Dispensing the awkward since 1983, or, How to Remain Friends?
February 11, 2007 9:49 PM   Subscribe

I poured my heart out and all he did was throw me a mop to clean it up. How to turn this awkward situation into a friendship?

So there's this boy (isn't there always?)

Long, *embarrassing* story short, I liked him. We worked together and always had great banter. In fact I thought I got a lot of signals from him that I and everyone around me thought were indicative of interest...

I pursued, we hung out once (I never considered it a date), he seemed genuinely interested in hanging out again and told me to call him when I got back in town. Yay! So, here comes the pathetic: I try and contact him multiple times but I hear nothing back. I rationalize a bunch (he may still be out of town!, maybe he didn't get my message!, whatever). Still thinking that he liked me, I eventually write him and let him know that I liked him and thought he liked me and call him out on the fact that he never got back to me which I think he could have done even out of consideration for a friend. Wish him the best of luck in life, yada yada (yes I have a propensity for the dramatic).

He writes me back and lets me know he has no feelings for me *in that way* and claims he's upset about not being friends anymore. Well...ok. I write him what I consider to be a funny email with some advice on an interview he's got, and tell him to keep me posted on life and maybe we can hang out in a while. I fully expect not to hear back but much to my surprise, success! He seems amused by my advice and says he definitely wants to be friends, and to contact him. And so I figure at this point, he didn't need to write me back so maybe he really does want to be friends with me (he doesn't need to save face or anything...I don't work there anymore and we really don't know the same people).

Ok, sorry for the lengthy backstory, but here's my actual question. I do really want to be friends with him. What kind of time frame/situation should I consider in this situation? How long should I wait to get back in contact with him, and when I ask to hang out with him again, in what manner should I do it? Is it ever going to be salvageable or unawkward?!

Whoa, that was embarrassing, but that wasn't short. Thanks to anyone who read all that and I appreciate any suggestions/advice on the situation!

I realize some of you will say that perhaps my motives are not friendship but remnants of crush and I all I can say on that subject is: there was a reason I liked him. I do think he's cool, I do think its worth it. A potential problem is that he thinks I liked him more than I did, and although we haven't known each other for that long, I really do think we could be good friends (and I just moved here so I'm trying to make as many as possible). Of course I'm still attracted (I can't turn it off that quickly), but I'm hoping that this charred wreckage of a crush can eventually turn into a beautiful, er, flower of friendship.
posted by Eudaimonia to Human Relations (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like it worked out pretty much fine except that you feel like a big of a goof about all of it. If you want to be friends, go be friends. If you have the remnants of a crush on him, that's not terrible it just means that the crushy part is your problem and not his, since he's told you how he feels.

So, that said, treat him like a friend. Wait a while, a week, a weekend and then drop an email "hey you know I'm new in town let's go do XYZ" I think if you stay away from date-like activities at first (no dinnerandamovie no "let's go to my place and make dinner and watch a romantic comedy" no late night walks in the park) you can ease out of your crush and into a decent friendship with the guy.

It really sounds like this went okay and if you don't overthink all the fun out of it, it may continue to go that way. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 10:06 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you could find another guy, that would solve problems on both ends (your attention would be diverted somewhere else, and he would think you've moved on).

But I realize that's not always possible.

Use your best judgment and evaluate 2 things...
1) When he acts "friendly," are you going to be able to interpret it as only that and nothing more?
2) Might he be the type to use you as a form of flattery to himself, i.e. string you along because he likes the idea of having someone around who likes him that much? [have you seen The Holiday?] This has happened both to me and a few of my friends after similar love-professing incidents, and it hasn't been pretty- we just remain pathetically attached.
posted by liberalintellect at 10:07 PM on February 11, 2007

That's a hard question to answer. Mostly because 99% of it depends on him, and we can't read his mind from here. (Obviously, you can't either.)

Yes, it may eventually be salvageable and non-awkward, but you need to be in his social circle first. The best way might be to forget about him for the meantime, but figure out who he hangs out with and hang out with him at events where he'll be there -- and don't ignore him, but don't give him any more consideration than you'd give to anyone else who's just hanging out with the group.
posted by SpecialK at 10:08 PM on February 11, 2007

Forget about him, go make lots of new friends. If he contacts you to hang out, sure, hang out. If he doesn't, once you have all the new friends (and boyfriend?), ask him along some time. I think you should be very careful, not because I'm reading left-over-crush into your post, but because it's easy to latch on to the only person you know in a new place, and that's never good - and I think you're right that he'll take it as a sign of love/obsession.

For what it's worth, it sounds like you've been totally cool and low pressure and awesome, and he's been kind of immature.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:09 PM on February 11, 2007

but figure out who he hangs out with and hang out with him at events where he'll be there

Nooo, unless you are already friends with his friends, don't do this. It will be obvious and probably not worth the trouble. There are a million great new people in your new town who are worth meeting for them, not as a route back to this boy.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:11 PM on February 11, 2007

It sounds to me like one of two things happened:

- he was interested and was sending you signals, but for some reason (he met someone else he liked better, he decided after getting to know you that he didn't like you in that way) he changed his mind. *Then* you made your move.

