#211: If my friend has feelings for me, it is only logical that I return them.

A cyberman from Dr. Who pointing at the camera.
Let's keep this logical between us.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Geeks of the feather, flock together. It’s an obvious thing within my wonderful friends circle, but it’s not horrible. All the people I consider to be good friends are socially inept and awkward somehow. Not to a debilitating or super-creepy level, but we’re all definitely the oddballs who will miss a handful of “normal” social cues. However, we’re all “odd” in different ways and aware in others so we all balance each other out.

There has been a more recent addition to our circle, let’s call him N. In my opinion, he’s a genuinely great guy. Though super nerdy, he’s well aware of his own social failings and actively seeks feedback to improve himself. We bonded while planning for a group camping trip; we both went through similar patterns of depression from similar bad habits of social ineptness. We also both learned to “fix” ourselves and function better with a lot of hard work. Basically, we hang out and compare notes on how stupid we once were, how much progress we’ve made, and how much farther we have to go in some departments.

Lately though, I’ve been getting odd cues from him. When it’s just the two of us having lunch together, he sometimes tells me some deeply personal things, such as hooking up with a girl at a party and then regretting it. Worrying about family stuff. Worrying about putting up a front. And, more recently, having to reject a coworker who confessed to him because he “likes someone else”. That last one was a pretty strange; he had a really hard time explaining why he rejected his coworker because of other feelings. It took him nearly 5 minutes to get out the word “Because I like someone else.”

I assume I’m getting all of these “confessions” because I seem to be a trustworthy person. Which I honestly don’t mind, because less than a year ago, no one would tell me much because I was “unreliable”. Since improving my “reliability factor” other people have been confessing things to me because they say I don’t judge (I honestly try not to), I don’t slut-shame (I HATE slut-shamers!), and I don’t try to “fix” people (because I need fixing myself!).

But there’s a small, bothersome feeling that’s been floating around my head lately in light of all of N’s “confessions.” And it’s “Does he like me? As in LIKE LIKE me?”

I am horrendous at reading people and social cues when it comes to romantic relationships. Once there was a guy who had a crush on me; I never noticed until after he got a girlfriend and she confronted me about his 4 year longing for me. The last person who liked me ended up having to announce it online to the world before I KNEW. I cannot tell in any way whether N likes me as a friend or a potential romantic partner! Add nerd social awkwardness to my inability to read, and it becomes a mess! For example when everyone hangs out together, N tends to sit across from or next to me, sometimes maintaining good personal space and sometimes getting a bit close; however, he’s accidentally encroached on others’ personal spaces too. Then, he’s gotten me and a few other people free concert tickets; however, he’s only offered to get me more should I be interested.

As of now, I am unsure of my own feelings for N. I wish I knew if I was the “someone else”. I’m basically suspending my feelings over a giant vat of molten lava, ready to push a button to submerge it to its doom because I’m almost certain I am not this “someone else” and there’s no point in crushing on someone who likes someone else. However, I can’t bring myself to push that button yet because I don’t know if I’m reading this whole situation wrong.

What’s your take Captain? Should I smash and burn any potential feelings I might have for N in case I’m just a friend? I would like to think I have my feelings under control and they aren’t coloring the way I read the situation.

Ready to convert, now where’s my Cyberman suit

Dear Ready To Convert:

Craig, Sophie, and The Doctor from The Lodger
Unlike The Doctor, Captain Awkward cannot come to your house and say "Do you like her? Do you like him? OKAY YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KISS NOW."

I am confused. Are you into “N”? Does he delight you? Do you find yourself looking at his face and thinking “He is going to make a fantastic old person…wait…did I really just think that?” If you know you’re going to see him, do you take a little extra time to look pretty and smile and hum songs to yourself all day? Do you find reasons to see him or talk to him? Are you committing acts of mentionitis? When he smiles at you, do you feel a little click in the universe? Are there daydreams? Are there feelings? Or FEELINGS? Are some of those feelings…in your pants? Maybe “feelings” is too strong a word – would you be comfortable with “interest” and “curiosity”?

Having feelings (or curiosity, if you prefer) doesn’t obligate any action on your part (or any feelings/action on his part). Some crushes are just crushes; they light you up for a little while and then they pass. That’s totally normal and ok! Also, it’s important to say that friendship – real friendship – is pretty damn resilient and forgiving of passing awkwardness. Having feelings won’t ruin your friendship. Speaking up about or asking directly about feelings in a timely, cool, low-key manner won’t ruin a friendship. If you’re trying to logic yourself into having feelings for him because he’s “suitable” in some way or because he might have them for you? Or if you hold onto your crush for years and then send FEELINGSMAIL? THAT’S how you ruin a friendship. So yeah, sort out your own desires and feelings first. As long as they are real and true everything will be fine.

And the next time he mentions liking “SOMEONE ELSE” say “You’ve mentioned that several times now…care to elaborate?” or better yet grin and say “IS IT ME?” and take your chances. You can’t get to love by way of logic and certainty and control. Someone has to take the first tiny step into awkwardness and risk, so why not you?

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good…And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens … Nothing good gets away.”

