He loves me, or he loves me not?
April 9, 2007 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Does he have feelings for me? Or just when he's drunk? I need an interpreter of male I-want-a-relationship cues.

The short version, we were in a relationship five years ago, in love, etc. Recently reconnected, and ended up in a friends-with-benefits type thing, after we both proclaimed we didn't want a relationship right now. He is very shy, and I know from past experience very disinclined to speak about his feelings or make the first move in anything.
So, generally he treats me as a friend (that he's sleeping with) but with some of those little affectionate gestures that you do when you have feelings for someone. The thing is, he gets much more affectionate when he drinks. Much more touching, cuddling, telling me how great I am/compliments, and so on. So I'm wondering, does he have feelings of more than friendship for me, but he's too inhibited to show it when he's sober, or is it just the alcohol that's making him feel all warm and fuzzy, and he doesn't really have any feelings for me at all?

Of course, at some point I will actually talk to him about this, but I want to step lightly right now and see if I can figure out where we stand a little better first.

(and, um, I'm thinking he's not being affectionate to get in my pants, as he's already gotten in them)
posted by catatethebird to Human Relations (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You have to ask him, not random strangers on the internet. It could be any of the reasons you cite, or a combo of them or something else. Ask him, ask him, ask him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:10 AM on April 9, 2007

Well he could be affectionate to stay in your pants.

What's the difference between being really good friends with someone you sleep with and being "in a relationship"? Isn't that more or less what constitutes "a relationship"?
posted by phrontist at 4:19 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know I need to ask him...just trying to get a feel for things, what someone not involved might think.
More specifically, I want to hear from guys about whether they tend to feel more affectionate when drinking, when they wouldn't feel that way sober. (and i don't mean finding someone more attractive or sexually appealing, I mean feeling...loving, for lack of a better term)
posted by catatethebird at 4:19 AM on April 9, 2007

Well, when I'm drunk I feel like I love everybody. It definitely might make me be 'romantic' towards a girl I didn't really have an interest in dating.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 AM on April 9, 2007

I think it's a perfectly acceptable question. And telling people on Ask MeFi that they shouldn't be asking random strangers on the internet seems a bit odd to me.

Anyway, my general rule of thumb is this: when drunk we say and do things that we genuinely feel but are too inhibited when sober to put out there. So, if it were me in your situation, I would think he really liked me a lot, perhaps more than a friends-with-benefits situation (which, as we all know, is hugely different from a relationship), and I would make a point to take that into consideration when making decisions about how far you want to take it, etc. I would definitely bring it up with him sooner rather than later to avoid a messy situation down the road (i.e. if he has stronger feelings for you than you for him, etc). Good luck!
posted by sneakin at 4:30 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does he have feelings for you? Likely.
Does he have feelings of more than friendship for you? Probably.
Does he want a serious relationship? Not necessarily. I wouldn't say yay or nay based on the information you've given. A lot of us become a bit more affectionate after we've been drinking, and it's not much of an indicator, sorry.

I will say that no guy ever really expects the "friend with benefits" thing to last. We expect, at some point, either for the girl to make a form of ultimatum ("either we're seeing each other properly, or it's time to move on"), or to leave them because we've met somebody else. Until one of those points are reached, most of us will maintain the status quo - and don't underestimate our ability to remain emotionally detached during that period.

I don't want to say that he isn't interested in a relationship, just that the behaviour that you've described doesn't really indicate much either way.
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:32 AM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

How is he with other people when he's drunk? If he's more warm and fuzzy with them too, then it's that one. If he's more expressive of his real feelings, then it's that one.
posted by DU at 4:35 AM on April 9, 2007

He probably cares for you a bit, since you two have a history. This might mean he wants a relationship. This might mean he feels comfortable or safe enough with you to express affection.

Was he always this affectionate when drinking?

More specifically, I want to hear from guys about whether they tend to feel more affectionate when drinking, when they wouldn't feel that way sober. (and i don't mean finding someone more attractive or sexually appealing,

For some guys this can be one and the same. For some not. Random guys on the internet, who you haven't had a relationship with, aren't going to give you real solid answers. They might make you feel better or worse about the situation, depending on how the majority answer, but the question is still out there, not answered.

Yeah, you probably realize this, but I'm pointing it out, over and over, 'cause you seem to be avoiding asking him (for the moment) which might mean you know the answer.

