Monday, 23 August 2010

Auntie Seraphic & "Right Now Just Friends" Man

Sometimes when I get a letter, I write back at once, so that the person knows they've been heard. What I write on this blog the next day, though, is usually somewhat different, for I've had more time to consider the story dispassionately. If you are still in college, your stories often wring my auntly heart, for they remind my of my own college-era sufferings, and I think my first-impression answers often reflect that. Always remember that Auntie Seraphic is no substitute for a good priest. And very often, the person to talk to once you have put your thoughts into logical order for a letter to me, is your mother or dad.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Your post "Treated like a Yo-yo" is spot-on to my situation. In my case, the man, "Clark," has been my friend for 2 years now, despite the fact that I told him my feelings almost a year ago. Telling him didn't scare him away like I thought it would. He said "Right now just friends." That gave me hope that maybe later he would like to move on into a relationship, but that hasn't happened.

He still wants to hang out with me and the rest of my friends. If I want to go out with other friends, he'll want to go with me too.

A typical situation begins with me eating dinner with my friends, including him. He asks me, "So what are your plans tonight?" I say I haven't made any yet. Then another friend will go "Hey, we can maybe watch a movie as a group!" Then the group goes and watches a movie. One of my girl friends usually has to end the night early, so Clark and I will leave at the same time. He will then see if any of our other friends are doing anything. If they are, we'll go together to meet our other friends. If not, we'll end up doing something one-on-one. But even if we are with our other friends, we'll end up leaving together. And even while we are talking in a group, we'll sit/stand next to each other. He'll touch me to get my attention, and we often have to stand close to hold a decent conversation. Sometimes we're the only ones standing off to the side while the other people are busy doing other activities.

My problem is, even though we are with other groups of people, it still seems as though we are an "item." Even tonight, we tagged along with some other people we knew, and eventually ended up leaving the venue together as usual, and talking all the way back to our dorm. I really enjoy spending time with him, because the conversation is always nice and we always have fun.

But I do NOT enjoy having to fight the feelings I have for him. I do want to have a relationship at some point, and I realize that I probably won't get one if it appears that I'm with this other man. However, I'm beginning to think that if he didn't do stuff with me, he wouldn't really go out at all. I don't want to hurt his feelings or ditch him. But I'm sick of doing things together all the time, having so much in common, having good conversations, being EXTREMELY physically and mentally attracted to him, and yet NOT being a couple!

I really want to move on and get over him completely, and I know I can't if things continue as they are. It doesn't help that we have so many friends in common. It's only natural that we'll spend time together if we spend time with any of our other friends. I'm just so lost.

I figure if I keep my contact to nothing or a minimum I can lick these hopeless feelings once and for all. It works quite well when I don't see him. I still think about him occasionally, but I don't obsess or pine. Once I'm physically in his presence though, the feelings come rushing back. It's a constant battle, my mind against my heart. I'm sick of it!

I want be friends with this man, but how can I be friends when my feelings are otherwise? My heart starts racing when I'm around him, I can't always think straight....even if we just brush hands or accidentally bump into each other, my skin tingles. I just WANT him so much when he's right in front of me and we're all talking. He's often the only one laughing when I try to joke around, and looks at me with "smiling eyes."

Logically I shouldn't care about him at all, given his habit of not acknowledging my existence when we're not at school together. He magically remembers he has my number once we're in the same location again. How should I approach spending time with him? I'm trying to spend LESS time with him, but I'm afraid that won't help. I need guidance. What can I do to alleviate my feelings yet not ruin my entire web of friendships?

Hopeless Heart

Dear Hopeless Heart,

Thank you for your honest and articulate letter. I’m sure most, if not all, of my female readers will understand what you are going through. Perhaps my male readers will be surprised that, when it comes to unrequited love, women are a lot like them. I hope they don’t use this revelation for evil, though. Knowledge is power, and some women hand men emotional power with astonishing naivete.

In some ways yours is a cautionary tale. You were friends with a man for a year, and then you told him your loving feelings without any clear courtship move on his part. The feminist movement told us to ask, work and fight for what we want. This works well for work and school. It even, with a zillion qualifications, works well within a stable marriage. It does not work for courtship. If a man is interested in you romantically, and you have subtly let him know (a smile, a touch on the arm, an invitation to a party) that you like him, then he will make the first move. He will ask you to be his sweetheart. End of story.

