Let me apologize in advance for rambling. There’s a lot to tell and I desperately need to vent, but I’ll try to stick to the pertinent points.
The background: I (cis straight woman) met ‘Ray’ (cis straight man) five years ago when we worked together. We are not kids. I’m divorced and he’s been married twice and has adult children. We began seeing each other. Things were ok. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted long-term, but it was ok for the meantime. I loved him, but I wasn’t in love with him. We dated for almost two years. We both contributed to the breakup. For his part, he had a tendency to lie and break promises. For my part, I fell into a deep depression the second year and basically was M.I.A. I also had a physical issue that drastically reduced the opportunities for sex. Things officially ended Xmas 2018 when he broke yet another promise and ghosted for a few weeks. While the split wasn’t really amicable, it wasn’t super hostile either. There was no argument or anything. I was simply done, and I think we both knew the relationship had been on life support. He’d text once in a while and I’d almost always ignore him. When my dad died in 2019, I texted and told him. His mom had died a year before and we had both been close to our parents. We began to occasionally text each other after that, and earlier this year we began actually talking on the phone. Now, it’s important that I be perfectly clear: I have no interest in rekindling any romantic or sexual relationship with Ray. I began talking to him again because I missed his friendship. I always enjoyed talking to him and feel I can be myself with him. I do have love for him and he makes no secret that he cares for me.
Thing is, Ray is sexist. He’s not a misogynist. He doesn’t hate or have any animosity towards women. He does have some outdated ridiculous ideas about women, men, and relationships. Admittedly, this is not news to me. I knew this when we dated. I’m a feminist, but as in all things, I pick my battles. There were times I challenged him and we had many convos about his beliefs. Make no mistake, I’m definitely someone who will challenge someone. But I’ve been known to let my intensity get the better of me and it’s not always pleasant. Also, I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to change him. Mostly because I knew I couldn’t. It’s clear to me his beliefs are truly ingrained. His dad died when he was very young, so his teen and preteen brothers probably taught him about the birds and the bees. (And I don’t think his dad would have done much better had he lived. I won’t go into details, but there was a definite ick factor to his parents’ marriage.)
Ray believes women are silly emotional creatures that will swoon and drop their drawers for any male that whispers some bullshit in their ears. He doesn’t believe men and women can be platonic friends. Any time men and women have any contact for non business reasons, it’s because somebody’s trying to fuck somebody. Says he doesn’t need female friends because he has no interest in discussing soap operas (always said with a snicker). He has male friends to discuss sports and women with. He believes women don’t leave relationships unless they’re leaving for another man. He thinks women are better equipped to tolerate a cheating partner because we’re used to it (please know that these are all his words, not mine). He also describes certain cars as “lady cars” (also said with a snicker).
I think you know where this is going. Ray hits on me pretty regularly when we talk (we haven’t seen each other in person since reconnecting). An ex flirting normally would not bother me, but knowing how he thinks makes it gross. Worse, he’s blunt (probably due to the fact we’ve been intimate before) and soooo fucking juvenile. He regularly starts talking about his dick. Out of the fucking blue! I wanna scream “mf’er are you 12???” He constantly talks about how important it is to men that they can get it up. As often as he talks about sex and the importance of dicks working, he almost never mentions anything about women’s pleasure or needs. It’s like the woman doesn’t matter at all. She’s an afterthought. For some reason, he’s always telling me some story about guys who’s wives/girlfriends got caught cheating. I have no fucking idea why he’s obsessed with these stories and why he tells me. To be honest, I don’t know if I believe him. I think he imagines that shit just to justify (in his mind) his objectification of women.
I find myself constantly rolling my eyes and cringing. The eye rolling is bad enough, but a friend making me cringe is a problem. I do not flirt with him and I shoot him down every time. I’ve had to awkwardly change the subject many times. I challenge him and I’ve found myself becoming pretty angry. What’s weird is that sometimes it seems he’s doing it because he thinks that’s what he ought to do. Like, he finds himself enjoying a regular ordinary conversation with me and then he remembers ‘oh, this is a woman. I should be trying to screw her’. Honestly? I never enjoyed sex with him due to his childish approach to sex. He wasn’t inexperienced. He was just too giddy and giggly. Like a 15yr old who unexpectedly got lucky for the first time.
I’m ready to tell him my version of the birds and the bees. I don’t think he’ll like it. And that’s part of the problem. Other than the sex stuff, I enjoy talking to him. He’s down to earth and good natured. We have similar backgrounds and share some life views. And, admittedly, I’m going through some things and I’m kinda lonely for friends. I worry that the crudeness is so much a part of who he is, that telling him to stop would be asking him to not be himself. I don’t know if that’s fair.
But I’m becoming more and more angry. Not just for myself but because I know how objectification harms women. It pisses me off that he thinks I would engage in that with him. Today I called him out on how he always talks about women cheating but never says anything about men cheating. He said it’s because it’s commonplace for men to cheat. A few weeks ago, he expected me to agree that a woman wasn’t marriage material because she has a foursome with three men. He said she was a whore. I asked him what that made the men. He didn’t get my point.
