Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I am currently facing or trying to face the aftermath of my actions.
What happened is that I got workmate that I clicked with because we share interests. She’s a gamer and ticks the right check boxes for what I judged to be a gamer. Or at least, knows the topics in video games in general.
And as with frequent interactions, we got close. We talk topics on getting to know and all. She has a boyfriend at that time and she was having relationship problems like her bf not talking to her as often as she would like and eventually, blocked her. I was helping her cheer up and all. She did appreciate the effort.
Eventually, it turned out he cheated on her. So they broke it off in an at least, in an amicable way. Now, she’s trying to find herself.
It’s good and all but a new problem resurfaced. I eventually recognized I was being clingy and attached to her. I was being jealous when she began to spend more time with the other workmates. Even more jealous when she has a guy she occasionally jokes about dating and sex stuff. I fear she has been drifting away because the closeness we have before isn’t felt of it at all. I know this is a bad feeling to have and act up on, but at this point, I may be confusing my attachment for being in love.
Eventually, I chatted to her that I needed help for this being attached and clingy. I ended up telling her that I’m in love. She appreciates the honesty but can’t reciprocate it as much as she loves to.
We made a deal to try to avoid each other. Or at least, it was suggested by her to try and avoid her, so that we can be friends again. But I doubt we’ll be I am allowed to talk as often, which I probably exploited when I greeted her everyday on private messages.
And now, I have grown tired and decided, as per recommendation of my other friends, to also slow down the greetings on private messages by probably doing it once a week, eventually, into a month and probably, never. That was the plan.
I am not sure if I’m comfortable with going on with the radio silence. This feels like it’s testing her to contact me first and all but I guess we can already say that the closeness we got is already damaged.
One thing’s for sure, I will try to be there when she says she needs me.
I would love to hear your thoughts
Alright, TF, we’re going to do something a little different with your letter, because the answer is simple: you wait until she’s ready to talk to you again. There’s not really anything else you can do to speed things along, nor is there a way to make sure that she will ever want to talk to you again. The ball is entirely in her court.
Your job is to learn from this and focus on being a friend instead of a Nice Guy who got clingy and became pissy when it was clear that his feelings weren’t reciprocated. And to do that…well, first you have to understand precisely what went wrong and why, so yo can learn from it.
Now, I know you’re already probably thinking “well, I know this already. I’ve said I screwed up here. It’s right there in the letter.” But here’s the thing: I don’t think you do. You know where things went wrong for you, but I don’t know if you recognize where your first mistake was and how that lead to each successive mistake, each toppling over and triggering the next like the world’s most passive-aggressive set of dominoes. So we’re going to break this down to help make sure you don’t make these mistakes again.
The very first thing that went wrong is that you got hung up on her right off the bat. This happens a lot with guys, especially ones who may not have a lot of relationship experience; they find someone who seems like their ideal and they fall fast and hard. This, in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You meet someone awesome, the limerence hits you like a ton of bricks and you’re just smitten. It happens to the best of us, myself included. The problem, however, is that you lost perspective. You barely know this person and you’re already investing in them, emotionally. That is precisely what tips the next domino in the chain.
See, she had a boyfriend already. You learned that early on. That, in and of itself, is the point where you should have said to yourself “ok self, that sucks, let’s dial things back.” You’ve got a crush, she’s not available and isn’t likely to be available any time soon, if ever. The right move here is to shrug your shoulders, adjust how you categorize her in your head. Instead of thinking of her as “well, potential girlfriend if circumstances change,” you think “potential friend, let’s go looking for someone awesome who is single.”
I realize that she ticked all the boxes and seemed like the perfect woman for you, like the heavens themselves parted and deposited her in your path. But the truth is: as awesome as any one woman may be, there are many, many others who are just as awesome, if not moreso. So when things can’t or don’t work with one person, you don’t let it destroy you, you go on to find one of those other awesome folks who also happens to be single. This is part of why having an abundance mindset is important: it means that you move on when you need to, instead of investing more time and effort and emotion in someone who you shouldn’t be investing in like this.
The problem, however, is that you didn’t move on from there. Hey, I get it; I have been there, done that and printed up a whole host of merchandise about it. And to be fair: making that shift doesn’t mean you have to immediately go out and start looking for a date, especially if you weren’t already actively on the dating scene. But making that change about how you view the situation is important because you don’t want to reinforce your crush on them. Crushes are like fire; if you give them fuel, they burn hotter and longer. If you just let them be, they go out on their own. And with crushes, focusing on those feelings is the fuel. The more you dwell on those feelings, even if the feelings are “oh nooooo she will never love me back”, you’re throwing fuel on the metaphorical fire.
This is why the key to dealing with inconvenient crushes, no matter how they start or why they’re inconvenient, is to just let them be. You note and name those feelings as they come up – “oh, that’s my crush on $SEXY_COWORKER” – and then gently redirect your mind elsewhere. You don’t force yourself to think about something else. You definitely don’t try to force yourself to not think about it; that’s just how you ensure you won’t think about anything else. You just redirect your attention to something that you should be paying attention to instead – work, a deadline, speculation about the latest arc on Critical Role, whatever. In time the crush will fade on its own… likely so quickly and subtly you may not even notice at first.
But that’s not what you did. And unfortunately, that’s a problem, because by getting hung up on that crush, you end up creating a situation where you’re being a bad friend instead.
