Three letters in one today. This will get long, but bear with us, ok? There is a soundtrack and a lot of talk about crushes and what they mean and what you should do about them.
First, a little song from one of our Awkward Patron Saints to get you in the mood.
Dear Captain Awkward,
So, here is my deal. I have not had a relationship or anything that resembles one in my 22 years. I’m fine with that, because it’s not like I didn’t take chances and make mistakes and get messy trying for one. The thing is, I’m worried I’m doing it wrong. Because when I first entered college, I really liked someone, but he had a girlfriend. He’s now definitely one of my best friends, but I think it might’ve spoiled my feelings for the other people I’ve liked. Because of him, I know what I want: someone who thinks I’m awesome, doesn’t give me judge-y, confused face (which sometimes even my good friends do), and appreciates my wacky sense of humor and strong ideals (all of which I feel the same about them). The problem is, I feel like every time I’ve found that, it’s been a guy with a girlfriend! Couple that with my problem of not being direct immediately — which means I am friends with someone I like for a bit before I can muster up the courage to ask them out — and it is just super frustrating.
But recently, I found a guy who fit this description, but didn’t mention a girlfriend…until I asked him out! And then, because he is nice, he tried hard to stay my friend and I freaked out a little–because it’s weird when you like someone, and they don’t like you like that, but are excruciatingly nice (and a bit awkward). It was a bit much for me. So I pushed him away after that, but now we’re chill, I suppose. Of course I have these residual feelings that I’ve been trying to get rid of since, however.
Here’s where it gets worse — I realized, yes, I have this type. But the only thing is, I don’t know how to reconcile this “type” with finding someone WHO LIKES ME BACK. Because these guys always end up my good friends (usually their girlfriends are my friends too, though we’re not as close). And they are just so sweet, I don’t know what to do because it’s like…this type of sweetness in guys is what I’m attracted to. That, coupled with their general good looks, makes me feel like a fucked up friend because I don’t know how to turn my attraction off.
Finally, the OTHER, but probably related problem I have is that I also have a pattern of liking straight girls (who have a similar sweet type of being protective of me and super complimentary). My problem is so annoying because usually I don’t care about boys/girls until I actually crush on someone. So I wish I could just turn off my responding-to-attractiveness mechanisms all together.
So what advice do you have for me, Captain Awkward? I’m a little scared but very excited to hear it.
Meet more people. What you have here is good information! You know what you like and who you tend to be attracted to. Go meet more people. Some of them will have the good qualities your friends have and some of those will be single and some of those will be interested in you. The time you spend fixating on how to get unavailable people to like you back and worry that something is wrong with you is time your hot, fabulous self could be spending meeting more people.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a geeky guy who up till a few years ago was completely asexual, I used to deflect my male friends’ jibes by saying it was the friendzone, but I really wasn’t interested in women as anything other than friends. In the interim I have discovered that cuddles and intimacy are pretty much the greatest things ever discovered, but I feel my late entry into the game of serious relationships has left me a bit lacking in certain skills. I think I’ve done well exploring my sexuality, going on a few dates, trying out relationships and being generally unimpressed with casual sex.
My problem though is when I meet someone I actually like, not as in “hey you are pretty neat” but as in “you are awesome and I want to date you, are you single?,” I can handle when they reject me directly but I’m not sure what to do when they get more indirect, case in point: I met this girl at party of our mutual friend and we hit it off immediately. I liked her, she appeared to like me and things seemed to show a great deal of potential, I asked her if she was single and she gave me her number, so far so good. When I tried to get in touch with her, things became murky, I wanted to know her better but she seemed really defensive and afraid that I might dislike her from what I might learn, communications pretty much petered of from there.
A few days later I happened to chat with our mutual friend and he told me she recently came out of a bad relationship, and though she was open to possibilities she felt no need to put any effort into anything now. So my question is, should I even try any further when someone has such an apathetic attitude, or do I have a bigger issue of finding people I like so rarely that I go sort of crazy when I do.
Dear Social Stranger,
Meet more people. If you hit it off well with someone and the feelings are reciprocated, they won’t be defensive and impossible to get a hold of. That thing where you call her and can’t reach her and you routinely fail to make plans? That IS your answer. Stop polling mutual friends and stop scanning her “nos” (indirect as they may be) for the yes that you want to hear.
Here is a script for the next time you meet someone and hit it off (you’ll need some kind of business card). “I really, really loved meeting you and would love to take you to dinner sometime. Here is my card, please call or email me if you’d like to get together.” Then walk away. Get yourself completely out of the mindset that you must “pursue” people and see what happens.
My life right now is in a state of flux, and I feel like I’m at a crossroads or on the verge of something, well, if not good, than at least defining. Six months ago I defended my dissertation and got my Ph.D. and then two weeks later up a moved to a brand new city to take up a job as a professor in my field. A month after that I turned 30. Yay! Nearly an entire decade of work in graduate school, and a goal I’ve had since I was 18 achieved. New job is great, new town is cool, and lo and behold, I meet this amazing guy. But he’s married.
Now, I’ve only been in one relationship in my life, only felt that spark once, only been in love once. I dated a man for seven years (starting when I was 17). We broke up and I was left heartbroken in a small town with no real dating scene, and so I threw myself into my work and didn’t look up from the books for six years. I had amazing friends of course, but mostly all couples, and the single guys I did meet were not my type (and as an atheist at a religiously-affiliated school, I wasn’t theirs!) So when I got to my new town and met Married Guy and there was this instant, unexpected, mutual spark, it blew me away. Like, I had almost forgotten what it felt like, that chemical but also emotional connection with a man. We became friends, I met his wife – and I decided to just flirt and have a good time – not hurt anybody, but revel a bit in the feelings, the innuendo, the glances, the ego-boost after a dry spell to rival the Sahara. We made out twice while drunk, but then mutually decided that we were being assholes and stopped.