And those who directly answer your question should ask themselves this: If we had a previous relationship, would I feel affectionate to her if we were just having sex. Most, I bet, would answer yes, whether they wanted a real relationship or just sex.

Finally, what do YOU want?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:36 AM on April 9, 2007

Since we are all equally clueless about this situation, I'm going to guess that yes, he is feeling romantic, at least while drunk. You used to be in a relationship together, in "love," for crying out loud. How would those feelings not come back when you started sleeping together again? (Well, those feelings, or those other feelings of "oh yeah, that's why we broke up...") You have a history, perhaps even a fairly nice history, and so you aren't just "friends with benefits" -- both of you bring a lot more than that with you, some good, some bad.

(For me, the gap between "friends with benefits" and "relationship" has always been very small, because I have lots of friends but sleep with very few, and only ever slept with people whom I kind of liked. The gap between "friend" and "friend with benefits" has always been much larger, for me. So I'd say that if you are to the point where you are taking each other's pants off, you are withing spitting distance of "in a relationship" -- in fact, you can drift into that without a word ever being said, just by performing all the affectionate things that make a relationship a relationship. To go from "friends" to "relationship" requires, for most people, crossing a very definite line of physical contact; you are already there, and with your past history of being in a relationship together, you already know how to take on those roles together.)
posted by Forktine at 4:43 AM on April 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, everyone. Believe it or not, they are actually helpful. Obviously no one here can give me a real answer, but different points of view and ways of looking at the situation really help me sort things out. (Part of the problem being that I don't know what I want exactly.)
posted by catatethebird at 5:07 AM on April 9, 2007

You don't say how the relationship five years ago ended. Could it be that he still loves you but doesn't want to walk into $UGLY_SITUATION like he did last time?
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 AM on April 9, 2007

Loving when drunk, colder when sober. My guess is he is really enjoying the set up that you have provided; a shoulder to lean on and a crotch to lean into.

What guy would want to change that? Even if he does have feelings for you why screw up a good thing?

The heart of your question remains..."Does he have feelings for me?" Cat, you can answer your own question easily. Demonstrate feelings for another guy, do this in front of him, preferably when he is sober and then discuss how he felt about it. I think you will have an answer pretty quick.
posted by bkeene12 at 5:23 AM on April 9, 2007

I'm a guy, and I'm definitely an affectionate drunk. On a related data point, I once dated a girl who had two amazingly discrete versions of drunkenness, one very pro-soma-lkzx and one equally anti-soma-lkzx, and neither had much to do with her sober. You shouldn't take the drunken state as much more than the drunken state!

And I mean really, who wouldn't end up being an affectionate drunk with someone they dated?
posted by soma lkzx at 5:46 AM on April 9, 2007

Some people are more affectionate than others, alchool or not, so it all depends, but of course the more you see each other, even if it's 'just' for sex, the more you're going to develop some feelings of affection. It's inevitable, if you're human.

However, sex + affection do not make a relationship. There is a huge difference and it's in the level of commitment, not the level of affection, and certainly not sex alone.

In a 'friends with benefits' situation you can have almost as much affection but without that commitment part, without thinking for two, without thinking of yourself as a couple, without starting to make plans for a future as a couple, without it being at the top of your mind every time you consider decisions like moving or travelling, without any of the things that define a couple, to yourselves, and to the outside world -- even if, when you're alone, the two of you, you may be having all the sex and affection a 'true' couple shares. It's just not the same thing.

You're not sharing as much of your life as if you were in a committed relationship. It's also not exclusive.

This is different though because you were a couple years ago. So you never know, and he may not know himself, he may have not made up his mind, and may be enjoying the current arrangement just as you are, without thinking much about it.

Just don't mistake affection for a desire for commitment. It's worlds apart.

Sooner or later you may have to bring this question up to avoid potential messy situations, yes, but be very careful not to project on him expectations you may be entertaining yourself, or assumptions you may be making from the past rather than the present.
posted by pleeker at 5:47 AM on April 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

Er, what I meant with 'so you never know etc.' would apply even if you hadn't been together before, but what I meant is, because you have already been together before, his being affectionate sounds even more inevitable to me than in any other 'regular' long-running friends-with-benefits scenario, that is. Because you two were already once in love, so, well past the point of being 'simply' affectionate with each other, affection comes so much more easily now, even if you've agreed to be 'only' friends with benefits. Which makes it even harder to tell if he wants to get back together or not.

