Hi Dr Nerd Love.
I met a girl some months ago who’s brilliant – there is almost nothing I don’t like about her and we hit it off brilliantly. Because she was out of the country a lot etc we couldn’t meet up often and so, after a few meets and talking constantly by phone/text we finally slept together a few weeks ago.
The day after that we met up and I got told that she was not quite over her ex from a few years ago (which I know from talking to her, she isn’t) and that that has ruined her relationships since. She didn’t want to hurt me in the same way and so couldn’t do a relationship right now. I thought it was a brush off and left thinking that was that.
The weird thing is – she still talks to me every day. She tells me I’m funny and the only one who gets her, she sent me a photo of a text conversation with a guy she’d tried to be with last year that fell apart because of her ex (in case I didn’t believe her story) and has told me stuff about her past that she has apparently told no one else. To be frank I sometimes feel like a boyfriend in all but name. I flirt with her occasionally and she seems cool with it, but she still talks to me about how other guys try to flirt with her (before she tells me how she doesn’t want a relationship with anyone and so they can get lost).
I’m at the point now where part of me naively believes her story and hopes I can get out of this weird friend zone. Were it anyone else I’d have walked away by now but I really like her. For the time being I can do the friend thing but eventually I’m gonna have to try again. I guess what I’m asking is – what do you think is going on here and is there any hope?
In The Zone
This is going to sound dismissive ITZ and I don’t mean it to be, but do you have many female friends?
I ask this because the disconnect you’re having here is something that happens to a lot of men: they get into emotionally intimate friendships with women and don’t understand why they’re not romantic relationships as well. In fact, a lot of guys end up catching feels for their female friends because their friendships are so open, close and intimate and they end up rounding that up to attraction.
A major reason why this happens — and why it seems to happen primarily to men in cross-gender friendships — is because of a crucial difference between how men and women conduct their friendships. Female friendships are often referred to as being “face to face” — that is, that they’re more direct and open. Friendships between women and femme-presenting folks tend to be much more emotionally intimate, often sharing personal issues and information about their lives and providing emotional support. Male friendships tend to be more “side-by-side”; they’re far more based around shared activities and doing things together, without as much personal intimacy. In fact, many men feel like there has to be a pretext to hang out with their friends; they can’t get together just to enjoy one another’s company.
This is in no small part because current culture has taught men to be disconnected from our emotions. Any emotional display — whether fear, sadness, panic, or affection and appreciation — is seen as being feminine and shameful. We’re only allowed to express ourselves under certain circumstances, ideally circumstances that also reaffirm our masculinity. In fact, this is often a reason why guys love war movies or shows like Sons of Anarchy; the male bonding is a core part of the narrative, but in a context where that bonding isn’t seen as feminizing because they’re being manly men, doing manly things. Contrast this with the snickering gay jokes about Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes in the Captain America movies; deep, emotionally intimate friendships are seen as being romantic or sexual in nature because FEELINGS.
The great irony is that it didn’t used to be this way; men used to have deep and intimate relationships with other men and it was just how things were. Hell, in many cases, it was celebrated. But over time, emotional intimacy became equated with sexual intimacy, which meant that these friendships were now seen with suspicion. Don’t want to be mistaken for being gay, brah. So now our emotional intimacy ends up being restricted to women.
But just because we’re taught we aren’t supposed to want emotional intimacy doesn’t mean that we don’t need it. So more often than not, men get their emotional needs met by their female friends. And since emotional intimacy is seen as a precursor to sexual intimacy, we tend to round up the feeling of finally getting those needs met to romantic attraction.
Or, as in your case, we tend to equate this friendship with being treated like a boyfriend.
Except, she’s not. She’s treating you like she would a friend… and she’s doing so in a way that she would with her female friends. That verbal affirmation of your attractiveness and how you get her? That’s something women frequently express to one another in their friendships. Sharing those details about her life? Again: a typical part of friendships for women. Guys don’t do this as often with folks we aren’t sleeping with or involved with romantically, so it just feels like you’re being treated like a boyfriend.
The fact that she’s cool with your flirting with her? That’s not the indicator of interest that you think it is. People have flirty friendships. People flirt because it’s fun to flirt, even when you have no intention of doing anything about it. Or she might be acknowledging that yes, she finds you attractive but just isn’t available for more than what you two already have. Or she might be tolerating it because she wants to keep this friendship with you and she’s willing to overlook the flirting as a price of entry.
That having been said: her showing you how she’s brushing off other dudes who flirt with her because she’s not interested in a relationship? That’s a reminder that she’s not interested in dating anyone. This is a subtle way of her setting some boundaries and reminding you that this isn’t romantic.
It doesn’t sound like you got the brush-off, my dude. It sounds to me like she told you exactly what was going on: she wasn’t in a place where she could have a relationship. She still clearly likes you and likes having you in her life. You clearly bring value to her life and she appreciates it. That’s why she wants to keep a friendship with you. That’s a good thing, and it sounds like you get a lot from this friendship as well.
But if you’re staying in this friendship in hopes that you’re eventually going to get out of the Friend Zone? Then you’re being her friend under false pretenses, and that’s a horrible thing to do to somebody you say that you like. You don’t have to make another move. You can appreciate this friendship for what it is, without trying to go for the relationship upgrade. You can accept this for what it is, value it for what it is and enjoy it without it having to be a stepping stone back to sex.
