I am in great need of help to decipher a situation that I have going on with a friend of mine. It has been going on for a pretty long time and is kind of a big emotional trap that I have fallen into many times.
I’ll try to keep the backstory short so I can get to the present situation. I have a friend, we’ll call her A.
The same stuff is happening, same chemistry, same complaints, also bringing up the story about our crushes to people when we hang out, including her boyfriend, which was very uncomfortable. At parties she clings to me intensely. If I walk away to get a drink or go to the bathroom she grabs my arm and asks where I am going. She will playfight with me and try to wrestle me. She will come and sit on my lap in front of her boyfriend.
That’s always a bummer, but it wasn’t a big deal.
But there was a party at her house where at the end of the night she was calling out for me to come to bed with her and telling everyone to get out of her room. As you can imagine I was elated, only for my dreams to be quickly shattered. We got into bed and cuddled before she started asking me for advice about her situation with my friend. I gave what advice I could before I bounced out of there and walked home in the cold with a pretty sore heart.
So at this point my brain is fucked. I have no idea what the fuck is going on, so I figure I have to shoot my shot. We hung out again a short while after that and this was my opportunity, I needed to know what was up with us. I really wanted to just make a physical move, and I kind of think that would have been better, but she is a very dear friend and I didn’t want to do something that might fuck that up. So I just told her how I felt and asked if there was anything going on between us.
Your friends actions may be confusing BHS, but what you should be doing is fairly simple: you need to lay down some boundaries with your friend.
I get why this is confusing. If we were to go strictly by her actions in a vacuum, you would be justified in thinking that she’s interested in you. All that random cuddliness and clinginess, her getting touchy-feely with you, telling folks all about how you and she used to have crushes on each other… you could be forgiven for thinking that these were pretty solid signs that she’s warm for your form.
However, live doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and her behavior can’t really be divorced from all the context. As a general rule, when someone is giving you what feels like mixed signals, it’s important to pay attention to the details. After all, when you’ve got a crush on someone, it doesn’t take much for dickful thinking to cause you to round things up to “she wants to bang”. This is why it can be important to try to be as dispassionate as possible and look for commonalities and consistencies. What about her behavior is consistent, even when it seems like she’s saying one thing but doing another? Are there specific triggers for her behavior? Are there any recurring events or common denominators that crop up during the times when her behavior is at its most contradictory?
Well, as it turns out, there’re a few in your letter.
Let’s start with the most obvious: her flirty behavior seems to come out when she’s been drinking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of the examples you recount here are either when she’s been drunk or at places or events where there’s been alcohol. That, in and of itself is important. However, the fact that she gets this grabby and flirty after a few drinks doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s secretly into you. While there’s a lot of truth (… as it were) in the concept of In Vino, Veritas, it’s more that alcohol takes your foot off the metaphorical brakes. Booze has a disinhibition effect that turns down the volume on the part of your brain that says “maybe this isn’t a good idea.” This means that you’re much more likely to act on impulse or make moves that you might think twice about in the cold light of sobriety. Sometimes this means that the voice that says “nah you couldn’t possibly like BHS, he’s your buddy, not someone you want to give a tongue bath to” gets muted and she’s more likely to act out on those desires. However, other times, it can dial down the part of the brain that says “this behavior is inappropriate and I shouldn’t do it,” or “if I were to do X with by friend BHS, he might take it the wrong way, so I should hold off.”
If we look at her actions and behaviors with that in mind, her actions make a little more sense, especially in light of her reaction to your telling her how you felt. If A is a hugger or a touchy-feely person in general, then having too much to drink can amplify that while also muting the part of her that says “you can go THIS far with your friend, but further than that would be too far and cause problems.” This can lead to her normally affectionate nature to seem much more over the top than it would be otherwise. It also means that she wouldn’t be considering the consequences of her actions — such as, say, hopping in your lap when you’re hanging out with her boyfriend. It’s quite possible that she never considered how any of that would look — to outside observers, to her boyfriend, or to you.
Too much to drink also makes it much harder to read the room, to process signals from other folks or even gauge what is or isn’t appropriate in the moment. Play-fighting and wrestling at a party may be ok at a raucous houseparty, but not a more chill event. Hopping in your lap can be a non-event if you’re the sort of friends who have that kind of casual contact, but if you aren’t, it can seem like she’s being flirty or trying to start shit with her boyfriend.