Now, it could be that Clark just honestly thinks of you as just one of the guys, just a great pal, and that he would be horrified and sad if he knew how much he makes you suffer. But on the other hand, he could be using you as a social crutch. Because Clark doesn’t contact you in the summer, and he hooked you with his "for now", I’m afraid the situation is the latter.

A million questions come to mind. College-age men are notoriously given to love or lust. Why does Clark not have a girlfriend? Does he have a girl back home? Why does he spend every possible college-term second with you and never try for a kiss? You told him you were into him, so why doesn’t he make a move? Even if he doesn’t love you, you’re a woman, and there doesn’t seem to be another woman on the scene. Is he determined to stay super-chaste, or is he sexually attracted to women at all?

When you told Clark your feelings, did he take that as a free pass to use you emotionally and socially? Who the heck says, “For now, just friends”?! That’s very presumptuous, as if you’ll still be available later. You’re not a suit, to be put on hold at the shop while he ponders whether he really wants to commit to the purchase.

Does Clark ever spend any time on his own? Does Clark hang out with male buddies, just on their own? What is with Clark? Clark annoys me. Can he possibly be as attractive as you think? You should see the guys I thought were hot when I was in college. Eee! And one of the better-looking ones was, unknown to innocent mebut obvious to the older women I eventually confided in, definitely in the grip of Same Sex Attraction.

If you were a man in love with a woman, this would be so easy. I would tell you to ask Clarkette to marry you, and if she turned you down, to ditch her at once. You and your best pal would go to a bar for one night of tears and beers, and then the next day you would get on with your life, cutting Clarkette dead at every opportunity. Once a man’s marriage proposal is rejected, nobody expects him to go on being emotionally available to a woman. In fact, if he continues to dangle after her, he is in danger of becoming a laughing stock. And a woman who continues to toy with a man once she has turned him down is in danger of being called a bitch.

However, I don’t recommend you ask Clark to marry you, for fear he might say “For now, just friends” again. Why should he commit to a female companion when he can get all the female companionship he wants for free? What I do recommend is that you STOP BEING SO AVAILABLE.

Don’t phone Clark. Don’t text Clark. Don’t email Clark. Don’t answer all of Clark’s calls. Tell Clark you need to study harder, so you don't have time tonight. Secretly try for a dorm transfer—at least find out if this is possible. Organize “Girls Only” events. Find new Clark-free activities. Meet pleasant people who don't know Clark. Tell your female friends how a year ago Clark said “For now, just friends” and you’re tired of waiting. This will help them understand why you are not hanging with Clark so much, if at all.

You don’t have to see Clark ever again if you don’t want to. Really. (Technically you don't have to move out of your chair. You could just sit there, if you wanted, until you died of dehydration. It's amazing what we can do or refuse to do, if we set our mind that stubbornly to it.) What if you were dating, and you broke up? Would your other friends expect you to hang out with him all the time? I suspect your friends like you more than Clark. Again, I say to organize "Girls Only" activities.

Men value what they have to work for, and hold as cheap that which comes cheap. If Clark really cares about your friendship, he will try to find out why you’re suddenly not as available. And you should give it to him straight: you’re interested in finding a real boyfriend. If that’s Clark, great. If not, you need space to find someone. You want a man who makes you feel like a woman, not just one of the boys. It’s like you’re dating Clark and not dating Clark at the same time, and you want to break up. This is tough talk, but continuing to be super-nice is not going to win you Clark. I don’t think you are ever going to win Clark, frankly. I’m sorry to tell you that, and it sucks, but that was clear right from his weasel words “for now, just friends.”

Now I am going to talk about chastity, which I don’t usually do, but my conscience says I have to. Given your strong feelings of physical attraction, it might be a mercy that Clark hasn’t swept you into his Clarky arms. If you were boyfriend and girlfriend, it would be harder for you to stay chaste. Meanwhile, if you are having sexual fantasies about Clark, I strongly suggest you give them up. They can’t help you. If you are Catholic, I encourage you to confess “impure thoughts about my neighbour” in the confessional on Saturday afternoon.

I think Clark might be using you to stave off loneliness, or because female companionship without commitment is cool, or to feed his ego, or to hide from himself and others that he might be gay, but I will give Clark this: he hasn’t tried to exploit you sexually. Telling some guys that you are into them is like giving them your credit card: they’ll shop till they drop, leaving you to pay the bill.