And if you don't know what you want yourself, then maybe it's better to wait until you figure out your own feelings, before you start asking him to clarify his.
posted by pleeker at 5:56 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would go for "just drunk." Drunken behavior is not a good indication of sober emotion.
posted by Anonymous at 6:11 AM on April 9, 2007

My take on this: if you think a drunk shy guy who you are close to may be attracted to you more than he lets on when sober then he almost certainly is.

If I wanted to confirm that this was definitely the case I would consider what it is that would make either of you think the two of you are not already in a relationship. For example are you interested in others guys too or are you somehow putting up barriers to further intimacy with him?
posted by rongorongo at 6:16 AM on April 9, 2007

sober: inhibitions up, wants to say all those things, too scared
tipsy inhibitions down, in vino veritas
posted by plinth at 6:20 AM on April 9, 2007

So you are good friends, and you are making the sex: that sounds like a relationship, or at the very least something like one.
posted by chunking express at 6:36 AM on April 9, 2007

"That which is done while drunk was conceived of beforehand, for the drunk mind has no need of the pretense of society and will always go with the most desirable task at hand."

"While we are drunk we are the most ourselves, for the walls that imprison ourselves in society no longer exist and we are for one fleeting moment free to do as we wish."

So yeah I would say he wants a relationship.

(No idea as to how to attribute those quotes but I am sure someone more eloquent than myself first said them and I merely repeat them frequently)
posted by koolkat at 6:41 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Short answer.
posted by unSane at 6:50 AM on April 9, 2007

never underestimate the ability of men to completely separate sex and physical affection from any sort of emotional tie beyond "yeah, she's a nice girl".

i've done that.. not something i'm proud of, but i think a lot of men go through that stage in their lives at some point. i know that alone won't answer your question, but i discourage you from reading in any deep meaning to actions that come out when he is drunk.

in my experience, friends-wth-benefits awlays end in 1 of three ways -- 1) the sex gets boring because there's no deeper connection, 2) one party can't actually accept that no-strings really means no-strings when confronted with the possibility that multiple NSA activities may be ongoing, or 3) 1 party secretly hopes that the NSA will transition into "proper" relationship, leading to the kinds of concerns you have now...

men in general will do whatever you let us get away with.. if you want a proper relationship with him, you need to set an ultimatum and be prepared to accept the answer either way. if all you truly want is NSA/friendswithbenefits, then you shouldn't be worried about the things in this question.

good luck!
posted by modernnomad at 7:18 AM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

All this speaking about feelings crap... I had a couple girlfriends who were into that and I wasn't so I thought it was me - then I met my current wife and realized not all females are into that. It is so nice to be with one who isn't.
posted by thilmony at 7:35 AM on April 9, 2007

It's possible he wants a relationship, but it's more likely that he wants the physical intimacy and comfort but knows where the relationship path will lead, having been there, and has no motivation to go back down that path. If you don't know what you want, just know that it's going to get more emotionally messy the more you question.
posted by mikeh at 7:36 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

And, after posting and reading thilmony's comment, I'm reminded that whatever you choose, stick with it. I had to laugh and wince about "speaking about feelings crap," since it's kind of funny to think that yes, some people are completely pragmatic about relationships and feelings. If you're not someone who can say to yourself "this is friends with benefits unless I'm told differently," then it might be a situation you don't want to get into.
posted by mikeh at 7:56 AM on April 9, 2007

I'm going with perhaps has stronger feelings for you but doesn't want a serious relationship.
posted by xammerboy at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2007

Personally, I'm of the view that drunken affection means nothing. While its possible he wants a more serious relationship, I don't think anything that he does while drunk should be taken seriously. Many people get very affectionate while drunk; but unless they say something specific, I wouldn't read anything into it.
posted by Touchstone at 8:26 AM on April 9, 2007

Why shouldn't he be more affectionate when he's drunk? He's getting exactly what he wants from you at no cost to himself and with no strings attached if he should change his mind.

You need to decide what you want and how you feel. Once you know those things, you need to talk to him about it.
posted by winna at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

True feelings do tend to come out while intoxicated, but often, those feelings are AMPLIFIED.

Tread lightly. The friends with benefits thing seldom works out unless both people are on EXACTLY the same page.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:38 AM on April 9, 2007

Take it from my personal experience, do not take anything of the lovely things he does/says drunk seriously or take it to heart. Basically, ignore all his super lovey actions and words when he's wasted.