If you can’t bring yourself to do that however, it’s better for you to let this go. It’s not fair to her and all it does is keep you from meeting people who are up for dating you.
So you’re gonna have to make a choice, ITZ; either you take this friendship for what it is, or let it go. And in the meantime? Try improving the friendships you have with your male friends. Not only will it help make you happier and fulfill needs you may not be aware you have, but it’ll help you recognize the difference between being friends and being a boyfriend.
Dear Dr NerdLove,
I wanted to write to you because my partner (now ex) introduced me to your page. Your advice is realistic and when we would read your threads, we knew you knew what you were on about. No BS.
I don’t want to bore you too much with the finer details, however, I met my (now ex) partner when I had a car crash over five years ago(can I say that he was a cop?). We instantly hit it off, but when we went on a few dates, I realised that he was far too immature (he agrees). Skip ahead a few years and something..changed. We grew even closer and actually begun something casual for a few months, and we realised we worked…better than expected actually…and on one lovely night (when I wasn’t feeling very well) he asked me whilst watching a movie to become his girlfriend. I was over the overjoyed because I had already fallen for this guy and knew I wanted us to be official.
A year into our relationship, he moved in with the girl he lost his virginity to (in high school) and her (now husband) partner and another friend. It was difficult to say the least. I tried everything to appease this woman and she despised me. Regardless, my ex moved out and back with his parents. Can I just say that throughout the first year, whilst things were tough at times, we still managed to grow as a couple and as individuals. Unfortunately, during our second year of ‘bliss’, we each had our own work issues and we stuck by one another. During our third and subsequently final year of dating, my parents had a terrible break up and it did affect me (how could it not?) and communication wasn’t great.
A month ago, he randomly turned up to my place and broke it off with me stating that “he didn’t know if he was doing the right thing because he still loved me and I was still his best friend, however, for the last two weeks, he wasn’t sure if he was in love with me.” To say that I was absolutely heartbroken is an understatement. We had been through so much, and had so many great memories together, that this wasn’t expected.
At first, he came up with a few excuses and then he said several more later on when we caught up. He said such things like “you need to be more selfish”, “it isn’t our time”, “I’m going a different direction in work” and the final blow: “we need to grow as individuals.”
Now, I completely understand and will be the first to admit that we became complacent in our relationship, me especially, because of my parents’ break up. But the plethora of excuses he used makes me think “what else actually happened with us, with you?”
Its now been just on a month and he’s on dating sites (my friend who is a friend for the dating apps randomly came across him) and I’m more than confused because we had dated for 3.5 years and had spoken about marriage, kids and all the trimmings. He even stopped me at a jewelry store to look engagement rings.
I don’t know if I was I complete and utter denial about us or if I’ve misread everything… but I’m still in love with this man even though I have no clue what actually happened.
Care to shed some light?
Blindsided or Just Blind
I’d say that you were blindsided, BoJB, but with some caveats. It seems pretty clear that this was a long-simmering issue; if I were to guess, I’d say that the problems started during your second year together, when you were both dealing with issues at work.
One of the things that determines the relative long-term success of a relationship is how the people involved treat adversity. Stress from outside of a relationship can cause issues within the relationship, and how you handle it can affect the overall health of your partnership. When the going gets tough, do the two of you come together like a team or does it cause fissures that make it harder for you to deal with your partner’s shit? Do you treat it as something that brings you closer together, or a storm that you only barely weathered? Do you have each other’s back, or are you getting so caught up in your own drama that you don’t have the bandwidth to deal with theirs?
It sounds like in this case, the answer was the latter. You mention that when your parents split, you and your ex weren’t great at communicating. This, I suspect, was something akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back. While it’s clear he cared — and likely still cares — about you, the relationship had come to a point where he just couldn’t be in a relationship with you.
Which is where we come back to the caveats about being blindsided. I’m wondering whether your ex hadn’t been communicating that he was having these concerns… or whether he had, and you didn’t pick up on them. It could be that he was trying to make bids for your attention during these times and you missed them, didn’t recognize them for what they were or turned away from him. It’s also certainly possible that he wasn’t as clear about expressing his needs as he could have been; as I’ve said before, men are taught to be disconnected from our emotions, which makes it harder for us to express how we’re feeling. It can feel uncomfortable and awkward and if our partners don’t catch what we’re trying to say, we may drop it out of embarrassment.
Or it could be that he didn’t say anything. He might have been gritting his teeth and hoping that he could white-knuckle his way through to things being good again. Except he couldn’t.
Regardless, I don’t think that he suddenly fell out of love with you. The biggest clue here is that he’s already on dating apps again. Occasionally it seems like our partners have gotten over the relationship incredibly quickly. In reality, it’s often the case that they were getting over the relationship while they were still in it. For them, the relationship had already ended, they just hadn’t made it official yet. I think he meant it sincerely when he was talking about marriage, kids and a future together. But I strongly suspect that little issues metastasized over the course of the relationship together and ultimately lead to the point where he just couldn’t stay in it any longer.
Ultimately, the only person who can tell you is your ex, and he may not be in a place where he’s ready to process or do a post-mortem on the break-up. If you two can get to a place where you’re on good terms, you can possibly talk things through. But ultimately, the best thing you can do is give yourself closure. Every relationship has its natural lifespan and this one came to its end. Take time to mourn it — because this is something to mourn — then forgive yourself for being imperfect, like we all are.
There will be love again in the future. This isn’t the end. It’s not the beginning of the end. It’s just the end of the beginning.