Ask Dr. NerdLove: Feeling Used

Hello Doctor, 

I am a female & I recently got back into contact with an old male college friend. We weren’t BFF’s or anything in college, but we occasionally exchanged jokes with each other until he got a girlfriend (and left me, consequently brokenhearted). I think he could tell that I liked him back then, as a result became distant and sometimes acted like a jerk towards me to keep me from being attracted to him. Understandable, I guess because I have done the same to people who I am not attracted to especially if you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

Flash forward 3 years.

This guy and his girlfriend-turned-fiance from college split up (she abruptly broke off the engagement), and a few a months later, we started becoming friendly again through Facebook. I invited him out to dinner with friends, he accepted & we all had a good time. He then invited me out to a party he was having which I attended. He got very drunk, became apologetic for how he behaved towards me years ago, and because I’m a sap I slept with him (and I’ve since learned that drunken sex is not good. At all). After he fell asleep, I left as soon as I could determined to never speak to him again.

However, I caved & did end up speaking to him again. I even praised him for calling me a day later, when he commenced to insist that he did not use me, that he is fucked up & I shouldn’t want to date him because he has a plethora of problems, and ect. I expressed to him that I was very sad about the fact that I could no longer pursue a friendship with him because I thought that this one night stand ruined it. He said that he valued our friendship (even though, we really didn’t have one) & spouted some other sappy bullshit. And I thought pretty much immediately after I hung up that he just wasn’t interested in me, which happens.

Yet, I quickly found that I was the only one trying to actually pursue a friendship. He always had an excuse for not hanging out, so I stopped asking pretty early on. I would text him occasionally & though he always responded I could feel that he wasn’t really into it; he was tolerating me & he didn’t want to be mean. One day I just got sick of merely being tolerated, so I deleted him from facebook only to feel bad about it a week later. I called him & explained to him that I thought that I was beginning to like him (a side effect of being a girl who has had sex with someone I may have been interested in). He was cool about everything & we became FB friends again. A few weeks later, a conversation between him and a friend that we don’t have in common pops up on my newsfeed, and he is just ecstatic about this new girl (not me) that he just met, pretty much confirming that although he has all these problems he told me about he was ready to date women again–just not me. I became infuriated & deleted him once more, because I just feel horribly used. This is the second time I’ve felt we were interested in each other & though I never put all my energy into just him, I still am the one that comes out it hurt. He turns into the distant jerk to keep me away which I do because I don’t want labeled as crazy for blowing up about a problem that may not even be one. I am never able to vent my anger.

If need be, you are welcome to shorten this long email, but my basic question is, “How does one deal with the anger of being used? Do you tell that person you are infuriated at or do you leave well enough alone, especially if they may not care? And how do you even go about telling them?”

I know that I’ll get over it, because I’m awesome & time cures everything. But I am afraid that I will continue to hold my tongue and do stupid things (like pursue a friendship with someone who doesn’t care about me) in future relationships just because I am so afraid of confrontation–particularly with men who don’t give a shit.

-Sincerely, Merely Tolerated

There’re a couple of issues to deal with before we get to your question.

To start with: this friend of yours really doesn’t sound like any sort of prize. Acting like a jerk to someone in order to try to shake them out of a crush is a dick move; it’s the sort of thing that conflict-averse guys do when they’re trying to break up with their girlfriends without actually being the one to pull the trigger on the whole shebang.

Your doing it too doesn’t make it any better, by the way; it just makes you the jerk to the people who were interested in you. It’s more or less impossible to avoid hurt feelings when you’re telling someone with a crush on you that you’re not interested in them, and playing games to try to make them back off only makes it worse. You (and your on-again, off-again guy friend) would be better off just being direct and telling the crush-ers “thanks, but no thanks”. The quick break heals cleanest – true with bones and equally true with hearts.

But back to your guy: this seems to be a pattern with him. Gets you angry, says all kinds of sappy bullshit to make you forgive him that he clearly doesn’t mean, you forgive him, cycle repeats.

Of course, it takes two to tango, MT, and you’re not entirely innocent in this cycle either. I hate to do this, but… from the sound of things, this is more your fault than his. If anything, it sounds like a case of oneitis gone bad.

