Have I been out of the relationship game too long?
August 15, 2022 12:16 AM   Subscribe

I haven't had a relationship or really a date since before Covid. I'm a male in my 30s, and I've been talking to a woman in her late 20s but I've been getting very confusing signals and the nature of the relationship has changed. Should I ignore her or pursue it? Details within.

I've known her for about 6 years and we've vacationed together and used to hangout quite a bit. Over the years sometimes I moved away, and sometimes she moved away but we were always in contact. We've fooled around but just casually and it was never really talked about.

We talk every day, and both work from home in our separate cities. Our leases happen to be coming up at the same time and we were talking about moving in together. I realized I may have feelings for her and that moving in probably isn't a great idea. So I texted her this, that I was starting to have feelings for her and maybe we should take an extended vacation together and see how it is, or move to the same city in separate places. I was direct, I wasn't being coy. She responded at first with "lol," which I thought was odd, and I reiterated I wasn't joking and if she wanted to think about it or if I caught her off guard I'd give her space. She responded the next day with a long, nice note saying she liked being friends. I said ok thanks, and figured that was it.

I didn't text her after that, several weeks later she texted me as if nothing happened. It was fine, I was hurt a bit but got over it. Obviously any talk of moving in together ceased. Suddenly now she's telling me how she can't get any of the guys she's into, and how lonely she is. She doesn't know why she can't get into relationships when she tries and why they don't work out for her. That's not something she's ever discussed before, and obviously sort of hurtful. I didn't respond and she went back to talking about movies and things. Several days later she started talking about some really personal things about her family and opening up to me.

Am I being daft? She didn't use me as an emotional support structure in this sort of way before. Sure venting about things with work or life, but not about relationships or even really family. Is she just being immature and using me as sort of an emotional boyfriend or is this a way of trying to open up to me? I'm usually pretty direct and if I don't get a clear response I don't engage in games, but at the same time a fault of mine is getting involved in short flings and not something more serious. I could also be having a bit of Covid desperation from being out of the dating pool, so I thought I'd turn to the Internet.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
She considers you a friend, and that's how she sees things from here on. You stated how you felt, and she responded that a relationship is not on the cards. Maybe having made that clear, she wanted to test the "is anonymous really a friend, and can we talk maturely about relationship stuff without getting into weird territory?". And maybe the answer to that is "no", and relationship talk isn't going to work, given that you still harbour some feelings towards her (i.e. "obviously sort of hurtful"). I think a lot of women are used to men doing that thing - saying that they're OK with just friendship when they're not really. If you're a friend, then obviously the "emotional support structure" thing is part and parcel of that, and you should be able to handle that without hurt feelings. So maybe it's time to make an honest appraisal of what you want, and look for it elsewhere. Let this friendship wither if you're going to always see it as a might-have-been relationship; that's better for both parties.
posted by pipeski at 1:09 AM on August 15 [21 favorites]

My take: Maybe she's opening up to you now because she trusts you more as a friend. Your respectful treatment of her own 'liked being friends' response puts you in the running for the 'close friends' circle. I have men in my close-friends circle.

Am I being daft? She didn't use me as an emotional support structure in this sort of way before. Sure venting about things with work or life, but not about relationships or even really family. Is she just being immature and using me as sort of an emotional boyfriend or is this a way of trying to open up to me?

Intimacy is at the heart of all valuable and rewarding relationships. Sharing and listening are key elements of intimacy. Rather than being immature or playing games, she trusts you more and is willing to share more with you. Do not confuse this connection-seeking behaviour by her, as a wish to have a sexual relationship with you.
posted by Thella at 1:13 AM on August 15 [23 favorites]

You shared romantic feelings with this person, and they don't want to pursue them with you - there isn't anything to pursue here. Regarding these feelings of hurt, you can include in your list of options saying, "Hey, friend, I respect your decision from before, but I don't think I can be a good support to you about your romantic relationships as I adjust and re-focus. Could we take those off the table until I check in with you in a while? I want to support you - what if we focus on [doing shared hobby, watching cartoons, etc.]?"
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:41 AM on August 15 [32 favorites]

I think, from what you've written here, this person is treating you rather poorly.

To respond with "lol" when someone bravely, maturely, confesses romantic feelings is just awful. Perhaps she thought you were indeed joking, I don't know your conversation styles and dynamic, but still -- "lol"?