I know I rambled and got off track. I hope you can figure out all the questions (asked and unasked). Can this friendship be saved? Should I even try? Thanks in advance.
– Sick of the Sexism
Here’s my question for you, SotS: why, exactly, are you still friends with this guy? This is the friendship equivalent of what I call the Big Butt issue: “everything’s great, my partner’s amazing… now someone call Sir Mixx-A-Lot because here comes a big ‘…BUT!’ that’s gonna negate everything I said before”.
Case in point: you say you miss his friendship and you can be yourself around him… BUT he’s also a sexist asshole who can’t stop hitting on you or saying heinous shit.
I’m gonna be honest, SotS: you say he’s not a misogynist because he doesn’t actively hate women… but he sure as shit seems to think they’re inferior. I mean, when every joke is about how women are “silly emotional creatures” who only care about soap operas, will bang any dude who asks the right way and who can’t stand to be single (but also will put up with cheaters), it’s one of those moments where you have to wonder how many of those are actually jokes. Because frankly, either he does this to wind folks up, in which case there’s no point in engaging with him, or he’s serious, in which case there’s REALLY no point to engage with him at all.
And then there’s the fact he seems to think that your not being into him is a thing that he can fix if he just, I dunno, badgers you until you hit your killscreen or something.
So I think the big question is: what, exactly, are you getting out of this? You say you’re going through some shit and missing having friends. I totally get that; feeling isolated and lonely sucks and sometimes you’ll reach for any port in a storm. But at the same time, it seems like being his friend has a far higher cost than whatever benefits you’re getting from having him in your life. Are you sure that he’s bringing more to the metaphorical table than just being a body you can shove into the hole in your life marked “friends”? Because, quite frankly, you deserve better than a guy who, at best, is the social equivalent of chewing on aluminum foil.
While I realize maybe you need something to keep you distracted or help you work through whatever shit you’re going through, but if you really need a project… maybe get some LEGO sets? Remodel your apartment? Build increasingly elaborate shit in Minecraft? Foster a puppy or two? Because this dude ain’t so much of a fixer-upper as a “gut the interior and start over”, and you’re not getting paid to teach him how not to be a dickbag.
If you were to do anything, (why, tho?) then I’d say the only thing to do is pull him up short the next time he makes a crack. Not even in an “educate him why he’s wrong” sense but in a “quit saying that shit around me, ever” sense. Same with his hitting on you: shut him down so hard it’s like you just blew up the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor: “I don’t want you flirting with me, I don’t want you hitting on me, we are never, ever going to be even in the same zipcode of being naked together again and I don’t care if it’s ‘just a joke’, that shit isn’t funny now knock it the fuck off.”
But, honestly? I wouldn’t expect much from that. The unfortunate truth is that even in this day and age, a lot of men only take things seriously if they hear it from other men; hearing it from you just means it’s coming from another “silly emotional creature”. So, y’know. I don’t think you’re gonna see a miraculous, Scrooge-like transformation on Christmas Day.
If you feel obligated (why tho?), I wouldn’t say look at this as fixing him. I’d suggest looking at this as the parting shot as you go out the door so that maybe he learns that his behavior has consequences, and if he wants women in his life, he needs to not be such a dickbag.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Oh boy I’m not looking forward to writing this message because nothing about this story makes me look good in any way.
A couple years ago, I started working with a singer on a musical project. Now despite my lack of dating experience and general awkwardness, I’ve never had any issues maintaining professional working relationships with women. I work with women all the time and have tons of healthy platonic friendships. However this time, I got caught off guard and developed intense feelings immediately. We had not just incredible working chemistry but also became like instant best friends. We were texting back and forth all day every day and not about the project. Most of it was just idle chit chat. 90%of which was initiated by her. This was unusual for me because I’ve never had a girlfriend and I caught feelings. I tried really hard to suppress them because I didn’t want to ruin the project but after a while it got to a point where I couldn’t contain it anymore.
After about three months, I finally told her. Initially she said she wasn’t interested but we both agreed that night that we still wanted to work together. However after two days of radio silence she told me she didn’t feel comfortable working with me anymore. I was crushed but I tried to be mature about it and told her I understood but hoped we could still be friends. We didn’t speak for a month after that until she invited me to a gig of hers. Initially everything seemed okay at the show. We hugged and said hi but didn’t talk much before she played. Afterward it took a little while before we could talk but in the meantime I wound up talking to one of her other friends and found out she had decided to move to Nashville. I live in NYC btw. This definitely hit me like a ton of bricks and I kinda shut down. We had a brief conversation at the end of the night where I apologized for what had happened but we never wound up speaking again. I tried contacting her twice after that but she ignored me.
