll help you.
March 6, 2022 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Helping a pair of friends working it out.

Two friends are trying to work it out. One of them told the other she, "wasn't sure when she'd be ready to date." She's had some messed up things happen. He's a solid guy but he's being a "dude," about it, and possibly not getting the point, when someone says something like that, it could be a very generic way of saying, "something really*" messed up happened and it's made it difficult for me to function normally."

IANAT or going to be, looking for one or two sentence ways ways prompt the second person into understanding the potential gravity and redirecting. Then I'm out!

People reading here will likely be receptive enough to understand right away.
posted by firstdaffodils to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is this an existing couple, or two friends who were thinking about maybe dating but now aren't?

Because if is the latter, the only thing Friend B needs to know is that Friend A does not want to date him.

"Not ready to date right now" can mean "I do not feel psychologically stable to have a relationship" or it can be a polite way of saying "I don't want to date you, but I don't think you're a bad person and I don't want to hurt your feelings so I'm going to say the equivalent of 'it's not you, it's me'." It's not really anyone's business other than Friend A's how deep those reasons go, and if you try to suggest to Friend B that she is Tragically Damaged it runs the risk that he'll go into Rescuer Mode and continue to not get the hint.

Personally, I'd just say something like "Sorry it didn't work out between you guys, but these things happen."
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:22 AM on March 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

They don't sound like a couple yet to me. That's probably where I'd start. If she doesn't want to date, he needs to respect her boundaries, regardless of the reason. He doesn't have a claim on her as a relationship partner. He doesn't get to vet her reasons and decide whether they're serious enough for him to accept them. If she's not gung-ho ready to date him, then he should take that as a "no" until she indicates otherwise.

I would steer clear of trying to get him to accept the potential gravity of what has happened. It sends the wrong message -- that she needs a "good" excuse. She doesn't.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:23 AM on March 6, 2022 [19 favorites]

"No means no," should cover it. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" may emphasize the gravity of the situation.

This isn't a couple. This is someone afraid to tell the other person to leave them alone.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:25 AM on March 6, 2022 [48 favorites]

Yeah, whether her rejection is code for serious unspeakable trauma (which she’d have shared if she thought it were anyone’s business) or code for “you just don’t turn me on but I’m trying not to be a jerk about it,” her answer suffices.

I can only guess what you mean by his being a “dude” about it. But if he’s being pushy and entitled and needs to drop it, then you’d be doing him—and women everywhere—a solid to tell him so, in those words.
posted by kapers at 10:41 AM on March 6, 2022 [11 favorites]

"I'm not ready to date right now and I'm not ready to talk about why." Repeat ad nauseum.
posted by bleep at 11:03 AM on March 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Person B needs to understand (and it might be good for you to tell him) that "not ready to date now" should be interpreted as "No."

"No." Full stop. Complete sentence. Not "Maybe eventually." Not "If you keep hanging around, maybe this will change." No.

If a Person B doesn't feel able to be friends with their Person A without "but I really want to be with you!" energy, Person B should avoid being around Person A until they're able to let that go.

In my life, I have been both Person B and Person A. They're both bad places to be in, but if you're the Person B you can at least choose to try to avoid burdening the other person with your unrequited desires. Person A's choices are basically "do I continue to be friends with this person, Y/N?" And sometimes that implies "Do I have to cut myself off from my entire friend-group to avoid this awkwardness?"