I don't think she's giving you mixed signals at all. To then proceed to discuss her romantic entanglements and woes, with someone who she has effectively rejected, is very insensitive, to say the least.

There's nothing wrong with you. Regardless of what her motivations or feelings are, this behavior isn't good for you, as someone who describes themselves as direct and not a game-player.
posted by NatalieWood at 3:34 AM on August 15 [67 favorites]

Your phrase "using me as sort of an emotional boyfriend" is confusing to me. You don't have to be in a romantic relationship with someone to share personal things and provide emotional support. If you don't want to be close with this person if you aren't also kissing her, you can draw that boundary. But there is nothing "immature" about discussing personal family problems with someone she's known for six years and texts every day.
posted by metasarah at 3:50 AM on August 15 [16 favorites]

it's quite normal for people who are close to rely on each other for emotional support, even if they aren't romantic partners. I think you made your feelings clear, as did she. I don't think she's trying to back-door reciprocate the romantic feelings, and I think those romantic impulses will fade over time as you remember that you have a good friend that you've got a lot of history with.

It might even be a benefit to you if you start going out dating again (COVID is going to cover you for several years, I suspect) - having a friend who can give you honest advice about e.g. how you come off in online dating profiles could be really valuable!
posted by Merus at 3:58 AM on August 15

Rather than trying to dissect her feelings, spend some more time dissecting yours.

Part of developing a strong romantic attachment is the sharing of feelings, so to you this new found openness probably seems like reciprocation of feelings you still have. Perhaps you're not ready to be close.friends because you haven't moved past your feelings for this person. That's okay. It can be hard to do.

So ask yourself if you really are ready to be just friends and if not try to be honest with this person. Let her know you value her friendship and the openness she's show, but maybe you need a little time to get over your feelings so you can be less confused by your own feelings (not perceived mixed messages).

And then go out on a few dates. We all are still reacquainting ourselves with socializing, so take it easy.
posted by brookeb at 4:03 AM on August 15

Sounds like she’s treating you like an actual friend now rather than the “occasional hookup I don’t discuss feelings with” that she was treating you as before. It doesn’t sound immature to me, or intentionally hurtful.

That said, you’re allowed to find it too difficult to deepen your platonic friendship at the same time you are trying to get over a romantic rejection. If you want to take a step back from the friendship, you can do that.
posted by Stacey at 4:12 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]

If someone tells you that they are romantically interested in you and you do not reciprocate their feelings, it's not cool to start telling them about how sad you are that you can't get in a relationship. This is obviously going to come across as "It's so sad that no one I'm actually attracted to wants to date me, unlike people I'm not attracted to such as yourself".

This is not a jump to "you are a true friend now that I have rejected your romantic advances". It seems likely to me that by telling you this she thinks that she is making it really REALLY clear that you have no romantic future with her, and she isn't socially adroit enough to understand that in fact it is unkind.

Like, it is jerky to constantly remind someone who asked you out that they are not the boyfriend they are looking for. A socially adroit person wouldn't talk about their dating life with a rejected suitor.

I mean, she's younger, her romantic history may be such that she doesn't have really great social skills. If you feel that you can ride this out, she'll probably dial it back a bit eventually, otherwise it would be legit to ask her if you could stick to other topics for now while you reset your feelings.
posted by Frowner at 5:26 AM on August 15 [61 favorites]

Yeah, I think all the responses blaming OP for not understanding that she wants to be just a friend are a little off-base. There's been a reaction in leftier circles against the concept of the "friendzone" to the point where people will no longer acknowledge the fact that there are genuinely harmful dynamics that can happen in this kind of situation--where, essentially, the person doing the rejecting feels (consciously or unconsciously) entitled to take the rejected person for granted as a source of emotional support because the rejected person is hoping that this will become something more (but cannot admit this because that is already off the table). It's not dissimilar to maintaining a friends with benefits relationship with someone despite knowing that the other person, while verbally agreeing to stay casual, has deeper feelings. Yes, it should be on them to end it if they feel they can't handle it, but people aren't always good at doing what's good for them, and the other person has a role to play too since they're benefiting from the power imbalance in the arrangement. Obviously in neither case is the solution "the rejecting person owes me, the rejectee, a relationship" but sometimes it's better for people to go their separate ways instead of perpetuating the dynamic.