Meanwhile--I am adding this in because, ridiculously, I forgot the most important thing--you should ask God to take away your feelings for Clark. Do this every day. Do this every hour, if you have to. Storm heaven with your demands: Please, Lord, take away these feelings for Clark! I don't want them any more. Do this until the feelings go away.

I hope this is helpful. I'm sorry you are suffering, and I hope that ends soon.


P.S. Girls, please stop telling men your loving feelings until they have made it absolutely clear that they love you. Please, I beg you. Healthy courtship is before us in pieces, and it is up to women and men of goodwill to put it back together again.


Julie said...

Ugh, soooo much sympathy here. The cruelest part is that I'm sure even if your friends know that there might not be anything going on, they probably think it anyway, and everyone else "knows" you're an item. Been there.

My hypothesis is that friendship with an eligible man requires a dealbreaker. Thinking about my male friends, there's the one with truly execrable taste in clothes, the one with no set career plan, the one content living at home, the one obsessed with a particular series of films, the one who wears a fedora and brags that he only likes swing music. None of these things would be dealbreakers to the right girl; I can even imagine getting past them myself under the right conditions; and they are wonderful, wonderful men whom I would be happy to recommend to other women. But they are my friends because I'm not the right girl.

Distance is the right instinct! Create some distance (I find not responding to emails or other communications for at least five days takes all the emotional enthusiasm out of it) and it will become much easier to think of yourself and "Clark" in other contexts. By which I mean: you with another boy and him with another girl and only seeing each other for ten minutes at parties in passing. And THEN maybe you're ready to just be friends. Sadly, you have to not be friends in order to become friends in this situation, and you can't rush it.

And keep repeating to yourself "I deserve a man who wants to be introduced as my boyfriend."

Seraphic Spouse said...


AveLady said...

More sympathy from this corner. Been there, been there, SO been there. The poor fellow I dealt with wasn't too bad, really - he pulled the "Not ready for a relationship right now" line, but honestly I think it was cowardice (aka, can't stand seeing a girl cry) rather than intent to lead on. But still, he could've let me down easy without creating false hope. I completed closed myself off to other relationships by following that guy around for over a year. It sucks. The only comfort I have to offer is that after I finally ditched him I got way, WAY better guy friends (with clearer boundries) who treated me a million times better, called, wrote, STILL call and write, were always reliable (this guy really wasn't, though he really did have a lot of wonderful qualities, was extremely attractive to me at least and a delight to talk with). So there are definitely better things out there for you, even just in terms of friendship.

Catherine said...

When I was in college I was good friends with this guy, let's call him Ted. Well, I liked Ted. A lot. We hung out in the same group of friends all the time, and EVERYONE in that group thought that Ted and I were perfect for each other and should date. But Ted seemed completely oblivious. He would flirt with me, tell me really personal things, sit near me, make excuses to come to my apartment, etc... but that was it. I made it as clear as I possibly could that I liked him (and, in retrospect, I feel silly for acting so obvious and desperate), but he never took the hint. Either that, or he took the hint and chose not to respond. Whichever it was, it tortured me for two horrible years. I had to see him every day, hang out with him a few times a week, and talk to him all the time, feeling utterly rejected and unlovable because this one guy was too oblivious or too insensitive to tell me honestly what was going on. Meanwhile, our mutual friends -- both male and female -- were always insisting that Ted was "secretly in love with me." This was certainly not helpful.
Anyway, college ended and Ted and I went our separate ways, and I can say honestly that if I could go back and do those two years again, I would have given Ted maybe one semester to make a move, and if he didn't then I would have MOVED ON. Women shouldn't have to wait around for men to decide to act like men. Men shouldn't make deep emotional connections with girls they don't want to date, when it's clear that those girls DO want to date them. During those two years I felt like there was nothing I wouldn't do for Ted. Now looking back, it's fairly obvious that he never felt that way about me, and I wasted two years hoping he would change his mind. At least it was a learning experience -- never again. And I would advise others in similar situations that the temporary sting of forcing yourself to leave your Ted behind, is far less painful than the slow burn of waiting in vain.

sciencegirl said...

I have seen this one before, second-hand. That dude had some serious SSA issues. Clark might not. But it's obviously very frustrating and pointless. I am sure your friends will back you up. Getting over Clark will be so great! You may even get an actual boyfriend once Clark is no longer hanging around.

Jessica said...

