How do I show affection?
August 14, 2006 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I have a female friend who is having a hard time. I'd like to show my affection and support. Unfortunately, I'm a guy, so everything risks to be misread as attempts to hit on her. That's not what I want. Also, I'm not really good at these things. What should I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't qualify support for a friend if you're worried about any potential fallout. Help her deal with her current situation in the best way you know how with her best interests in mind (you're already friends, so it shouldn't be that difficult).

If your intentions are mistaken then deal with it then but don't assume they will be. Finally, if it ever does happen never, ever mention that you were worried about helping her out because of it. That could set off a tailspin that could make the situation worse.
posted by purephase at 5:38 PM on August 14, 2006

I'm a guy, so everything risks to be misread as attempts to hit on her.

Not necessarily. I'm a woman who has always had lots of male friends, and believe me, I know the difference between a friend offering support and a friend hitting on me.

In any case, be supportive, which for lots of women means being a good(empathetic) listener. Don't feel you have to offer a solution to every problem -- sometimes all she may want is a sympathetic ear. Still, if there are practical ways you can help her out (running an errand, for example, or bringing over food) it's always good to offer.
posted by scody at 5:46 PM on August 14, 2006

"Tell me what you need." Then listen.

(Real listening, the kind where mind is fully opened, mouth stays closed, and judgement gets suspended.)

There's a good chance that what she will appreciate most is your presence, and willingness to hear about the hard stuff (lesser friends tend to pull back at times like this).

Also a simple hug, if its something that already comes naturally between you, can mean a lot when she's feeling down.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:54 PM on August 14, 2006

Hugs are good.
posted by bigmusic at 6:13 PM on August 14, 2006

sometimes all she may want is a sympathetic ear

Guys often have a hard time learning this about women, or even about other guys. You know there is a reason that they could write a simple program decades ago to mimic a psychotherapist. The main job is letting someone tell their story, perhaps artfully directing it at times, but mostly just listening. Being there is mostly listening and perhaps helping with a few errands.
posted by caddis at 6:16 PM on August 14, 2006

It depends on your friend, but I've found what helps most when I'm having a hard time is often just someone to check in on some sort of regular schedule and find some nice way to say "Hey, I've been thinking about you" especially if this can be done without a lot of "You know I *meant* to call you but this and the other and the other happened..."

Trying to help out someone when they're down or in a jam means trying to make your approach to them all about THEM, so you want to give only what you can genuinely give, whether it's a quickie phone call, a how's it going email, a ride to and from work, company for some awful task that is coming up or just someone to sit and listen. One of the things people often have a hard time with is not knowing what to do and asking the person they're trying to help who is often not in a great position to judge. So they say "let me know if there is something I can do" and then wait and see, when often it's better to try a few things out as people have mentioned, bringing over food, listening on the phone, checking in over IM.

And I also agree, I wouldn't worry too much about the hitting on thing. Don't use her distress as a way to wrangle a backrub and you'll likely be fine. Unless you guys have some sort of history, I'd just backburner this and approach it with honorable intentions.
posted by jessamyn at 6:26 PM on August 14, 2006

yeah I support the idea of asking her what she needs and see if it is something you can provide. It may well be the sympathetic ear, or something else, but if you set it up so she has some of the control over how much you are involved I think you run a significantly lower risk of being seen as taking advantage of the situation.
posted by edgeways at 6:29 PM on August 14, 2006

I think the key to not being misunderstood is making sure your intentions are what you want them to be. I think people pick up on them. So if you're "trying not to hit on her" but only through force of will, she'll probably pick up on that. If you can really convince yourself that you do not want to be hitting on her now, she'll probably be able to tell that too.
posted by beatrice at 6:30 PM on August 14, 2006

Treat her as you would a guy friend in similar straits--with allowances, of course, for her individual personality and needs. As others have said: listen; don't burden her with advice, philosophy, or platitudes; give her practical aid and assistance, if it will help; and offer her a hug if she needs it.

Try to forget whatever feelings you don't have for her. If you do, in fact, have feelings for her and don't wish to act on them (I'm not saying that you do, but it's a possibility that your question leaves open), forget those feelings anyway. Try to replace your concern about the relationship with your concern for your friend.

She needs support. Supplying it to her carries only a very slight risk of misunderstanding and social awkwardness, but withholding it will hurt you both, guaranteed.
posted by Iridic at 6:31 PM on August 14, 2006

I know what you mean about this, however, if you are presuming classic male/female dynamics, you should still be okay. Doing something nice for a woman may carry some overtones of romance, but as long as you keep a careful distance and don't follow up, it's unlikely that she will see it as a clear signal or try anything herself.

In the classic, stereotypical dynamic, all a man needs is a hint and he will jump all over you. But a woman needs a little bit more than a vague signal before she'll do anything forward or risky.

I don't know how closely your situation resembles this stereotype, but there's a healthy amount of male/female sexual tension which can exist purely at the friendship level and never go anywhere. This healthy tension can be a perfectly good thing, even quite nice.
posted by scarabic at 6:53 PM on August 14, 2006

sometimes all she may want is a sympathetic ear

Good advice. Just remember not to suggest a bunch of solutions to her problems. That's not listening. That's fixing. When you're in "pure listening" mode, you should actually be paying attention not to the details of what's being described, but the feelings which are coming through that.

There are times when I know there's no point in trying to get involved, trying to suggest strategies, offering to do something to fix things... I just sit back and say "I'm sorry, that really sucks." Half the time, the other person bounces back on their own with "yeah, but it's not all that bad, I just need to find a way to..." etc.
posted by scarabic at 7:09 PM on August 14, 2006

Be really nice to her and all that (hugs, coffee, listening, whatever), but also occasionally bitch about some other girl you have a crush on. +++
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:27 PM on August 14, 2006

Agree with beatrice. Very few people are good at acting. Just look at the Hollywood pros -- even most of them are bad at it. Unless there are major cultural differences, most people can pick up what you are all about within a few minutes. So ask yourself honestly -- are you interested in her? Whatever the answer, your entire demeanor will reflect that.
posted by randomstriker at 10:27 PM on August 14, 2006

Pick a meeting place that can't be used for a come-on -- say, a quiet corner in a quiet coffee shop or restaurant. Listen hard and mirror back what she's just said, to keep her talking.

No matter how many things you've been through that seem to be just like her experience, keep them to yourself. Right now, it's about her, not you.
posted by KRS at 10:15 AM on August 15, 2006

I am a girl with many male friends. When I broke up with my ex, a friend took me out, listened to me and, at the end of the evening (and I quote) "expected more than a hug".

Ick. So, with that in mind...

1) Buy her beer/coffee
2) Rent really stupid DVDs that you can laugh at
3) Ruffle her hair on a few occasions before going in for the hug. It sends a definite "big brother, not predatory male" message.

More than anything, just be a good friend. It's a good sign that you're trying to be so considerate :)
posted by unmusic at 5:01 AM on August 16, 2006

depending on your relationship, and her issues, some playful teasing can establish that you are a "brother type" who isn't trying to get in her pants.
posted by Megafly at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2006

You nailed it already. Say: "I notice you're having a hard time. I'd like to show my affection and support. Unfortunately, I'm a guy, so everything risks to be misread as attempts to hit on you. That's not what I want. Also, I'm not really good at these things. What should I do?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:32 PM on August 16, 2006

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