It was at this point that I started to take a regrettable turn. I spiraled emotionally and wound up sending her an email with a love letter like a complete psycho and as you could probably expect she blocked me on social media. I’d never been blocked before and because of the way Instagram handles it I wasn’t sure what had happened so I made a dummy account and check with the intent to delete it right after. Once I’d confirmed I’d been blocked I went to delete it and accidentally deleted my real account. Now I had to make a new one and because of this, I could see her profile again.
I tried forcing myself to not go back and look at her profile but I failed over and over again. I kept visiting it without following or watching her stories so she couldn’t see me. It’s been three years now and I’m still going back there analyzing every post trying to tell myself she secretly loves me too. I’m fully aware that this is a delusion but I keep going back like an addict. I’ve tried blocking her profile to resist temptation but it’s too easy to just go in and unblock it. It’s gotten so bad that I even sent her a message last week asking her to block me again. Though for some reason she hasn’t yet. Maybe she just hasn’t seen the message.
I’m losing my mind. I hate myself for being this person. I have no excuse for my behavior but I can’t figure a way out. I’m suicidal again, I’m isolating and I’ve done everything but completely sabotage my career. This isn’t who I wanna be.
We’re Caught In A Trap
First and foremost: if you’re having suicidal thoughts, you should call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255; they’re available 24-7 with trained volunteers to help you.
Next: you need to be talking to a therapist, my dude, not to me. If it’s been three years and you’re wrecking your shit like this, then there’s a lot more happening than just a particularly unpleasant case of Oneitis
I feel like there’re a few things that’ve been left out of this story, such as what, exactly, you said that made her feel like she couldn’t be comfortable working around you. Normally, just telling someone you like them or have feelings for them doesn’t end up causing a friendship to turn on a dime to the point that the other person wants to quit having even a professional relationship together. If everything was going great before then… well, I’m guessing something in that conversation went especially badly, and that’s a thing you need to zero in on. That, I suspect, is gonna reveal a lot more about just where things went off the rails.
Now part of what is important to recognize is that what you’re holding onto isn’t her, it’s what she represents. You aren’t hung up on her so much as you’re hung up on the fantasy — not just of her, but of the relationship that never happened. Those relationships are the ones that’re the hardest to let go of because they’re perfect. There’s no question about how much they adore you, everything goes according to your deepest desires and even any “conflicts” you may imagine are superficial at best and easily resolved. You never have to worry, you never have to put in effort, you never have to deal with the days that they annoy the piss out of you and you’re grinding your teeth in frustration about dealing with their bullshit.
And, of course, she loves you madly, no matter what, with virtually no need for effort on your part.
These imaginary relationships are, in a word, ideal. And part of what makes it hard to let go is that the alternative is trying to pursue a real relationship with an actual person and all the friction and mess that means. Why do that when you can hold onto the hope that this fantasy relationship might come true, when you can bend anything into giving you a crumb of hope?
Well, unfortunately, that’s not hope; that’s desperation. That’s clinging to something you know isn’t real because the truth about it hurts way more. And the truth — and I hate to say this — is gonna hurt: she doesn’t like you like that and you basically burned this bridge so thoroughly that there aren’t even ashes left, just scorch marks on either side of the crevasse. And you keep hurtling yourself into the crevasse.
As much as this is hurts, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s gonna hurt a lot, you have to accept that there’s no changing this. You know exactly how she feels: she wants nothing to do with you. You keep looking for signs that maybe she’s changed her mind because you don’t like admitting it. And no, you haven’t admitted it to yourself, not really. You recognize it intellectually, but you haven’t accepted it, emotionally. If you had, you wouldn’t keep going back to this. You’re going to have to swallow this particular bitter pill and pretend it’s steak because nothing is going to get better for you until you do.
Part of swallowing this particular bitter pill means taking the full nuclear option: blocking her on everything, in every way possible. That means Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, WhatsApp, Badoo, everything. If it can connect with another person, then you need to block her. And if you can’t stop yourself from going and unblocking her, then you need to put more obstacles in your path to make it harder to do so on impulse. That may mean installing apps on your computer and phone that prevent you from accessing certain websites or apps except at certain times. It may mean giving control of your social media to a trusted friend and asking them to block, mute or otherwise make it harder to get ahold of her. But you need a complete separation from her if you’re going to stop digging for any microbe of information that you could pretend is cause for hope.
But more than that: you need to hie thyself to a therapist’s couch. If you’re tearing your life up this much over her, then you need help beyond what a loudmouth with an advice column can give. As I’ve said many times before: Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor, and you need the help of a trained mental health professional to help you pick this particular knot apart.
You’re hurting. You know you’re hurting. That hurt is never going to stop if you don’t let it. The wound is never going to heal if you keep deliberately reopening it. If you can’t stop yourself, then you’re gonna need the emotional equivalent of The Cone of Shame to keep you from picking at it while you let the wound finally close and the pain finally subside.
So block her on everything. Delete your accounts if you need to. You can have someone create a placeholder for you and not give you access to it until you’ve actually gone through actual therapy and you’ve made significant progress. But nothing will get better until you’re ready to fully accept the truth about all of this and you go get yourself help.