#200: Surprise Lovebombing!

Happy Casimir Pulaski Day! Let us sing the traditional carol.

Hey Captain,

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.

40 thoughts on “#200: Surprise Lovebombing!

  1. The Captain’s advice is great, as usual. I will add this: perhaps you should reconsider your friendship with Venus. Yes, she’s nice and beautiful and kind, etc. But if she’s simply naive or vulnerable, it’s in her best interest to distance yourself from her. If she’s actually being kind of manipulative (which is what I think), then it’s in your best interest to put a LOT of distance between the two of you.

    Also, she’s kind of poaching in a weird way. I mean, part of me says you can’t help what you feel (crushes on people) only what you do, but she really seems to have a thing about using her feelings as actions and “acting” in a way to insert herself further into your life.

    She is not accepting the no in some really creative ways. But still, she’s not accepting the no and that’s not okay.


    1. DISTANCE IS YOUR FRIEND. I really tried to be respectful of the LW’s wishes to keep her in his life, but yeah.

      1. I think the LW is trying to be kind, but I think in the long run it may be kinder to give Venus space for an extended period of time, if not cut her out of her life completely. I don’t know if it will be possible for Venus to view Objectified as just a friend.It may be the case that as long as Objectified hangs out with Venus, Venus is going to hold out hope that she will be able to have something more with Objectified.

      2. I know, and I do sympathize with that and respect your answer. I know that in my case when I was much younger, I would say that felt guilty about not wanting to keep a romantic partner or “friend” in my life and insisted to myself that our relationship was important to me and that I didn’t want them out of my life.

        Also, past experience makes me paranoid and skittish, so there is that. . .

        1. Oh, absolutely.

          I actually have to thank the Darth Vader Ex for saying to me once upon a time, “Stop trying to be the bigger person here! It’s maddening!”

          So LW, let me add that to my answer: You don’t have to be the bigger person. You get to say, “Jesus christ, Venus, really?”

    2. This is true whether people are poly or not: if one person wants to boink the other one and it’s not mutual, it is no longer a friendship.

      I think Venus needs to broken up/off with. It sounds like she’s fueling her needy on the letter writer every time she has contact with him or her, and I don’t think it’s doing her any favors.

      1. I don’t think that’s universally true but I do think it’s up to the unrequited boinker to back way off and respect boundaries but that’s not what’s happening here :S.

  2. Is curious because although you say feelings are not reasons they sometimes are. Feelings are reason enough to end (or prevent) a relationship, no? I guess it just doesn’t work the other way.

    Great post as always, love the discussion of the fallacies. Sometimes there is no solution that will make everyone happy. Good luck LW.

    1. Right – feelings are not reasons in the sense that my feelings are reasons that you should ______.

  3. I know I should talk to Venus again. No! You shouldn’t! Or at least, you don’t have to. Her behaviour is all kinds of unacceptable. It’s not loving. It’s not something a friend does (fall in love with your romantic interests – and tell you all about it, be Unrequited No Pressure But Seriously Pressure Bear, make you feel like an object). You say she’s “fun to be around” but how much fun can she be while smashing you about the head with her feelings all the time? She doesn’t need to FEELINGSMAIL you, you’re on a series of FEELINGSOUTINGS.

    It’s cool that you still want to be friends, but how many horse heads need to appear in your bed before you’re like HOLD UP TOO MANY HORSE HEADS?

    1. “It’s cool that you still want to be friends, but how many horse heads need to appear in your bed before you’re like HOLD UP TOO MANY HORSE HEADS?”

      I heart this so hard!

    2. It’s cool that you still want to be friends, but how many horse heads need to appear in your bed before you’re like HOLD UP TOO MANY HORSE HEADS?

      I nominate this for Comment of the Day

  4. I have to agree. Distance is your friend.

    I firmly believe in being supportive to my friends through good and bad. But the thing is, most healthy friendships have an opening phase of both parties being independent, lively, funny and the experience being fun and rewarding for both. That sets the standard and the boundaries for the friendship afterward. Maybe one of you goes through a rough patch requiring extra support, but as that person’s life normalizes, the friendship returns to its original pattern.

    The original pattern of the Venus friendship doesn’t have a healthy equilibrium. It started with her telling you she was in love with you and you talking her down to friendship. She was never independent and you didn’t pursue a friendship with her; you just had to stand and deliver whatever goods you could. Now it sounds like you are changing the way you do things in order to answer her needs in place of your own.