38 thoughts on “#211: If my friend has feelings for me, it is only logical that I return them.

  1. I think this is a case of Everyone Needs to Use their Words. Like, seriously. You, LW, with your not sure about N liking you? Use your words. N, with his liking someone super secret? Should use his words. Dude who crushed on you for 4 years to the point that it affected his girlfriend? Should have used his words. Especially, ESPECIALLY if you’re all kinda bad at picking up on social cues, you need to use your words.

    Words. Use them.

    1. That was very close to what I was going to say, but what really grabbed me was this:

      “The last person who liked me ended up having to announce it online to the world before I KNEW.”

      I really feel like probably this person didn’t have to announce it online to the world. They could have announced it in person (or on the phone or online maybe) to just you. You didn’t give much detail, but it sounds like they just hinted their feelings to you for a while, and when you didn’t pick up, decided the best course of action was to make a public FEELINGSANNOUNCEMENT. There is a giant middle ground between hinting and FEELINGSBOMB, and that middle ground is called using your words.

      Using your words is not easy (actually, sometimes it’s super hard), but it’s a lot more productive and fair to yourself than trying to submerge your feelings in molten lava.

      1. Yes! Thank you! I am a geek, my bf is a geek, and we both have to force WORDS. But it WORKS. And it is never as bad as you fear it will be. 🙂

    2. I was thinking the same thing. LW, if somebody pines for you for four years and the first you hear about it is when he starts dating somebody else, from the person he’s now dating… you are not the person who is making things weird.

    1. I have so many letters about abusive partners/families in the same vein piling up in the inbox…I can’t answer all of them. I mean, I MENTALLY CANNOT HANDLE ANSWERING ALL OF THEM. Thank god for generous guest bloggers and my wheelhouse of Geek Dating.

      1. You know that you being so helpful and wise all the time is kind of a THING for you. You are taking a burden on yourself by doing what you do on this blogge. And sometimes you need to shrug offe that burden.

        1. While I see you here, CPP, can I thank you again for the excellent YouTube video you made about grant rejection? It saved my sanity once, I send it to friends when they need it, and we have even started quoting it at the bar when drowning grant-rejection sorrows. Cheers.

    2. I’m delurking just to agree with this. I’m not sure how many more “YOURE BEING ABUSED, GET OUT AND GET HELP” letters I could handle…

  2. Yes and yes on everyone using their words! Are you REALLY so bad at reading social cues if you are LOOKING for them? I thought socially awkward people are the ones who don’t notice that everyone in the room is desperately trying to indicate that their fly is down but don’t notice.

    1. Generally, I think you’re right. But a lot of people have problems with interpreting social cues. So they’re looking at their buddy across the room gesturing subtly at his own crotch while looking distressed, and instead of hearing “My fly is down, damn!”, they hear “What the heck is he doing? Is it an interpretive dance? Does he want to have sex? Is there something wrong with the cheese ball?”

    2. Eh, some people ARE really that bad at social cues. My freshman year in high school, this guy I kind of liked asked me to a dance. And I went into a rant about gendered expectations, social class, stupid high school cliques, and how school dances supported all these terrible things we both hated, so that I did not have to say “I don’t have a dress, my scary mother would not want me to go, I am terrified of making a fool of myself dancing because I’ve never done it before, and I am worried you are only asking me out of pity.” I was very relieved when he dropped the subject, because I thought I had made it clear that I did not need anyone’s pity, although I did think it was odd that he would do something so horrible (asking me to a dance! IMAGINE!) after he’d been all friendly. Like, he kept inviting me to D&D games (I couldn’t make it because Scary Mom), making playful fun of me, talking to me about our shared fandoms, etc. We were friends! Why didn’t he KNOW I didn’t need his pity invite? GEEZ! Did he know I kind of liked him? OH NOES WAS HE MAKING FUN OF ME? But I didn’t like him THAT much, so it couldn’t be that obvious! And so forth.

      Four years later, when I was trying to figure out how to ask out a new college crush, I realized he had asked me BECAUSE HE WANTED TO GO TO THE DANCE WITH ME, DUH.

      Conclusion: words are good, but if someone has things in the way that don’t allow them to read them properly (in my case, huge confidence issues, Scary Mom, and pride) even WORDS are useless, never mind social cues.

      1. But also, we can’t be held responsible if we use our words and the person we’re talking to just doesn’t get it. Telepathy isn’t a common skill. If we use our words, and the other person thinks there’s an unspoken motivation there, it’s their responsibility to use their own words and ask. (Like, for example, “Why are you asking me to the dance?”) Other people are not responsible for their conversational partner not using their words.

        1. Oh, no, I wasn’t saying that people shouldn’t use words to clarify. I was just saying that this mysterious thing called Not Getting Social Cues exists for any number of reasons, even if (sometimes especially if) one is actively looking for social cues. I generally do not advocate ranting at people about the evils of school dances instead of using words to clarify.

