I like you, I like you not
June 5, 2007 10:58 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with people who like me that I don't like back? Or only sometimes?

Posted anonymously because some of these people know my internet nickname.

Am I a cold and calculating person? I really don't know. I love my friends fiercely and will always go out of my way to help them. But apart from my good friends, and friends, and mates, there are also the people who think I'm cool and want to hang out with me when I can't always reciprocate the feeling.

There is a number of people who obviously like me, as they come to talk to me, or ask me to do things with them, or send me emails. But I don't feel I have a special relationship with these people and while I don't mind doing "something" (going to a movie or something) every now and again, and even have fun when I do this, I don't want to hang out with them more frequently than that. Same with conversations: I can talk to them once in a while and may tell them some personal things, but that doesn't mean I want to do this all the time, or want to enlighten them about my whole private life. Sometimes I just want to ignore them. I'm sorry, but that's how I feel.

Now I can imagine that this is hurtful to the people in question. If nothing else it must be terribly confusing. Some of them, and I do admire this in them, have asked me "have I done something wrong?" And they haven't, and I tell them they haven't, I tell them it's me, that I have other things on my mind sometimes. But then they think everything is alright again, only it isn't - but I can't very well explain to them that I only like them when I feel like it, can I? How do you deal with these feelings, if you even have them? Do you just swallow your feelings and hang with them anyway, or do you never hang?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You are under no obligation to be friends with everyone, if you dont mind spending time with them on occasion then do just that. The rest of the time you can just ignore them when you dont feel like spending any time with them. Its perfectly normal.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:15 AM on June 5, 2007

If you don't want to be friends, that's fine, but don't do people the discourtesy of spending time with them when you "don't mind." Either be upfront about your feelings, or give some lame excuse for why you can't be friends, but don't be a fairweather friend. Being led on always hurts, in any kind of relationship.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

I don't think you're unusual. Especially as you get older, you'll find you have less time for friends. It happens to most of us.

And, it's okay for some people not to like you. If they're confused or hurt, it's their problem. You haven't done anything to antagonize them.

There was a lady in my office who alternately tried to charm me and bully me--I think because I wasn't responding to the "charm." I felt guilty about not wanting to be around her. One day when she asked me to lunch, I wondered, Why the hell should I go? What am I getting out of this? This person is awful. I mean why should I commit myself to something I already know is going to drive me nuts? To heck with whether the girls in the office think I'm nice or not! I decided to put myself first.

Life is short, and your life is about you. Put your hours to use where they'll do you the most good. Like somebody's uncle once said, Fuck 'em!
posted by frosty_hut at 11:33 AM on June 5, 2007

but don't do people the discourtesy of spending time with them when you "don't mind."

Eh? So in your world it's just friends/non-friends? Whatever happened to acquaintances?
posted by juv3nal at 11:36 AM on June 5, 2007

I've been on both sides of this equation and both sides suck in a way.
It's hard not to feel guilty saying no when the feelings of the other side are obviously sincere. But it's better to be clear.

Try not to stick modifiers to you refusal. So just say "no, I wouldn't like that". Not "No.....Not tonight. I have to study" Or "No. ... I don't like beer"

I don't agree with frosty that putting yourself first is always better. I don't think it's so bad to feel some empathy with others and possibly experience a less then optimal fulfilment of your own needs now and then. But that's not an enduring solution and you should feel the freedom to say no if needs be.
posted by jouke at 11:49 AM on June 5, 2007

It sounds like maybe the "sharing stuff from your private life" may be what's confusing these people? I don't do that with acquaintances, really, and I expect that people who share their private lives with me are indicating that they want to pursue a closer friendship.

That seems like the exact sign that someone wants to pursue a closer friendship, that they start opening up to you.

I certainly don't know exactly what you're sharing with people, but can you pull back a bit on the sharing and see if that helps?
posted by occhiblu at 11:55 AM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

If your online name is that recognizable it's likely that you've fallen afoul of Dunbar's number, which says our brains have a finite capacity for managing personal relationships. According to Dunbar we can juggle about a dozen close friends & family and 150 relatives & acquaintances. Once you get past those numbers our neocortex just can't cope with any extra relationships, so you find yourself unable to care about those people. Short version: if your brain's not built to handle it, it's not something I think you should feel guilty over.
posted by scalefree at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ignoring people is the commonly accepted way of saying, "I don't want to be friends anymore." Unless the friend is a really good friend, I would doubt I would contact them more than 2-3 times without a response. Probably not the most polite way to handle things, but in the instant communication world, increasingly acceptable.
posted by geoff. at 12:21 PM on June 5, 2007

Mom? Is that you? I'm ...speechless.

I say just cultivate a reputation for being very very busy. Try not to make it too obvious that there are people who you would cancel surgery to hang out with time and again.
posted by hermitosis at 1:09 PM on June 5, 2007

but don't do people the discourtesy of spending time with them when you "don't mind."