Don't be the person who puts a Person A in that situation.
posted by Lexica at 11:07 AM on March 6, 2022 [9 favorites]

It’s not important that Person B understand the potential reasons behind A’s statement. It’s important that he respects her no whether or not he gets the point, and Immediately backs off. Focus on that. Inviting him to speculate about what trauma she may have feels gross and is not the way to go here.
posted by Stacey at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2022 [20 favorites]

While I agree that nothing more than "I am not interested in dating right now" *should* cover it, if Person B is really dense, this is how I'd spell it out to them:

"Look, sometimes people are not in the right head-space to date anyone. This is currently the case from Person A - I know this from them directly, not via conjecture. Whether this makes sense to you or not is irrelevant - for you and Person A's sake, please believe me to be speaking the truth here. Pushing Person A for a reason, or pushing them for a yes, are both paths not only to never have a chance to date them, but the end of the friendship. I will also lose respect for you."
posted by coffeecat at 11:52 AM on March 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

“The more you push, the less someone will feel safe with you, which is fundamental to a dating relationship. You need to back the hell off immediately and drop this. She’s already said no in a gentle kind way, and making her escalate that isn’t how anyone shows that they’re a respectful person who would be fun to be in a relationship with. Drop it NOW.”
posted by Bottlecap at 12:40 PM on March 6, 2022 [17 favorites]

Actually he's not being a solid guy. FWIW none of my good guy friends or brother would keep pushing like this or need me to explain it to them. Likewise, being a "dude" is not an excuse for anything. You have good intentions but you're making excuses for him. It's great that you want to help but there's only so much you can do if someone is refusing to even try to understand.
posted by smorgasbord at 12:47 PM on March 6, 2022 [12 favorites]

you're calling it couples therapy so I'm understanding that they HAVE been dating, and she's broken up with him, and also told him she didn't know when she'd be ready to date?

Is that it? It so, that's just a roundabout way of saying "we're done here, and don't hang around hoping I'll change my mind." You can explain that to him. Women often feel they have to be gentle and conciliatory and vague when they're breaking up with men, because men often don't take a simple rejection well.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:54 PM on March 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whoa whoa whoa! Olympic pole-vault style leaping to conclusions!

My read is that he's reading "wasn't sure when she'd be ready to date" as more of a rejection of him personally than that there could be something really messed up in her past that renders her *actually* not ready to date anyone. Or at least, that scenario is possible!

When I read "he's being a dude about it", I infer sadness and feeling rejected rather than actually taking someone at their word.
posted by amtho at 2:07 PM on March 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Tell Person B, "Anytime you feel the need to convince someone why they should date you, that's not a relationship you wanna be in because if they give in because of your pressure, they didn't choose you freely, but at your cajoling as a way to get you to stop." Or "you shouldn't have to convince someone to date you. Find someone who wants to be with you. If they don't want to be with you, it doesn't matter why. Leave them alone, otherwise you're getting into creepy guy territory."

I'm interpreting "he's being a dude about it" as: not taking no for an answer, holding out for that 0.000001% chance, thinking that she needs to be convinced and then she'll see how awesome he is. I.e. every Hollywood movie ever. In other words, centering HIM and not her.
posted by foxjacket at 3:08 PM on March 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

"It sucks, but she said no."
"I don't know the reason, but luckily we don't need to. We just need to know it's no."
"Sorry, I know that's not what you wanted to hear, but it's no."
"If you need some cheering up, I'm happy to grab a beer.

As others above have said: no is just no. If you're talking with the 'dude' you can be a proxy grey rock: That way 'dude' is now hearing a consistent message from two people, rather than discounting one message and then getting taken care of by you.

Your intentions sound good, but communicating someone else's story, even as vaguely as "something really messed up happened and it's made it difficult for her to function normally" is a good way to undercut that person socially and emotionally. It may or may not be the reason for the "no." But sharing someone else's trauma in order to cushion a "no" just reinforces a myth that "women reject me because they're fucked up" and "a normal woman would date me."

If you're going to support these friends, you could support for the woman by expressing things like:
"It's great that you know what you want and don't want, and act on it."
"It's hard to say no to some people. You handled that gracefully."
"He's being an ass about this. He really should back off."
"Here are some ways to avoid him."

posted by cocoagirl at 3:54 PM on March 6, 2022 [18 favorites]

You're getting a lot of different answers here because reading your post, *I* have no idea what you're actually trying to hint/convey to Dude/person B.
Reading between lines requires context, this doesn't have context, including what you think being a 'Dude' means.

