Dear Dr. NerdLove:
A guy from school that I barely know – we have one class together and don’t even sit beside each other – has been telling my friends and acquaintances about how ‘heartbroken’ he is that I “don’t like him the way he likes me”. Of course my concerned friends and acquaintances have approached me and told me about it – he corners them in line at the cafeteria, or while they’re waiting for the bus, or even when they’re in the library studying, so he can dump his FEELINGS all over them and ask for “advice” about “how to get me to like him”.
They’re freaked out, I’m freaked out, and I don’t know what to do.
Is this guy just trying to dig for information about me in order to gauge his chances? Or is he trying to coerce me into going out with him so he’ll stop harassing my friends and making everyone (including me!) SUPER uncomfortable? I get that, if you’re shy, you might want to test the waters first, but this feels more like a coordinated campaign than some innocent, awkward guy trying to figure out his feelings. Of course he knew that my friends/acquaintances would tell me about his actions and “feelings” so, now that the cat’s out of the bag, apparently I’m supposed to respond. Consequently, it feels manipulative and creepy and now I’m scared and don’t want to go to class. If I say, “Sorry, not interested. Stop hitting up my friends because you’re freaking them out”, I’m guessing that there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll go badly for me and he’ll try to retaliate somehow. If his current M.O. is any indication, he’ll probably spread malicious lies and rumours about me in order to get people in our program ‘on his side’ and make me out as some kind of psycho b*tch who was actually stalking him rather than the other way around.
I have no interest in dating him, though, and don’t respect the way he manipulated my friends into telling me about his feelings on his behalf rather than just nutting up and doing it himself. Should I just ignore him and hope he gets the hint?
(I know this sounds very high school-ish but we’re actually in university. I really didn’t see this coming.)
Thanks for your feedback.
Not gonna lie, OH; until I got to the end of your letter, I was pretty convinced this was going to be another in the long-running genre of “high-school is hell, don’t worry too much about dating” genre of letters I get. I’m a little surprised — not that surprised, but a little — to find out that you are all in university. There’s always the hope that folks will have, at the very least, learned enough to actually talk to the person they’re trying to date.
You’d think after doing this for all these years, I would’ve learned.
So this is going to sound like a digression, but stick with me. Recently, there’s been a company called Spinner that promises to essentially gaslight someone in your life into doing what you want. Among the various suggested ideas are “Get your ex to take you back,” “convince your partner to initiate sex more”, “convince your parents to buy you a dog” and other, increasingly dubious options. The way they propose to do this is to insert targeted ads into the “Around the web…” ad blocks (er… like the ones I use…) on your target’s browser. So if you, for example, are hoping to convince your ex to come back to you, they’d seed articles about how great sex with your ex is or some such shit into ads that your target would see. And then, theoretically, even if they never actually click on the ads to see the accompanying article, your target would have seen so many instances of “hey, you should go back to ol’ wozizname” headlines that they’d be subliminally influenced into giving you a second chance.
(In reality, you spent a stupid amount of money to enable being a goddamn creep AND exploit someone’s trust and poor info-sec practices for shit that doesn’t actually work but hey, let’s not quibble over details.)
I bring this up because honestly? That’s a high-tech version of what this guy is doing: he’s making such a fuss about oh how in luuuuurve he is with you that you can’t NOT hear about it. And since so many movies and pop songs and rom-coms focus on “oh but he cares SO MUCH how could she not be swayed by the depth of his devotion” and then a love to last the ages is born. Any actual intelligence or advice he may get from your friends is a bonus, not the goal. As long as you hear about this and get curious enough to find out more, then he gets what he’s always wanted: a chance to convince you by… I dunno. Just existing. Or promising that nobody would ever care for you the way he does — something that’s easily disproved by getting a dog.
Unfortunately he’s yet to learn a truth that, sadly, many folks haven’t learned yet: if the only thing you have to offer somebody is your affection, that person could get better results by visiting their animal shelter and giving a dog or cat a forever home.
Notice, however, that he’s not talking to you. There’s a reason for that: he knows that if he were to actually put on his big-boy pants and ask you out like a grown-ass adult, you’d say “no”. And possibly “who are you, again?” Not coming to you directly does two things. First, it lets him keep his fantasy that if he just crushes at you hard enough, he’ll eventually reach a tipping point where you’re swayed by just how much he “loves” you, without his having to do anything like “risk rejection” or “have qualities that would make you interested in dating him.” Second: it lets him position himself as The Love-Lorn Hero, the tragic figure who is so pure and true, yet cursed by unrequited love, woe and alack. It’s easier on the ego to feel like you’ve had the shit kicked out of you by love than it is to admit that not only did you get overly dramatic about a crush, but you didn’t actually do anything in the first place.
Plus, there’s always the chance that some well-intentioned bystander will start pressuring you to give the poor guy a chance because just look at how heartbroken he is, would it be so bad for you to just talk to him? Hence the “WOE IS ME FOR MY HEART IS BROKEN. YOU, STRANGER, TAKE PITY ON A POOR LOST SOUL” dramatics. It’s as much about the performance and his personal narrative as it is about you hearing about it.