Eh? So in your world it's just friends/non-friends? Whatever happened to acquaintances?

Maybe I didn't phrase that well. I have acquaintances, sure, but I don't really have any that I would voluntarily spend time with if I didn't enjoy it (at least a little). Hanging out with someone because I "don't mind" doing so just isn't an activity I would engage in.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:21 PM on June 5, 2007

I have this problem too, as I'm sure everybody does. One thing I find that helps with relationships in general is abiding by a few mental rules...

1. A problem you have with somebody doesn't exist until you say something. You may have a whole entire history with grievances or dislikes about somebody's behavior, but until you make that known, it simply doesn't exist out there in the real world. Basically, this problem of social obligation/reluctance is all yours right now, and its trapped in your head. That's ok if its ok with you.

2. Only put the effort into relationships that you want to. Don't do things you don't want to do. This minimizes the problem overall...it won't come up as often if you aren't doing things you feel you MUST do because of social norms. You aren't required to follow social norms anyway. You'll spare yourself guilt and emotional anguish by not dragging yourself through emails you don't want to write, events you don't want to attend, and conversations you won't feel fully present in. Learn to be ok with saying things like "I'm sorry, I've got to jam on this project right now", or "I just don't feel like doing that tonight", "I'm not social right now", etc. Be honest and upfront with your responses. You're not so great that their world is hanging on your acceptance of their offer. They'll shrug and move on, and you will too.

3. Own what's yours, don't acquire what isn't. It's perfectly ok to share personal things with people if that's the kind of person you are. I know that I'm very much that way, and I don't expect much in return. I like to share, and I'm pretty much an open book. People may be uncomfortable with that, but it's not MY problem to help them figure out how to accept me or my inconsistencies in privacy vs. disclosures. (maybe we're both consistently inconsistent in that respect). What I would need to own up to is whether or not I'm being rude or giving them cause to ask if they've done something wrong if I was less than forthcoming about something. If I wasn't being rude, then their question is just either their insecurity or them trying to figure out my new and/or temporary boundaries, how I operate, etc.

The only other thing I would suggest is try to be more observant about the signals you're putting out there. Are you pretty consistent most of the time and people can't get a good read? Or are you super friendly when you feel like it, and offputting when your don't-bug-me wall is up? Being a blank slate, or being in extremes can be confusing ways to be, albeit for different reasons. Figure out where you lie on that spectrum and try to adjust your behavior accordingly (ie, if you're too unemotional/flat, work on giving people more information and social cues about when it's ok to bother you and when it's not. If you're flip-flopping between superfriend/supercold all the time, work on toning it down at both ends of the spectrum so you're not giving people cause to think you're super reactive, and reacting to THEM).

There's a flipside to all this too...you can decide to do nothing. Just continue be yourself and let others deal. And instead work on not letting other's expectations or desires of you effect you in any way. It's all up to you really.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's necessarily the other person's problem if they're feeling hurt or led on, and the OP asking the question suggests that he doesn't either. We're all responsible for our own reactions but there are conventions and tacit understandings as well.

OP, you don't say how old you are. Once you get past your mid 20s or so it gets tougher to make friends. Some people are content with this, having already established a rich social like. Others are still trying to. Be sensitive to this. And by sensitive, I only mean aware. It sound like you already are to a degree. Follow occhiblu's advice and stay away from topics that increase intimacy with people you want to be in occasional contact with. If you do, your sporadic contact won't be hurtful to them. Being a bit of a flake is another step along these lines. Don't overdo it by ignoring them, but take a few days to answer an email or a call. Be upfront about the limited social role they play in your life, e.g. "I have already made plans to spend time with some other friends of mine this weekend.". If you want to treat them well, meaning courteously, avoid playing hot and cold.

All of us only like people when we feel like it. The trick is treating them in such a way that the other person will continue to like us enough to where we can hang out when we both feel like it.
posted by BigSky at 1:56 PM on June 5, 2007

I had one friend like this. She called me way more often than I wanted to talk, e-mailed me too much. I sometimes didn't get back to her right away or at all.

I was lucky to figure out before it was too late that she was the truest and best friend I have.
posted by transona5 at 2:43 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

anonymous, either I know you or I know someone who may be just like you.

I'm very interested to know what you make of the discussion here.

Please, have mathowie or jessamyn post your anonymous response...
posted by Tubes at 2:53 PM on June 5, 2007

Life is short, time is limited, we can only support so many family members, friends, and threads. Pick a number, stick to it, and tell people "sorry the queue is full". It's not heartless, it's honest. If they don't like it, then they probably wouldn't be worth your time anyway. Seriously.
posted by ewkpates at 4:11 AM on June 6, 2007

« Older No Thanks, I Don't Want Short Shorts   |   Not 'in the mood' Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.