She's being ambiguous (and is utterly entitled to her privacy), you're being ambiguous to internet strangers even though you're apparently wanting to shed light on the ambiguity.

I'm getting the impression (with a very low degree of confidence) you're trying to... Make things work between them?? And let him know that it's not necessarily a "not interested" situation but a, she needs a lot of time, space, healing, and friendly respect of boundaries before she's ready for a relationship with *anyone*, but that 'anyone' could be with him if he's able to be there and be patient through the healing process, and avoid her triggers from messed up stuff? Maybe?
But you're supposed to keep what you know about her situation in confidence, so you're trying to find ways to hint to him about it instead??

Orrrrr... you're trying to tell him not to make a "not interested" all about him, she's not ready for anything with anybody and please don't be a dick she's dealing with a lot already. Which should be a minimum expectation anyway from him. But then you'd just straight up tell him to sort himself out.

In anycase, I don't think the first case is a great idea, it doesn't look like any one in this situation has good enough communication skills to pull it off, and not having those communication skills will cause something else to clusterfuck 5 minutes down the line even if you hint your way over this hurdle.
posted by Elysum at 6:29 PM on March 6, 2022 [8 favorites]

Friend doesn’t need to justify why she doesn’t want to date this dude. Just tell him she’s doesn’t want to pursue anything. Don’t add “right now” or “maybe one day when she’s over her x y or x”. He doesn’t need to understand why, he just needs to respect it.
posted by Jubey at 9:21 PM on March 6, 2022 [7 favorites]

She's being ambiguous (and is utterly entitled to her privacy), you're being ambiguous to internet strangers even though you're apparently wanting to shed light on the ambiguity.

This. For starters, some examples of him being a "dude" would help. Is he even talking to her or is he just moping around in self-pity? Both are dude behaviors.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:15 AM on March 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Look, sometimes people are not in the right head-space to date anyone. This is currently the case from Person A - I know this from them directly, not via conjecture.

I assume we're all on the same page here, but to say it out loud, this is something you'd do ONLY if Person A has asked you to deliver this exact message. Otherwise you'd be way overstepping and potentially making things a lot worse.
posted by away for regrooving at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Amtho is actually on it. Thanks, everyone. They actually sorted it out in a super positive way. Positive twist, right?

A lot of other responses were insightful, but not for this experience.

Also, metafilter is great, and sometimes people go like 37 ft in a well intended direction, without waiting for context. It's ok. Good answers.
posted by firstdaffodils at 5:45 PM on March 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: "My read is that he's reading "wasn't sure when she'd be ready to date" as more of a rejection of him personally than that there could be something really messed up in her past that renders her *actually* not ready to date anyone. Or at least, that scenario is possible!" This is it, and it's actually just sorta sad for both parties, but incredible when people work it in a positive way. I think it's also far more common than we sadly expect. It doesn't make the other answers wrong, but it adds a lighter touch to an unfortunate situation.

It adds a little incentive for people to be a little cooler or kinder or whatever your favorite chill phrase.. and of course, not be so negative or hasty.
posted by firstdaffodils at 5:57 PM on March 7, 2022

What?? Even your clarification makes no sense. If you want good answers here, ask good questions. Be clear. Be as clear as possible to GIVE context we need. Don't make us guess.
posted by tristeza at 11:12 AM on March 8, 2022 [11 favorites]

without waiting for context
With all due respect, are you trolling or something? Ask is not intended to be a back-and-forth conversation in which context is slowly doled out, or some kind of guessing game. We only had the context you gave us, which was scant, and which several responders mentioned. I myself said I could only guess what you meant by “being a dude about it” and answered in good faith on that basis of that guess. That’s all we can be expected to do here!

Glad you found the response that accurately read your mind most helpful, but all of the responses are winners in my book, for earnestly addressing your problem with what little we had to go on.
posted by kapers at 7:08 PM on March 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

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