It should have been clear before now that this guy just wasn’t interested in you, MT… not the way you wanted him to be, and not even in being more than being a casual friend. To be perfectly honest, aside from that drunken hook-up, you’re the one who’s always initiating things with him. From what you’ve told me, you’re the one who made the first contact in meeting up after his break-up, calling him after you had sex, trying to rekindle a friendship, getting mad when it’s not as active a friendship as you’d expected, deleting him, getting back in contact with him – again – then getting mad and cutting ties… again!

I don’t want to be mean here, but a lot of this is just in your head.

Let’s look at it from his perspective: you’re a woman who’s had a crush on him for quite some time, one that he just doesn’t reciprocate. He’s trying to be as nice about it as he knows how while still giving you the brush-off. He’s not very good at it, but most people aren’t. After you two get back in contact, you hang out with friends, he invites you to a party, gets drunk and feels guilty and opens up a little to you. Then… the hook-up. No idea who initiated it or what, but ultimately, it’s not important. As far as he knows, he hooked up with a drunk acquaintance at a party, had sex that both parties apparently regretted afterwards, and woke up to find that she disappeared without a word.  I’m willing to bet that his brain went to “Oh shit, she thinks I just got her drunk to sleep with her. Oh shit, please don’t let her think I’m a rapist…” and he entered panicked damage control mode. He calls and tries to explain while justifying why he did what he did – it’s all his fault, emotional issues, blah blah blah, please forgive him. He may even have meant it.

As part of his damage control, he’s trying to make you feel better. So when you mention that you were sad because you felt that the two of you could no longer be friends1 he reassures you that, no, your friendship means a lot to him and the two of you could still be friends.

Now, he’s an asshole for saying that when he didn’t mean it. And he probably realized early on when you were making all of that effort to get him to hang out that the way you felt was much stronger than he did… but at the same time he is still bad at confrontation and conflict so he tries to give you every indication that he’s just not that interested in you. 

So you get mad and delete him from Facebook. I’m sure he may have felt bad about it (if he’d noticed… Facebook doesn’t tell you when you’ve been unfriended without the use of 3rd party plug-ins), but possibly a little relieved. But then you called him up to discuss things with him. He tries to smooth things over again (there’s that conflict averse behavior again), accepts you re-friending him… and then you get pissed at him again because he’s dating someone else and delete him.

I imagine from his end of things, you look a little… well, unhinged.

I hate to say this, but a lot of your relationship with him has been one-sided from the beginning.

I’m sorry that you feel used and upset, but I really don’t think that he’s been using you; I think you’ve read far more into the relationship – such as it was – than was actually there. I wouldn’t say that he’s been leading you on so much as being bad at telling you that he’s just not into you in the first place.  Don’t get me wrong – he’s not entirely blameless. He should be better able to face conflict with people and be clear about how he feels without trying to smooth things over by saying what you wanted to hear.  and to be sure,  neither of you should have had sex. However, at the same time, you also seem to have been determined to ignore his every sign that he just wasn’t interested, and constantly confronting him over it didn’t help things either.

Believe me, I’m sympathetic to how you feel. I’ve been in the same position – I had an ex that I couldn’t quite let go of at the time and was holding on to a friendship in hopes of having it become something more again. When she got a boyfriend – one who was, critically, not me – I was hurt and pissed too. I felt decidedly used and I was raging inside… and I vented repeatedly to any of my friends who were unfortunate enough to be around at the time. There may or may not have been some unfortunate posts online about it back in the day. Gods, goddesses and assorted minor dieties, I wanted to have a full-on, balls-to-the-wall volcanic explosion-and-scorched-earth-campaign of a confrontation with her over it.

But what would the point of it have been? It wasn’t as though screaming at her was going to make her recognize my passion or the depth of my feelings and suddenly change her mind. It might have made her feel bad… briefly. Far more likely, it would’ve just made her say whatever needed to be said to make me calm down and go away again and just leave the impression of another crazy ex. With some time and perspective, I realized that yeah, maybe she could’ve handled things better, but most of it was, frankly, my own damage… and as mad as I was at her, I was more angry at myself.