I was in the same situation as you and learned this the hard way as I tried to explain to the boy why he completely frustrated me. As he acted and said things when he was drunk that blatantly indicated to me that he had more feelings than he was letting on. He didn't outright deny he said those things but then went on to rehash why he was not ready for a serious relationship, as "great" as I was, etc.

Decide what you want from this situation/relationship and take care of yourself.
posted by wilde at 10:12 AM on April 9, 2007

This is why friends-with-benefits and being a friend (that he's sleeping with) just isn't a good idea- despite the "ground rule" of not turning it into a relationship, you're turning it into a relationship.
posted by Doohickie at 10:15 AM on April 9, 2007

I may be a lone voice on this one, but I sometimes think it best to back off from the compulsion to label and define these quasi-relationship/friendship things. It sounds like you have something that's somewhere between friends-with-benefits and a relationship -- a little bit of both, sometimes more one than the other. Maybe you could call it "an affectionate friend-with-benefits with occasional romantic overtones." Sounds perfectly lovely to me, actually, and I don't see anything at all wrong with it. It seems to me in cases like these (and I'm speaking from my own experience, too) the biggest source of discomfort isn't the relationship/friendship itself, but rather not knowing what label to use.

My only other piece of advice would be to take a kind "buddhist" approach to it. Enjoy it while it's here, but keep in mind that, like all things, it's probably somewhat ephemeral. Don't cling to it, and don't expect anything from it other than the pleasure of the moment.
posted by treepour at 11:09 AM on April 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

I am a very affectionate person to just about any girl that I smooch. I have noticed that I do it just by instinct, it does not necessarily indicate how much I like them (which is probably kinda misleading). But I am also very open and honest with the girls I talk to, and try my best to spell out exactly what I'm looking for to begin with.
posted by ZackTM at 12:28 PM on April 9, 2007

when I'm drunk I feel like I love everybody.

when drunk we say and do things that we genuinely feel

The reason this question can't be answered here is because we cannot generalize "what guys do" in certain situations. Each guy is an individual, even those who love to identify with some Universal Form of Guy that behaves according to certain set rules. When guys say, "guys always x", they are essentially communing with their brothers and projecting their own personal behavior across the gender in a kind of abstract group man-hug. But it's often completely contradictory to what some other guy will say "guys always do."

As for the difference between "friends with benefits" and "relationship", I think it's basically that in the former, both parties are openly recognizing that they're still on the lookout. They're saying that this relationship is good enough for now, but second rate in terms of "forever". It's certainly true that plenty of people in long term relationships feel a little bit this way, and have just accepted that sometimes you have to accept "good enough for now" as an ongoing thing, but the 'friends with benefits' approach puts that up front and supposedly sidesteps the pain of breakup when one partner finds a better match.

But when two people get into a supposedly friends-with-benefits scenario and one of them is secretly hoping it's more, then there's a mess waiting to happen. So the question here is, are you worried he wants more, or are you hoping he wants more? If the former, you should just make it clear in behavior, references to other guys, responses to his affection, etc, that that is not going to happen. If the latter, you should ask before you get too attached.
posted by mdn at 12:34 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

The thing is, he gets much more affectionate when he drinks.

There's an obvious flaw here - how would you acheive this loving behaviour in a permanent relationship - make sure he never sobers up? I absolutely would not base any relationship on this - especially if this person drinks a lot. I was entangled for years in a relationship like this with a heavy drinker who would give no kind of committment sober but who always seemed to be more affectionate - holding out the prospect that he loved me when he was drinking. The quality of the relationship and what he says when he is sober are the only reliable guides to his feelings.

In vino veritas may be a very appealing myth, but alcohol affects nerve centres in the hypothalamus causing sexual arousal - it makes you horny and emotional, while knocking out higher brain functions, taking away your judgement about acting on that. The only way to find out what he actually thinks and feels as opposed to finding out what chemical effects ethanol has on him is to raise the subject with him when he is sober.
posted by Flitcraft at 1:35 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

There is no die hard answer to this, but take this as my personal anecdote from someone who has been in a very similar situation as him several times.