And she very well might have been. If she was miserable with her boyfriend when you met up a year ago and was still with him when they moved to your town… well, it’s not impossible that in her drunken state she thought that slapping her hand down on the ol’ relationship self-destruct button would be a brilliant idea. Sure there would be all kinds of fallout for that… but that’s for Sober A to deal with later, not Drunk A.
At the same time, I think her drunk actions do speak to just how she feels about you.
Another one of the constants in her behavior with you is that she unburdens her soul to you. She did this when you hung out the first time you visited, she did this when she was visiting you and she did it the time she hauled you into bed with her. This is a pretty solid indicator of just what she thinks of you: someone that she feels safe with, someone she can be vulnerable with and that she can express all of her frustrations and concerns. To be fair: she’s doing this in ways that are counterproductive at best and in ways that seem wildly inappropriate — I mean, clearing the room and hopping into bed with you?? — but that’s a fairly consistent throughline in her behavior.
Another constant is that, even when she’s single, while she’s cuddly and flirty with you, but she’s hooking up with other people. There hasn’t been a real “near miss” situation where there was an unambiguous “trying to make out with you” that you had to pass on because she was too drunk to consent; while she may have been handsy and touchy, it doesn’t seem that any of it has been terribly sexual. Yes, that play-wrestling can feel like it’s going to lead somewhere, but it doesn’t seem like she’s ever tried to take it further. Same with hopping in your lap or any of the other behaviors. She may be clingy, but she’s never tried to kiss you or tried to get you to kiss her. Similarly, it doesn’t seem like she’s grabbed you in a particularly intimate or sexual way or made comments about wanting to bang. If I’m reading things correctly, it seems like her behavior might be more akin to an overactive puppy than someone hoping to pound the headboard against the walls.
Now, again: I get why all of this is frustrating. I can totally understand why you’re confused and frustrated by all of this. When you’re already interested in her, her behavior would absolutely seem like she’s trying to get you to make a move. And frankly, you did the right thing: you straight up asked her what the pluperfect hell is going on. That would’ve been what I would have advised you to do; if you think you’re getting mixed signals, the fastest and easiest way to unmix them is to just ask.
That having been said, it doesn’t always clear the air immediately. Sometimes the person giving those mixed signals will continue to obfuscate and confuse. They may feel conflicted and aren’t ready to deal with their feelings or desires. Or they may be continuing to play games and give contradictory answers.
But based on what you’ve described and the way she’s reacted… well, I think the likelier case is that she doesn’t consider how her actions could appear to someone else. I think part of why she seemed so shocked when you asked her what was up with the two of you is because she never realized just how she was coming across to you (and your friends). Granted, it seems like she’s been pretty hammered when things are especially bad, but it seems that the confusion is stemming from the fact that she doesn’t realize how her actions make you feel.
This is why the best thing for you to do now is draw a line. She knows you’re interested in her. If she’s not feeling the same, then her being flirty and suggestive isn’t just counterproductive, it’s hurtful. It’s hurting you when she gives these hints about being into you, whether she’s doing so intentionally or not. It’s better for you to say “look, this behavior bothers me. If you want me, then I’m down, but if not, then I need you to stop acting like that with me. It leaves me confused and frustrated, it’s damaging our friendship and I don’t appreciate it.” If she challenges you on whether she’s being flirty, tell her that it’s not that you think she’s flirting with you, it’s about how it comes across to you. Tell her that THIS behavior and THAT action reads as flirty to you and you’d appreciate if she’d stop doing those with you. Focus on the actions, more than the intent behind them. After all, it’s the actions that are causing the confusion. You may not be able to change the intent behind them, but you can at least get her to stop the behavior that’s been sending false pings on your radar.
However, if you lay down this boundary, you have to be prepared to enforce it. That means not responding to the “U up?” texts, telling her to please be less flirty with you, and, if necessary, refusing to engage with her when she’s had too much to drink. It also means reminding her that you asked her to stop doing this. That may well mean that she gets upset and you end up seeing less of her. And while that can be painful, the fact of the matter is that her actions are bothering you and making you uncomfortable. If she’s not willing to dial back behavior that’s causing problems for you, then that says a lot about her and how she regards your friendship. And if she’s willing to prioritize her desire to act how she pleases over the discomfort it causes you… well, you may be a good friend to her, but she’s not being a very good friend to you.