Venting your anger at him isn’t going to do any good. There are better ways to handle things. Find a gym (or a friend) with a punching bag, strap on some gloves, tape up a picture of his face t and pound the shit out of it. Make a playlist of the angriest break-up songs you can find on your iPod, pull on some running shoes and run up and down stairs and trails until you’re so exhausted you can’t think, nevermind work up the energy to be angry.

The best thing you could do is to treat this as a painful learning experience and move on. Forget about him, forget about confronting him, use the nuclear option, cut him out of your life and move on.

Good luck.

Don’t forget: I toss occasional questions up on the Dr. NerdLove Facebook Page, so be sure to “like” it and join in on the conversation.

  1. something I would disagree with in other circumstances []

  • Yuki

    The first thing I thought when I read this was: Danger: Toxic Alert.

  • I could see the train wreck from the first paragraph. Reconnecting with people you never got over never goes well.

    Get some help to deal with your fear of confrontation.

  • Paul Rivers

    "He got very drunk, became apologetic for how he behaved towards me years ago, and because I’m a sap I slept with him (and I’ve since learned that drunken sex is not good. At all). After he fell asleep, I left as soon as I could determined to never speak to him again."

    When I read this, the first thing I thought was "I wonder if using the drinking for an excuse for the sex being bad was – just an excuse for the sex being bad". Don't get me wrong, drinking can definitely do that, but – when you are attracted to someone your mind makes up this image of them and you think "that's who they are". Sometimes that image is accurate, sometimes not, sometimes it's really inaccurate.

    Sometimes (as I've found out), when you like someone, but they don't like you – it's actually that they can see (maybe they actually know intellectually, or more often it's just that their emotions can tell they're not vibing with you right) that you're just not compatible for dating. I dated several girls in college who kind of interested in me but not "that' interested in me and several times it took about 2 months and my brain went "Ohhhhhhhhh – *that's* what they saw which is why they didn't want to date me, and now that I can see it – that makes sense now, dating isn't really going to go anywhere".

    Sometimes people don't like it when, on an emotional level, they realize that they really *don't* jell well with someone they think they really like, and they make up "excuses" for things don't feel good. Or they start blaming the other person for things not going right. And sometimes – they didn't go right because they're not compatible for dating. Often both people might realize it if they dated for a while, but the other person already knows it and doesn't want to go through that.

    I dunno, I'm just going on with my thoughts, I'm just saying that rather than going with "We slept together, but it was only terrible because we were drunk", maybe the lesson shouldn't be to make excuses for it being awful, maybe the lesson is "Omg, maybe this is what the chemistry between the two of us would always be like, and that's why he doesn't want to date me – because he knows it would always be like that – awful".

  • Merely Tolerated

    I didn't expect for you to answer my email, but thanks for the feedback. I think that I knew what the best solution was (as we often times do) but it never hurts to ask for a second opinion from a fellow nerdling. :-). I agree with everything you've said Dr. Nerdlove & I have indeed just gone for the nuclear option; my anger has definitely abated since I sent this cathartic email, lol. Things were about to turn toxic very quickly and it would have all been my doing. So everything has just been dropped; I don't expect I'll be talking to him again. I hope this helps situation helps anybody else who is going through something similar.

  • Merely Tolerated

    Oh, and Paul the sex really was awful, lol. Also, I don't understand why “We slept together, but it was only terrible because we were drunk” was put in quotes; I never said that. He was far drunker than I was, so the drunkenness was more one sided. Alcohol was a big part of why it was awful but I think the fact that it happened at all was a bigger factor. I was only interested in him before we slept together; I never intended to date him & I had already decided not too long before that happened that we didn't have much chemistry. I genuinely wanted to be his friend. But the sex changed that & complicated things, as it often times does.

  • Paul Rivers

    Also, I don’t understand why “We slept together, but it was only terrible because we were drunk” was put in quotes; I never said that.

    Sorry, I need to find a way to emphasize a sentence without possibly-misleadingly quoting it…