- he wasn't interested and was inadvertently sending you signals, and was surprised by your actions.

(If other people noticed he was sending you signals, I doubt you misinterpreted it.)

Either way, it's best just to leave him alone now and find other people to be friends with. If he wants to be friends with you, he'll make the effort; otherwise he may see your actions as a form of stalking. This won't just turn him away from you, but may also lose you any mutual friends you may have and might get you an undeserved reputation to boot.

It's a hard lesson to learn, but one to remember: if somebody starts to send you signals, make your move then, not days or weeks or months later.
posted by watsondog at 10:28 PM on February 11, 2007

Hmmm . . .there is much to be careful about here. The fact that he still wants to very much be friends is not always a good sign. I know normally I would be somewhat distant if someone I wasn't interested in wanted to take things further and I did not. The fact is that he cannot just ignore your strong feelings for him and just think things are going to be normal.

My guess is that he enjoys the energy you give him and is very careful not to look too deeply into why he enjoys it, or the moral consequences of it. When people start to realize that they are enjoying the energy of someone of the opposite sex, they often back off or allow themselves to have their cake and eat it too in an emotional sense. He might be one of these people.

I'd advise being wary about just starting up a friendship phase. Your concerns were legitimate. He shouldn't be upset with you.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:29 PM on February 11, 2007

Um, you've done a LOT of pursuing and taken 90% of the initiative. Leave the ball in his court. If he wants to be friends, he'll get in touch. If not...stop emailing him.
posted by sneakin at 3:16 AM on February 12, 2007

Ironmouth: My guess is that he enjoys the energy you give him and is very careful not to look too deeply into why he enjoys it, or the moral consequences of it. When people start to realize that they are enjoying the energy of someone of the opposite sex, they often back off or allow themselves to have their cake and eat it too in an emotional sense.

Echoing this comment, and a bit watsondog, I think he was sending signals. There are people who like to create flirty signal-laden intimate intense energy with another person, but don't really mean it and/or can't really sustain it, and often suddenly back off. It may not even be conscious. But it's not a great quality because of its impact on the other person (who starts to think they're bats, who feels hurt when there's a sudden change). If you are going to be friends with him, I would just try to be aware of the possibility that he "does this" with people, and set boundaries as necessary.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:16 AM on February 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm with jessamyn... don't overthink it.

Awkward is a way of life, with me! It's not fatal, and in fact, it's kind of cute to some people.

People, relationships, circumstance are not static entities. One or more may change. I heartily disagree that you can't convert this into a friendship. That's up to you. You just have to manage your expectations.

Who knows what will happen in a year or two? There is a good chance he or you will find someone who distracts you so much you won't have time for friends.

I say, reject the dominant paradigm! Don't throw out perfectly promising friendships because they don't have "love" possibilities.
posted by FauxScot at 6:23 AM on February 12, 2007

Wait for him to contact you. In the meantime, be honest with yourself about whether you can compartmentalize the remains of your crush separately from friendship, realize that it's okay if you can't, and act accordingly. In your dealings with him, resist the urge to interpret his actions as "signals," and also be aware of the empty signals ClaudiaCenter describes (which would be my guess as to what he was doing in the first place). Be prepared to end it if he's just trying to string you along as liberalintellect and Ironmouth warn.

Also, be patient with yourself. I know this whole thing probably seems messy and cringe-inducing to you, but it's very possible that he feels weird about it too and that it's not as bad as you think. You'll work through the awkwardness you feel in time; just make sure you set those boundaries and stick to them.
posted by AV at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2007

Thanks everyone for the observations and advice! Keep em coming!! Now, for a bit of clarification:

- He's not my only friend here. All my other friends are interconnected. He, however, is apart from everyone I know/hang out with (thank goodness)

- He could very well just like the fact that I crush on him. I don't expect him to be sending out signals consciously though and I made sure he knew that I try to be direct. So unless he states out loud "I lied and I actually like you," I'm going to try really hard not to read anything into his actions.

- In the last email I'd written, I made it evident that I needed time (I said he should keep me posted on his interview process and maybe we can hang out in a few weeks - of course I don't know how he interpreted this to mean. It could have been read as "its too awkward to start spending time together too soon," or "she needs time to get over me") Anyways, he returned with...yes of course I want to be friends, contact me sometime so we can hang out. So I guess the ball is lodged firmly in my court?

Now the question is how and when do I contact him and how and in what context do I invite him out? (If at all?) Is it too weird to just say "lets go get a beer," in a week or so? I hang out with new male friends alone and he knows that, but does the situation call for a big group activity (which might be uncomfortable in other ways with other people and I may just be found dead, suffocated under the cumulative awkward)?
posted by Eudaimonia at 8:43 AM on February 12, 2007

I vote on waiting for him to make a move even at friendship. He doesn't want to be friends really, he just wants to be a "good" guy and has been nice enough to allow you to save face. He feels guilty at the idea of lettin

If he feels a real friendship connection, he's sure to make good on it. Chances are he just feels guilty, doesn't like to think of himself as the kind of guy who passes on a friend just because he's not interested her as a girlfriend, but will continue to hang back out of fear that you'll continue to grow attached.

