Reader Question #13: Don’t Stand So Close To Me

Space Invader Training Session
"First we will make suggestive comments. Then we will escalate to hugging. We will be greeted as liberators."

Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I have been friends with this one person for almost 10 years. She’s my oldest friend. We’ve had our ups and our downs, like anyone does, right?

Recently (well.. in the past few of years) I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that she was attracted to me (and was attempting to flirt with me.) I was only vaguely uncomfortable with the state of affairs, especially since she was all “Nope, I don’t want girls, I want boys. ALL THE TIME!” I know, I missed a red flag here.

Then, strange comments that couldn’t be missed started being said. “I slept with this one girl and I didn’t like it so clearly I don’t like girls.” Turned into “You don’t have a crush on me because I’m not a boy.”

…Which wasn’t true. I didn’t have a crush on her because I didn’t have a crush on her. I’m bi.

It’s getting to the point where I dread any interaction with her. I can’t canoodle with my girlfriend because she’s hugging up on me all the time.

Another problem I’m sensing is some friend envy? For the longest time, she’s said she’s wanted to get married, and have kids. So much so that she had a PLAN FOR SUCCESS where she planned out the time frame for meeting someone, dating them, marrying them etc., all the while I’m sitting here and being ‘eh, whatever happens…’

Now fast foward to present day, I’m happily married, have a daughter AND I have a girlfriend. (No fussing, I’m in an open relationship. Which maybe is also another point of friend envy).

I’m not sure how to proceed. Is this friendship salvageable? Or is it time for the African Violet of Broken Friendship?

Personal Space Invaded

Dear Personal Space Invaded:

Your letter made me feel like I’d just had a very special visit from the TSA, and you didn’t say one thing that you actually like about this woman besides “length of time known.”  If you’re not quite ready to visit your local florist, and you just want to enforce some boundaries while keeping her in your life, here’s a couple of things you can do.

Next time she drops one of her hints, say “You’ve brought up sex with women and whether or not I have a crush on you a few times now.  Is there something you are trying to tell me?

My prediction is that she will freeze like a deer and then backtrack, but if she goes all Mr. Darcy, you can say “Okay, I was wondering.  That must have been very hard for you to admit. I don’t have those feelings for you, but thank you for putting it out on the table in a way that we can just deal with it honestly.”

Defending freedom one invasive sexual assault at a time.

I’m hoping that most of this is her hamfisted way of trying to come out to you and not knowing how to go about it because she’s not all the way sure herself, and maybe trying to sound you out about “the lifestyle,” but then there is the touching and your dread of said touching.  No one can touch you without your consent (except when you fly).  No one should touch you without your consent.  You can withdraw that consent at any time, for any reason (Except when you fly). I don’t fully know what makes me comfortable being touched by some people and uncomfortable with others*, and I’m pretty sure most people I meet aren’t gay for me, but it takes a while for me to warm up to people in that way. Until I do, I will be the one taking the step back and saying “Do we hug?” when someone who is not on the Approved Jennifer-Toucher List makes a friendly lunge.

Don’t even talk to me about back-rubs.  The correct way to initiate a back-rub is to a) already be a Jennifer-Toucher and b) to say “Would you like me to rub your back?” from a distance of not less than three feet, with your hands firmly at your sides in a non-threatening (by which I mean not-backrubbing) position.  If you sneak up behind me and put your hands on my shoulders and just start rubbing, I might scream.  If we’ve never touched, don’t start there.  If you’re thinking “She probably wants a backrub” about me, you don’t know me well enough to give me a backrub.

It’s harder to re-establish boundaries with someone who has already made it past security into your boarding area.  You do risk offending your friend if you suddenly lock it down, but I just consulted my Chilly New England Upbringing and it said that a true friend would be mortified to continue making you so uncomfortable.

Friends for 10 years, unresolved issues, possible sexual attraction, envy, competition, long memories – Do you want to build yourself up to have a Big Talk with her, or do you want to just retrain her to not touch you so much anymore? Directness and immediacy might be your friends in having conflict like this, as in, wait until she touches you or tries to touch you (so the behavior is right out in the open), and then stop her – with your hand and/or by moving away –  and say “Please don’t do that” or “Could you not?”    If she won’t get the hint, you can say “I’m sure you don’t mean to make me uncomfortable, and I should have said something sooner, but you’re overdoing it with the hugs.  Please stop.”

Massachusetts QuarterYou will probably hurt her feelings no matter how gentle you are.  I asked New England what it thought about that and it said “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Her feelings will be what they are.  If you want to remain friends with her, focus on taking care of yourself.  If the friendship is solid, a little time and space will resolve things.

People who receive unwanted attention from a friend often feel tempted to talk about the sex they are having with other people or be more physical with their S.O. as a way to ward off the behavior. This seems both harsh and ineffective to me. People who won’t get the message take the sexytalk as an invitation to share in kind, and people who have gotten the message just feel further humiliated. I would talk about your romantic life as little as possible with this person until you guys have hashed things out.

I have nothing to say about the friend envy, except to say that the classiest thing the envied party can do is to pretend it’s not happening.  New England agrees with me.

*Except in airports.  There, I know exactly why I’m uncomfortable.

8 thoughts on “Reader Question #13: Don’t Stand So Close To Me

  1. Thanks soooooo much for the advice. You’re super awesome and I love the way you write. 😀

    I think I’ll have to start with pushing her away when she gets too grabby and go from there. I don’t like big confrontations so… here goes.

    I know I’m going to hurt her feelings, which is probably this has gone on as long as it has.

    Anyway, here goes nothing! Thanks again! You’re totally in my bookmark list. 🙂

    1. Glad you found it helpful. Tell your friends!

      By waiting until she does the unwanted or weird behavior and then correcting it in a casual, “Hey, don’t do that please” way, you avoid the need to build up to a big confrontation. My cat jumps on me approximately 1,000 times/day, and 999 of those time I just put her back on the floor.

      Her feelings are not more important than your sense of safety and comfort. So reframe the discussion – you’re not hurting her feelings, you are taking care of yourself.

      Let me know how it goes!

    1. New England would like to start with a handshake, or better yet, a polite nod from across the room.

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