Now, in theory, if you are absurdly good at compartmentalizing, then you could be a friend and nurse a crush at the same time. But the vast majority of folks out there can’t do that, and the ones who can are usually pretty experienced already. Instead, you end up putting yourself in a position where you may be trying to be her friend – and don’t get me wrong, I’m not doubting the sincerity of your intent – but it still comes with a heaping helping of hoping that your friendship is going to pay off in sloppy makeouts down the line. That… isn’t cool. That’s especially not cool for someone who’s dealing with a turbulent and troubled relationship.
I mean, look at it from her perspective. Imagine you were having relationship troubles, and your coworker – a cool guy, you really enjoy hanging out with him – has been trying to cheer you up and improve your mood… but the entire time he was hoping that this was going to lead to his getting into your pants. Even if you can get to a place where you can accept that he wasn’t intentionally trying to Nice Guy his way into things, it’s still going to feel like a betrayal. It’s going to make you question whether or not their friendship was genuine at all and if you could ever trust them.
And really, the fact that you were getting clingy and jealous and having a snit – even a snit to yourself – about her joking about sex or other guys – is the sign that this was going down a not-great path. Once you’re at the point where the possibility that she’s open to dating or banging someone else is stabbing you in the heart, it’s time to take a step back and move on. That doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the friendship, but it certainly means that you need to take a step back and give your crush a chance to fade. That can’t happen if hanging out with her comes with a helping of “how dare she want to bang someone else and not me?”
This is where that lack of experience and the fact that you didn’t change how you looked at this relationship combine. You felt her starting to be drawn to other guys – people she wanted to date. There was a fear of her pulling away; she wouldn’t be as available to you or as close to you if she found someone else. And, like a lot of people in your position, your response was to cling harder.
Here’s the thing: that may be a common, even instinctual response… but it almost always has the opposite effect. When you try to cling to someone like that – regardless of whether they’re pulling away or not – then you end up pushing them away. You’re signalling a lot of neediness, which is precisely what drives folks away. It tells people that you don’t have that sense of self worth or confidence that they’d want in a partner and that they’re going to be spending a lot of time managing your feelings for you. That’s not something most people are going to sign up for; most people have their hands full trying to manage their own emotional lives.
And then, to add to it… well, you told her all of this. There are ways to handle the feeling that a friend or lover is pulling away, but they don’t involve confessing your crush on them. The right response is “hey, I feel like there’s some distance between us that wasn’t really there before and I want to make sure we’re cool. Is there anything going on I should know about or could help with?” Telling someone “hey, I’ve got a crush on you”, on the other hand, tends to come across as “you have to pay attention to me because I have these feelings, now please do something with them.”
(This, incidentally, is why I’m not a fan of just confessing crushes in general. My rule of thumb is, if you have a crush on someone and want them to know, then ask them out on a date. This gives them something that’s much easier to say “yes” to, rather than agreeing to start a relationship right then and there. Plus, the “I like you in a romantic or sexual way” part is baked in; people don’t generally ask folks they don’t like out on dates.)
So that leads us to now. You said you were into her, you got turned down and the thing you were doing to try to keep her ended up being the thing that pushed her away. The dramatic irony is palpable.
But here’s the thing: understanding what happened is what illuminates the path forward. If you understand what mistakes you made and why you made those mistakes, then you should have an idea of what to do next. That’s why the first thing you need to do is stop treating this like nothing has changed. Trying to keep her from pulling away is what got you here in the first place; continuing to worry about it is only going to compound the problem. If you want to salvage a friendship out of this, you have to do the thing you were afraid of: you have to let her go.
I mean it. You’re going to have to rip the bandage off and face it. That means giving her space and letting her decide the amount of contact that she’s comfortable with right now. Not “step things down until you’re not talking.” Not “look for ways you can still be in her life.” You have to step back and let her make the next move and decide when, how and if she wants to get back in touch. And that’s going to be at her pace, and in her own time.
This is important, because it’s a commitment to her agency and her choice. You denied her that agency when you were her friend under misleading circumstances. It may not have been your intent, but it still happened. So now, you have to demonstrate that you understand this by making this entirely her decision… with the acceptance of the possibility that she may decide she doesn’t want to be friends again. It sucks, but part of respecting her decisions means respecting decisions that you don’t like.
Meanwhile you need to make a point of letting this crush go. Start with the noting-and-naming process I mentioned earlier, combined with redirecting your attention. The less you focus on your feelings about her, the less you fuel that fire. If you don’t let the crush fade away, then all that will ever happen is Unrequited Crush 2: Electric Boogaloo. You’ll end up in the same place as you were before, but it’s even worse the second time around.
The next thing you need to do: look elsewhere for love. You don’t need to throw yourself onto the dating scene and find a new girlfriend right away. In fact, that would be counterproductive on many levels. Instead, what you’re doing is reminding yourself that as awesome as your coworker is, there’re other fine women out there too, and many of them will like you back. Focusing on building that abundance mentality helps break that neediness cycle and innoculates you against unreturned interest. If someone isn’t into you, then you’re just one step closer to finding someone who is into you and who is right for you.
Doing this will make it possible for you to be a better friend to your coworker if – and this is a mighty big ‘if’ – she wants to be friends again. If she does, however, it’s important to note: this will be a new relationship. You’re not going to be picking up where you left off; you’re going to have to look at this as though you were starting from scratch.
Is it likely that she will decide she wants to be friends again? It’s impossible to say. But trying to hold onto the remains of this current friendship will only guarantee that the answer will be “no”. It may seem like a paradox, but letting go is the best chance you have to keep her in your life… eventually.