Happy Casimir Pulaski Day! Let us sing the traditional carol.
After reading your last post I decided to write in. I need your help! A little background: I am poly and have a number of relationships. Some are romantic, some are sexual, some are platonic and some are a mix. In order to do this I have to be very clear about my expectations and limits. I think I do a very good job of it. Communicating often and well is something I work very hard at. My problem is that despite my communication skills I keep getting into this situation with one friend (let’s call her Venus). Venus feels like her connection to me and people I am dating is more romantic than it actually is.
Venus and I met a year ago. At first we hung out in group settings, we didn’t flirt; we had friendly but not particularly deep conversations. The first time we had a moment alone together she told me she was in love with me. I was surprised and I told her that I was not able to return her feelings, but that I would love to get to know her as a friend. She agreed and we have become really good friends from there. As I have gotten to know Venus I’ve noticed that her rushed declaration of love was not an isolated incident. She seems to fall really deeply in love with people in a very short amount of time. She then suffers all of the pangs of deep, often times unrequited yearning when the object of her affection cannot give her the type of relationship she wants. She is super nice and is always doing really nice things for people, sometimes to the point where she is going way out of her way. It’s always appreciated, but sometimes we have to tell her to chill, as we like her regardless of what she does for us. I get the feeling that when she does something nice for someone I can see she is in love with it’s her saying “I love you! Love me back” over and over again.
I am starting to feel uncomfortable. Partly because not too long ago she told me that she is still in love with me. Again I was clear that all I can offer her is friendship and she seemed to accept that, but now Im worried she is playing the “I’ll be her friend until she falls in love with me” game. So far she has not tried to overtly pressure me but sometimes if feels like we are having two different interactions when we are together. Like if we go out for a meal to me it’s an outing with my friend but to her it’s a date. I catch myself worrying about every nice thing that she does for me. I worry about sending mixed signals or leading her on even though I clearly said no twice and told her what I could offer. I also feel like she makes a habit of “falling in love” with people I am romantically involved with. For instance the first time she told me she loved me she said that she was also in love with two other people I was dating at the time. More recently my long distance boyfriend came into town to visit. After he left Venus stated that she had to work to keep from crying all night because my boyfriend had left town. Talk about awkward. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t say anything. I hope she just meant that she would miss him in a friendly way but I get the sense that she is in the midst of another one sided love affair.
I know I should talk to Venus again. I just don’t know how to start. I can’t tell someone how they feel. But it’s hard to watch her continually launch her heart at unsuspecting people. I also want to address her tendency to form romantic interests in people I am romantically involved with. To me it feels a little creepy that after professing her love for me Venus quickly develops romantic feelings for the people I am dating. Like all of a sudden her intent shifts from getting to know them as a person to getting them to love her romantically as soon as she see that I am involved with them romatically. If the feelings were mutual I don’t think I would feel so uncomfortable, but the fact is that so far it hasn’t been and they are just as surprised by her romantic interests as I was initially.
In all other respects Venus is a great person. She is talented, beautiful, kind and fun to be around. We share a lot of interests and have the same friends. I value her friendship and care about what happens to her. I don’t want to cut Venus out of my life. I don’t think she is predatory or unaware of her feelings. And I think she does a good job of taking care of herself when dealing with the lows of unrequited love. She doesn’t feelingsdump, feelingsbomb or feelingsmail. Though she’s been known to feelingsart. I just think she overinvests with people when she’s just getting to know them. She tends not to give people a chance to actually fall in love with her before she is either professing her love for them or convincing herself that actually viable options are not interested. Besides it making me uncomfortable it’s hard to watch a friend continually do something that hurts them. For my part being the object of her affection has literally made me feel like an object, not a person. I’m a little flabbergasted. Is there a script for this? How to I tell a friend to stop launching her heart at me and other unavailable people?
Objectified by Love
Whoa, that’s pretty awkward, Objectified.