Totally agree with the "girls only" ideas. I dated a guy from March of my freshman year through September of my senior year of college. We were always part of the same circle of friends...a pretty tight circle in fact. After we broke up, we tried still hanging out with the same friends, because I was afraid of destroying The Group. A few disastrous Group outings showed me that we needed some time without seeing each other at all, and it turned out that The Group was supportive -- in fact, they whole-heartedly appreciated the opportunity to avoid the awkward dynamic we created whenever we were together.
Now, two+ years after graduation (and three years after our breakup), my ex is part of the massive e-mail chain The Group has used to keep in touch, so I didn't cut off all his friends or anything. He and I will talk occasionally by facebook chat too, but nothing super emotionally involved. On the whole, it turned out better than I would have expected, given the drama that happened immediately afterwards.
Basically, my best advice is to wake up the dormant mama tiger instinct in your best girlfriends. Ask them to help you protect your heart. Watch chick flicks with little-to-no-romance, like "Julie and Julia" or "First Wives Club" or classic Disney movies. Drink wine with girly labels. One of my favorite memories of my senior year is having a "girly game watch" (football is a biiiiiig deal at my school). We ate chocolate, drank wine, and gave ourselves full liberty to make the "oooh, the quarterback is HOTT" comments that the boys would have ridiculed us for making. :)
It will all work out! I promise!
PS Some of the other guys in The Group found out about the gamewatch, and nearly banged down the door trying to get in. Seriously. Girls-only activities are highly intriguing to the opposite sex. ;)

Seraphic Spouse said...

Keep 'em coming, girls! It's time to confess your enslavements to and escapes from the clueless Clarks and Teds to help our dear sister Hopeless Heart.

Speaking from my married-lady experience, there's no sexy man like the sexy man who wants to carry you off permanently to his castle. Trying to dream and scheme your way into some guy's castle sucks.

Rosemary said...

Great ideas, Seraphic!. Much sympathy from me, also a recovered yo-yo. Don't let this guy any further into your will only get more difficult to extricate yourself the longer it goes on. It sounds as if he enjoys the perks of you and your social network during the school year. A true friend wouldn't just drop contact over the summer months. Distance is the best thing, and you will have better luck finding someone special if Clark isn't hovering over you. My "Clark" would begin to show romantic interest in me if it looked like I'd found someone else, so beware that too!. Best of luck to you!

AveLady said...

By the by, Seraphic, a topic I would appreciate being covered for all us ex-yo-yos:

I, like all of us, found the whole experience pretty scarring. Since then I've had a tendency to go to the opposite extreme and be almost rude and certianly prickly around guys I'm attracted to (not constantly, but often enough) just because I live in terror of giving a guy that kind of emotional power over me ever again. And my "Clark" didn't even really abuse his! It was just humiliating.

Even "touch his arm" seems really forward to me now - anything that hints I might be receptive to a coffee invite feels like too much. So if it's early days in your acquaintance and you actually want to give the guy a chance before moving on, how does one achieve that balance?

Seraphic Spouse said...

Oh, for the Golden Mean! There is an ocean between simple, attractive friendliness and "We have to talk, 'cause I'd like to take this relationship to the next level, you and me, how 'bout it?"

What do you do? You smile. (You're a nice, friendly person. Nice friendly people smile.) You turn towards the man when he comes over to chat. You turn the conversation to being about him pronto. (For one thing, you're collecting information.) You don't talk too much about yourself. (For one thing, a little bit of mystery never hurts.) If you're feeling super-brave, you touch his arm when you say good-bye. That's it. That's all you do. Well, you show up again where he is likely to be, of course. Then repeat.

Yes, I can see you're nervous and hurting. But smiling, asking a guy about himself when he trundles up for a chat, and touching his arm when saying good-bye is perfectly respectable and safe female behaviour. It is time to repeat my mantra as you go through the streets: "Bless his little (or wee) heart! And bless HIS little heart over there. And bless his little heart, too."

Keep blessing their little hearts until you get a sense of perspective and are returned to the great truth that most men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life.

KimP said...

I'm an expert at pining. I love a good pine. I have pined for at least 3 men in my life, each taking YEARS out of my life. From my experience, my advice is the same as yours - stop being friends with this guy. And if you can't, if it is just too impossible, if months and months have passed with no discernable achievement in moving on - then get therapy. I'm serious. Don't let years be wasted on Clark. The world is waiting and it is waiting for your destiny - get happy and go fullfill it!

Andrea said...