Anyway, in terms of your specific problem, OP, I wouldn't hold out for anything more from this person and I would try to keep some distance in terms of the emotional support stuff unless and until you become fully confident that your feelings are platonic. Get on Hinge and go on some dates with people who want to be your lover.
posted by derrinyet at 6:21 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]

It's impossible to say with this information, but what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that certain people do enjoy having someone on a string, just for the fun of it, and these people will keep it up for just as long as you let it. I'm not sure if this woman is one of those people.

As others said, go on Hinge and date. Do that for its own sake, but if this person suddenly starts acting more romantically interested in you then you have your answer. If you then go to them, they will start acting cold again. This kind of situation can truly ruin one or more years of your life. Ask me how I know.
posted by ftm at 6:51 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]

It seems likely to me that by telling you this she thinks that she is making it really REALLY clear that you have no romantic future with her, and she isn't socially adroit enough to understand that in fact it is unkind.

Frowner summarizes this perfectly. And seconding that "lol" is awfully cavalier response to someone you'd call a friend - not sure if this kind of irony poisoned response to opening up is part of your dynamic or this person really is kind of a jerk, but they seem at best pretty thoughtless and I would keep them at arms length/a minimal presence in your life until you feel better about everything. Agree to just hit the dating apps, nothing is wrong with you.
posted by windbox at 6:57 AM on August 15 [12 favorites]

It seems like she legitimately saw you as a friend. Even though you casually fooled around a few times, y'all never talked about it. I suspect she understood that to mean that you both were in agreement that the chemistry wasn't quite right for something more and that wasn't the type of relationship that would work.

I also guess that part of the reason she didn't previously talk deeply with you about her family is because its very common for guys to feel that a woman talking to them about emotional problems means that said woman wants to date them. It's so common, that it routinely stifles the ability of women to have truly open friendships with guys.

She sent you a detailed message on how she views your relationship and your response was ok thanks. She gave you space and time for you to process. She also stopped proposing you move in together. If that wasn't ok, and you don't feel like you can actually be a friend to her without ulterior relationship motives, you need to take a break from this friendship. Alternatively you can work to come to terms with the fact that she cares for you as would a sister. And it is inadvisable to date your sister. If you want a romantic partner, start seeing new people.
posted by donut_princess at 7:01 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]

Reading between the lines of your question, it seems like you're trying to ask whether you should be pursuing a romantic relationship with her, and the answer to that is very clearly no. She rejected you, but also, her responding to you trying to be emotionally open and clear with "lol" is just not a good sign for being able to have a healthy emotionally intimate relationship with someone — even if she was interested in a relationship, this seems unlikely to work out.

I think the question you should be asking yourself is whether you want to still try to be close to her as a friend. This would require discipline on your part, since it sounds like you still have romantic feelings for her. It also sounds to me like you're not used to getting a ton from the friendship — I personally an uninterested in friendships where there isn't emotional processing — but maybe that's different for you and this friendship is actually very fulfilling.

If you do still want to be friends, and think that you'd be able to handle that, I'd recommend trying to have a clear conversation about that, and about what you expect and want from the friendship — if you don't want to talk about her dating woes with her, tell her that.

But it sounds like it might be a better idea to pull back from the friendship for a little while — you can always reconnect later to see if things feel better in time, as you both grow and change.
posted by wesleyac at 7:09 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Honestly, she sounds like kind of a jerk both in her first "lol" reaction and in the "waaaaah, I can't find anyone" stuff to you, a person who offered. Like I'm well aware from both sides of how it sucks to (a) not like anyone who likes you back and (b) like people who don't, but I wouldn't have that conversation with someone in your situation. She just seems kind of rude/heartless in her responses to you. I dunno how much of a "friend" she is, for that matter. I think I'd dial it back with her and not responding to her "waaah" was a good move.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:30 AM on August 15 [7 favorites]

I talk to all my close friends, women and men alike, about their romantic lives. Normal friend talk, because we are friends. I don't think she's doing anything out of the ordinary conversation-wise between friends, if maybe being insensitive in not giving you a longer runway to not talk about romantic stuff, since you expressed your romantic interest. She even backed off talking about it when you stopped responding.

It seems relatively obvious (I mean really who knows, but from your description) that you have romantic feelings for her, she has friendship feelings toward you.