He and I have both consciously decided to cool our friendship – I have become friends with his wife, I joined match.com to see if I could meet someone appropriate, I created a personal rule that I’m not allowed to be alone with him when I’m drinking (no one on one pub sessions; must always have a chaperone). I’m trying, seriously – I’m going on dates with other guys. But I cannot get him out of my head, because although we’re not being overt anymore, sometimes I’ll catch him looking at me when he thinks I’m not looking (and vice versa). And I’ll get butterflies (and other tingles), and I’ll fucking enjoy the hell out of it.
Do I just need to get new friends, other friends? I actually really like Married Guy and his wife as people – they are super cool, interesting people and I’m still relatively new to town – I don’t really have that many friends yet, and they are not associated with my university, which I really like after living in a academic bubble for years. I miss being in a relationship, I’m horny, and I think the stress from finishing my dissertation permanently damaged my brain. My judgment feels fundamentally flawed and I’m not sure which of the myriad of massive changes my life has undergone in the last six months is to blame, or whether it turns out that actually, I’m a selfish asshole who would sleep with a guy I adore who is married to a woman I actually like.
You’re doing the right stuff, especially the part where you try to meet more people. I would keep using the Internet dating to work on your horniness problem, but I’d say it’s also time to work hard at making more friends. You’ve got New In Town Mojo! Use it!
Not on him. Do I need to get Intern Paul in here for a round of “Don’t fuck that lady?” where the lady is a married guy whose wife is now one of your closest/only friends in your new city? Is there any way this doesn’t end painfully…FOR YOU? (And yes, poly people, I see you raising your hands like Tracy Flick and saying “ooh ooh, I know!” but that’s not the answer unless this guy and his wife have some very long talks and decide it’s the answer for themselves. It’s not an answer that the Letter Writer can make happen, and is therefore Not Useful). Lock it down. Put your efforts into making other friends and let some time go by. Throw yourself into work. Take long walks. Treat it like a breakup that you’re getting out of your system.
Which leads me to the overall answer to all three letter writers (plus #193) and the interesting fallacy that you’ve presented us with.
Listen up, Turdhearts.
Crushes? Are real. And awesome. Your feelings are real. And awesome. It feels great to meet someone and feel that instant recognition that they are One of Your People and feel all the colors get a little brighter and food taste a little better and you can’t stop smiling when you think of them. Believe me, this song has been playing in my head on a consistent loop for about two months now and it has felt GREAT but also STUPID and ANNOYING, like I ate Fruit Loops for breakfast and am cranky-hungry again an hour later.
You can’t necessarily control your feelings. But you can control how you act about them them. And just because you’re having feelings that you rarely or never feel and are walking around with a boner, a smile, and the Greatest American Hero theme stuck in your head, those feelings are not reasons.
For example, your feelings (even if they are rare and special) do not obligate other people to feel the same way or give you a license to do stuff you know is shady, like chase unavailable people. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before!” isn’t magic.
It’s a straight-up fallacy to believe that because you rarely have feelings like this about other people, it’s somehow extra meaningful when you do and that it makes you somehow entitled to affection. You can ask people out. You should ask people out! Saying “Hey, I think you are hot and would like to go on a date with you. Yes? No?” isn’t the same thing as an unscheduled FEELINGSDUMP.
Edited to Add: Geeks, or, er, highly specialized people, are prey to a particular kind of dating social fallacy that Commander Logic calls The Only Ones of Our Species – “I’m weird, you’re weird, obviously we’re meant to be weird together.” While it’s nice to find the Harold to your Maude, narwhals and unicorns actually aren’t supposed to end up together just because they both have horns. Stop approaching dating as a problem of scarcity, where you have to latch onto every person who might fit because you think there might not be anyone else who ever likes you, and start approaching it from the standpoint that the world is full of TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING people. Some of those people will like you That Way.
In my experience, mad crushes resolve one of three ways.
1) The other person reciprocates. You’ll know if this is happening, because when you say “I like you, want to go out?” they will make it really easy to hang out together and do and say things to demonstrate that they like you back. Reciprocity will rule, and you won’t have to parse every gesture and statement to figure out what they “really” mean, because it is just not that hard for two single adults who dig each other to figure out how to get together.
2) It will pass. You’ll meet someone else who sparks your fancy. Or that initial chemical rush fades with time and exposure and you’re able to be friends because hey, awesome people are awesome and it’s good to have them around. One way to up your chances of this outcome is to put your efforts into meeting more people and being awesome at your life in general.
3) You double down and somehow decide that loyalty and steadfastness are virtues in cases of
true love wish fulfillment and you’re going to settle in for the long haul and have faith it’s going to work out somehow. In the meantime you analyze every interaction for signs that your campaign is working. The crush festers into a horrible tumor of obsession and entitlement where this person (who doesn’t want you back) has an outsized effect in your feelings about yourself and you’ve set up a situation where they cannot help hurting and disappointing you. “You stabbed me with a fork!” “No, I was holding a fork and you ran into me at full speed.” Can FEELINGSMAIL or FEELINGSART be far behind?
You cannot persuade people to fall in love with you. There are no cheat codes for this, no perfect words, no string of actions, nothing to wear, no way to look that can guarantee you romance with a particular person. Anyone who says different is selling something.
Choose your own adventure. I hope it’s the one without marital infidelity and feelingsmail.