    Think back to how your life was before Venus’s needs were totally overwhelming you. You write as though you feel like you are somehow answerable for her difficulties. That just isn’t true!

    I know you don’t want to cut her out of your life, but my point is just this: don’t expect that a miraculous new friendship can be born here—the groundwork just isn’t there. There’s no prelapsarian friendship to go back to. Which means… distance is your friend.

  5. I engaged in a pattern very similar to Venus’s up until about a year ago–I never told people I loved them, because I was pretty sure what I was feeling wasn’t love, but I definitely developed really intense crushes on boys/men really rapidly on pretty much no basis starting around 9 or 10 and continuing until about 6 months ago, when I realized how profoundly dysfunctional that pattern was and that it was likely influenced by childhood trauma & attachment issues. Around the same time, I pretty much stopped spending time with straight men socially and began working really hard to get my head on straight with my new therapist (having already been in really good, productive therapy for the better part of 8 years… & I only turn 23 later this month).

    I’m not saying that Venus has problems that are the same as mine, or even similar–but she’s probably also not happy with this pattern that she’s in, even if she can’t articulate that unhappiness or even see that it’s a pattern. I’m also not advocating that you tell her “hie thee to a therapist,” because it’s hard to do that tactfully and it’s hard to hear it as coming from a well-meaning place. But maybe you or a friend might want to link her to someone who writes about boundaries, whether it’s Holly at the Pervocracy, or Dear Sugar at the Rumpus, or even the Captain herself? And maybe you wouldn’t even want to link Venus directly, but share it on Facebook or put it in your gchat status?

  6. Is Venus new to being poly? I don’t want to put the onus on you to be an educator, but since you seem to be interested in rehabilitating your relationship with her as much as possible instead of looking for an out, would it be helpful to suggest to sit her down and have a “Poly 101” chat, including, “Just Because I Sleep With Multiple People Does Not Mean I Am Obligated to Sleep With Everyone And Anyone”? With a generous helping of, “this thing you are doing is making me uncomfortable.”

    And be prepared for some sadface, some manipulative behavior, some denial. But sometimes it is enough to say your piece and THEN do some distancing. Then again, if you do decide to distance yourself from this person you are certainly within your rights to do so and she does not by any means deserve an explanation as to why.

  7. The letter writer could be me. My Venus has suffered unrequited love for me, for years. Ze falls in love with anyone I get involved with, and crushes on my crushes. Also, internet stalking me. Joining every organization I belong to. Applying for jobs that would let zir work with me. Attending public events ze knew I would be attending, and introducing zirself to anyone ze sees me talking to. This has been going on for a decade. I’m not going to attach any of my usual usernames to this, or any gender, because my Venus will find it. Ze’s watching me still and it’s always $FEELINGSBOMB whenever ze is confronted. I don’t want to hear it again.

    How will ze make zir own friends if I sabotage zir by telling people to avoid zir? Especially since, like your Venus, mine is a good person in a lot of ways. And we do have some interests in common, so it’s unreasonable to expect that our paths won’t cross, or that we won’t have plenty of mutual acquaintances. But the boundary issues, oh the boundary issues! Like the time ze followed me to a funeral of someone ze didn’t even know, even after I told zir I preferred to go alone, because ze wanted to “support” me.

    They say the difference between family and friends is that you can choose your friends but you are stuck with family. So as we have both gotten older, I have tried to think of it this way and just resign myself to it. Everyone has an embarrassing brother-in-law who won’t stop witnessing about Jesus, or an auntie who gets amorous when she’s had a few.

    But it makes me really sympathetic to people with stalkers. My Venus isn’t boiling bunnies or making death threats, but I have struggled so with this friendly stalking, I can’t even imagine how I’d cope with it if ze were hostile.

    I’ll be interested to see what other people here advise.

    1. That actually sounds terrifying? I mean, I guess nobody loves you like your stalker. But terrifying?

      If you wanted to extract yourself from your Venus, I recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. Not easy at all.

      1. I’m not afraid and I don’t feel unsafe. I feel a bizarre mixture of frustration, compassion, irritation, and resignation.

        I have seen this book recommended many times, but never read it. I didn’t know it might have advice for this type of situation. I will check it out.