Your choice: decide if you want to be a friend, of if being a friend when carrying unresolved feelings is too much, don't be. (Either choice is totally legit.)
posted by RajahKing at 8:34 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

Some people get sucked in to preferring that which is difficult to attain. If you'd like a strategy, be more self-aggrandizing in texts. Mention it if you get a raise, praise, a new projects. Brag a little about legitimate things. wow, I'm always uneasy about performance reviews, but this went way better than I could have expected. - Whew, the stock market has been nutty, but my 401k has recovered nicely; less worry about the future; I hope yours is doing okay. - I ordered some new shirts from %wherever, and when I wear the %color one, I get random compliments at the grocery. These feel clunky to me, because I suck at self-promotion, but work on it. People do notice status, even though they almost always think they don't, so a little marketing might help.
posted by theora55 at 10:18 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

oogh please do not try to trick this woman into dating you. Just...no.

She didn't use me as an emotional support structure in this sort of way before. . . Is she just being immature and using me as sort of an emotional boyfriend

Ugh this phrasing gives me the icks a bit, I'm not gonna lie. The very idea of "an emotional boyfriend" being something that exists...like emotional disclosures should automatically come with a spoonful of vagina to help the medicine go down? Nerp. Full stop.

Yes, it seems clear that her view of you has changed, and perhaps a Perfect Human would find the exact right way to deal with that 100% internally, not allowing it to impact her interactions with you in any way. She clearly isn't managing to just seamlessly Return to Previous, and yeah, maybe that's down to immaturity or lack of experience in this specific dynamic. She could be clumsily trying to reinforce the platonic-ness of your interactions; she could also just feel like the two of you are closer now, because you've shared some realness and honesty. The family stuff in particular is what makes me think that. But I don't know why this needs to be read as manipulative instead of just a dynamic that isn't working for you.

Just, with all of this I would say you should absolutely step back from this relationship entirely, as I don't think you're in a place to navigate the post-confessional platonic waters healthily. If you step back now, there's a chance you can circle back around to have a real nice close friendship later. If not, I'm guessing eventually this thing will sour forever.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:57 AM on August 15 [11 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. Note that "Friend Zone" is a term that shames people's right to say "no"
posted by loup (staff) at 12:03 PM on August 15 [7 favorites]

Am I understanding correctly that in the past, she didn't talk to you about her dating/relationship challenges, but now she is? If a friend disclosed to me that they were interested in a romantic relationship, and I turned them down, I wouldn't start telling them about being bummed out that no one I like wants to date me. I think that's unkind. I've seen this pattern--friend A has feelings, friend B doesn't share them, suddenly B is turning to A for validation/emotional support/venting around dating woes in a way they haven't previously. It doesn't negate B's no, or B's right to set boundaries. It doesn't mean A should try harder to win B's heart. But it's not the behavior of a kind, respectful friend. (This doesn't just happen in contexts where A is a man and B is a woman. But there are some particularly garbage social norms that come into play when that's the case--the concept of the "friend zone" is one.)
posted by theotherdurassister at 2:29 PM on August 15 [8 favorites]

She responded at first with "lol," which I thought was odd
I know a number of people have picked on her for saying this, but I think your approach was maybe too direct -- you went from "friends who've hooked up a few times casually but never discuss it, who are considering being roommates" to "catching feelings, let's take a long vacation together or live separately." Everyone does not handle that kind of shift gracefully.

There is nothing to pursue here; you don't want to be friends on her terms, and she doesn't want to date you. I would suggest that the real question is whether you want to be friends at all, but it doesn't sound like you do -- you think she's using you and playing games unless she is maybe trying to send you a quasi-romantic signal. You didn't consider that maybe she's (very awkwardly) trying to reinforce the friendship she wants to maintain after you went silent on her.

NB: I'm not at all suggesting that her venting about her love life is a good, or kind, idea. I'm also not suggesting that telling her how you really feel was a bad idea. I'm just trying to speculate on the space between these things.
posted by sm1tten at 3:27 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Close friendships between men and women are so hard to navigate but so worth navigating. You threw her for a loop. Perhaps she is simply swerving a bit in the effort to course correct and stay on the road with you. It's totally understandable. She appreciates and values your friendship. If you truly appreciate hers, just keep your eyes on the road ahead and don't question or critique her driving, even if she's got a bit of an unsteady hand on the wheel right now.
posted by desert exile at 6:17 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]

Late to this one, but is it possible there's some text-based miscommunication happening here (i.e. the "lol" response which, as others have said, is pretty damning... is it possible she thought you were actually joking?). Have the two of you hashed things out on the phone, in real time? If not, I'd say this scenario is worth some synchronous conversations where you can really get to the heart of things.
posted by gold bridges at 1:09 PM on August 16

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