Chances are that both of his behaviors are essentially honest. When he's sober and a little more inhibited his worries about his future (both practical and as an emotional partner) are likely bothering him and he doesn't feel confident enough to go all out and engage in something complicated or heavy. He probably still has feelings for you but part of him wants to keep that stuff under control. When he's drunk he's less inhibited and so what feelings he has he just goes with at the time. Since he's with you his feelings for you are what he goes with. This isn't to say that he's under a total loss of control, and it's also not to say that he's submerging some secret love for you when he's sober. It's to say that he's a mite confused and simply doesn't know what he wants from you or himself. There likely isn't a "true feeling" that he has right now that's lying underneath all the shyness or underneath the drunken ebullience. He really just doesn't know and something in his life is making him uncomfortable with either confronting his own feelings directly or with the prospect of a committed relationship. He isn't lying at either point, but he isn't necessarily being totally honest with himself, either. And until he's honest with himself he's not going to be able to give you a straight answer on this because he just doesn't know it.

The impression I get is that maybe you're in love with him. Don't push things. Try not to dwell on this too much, you're only going to drive yourself crazy and forcing the issue with him is likely going to do more harm than good. Obviously, communication is important, as you know, but there's a time and a place for everything, and the time is almost never when the guy acts totally differently under the influence of booze.
posted by shmegegge at 2:34 PM on April 9, 2007

More specifically, I want to hear from guys about whether they tend to feel more affectionate when drinking, when they wouldn't feel that way sober. (and i don't mean finding someone more attractive or sexually appealing, I mean feeling...loving, for lack of a better term)

ok, i'm a guy & tend to get more affectionate when drunk - that is, in a 'loving' sense more than a sexual one, as you put it.

however, i'm not so terribly sure about all these people with their "in vino veritas" comments, because the sober mind might have rationally decided that a relationship proper is not on the cards.

the fact that the drunken mind becomes less inhibited means that the affection can overtake the thinking, but that doesn't mean that the affection is the true hidden state. rather, these things can coexist in an uneasy truce. drinking can unbalance the truce, meaning that you're getting a distorted view of the competing forces in his heart & mind.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:05 PM on April 9, 2007

a nice comment by treepour, above.

i agree entirely with the argument that you shouldn't bother labelling these things. every single relationship is different, so it makes little sense to even bother asking whether something is a big-R Relationship or a small-r one, so long as there is monogamous sex involved, and your interaction involves more than showing up, fucking, and leaving again. if you are indulging in datey-style activities like dinners & seeing shows etc, then why bother trying to force your interaction into a pigeonhole?

of course, if the relationship isn't pushing all your buttons, then that's another issue. but it's better to approach it from the bottom up & focus on the enjoyable things, than to ask if it is a Mills-n-Boon / Cosmopolitan Magazine endorsed Relationship (TM) model.

and yeh, go with the flow, Buddhist-style.

disclaimer: this comment is based heavily on 1.5 years of doing this with an ex once. she: "remember, we're not in a relationship" me: "ok, just a matter of definitions. now, shall we eat thai or vietnamese before the movie and sex? and do we have bacon & eggs for tomorrow's breakfast?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on April 9, 2007

What's the difference between being really good friends with someone you sleep with and being "in a relationship"?

Expectations that the other person is not fucking anyone else. (Yes, yes, unless you're poly, which most people aren't.)

no, I really think it's about the long term. (plenty of poly relationships have long term commitments, just not exclusive ones). When you're in a friends-with-benefits, no one has any right to any expectation. Either party is welcome to meet someone new tomorrow and move to Hong Kong with them (or worse yet, move down the street into a condo with them and start having babies). A relationship is meant to be some kind of story you're telling together, where you share big life choices --job offers, moving to new places, starting a family, etc. A real relationship is more than just what's for breakfast tomorrow.

If you're young or if you're past 30 but not interested in ultimately settling down, then perhaps the difference is minimal. For most others, the central issue is, are we checking each other out for a possible long term life, or are we just hanging out while we look / wait for someone else.

It doesn't mean anyone's rejected; it can just be a mutual recognition that you're not really right for each other long term. But if one party is pretending to feel that way because they're basically in love & they think they'd rather have something than nothing, then things can get complicated...
posted by mdn at 10:14 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Very true, mdn, about big life decisions & expectations versus "just hanging out until / unless something better pops up".

I think the age thing is reasonably important here. In early-mid 20s, pretty much everybody I knew just hopped from one relationship to another with relative ease: 6 months, 2 years, 1 year, whatever. No great expectations of marriage & children. Perhaps only later do people start to factor the long-term thing into their thinking, and veto relationships that are otherwise quite enjoyable, on the basis of a lack of long-term alignment. These kinds of situations can often play out as FWB 'relationships'.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:07 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

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