Personally, I’m a fan of what the Talmud had to say about what women owe some poor “heartbroken” soul who insists that he’ll just die without her:
The Gemara notes that Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: There was an incident involving a certain man who set his eyes upon a certain woman and passion rose in his heart, to the point that he became deathly ill. And they came and asked doctors what was to be done with him. And the doctors said: He will have no cure until she engages in sexual intercourse with him. The Sages said: Let him die, and she may not engage in sexual intercourse with him. The doctors said: She should at least stand naked before him. The Sages said: Let him die, and she may not stand naked before him. The doctors suggested: The woman should at least converse with him behind a fence in a secluded area, so that he should derive a small amount of pleasure from the encounter. The Sages insisted: Let him die, and she may not converse with him behind a fence.
This dude’s feels are his own responsibility. Not your friends’ and not yours. At the moment, I don’t think your telling him to fuck off is warranted; I’d be more worried about the fact that you had to track him down to tell him would just give him the feeling that hey, maybe this shit works! Your friends, on the other hand, should start by telling him to leave them the hell alone about this and to quit trying to drag them into his drama. If he keeps bugging them about you, then they can tell him that not only should he leave them the hell alone, but that you aren’t interested, that you aren’t going to be interested and he needs to make like Elsa and let. It. Go.
If he starts bugging you, personally, then I’d say not only tell him to go away, but seriously consider dropping a word to the university. As it is, your giving him any direct attention only reinforces that these tactics work. So unless and until he brings it to you, then your ignoring it denies him the thing he’s desperate to have. Hopefully your friends telling him to go away will be enough that nobody has to break out the Chair Leg of Truth and give him the bad news in a blunter and more direct manner.
Really appreciate the good work you’ve been doing ever since I first came across your site. I’ve recently found myself in a bind and I’m hoping you could maybe bring out the chair leg of truth…?
First off, I’m a 22 year old cis male living away from home. In the last three years, I’ve moved abroad and changed cities twice. While it has been a worthwhile experience, most of my relationships have been rendered short term. As a result, I’ve been in a drought, if you know what I mean. However, I met this girl, let’s call her True, like two years ago. It was a cold approach, and when I asked for her number, she said she would rather take mine. I thought that was a soft no, and she would not contact me but, lo and behold, she did. We started talking.
She made it clear after a while that she was in an open relationship but/and she was open to fooling around. I agreed, partially because I already liked her and well, I was kinda desperate. We met and had a make out session(which was really good) and slowed down on the talking for a while.
We recently reconnected and she said she wanted to meet up. She invited me to an event, which later turned out to be at her boyfriend’s house. As it turned out, the boyfriend had also invited the girl he fools around with. I didn’t know how to feel about that but True and I ended up fooling around like some teenagers again. And it was fucking awesome.
Here’s the thing. I’m not sitting around waiting for them to break up (I think they plan to get married) but this arrangement is taking an unnecessary strain on me. I definitely like True and I know she likes me but I really don’t know what’s the endgame here. I’ve struck out with my last few approaches and as a result, I’m unfortunate developing an unfortunate case of Oneitis.
I’ve considered blocking her and ghosting but it seems a bit extreme. I really don’t know where to go from here, because I know there’s an end coming, I’d just like it to be on my own terms to the extent that that’s possible.
Any wise words of wisdom…?
Thanks in advance.
Stuck In The Middle
There’s not really an endgame here, SITM. You and True may get along like a house on fire, have amazing chemistry and astounding make-out sessions… but at the end of the day, you and True just aren’t right for one another. She may be an amazing person, but she’s a person with a boyfriend, and it’s pretty clear that the whole “open relationship” thing isn’t gonna work for you.
Now maybe it wouldn’t be as difficult if they did their open relationship differently. Some couples (and throuples and polypods) have no problem with everyone knowing everyone else; it’s just a case of “hey we’re all a big friendly social circle and also some of us fuck”. Others prefer to date discreetly or keep their various relationships separate. In the case of True and her boyfriend, they’re the former. Maybe it’d be easier or less stressful if it were the latter. But even if you were seeing her and never having to meet or hang out with her boyfriend, he’s still gonna be in the picture. Even if they’re polyamorous and she can have romantic relationships alongside her relationship with her boyfriend… well, she’s still gonna have her boyfriend.
If you can handle that then hey, there’s nothing wrong with this being a relationship that doesn’t have a long-term future. As I often say, not every love story needs to be an epic poem. Some love stories are meant to be a short story. Some are meant to be a dirty limerick. You can let things be and take this ride to its natural conclusion… if that’s something you’re ok with.
But if you what you’re looking for is monogamy and exclusivity, or the potential for long-term commitment and something casual doesn’t work for you, then the best thing you can do is call it and free yourself to find someone who’s in line with what you need. But I think blocking and ghosting is the wrong approach here. It would be one thing if she were cruel or inconsiderate, or there were some reason you didn’t dare break up with her in person. But it sounds to me like she’s a lovely person who’s been straightforward and honest with you; her only flaw is that she just just doesn’t mesh with you in the ways that you need. I think in this case, you owe her the respect of telling her “Hey, you’re great, but this isn’t right for me.”