    2. Repeated unwanted contact is stalking; the other person doesn’t have to make threats or boil bunnies. I am so sorry this person is doing this to you.

      1. Seriously. Just because it isn’t the worst case scenario doesn’t mean it isn’t super shitty. It makes me sad to think of you resigning yourself to having this person in your life forever.

    3. I am so, so sorry this is happening to you. Are you safe? Can you get a restraining order? Seconding the comment above that bunnies don’t need boiling for stalkers to be stalkers…. (hugs) if you want them.

      1. Yeah notme, just fyi, what is going on does legally count as stalking.

        I personally feel that the funeral thing is worth a restraining order for sure.

        1. Seconded on this and all of the above–it is totally stalking and you totally have a right to end it even if you don’t feel unsafe. Just in case hearing from another commenter helps.

    4. Finally someone uses the S word. My gut reaction on reading this letter about Venus is “This woman will have your face in a jar in her closet within a year. Run!”

  8. but I have struggled so with this friendly stalking, I can’t even imagine how I’d cope with it if ze were hostile

    How is this not hostile? S/he is not allowing you to have your own independent life. That is definitely hostile. This smacks of pathological jealously. S/he can’t stand the idea of you having anything in your life that s/he doesn’t have. S/he wants to compete with you in every area of your life, socially, professionally, etc. It is NOT in any way friendly just because you don’t fear for your person. I’ve had a person like this in my life for decades, although mine is a lot more underhanded and behind my back about it and not nearly as in-your-face aggressive about it as yours is. My advice? This person IS NOT your friend, back away immediately and permanently.

  9. Nothing to add to the analysis of the sitcho, but wanted to assert that the letter writer is an extremely articulate sophisticated writer, and explained some very complex shitte very clearly.

  10. As a poly person, I have had some run-ins of this kind. I don’t think it’s about sex so much as it is Venus thinking “if they’re able to love more than one person, they’re able to love anyone, and that includes me!” It seems to me that she may be suffering from a big, empty hole in her life that she’s desperate to fill, and she thinks she can fill it if someone loves her. I wonder if she loves herself, or if something happened to her during childhood.

    If the LW has said no to a relationship and Venus is unable to back off, then Venus is boundary-breaking and the LW is just encouraging her to do that by continuing to talk to her. The only way Venus is going to get any better about it is if the LW steps away from the relationship entirely. That *might* prompt Venus into therapy, which would probably help a lot.

    The LW should TOTALLY not try to counsel Venus, though; I get the strong feeling that if the LW did that, it would be disastrous. Venus doesn’t actually love the LW or any of her friends – she hasn’t gotten to know them first. Something else is going on, and if Venus explodes, the LW could end up in a world of hurt (emotional or otherwise).

  11. Okay, so I read this, went away, slept on it, came back, and…

    LW, have you seen Single White Female? Because it’s really creeptastically similar to what’s going on here. You say she’s crushing on you, but also makes a point of crushing on everyone you’re involved with. You only met her a year ago, but now you have all the same friends and do all the same activities. (Unless you’ve recently moved, in which case scratch that.) From what I can tell, she “falls in love” all the time, but she seems not to have any takers? I wonder why that is. Sure, she seems harmless NOW, but eventually the bunnies will boil.

    Too creepy? Well, here’s the rest of the red flags.

    You say “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.” —> She’s not actually interested in having relationships. The Great Love Affair of her life seems to be Drama.

    “Like if we go out for a meal to me it’s an outing with my friend but to her it’s a date.” —> Does telling her beforehand that this is not a date work? No? Then why are you going on these not-dates with her?

    “She doesn’t feelingsdump, feelingsbomb or feelingsmail. Though she’s been known to feelingsart.” —> reads as She isn’t a passive-aggressive attention-seeking feeling dumper! ….except she is, haha *sheepish*.

    “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.” —> Dear Venus, tattoo this on your hands: YOU CANNOT GUILT PEOPLE INTO LOVE. Examine three times before every hungry clutching at someone’s horrified, guilt-laced benevolence-molested soul you attempt.

    Seriously, it’s like a poly version of Single White Female. Drop this woman like a hot potato and TELL PEOPLE WHY. What makes this kind of creepazoid successful is that everyone she’s doing this to feels like they’re the only one who experiences it. When six people pipe up about how Venus falls for their boy/girlfriends routinely, you’ll see how utterly oogy this woman is.