More sympathy here. My situation involved a man who just "needed to figure out his work situation." It's been years, and to the best of my knowledge, he is STILL figuring out his work situation. I am thankfully not interested anymore, even remotely, but for a while it wasn't fun at all. Live and learn?

Vanadis said...

Occasional commentator going with a pseudonym today... I've been here, and it's been very difficult to move on from my "Clark", and I'd like to thank all the commentators above for their thoughts, and Auntie Seraphic for the advice. Now just to be strong enough to actually act on it...!

theobromophile said...

At this point, Clark is getting most of the (non-sexual) benefits of a relationship, with none of the downsides; the letter-writer has all of the downsides, with none of the benefits.

Letter-writer: you deserve better. I would love to tell you that you'll find better (in the form of a man) the moment you ditch Clark and start going out for dinner and chocolate with your girl friends, but, in my old age, I'll just let you know that you'll find better - as in a better, healthier life for yourself - once you are not tormented every day by this degenerate.

However, I'm beginning to think that if he didn't do stuff with me, he wouldn't really go out at all. I don't want to hurt his feelings or ditch him.

UGH! Not "UGH!" to the letter-writer, but to the idea that women are morally obligated to ruin their hearts so that a guy doesn't have to be responsible for his own life.

theobromophile said...

Um... adding on to that last thought:

When I was a wee lass of 18, I dated an absolute SOB. We went to different high schools and were from different towns. He barely knew my hometown friends - he met them maybe a half-dozen times in the four months we dated (all of which was when I was in college). Nevertheless, when I dumped his SOB butt over winter vacation, he began hanging out with my friends of many, many years. He called them up, went everywhere with them, was omnipresent. He made it seem like I was the crazy, unreasonable one for not going on those excursions (Jenn and Mark, Jacky and Jack, Lynn and Josh, SOB and theo...?!).

Had I put up with that b.s., the SOB would have been in my life for a lot longer. But refusing to socialise with him was like ripping off a band-aid: stings like crazy for a minute, but then it's done. There was emotional fallout within my group of friends (or "friends", perhaps), but it was, long-term, the best thing for me.

Now, Clark sounds like a total drip, not a total SOB, but the principle is the same. You aren't obligated to sacrifice yourself for someone else's dainty, tender feelings - especially when that someone has been so very callous with yours. You're not up on a cross, dying for this dude's sins; you're making yourself miserable for no actual good purpose - not his and certainly not yours.

Amy said...

I have a family friend who dated one guy for 10 years and another for 13. Both of them told her, "I want to marry you; I'm just not ready yet." She wanted to marry and have a family, but she wasn't available to marriageable men because she was dating the commitment-phobes. If Clark can't even commit to dating, I HIGHLY doubt he'll commit to marrying.
I, too, have been in a go-nowhere relationship. I made the excruciating decision to break it off. I haven't met Mr. Right yet, but I'm not a bit sorry I ended it. I'm better off, and if Mr. Right does come along then I'm available.

Alisha said...

This is a very sad situation. While I personally have no problem being emotionally close with those whom I have no intention of dating or them being close with me, there is NO WAY I would tolerate being ignored during summer months and picked up again with convenience whenever I happened to be around. (Note to musical theatre fans: watch the scene in Funny Girl where Fanny Brice runs into Nick Arnstein when he hasn't been in contact for over a year. "you always ask me out to dinner, whenever you happen to run into me. I've never met anyone so polite."...then watch till the end of the movie. She's crying but she has rave reviews and is absolutely brilliant - she SO did not need Nicky)
One thing no one has advised that I will dare to is this: TELL the guy he is being an ass. If you can't manage this on your own, or if it doesn't work - get a few other friends - both men and women - to tell him the same. Why? A few reasons.

1) If you care about him as a friend, you will want him to improve. He needs to know he sucks at being friends, and that (perhaps without knowing it), he uses people. This is not just to tell him off but because as fellow Christians, we should care about one another's destiny, and there is certainly cause for fraternal correction here. "Go, Clark, and sin no more by way of emotional using of women, esp ones you claim are your friends"

2) You want to try to prevent it from happening to some other nice girl and maybe if he knows, with grace, he could change - don't wait for it, but if you can at least try to make a difference, as you walk away, do it.

3) It makes it easier to walk away if you voice your reasons concretely, if you actively say to the person who has treated you badly that you deserve better - not to mention, if he has the gall to argue with you, you will see a side of his character that will be highly unattractive, which will help with the getting over of him.