Men suck, even when they are nice about it.
posted by hermitosis at 8:49 AM on February 12, 2007

ClaudiaCenter is right on as well--the thing is that with regular friends, one does not draw energy from just hanging out with them, you just have fun with someone you enjoy hanging out with.

But with the other type of person of the opposite sex, a person actively wants to be around the other person. Interaction with them is more than just people with similar interests having fun, or even long-time friends--there is a component where the person is actively energized by the presence of the other.

These people also seem to have another component I've noticed--they are usually going through a long period of singledom. Some have never really even had a SO. Generally, it is quite tough because they fall back into their old habit of drawing energy from you.

I guess what I'm saying is that he really likes you but the odds of anything working out with him are close to nil. Is this a long-term situation you want?

Thanks for asking your question--it really helped to clarify some issues in my own personal life.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:44 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hermitosis--girls can do this too. But guys aren't immune from doing it either. Looking back, I think I did it to someone last year.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:45 AM on February 12, 2007

I'm actually doing this to someone right now. It feels terrible at times, but I'm still holding out for the possiblity that we actually may end up being friends after all. Though I sort of doubt it.
posted by hermitosis at 9:53 AM on February 12, 2007

I think the key is that you have to be aware of what you are doing and keep the feelings of the other person in perspective. Somebody did this to me last year and thought it was perfectly acceptable to keep dudes into her in dead orbits as long as everyone knew what was going on. Of course these were issues she never discussed with anyone, so everyone was not on board.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:18 AM on February 12, 2007

hermitosis--I'd love thoughts on what it is that you see yourself doing. Would be of infinite help to stop me from doing it and to not have it done with me.

If I only figured this out years ago!
posted by Ironmouth at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2007

Take it easy, try to turn the dial down on your propensity for drama, accept that the early model - that he is inexplicably incommunicado for periods - is likely to persist. If you can handle all that, no reason not to let it be what it becomes. There's no set or rationale time frame or approach in friendship, just, you know, give it some room and let things happen.

Perspective: I have two long term, close friends who in the distant past I made some sort of embarrassing declaration to. These things happen. Recently, one of them came over with her daughter to babysit my son so my wife and I could have a night out: imagine that. So much happens in life, and most of us are lucky to meet a handful of people with whom we are truly compatible. I try not to let any slip by over things that become trivial with time.
posted by nanojath at 10:24 AM on February 12, 2007

Ironmouth: the thing is that with regular friends, one does not draw energy from just hanging out with them, you just have fun with someone you enjoy hanging out with.

Hmmm, I don't know about the energy thing. I generally feel more at ease around men than women (I'm a woman). I've always attributed that to the opposite-sex energy that makes social interaction run much more smoothly, even when you'd never consider the person as a partner. I guess the problem is dialing back to that mild magnetism when you've already gone overboard into full attraction mode?
posted by footnote at 10:25 AM on February 12, 2007

Footnote--I think I'm talking about something a little different. The fact that you feel more at ease with men doesn't mean that you are actively excited to be around the person and feel charged up around that specific person.

The experiences I've had with these situations involve something more than just being comfortable around the opposite sex. They involve the other person actively gaining energy from you.

If you are actively doing this to guys around you, be careful, because they have feelings too and might not understand that you would never consider them a partner. If you've run into this situation before, you might want to evaluate what you are doing.

I think I now understand why my best friend once called me the "world's biggest male tease."
posted by Ironmouth at 11:05 AM on February 12, 2007

We're on the same page, different metaphors, Ironmouth. Or something like that.

I think I now understand why my best friend once called me the "world's biggest male tease."

tsk tsk!
posted by footnote at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2007

[a few comments removed, stay away from the ladder theory unless you want to explain why it answers the question.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:02 PM on February 12, 2007

An update for anyone who might have stumbled upon this with a similar situation: I emailed, we made plans. I talked myself down and ended up having a whole lot of fun with him...it was nice not to have the pressure of reading into his/my actions/words. I think I ended up learning more about him than I would have, and as I said...truly had a great time with the kid.

That being said, there were certain vibes there that make me think maybe he does enjoy the energy (I really don't think its anything conscious on his part, though). We may not have a friendship blossom out of this for various reasons (I did end up getting a little tipsy and did a few awkward things which are probably much bigger in my head than in real life...but its made me realize that a friendship with him will ultimately be hurtful to me in the sense that I can see myself falling harder for him than I had).

But anyways, I write this as a message of hope: as others have said, its possible to be friends as long as you don't think the fun out of it. And also are careful to act unawkwardly (this is impossible for me, I've realized). And are honest with yourself. Whew! Thanks everyone for all the advice!
posted by Eudaimonia at 10:45 PM on February 19, 2007

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