    Good luck, LW. I hope you know where your rabbits are.

  12. “Surely there is some solution that will make everyone happy?” is an attitude that I associate strongly, perhaps incorrectly, with poly people.

    Guilty as charged. I hadn’t associated these two things before, but I will admit that being poly was an unexpected solution to “I am completely in love with two people! I am therefore a failure as a person!”, and perhaps that has sparked belief that many situations have solutions. (I am also a natural “want to fix it!” personality.)

  13. What “Venus” doesn’t seem to get is that it’s polyamory, not “panamory”: that I have three partners still means that there are billions of people I’m not involved with, and don’t want to be. I can say yes to these people, say it over and over, without that changing my “no” to lots of other people, either because they just don’t appeal to me, or because energy is finite, or for any other reason.

    1. You could even say yes to all of the other people, too, and not to her! No one is obligated to your love or your pants.

      1. I should have said “no one is obligated to recieve your love or your pants.” ah, well.

  14. Wow. The situation described in this letter parallels not only my own experience with an individual, but that of a few other folks’ experiences, too. It went nowhere good.

    I’m sure there’s more than one “Venus” in the world, but this MO is chillingly familiar. Right now, LW thinks this person is harmlessly clueless. If they’re the same person (or similar in other ways) they’re not harmless and they oughtn’t, by this point, be clueless. All of this ingratiating is setting the stage for gas lighting and increasing crossing of boundaries, and extricating yourself will be difficult and not without some nasty surprises in terms of how much groundwork has been laid for alienating you from your support system. I genuinely hope this isn’t the case, but I tried to “take the high road” with my “Venus” and failed to warn others before the damage to my credibility was done, and my failure to warn others resulted in a really bad outcome for a (then, then former, now reinstated) friend of mIne and her family. You don’t know me from Adam, but I strongly suggest you extricate yourself as thoroughly and delicately as possible, and don’t hesitate to tell your friends what’s going on, and how it makes you feel.

  15. Dear Captain and Army of Awkward,

    Thank you for the feedback. A lot of what has been said paints a bleaker picture than I was willing to believe regarding my friendship with Venus. Especially the horse head comment. First I laughed then I cringed because I believe you are right in part. I do want to clarify some things:

    @xenu01 Yes when we met Venus was very new to Poly. I think I was the first person that she got to interact with that was visibly in multiple relationships. I took her initial declaration of love as something based in a pretty common newbie assumption (that poly people are always looking and available for new romantic relationships). Since she really didn’t know me or the people I was dating well, I didn’t take that declaration seriously. In hindsight I see that was an bad assumption on my part. The “sorry not interested” conversation I had with her included a “by the way if you want to be friends: Poly 101 chat. At the time it seemed like she had accepted what I had to say and had let go of the idea that she and I had a romantic connection. I believed that we were building a friendship that was based on two people wanting to be friends. It wasn’t till she told me that she was “still” in love with me that I realized that she had not let go of the possibility of dating me. That second conversation has triggered this sort of hyper awareness when it comes to her that I don’t like.

    Also Venus does not say directly to me that she considers the time we spend together as dates. However, since the second declaration of love I’ve paid more attention to how she talks about me and the time we spend together. Listening to her describe an evening we have spent together comes out more weighted than how I would describe it. This has led me to believe that she considers the time we spend together alone or with someone I am seeing as some form of dating. I was hoping that I was just being paranoid but I can’t shake the feeling that she and I perceive two different things when we are together and that she is imbuing our interactions with more romance than there actually is.

    Captain you are right at least in my case that the process of creating and maintaining poly relationships is one of the things that I find fulfilling. However I don’t believe there is always a solution that will make everyone happy. Sometimes the best solution is to cut your losses and I didn’t want that to be the case for Venus. Because really I like her as a person and when I was unaware of her continued romantic interests I really thought we had a good friendship building. Now I’m not so sure and I don’t like wondering about her motives or second guessing every interaction we have. Distance will help if just to ease my mind and I will be sitting down with her to tell her that I view her pursuing people I am dating as boundary crossing. Complete distance isn’t really an option right now; however I can easily put an end to the outings and conversations about relationship stuffs. Thank you for the scripts I’ll be putting them to use today.

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