I (and I imagine you) wish Venus had written to me? Because then this could be a letter about how feelings are not reasons, and while it’s good to use your words and speak up, it’s gross to make other people responsible for your feelings to this level. Crying all night because someone else’s boyfriend left town is not a proportionate reaction. Worming her way into your romantic relationships and trying to make them hers is not appropriate behavior. At worst, your friend has some serious boundary issues. At best, she’s from the Planet of No Friend Zone and hasn’t figured out that reciprocity rules in relationships.
And I think she’s being kind of a shitty friend right now. When she calls the time you spend together “a date” she’s manipulating you – either she forces you to correct her (which preserves the drama that this is a great story of unrequited love a little longer) or you let it go and she gets to swim in the Sea of Plausible Deniability (just off the Coast of Wishful Thinking). You said you don’t want to cut her out of your life, but can you pull back on contact, at least temporarily? Don’t see her alone or make special plans to hang out. Don’t talk about serious stuff in a way that invites awkward confessions. Preserve your own comfort zone.
Here are some suggested scripts for dealing with her head-on.
Ask for the best case scenario. “Venus, when you tell me stuff like that, what do you want me to say?” Force her to admit and own what she’s doing.
Tell her flat-out that you’re uncomfortable. “Venus, I want to be respectful of your feelings, but that makes me really uncomfortable and I’d prefer it if you didn’t share stuff like that with me.”
Sadly, I don’t think you can be her reciprocity tutor. In fact, the less you guys talk about romantic/sexual relationships, the better. It’s hard to redraw the boundaries of a friendship this late in the game, but you can decide what or how much you tell her about your own love life and redirect the conversation. She can’t fixate on people you’re dating if you aren’t giving her all the details of the people you’re dating, so watch your own boundaries.If she tells you about her own interests you can try to remind her about reciprocity – “You seem really into this person, but nothing that you’ve told me indicates that they feel the same way about you. That seems to be a pattern for you – what do you think about that?”
And listen, I know you want to help her save face wherever possible, but be prepared – Venus is VERY attuned to your attention and will notice (and take amiss) any pushback from you about her behavior. Being too busy to hang out? A mild change of subject? A “that makes me uncomfortable, Venus” or “Sorry, that’s not really up for discussion Venus?” Be prepared for waterworks and some weird self-abasement and naked ploys for reassurance that you don’t want to watch. I predict that you’re going to have to say “I’m really sorry you feel that way, Venus. Let’s end this conversation and I’ll catch you when you’re feeling better” and slowly back away more than once. This may go against your own instincts and habits of how friends behave (and will definitely be in conflict with hers), but you can’t comfort her about this stuff. She has to comfort (and learn to value) herself around sex and relationships. I’m sure you are a great communicator, but one way you can maybe level up here is learning how to live with other people’s negative emotions and not make them your responsibility (even when they try really hard to make them your responsibility). If I am holding a fork and you run into me full-tilt and impale yourself on said fork, did I hurt you with my fork? Or did you manipulate me into a position where I hurt you in order to get me to apologize and reassure you in some way?
I didn’t really address the “poly” aspects of your question, but I think it’s contributing three very specific fallacies* that Venus holds:
1) “‘Objectified’ loves lots of people – eventually s/he will love me!” aka “Why NOT me?“
2) Love is transitive. If I can’t love you? I’ll love someone close to you and that will be enough.”
3) “Surely there is some solution that will make everyone happy?” is an attitude that I associate strongly, perhaps incorrectly, with poly people. I feel like poly people love to love and sleep with multiple people, but they also REALLY love to negotiate and renegotiate their relationships to see if they can make reality match up with their ethos of how love should be in a way that I personally find exhausting but they find to be sexy and fulfilling.
I don’t want to assume or extrapolate incorrectly, but as the disinterested outsider I want to reiterate that as long as Venus is dropping these declarations of love on you or trying to insinuate herself into your love life or calling the time you spend together “dates,” the two of you are in conflict. While you may have affection for her and good intentions of salvaging a functional friendship, it won’t be possible if she can’t accept your “No.” If she’s forcing you to continually renegotiate the terms of your friendship, consider a good long break from interacting. Tell yourself you’re giving her time to get over you and that it’s for her own good. (Don’t tell HER that – it’s patronizing as fuck).
*Additional reading: Holly’s excellent Geek Social Fallacies of Sex.