          1. Technically, ranting at people does involve the use of words. This is unlikely to be a technical definition that anyone wants to endorse, though. 😉

    3. Well, it does depend on the socially awkward person, but yes, there are many people (hello, nice to meet you!) who just plain can’t read social cues. Unless you have something more serious (aspies and the like), it’s usually fairly specific. For instance, I can read OTHER PEOPLES’ romantic social cues from miles away; my own? Well, I can read them… days later. All, “oh, he was looking at me and talking really closely and he was cute and OHMYGOD HE WAS FLIRTING WITH ME! …well, that’s over before it started…”

      Social cues are basically there to PREVENT awkward. It’s awkward to say, “hey, you’re a great person AND I like the idea of getting all smoochy and cuddly up on you, perhaps even without clothes on at some point in the indeterminate future. Would you be equally interested in pursuing this goal with me until one or both of us no longer feels this way?” It’s easier to say, “hi, could I buy you a drink?”… for people who aren’t a whole universe of awkward. Social cues in romance are like, “let’s get this courting dance off to a quick start, alright?” And then of course there are some people who want or need the social cues element because they’re scared of things being a little awkward, which is a different division of awkward that I don’t handle.

  3. It’s definitely hard to read social cues if the other person is quite determined to be coy! Often geeks with crushes only want their intentions to be known at the exact right time when the moon is a waxing gibbous and the wind blows westerly and there is NO CHANCE AT ALL they will face rejection. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to decode that.

    If you don’t like N, you don’t need to do anything. It’s up to him to use his words. If you do, it may be time for one of you to give up the tortured sweetness of longing for the certainty of knowing if the answer’s yes or no. Some people say, “If you ask and the answer’s no, you haven’t lost anything,” but I don’t think that’s true. You’ve lost that anticipation and sense of hope and possibility. But you may find that that’s an addictive, safe source of energy that keeps you from really engaging with the world.

    1. Indeed. Also, if you like someone you can’t fucking figure out what they’re saying because you’re too anxious about it. I may have mentioned this before but when I met my wife she was constantly complaining that her male friends were always asking her out and she hated it. She would tell me this while sitting on the couch with me in the dark, dressed up in earrings and a nice sundress on a random Wednesday, looking longingly into my eyes.

      I took this to mean that she did not want ME to ask her out. To any rational person, she was just reassuring me that I should not worry that she was interested in her other suitors. But I was so tied in knots over the question of whether she liked me that I couldn’t reach the obvious conclusions.

      It all finally ended one day when I was heading home and she said “I’m going to kiss you now, if that’s OK.”

      I was able to interpret that one.

      1. To be honest, “argh I do not wish a relationship, I am glad I have a friend who is not hitting on me” sounds like a perfectly reasonable interpretation of someone saying they hate being asked out by all their male friends.

        1. Yes, it’s been my major social signifier of “NOT DATING NOW” and I usually use it to cut creeps off at the pass. I think ApeMan has good instincts here, what with assuming a nice dress doesn’t equal interest.

        2. Yeah, I agree, I would have had the same reaction as ApeMan. If she wanted a male friend (you) to ask her out, why was she telling you that she hated when male friends asked her out?

          I realize there may be many answers to this question (social norms that women are supposed to give “hints” instead of asking directly, etc.) but it is so much better when people (of either sex/gender) actually use their words and say “I like you,” and I am so glad your wife eventually took the initiative to do that.

        3. Yeah–when I say that, I’m usually fending off someone who has a crush on me. She sure picked a good way to stop being excessively subtle, though. 🙂

          1. Or possibly she really didn’t feel comfortable being hit on, and she was expressing that well using words.

            Then, when she felt comfortable and safe, because he respected her boundaries, she found that she was attracted by him and used her words to express her attraction.

            One doesn’t have to assume she was saying one thing and meaning another.

      2. Wait, what? That’s the conclusion that rational people will make from that? That’s so strange to me.

  4. Oh man, LW, I have BEEN THERE. And the Captain’s advice is spot-on as usual, but I’m going to highlight one thing:

    The absolute first thing you need to do is figure out how you feel about N. Without – and this is the hardest and most important part – *without* reference to what you think/suspect/hope/fear he feels about you.

    I say this because I have, in my misspent youth, spent years – years! – flailing around in the mire of simultaneously wondering “am I trying to convince myself I like him because I think he likes me?” and “am I trying to convince myself that I don’t like him because I don’t think he’s interested?”

    I know it seems easier to avoid answering this question until you have proof positive that he’s into/not into you, but trust me, it’s not! If he does like you and says something, that moment of him-saying-something is not the best moment to figure out your precise feelings for him. Alternately, if you do like him and he never says anything to you, suddenly it’s five years later and he has a girlfriend and you’re living in a remake of My Best Friend’s Wedding. And nobody wants that. 🙂

    1. So much WORD. I’ve had entire relationships devoted to someone else being attracted to me and me going, “oh my god, that’s so flattering and ego-inflating that they’re attracted to me! And since I’m too terrified to ask people out, why don’t I give this a test run?” And it’s crappy for me because I didn’t REALLY think about it, and it’s crappy for them too.

    2. Also, if you like introverts, or are/think you might be attracted to someone who is shy and awkward, it’s probably unkind and counterproductive to always wait for them to make the first move. I suspect that technique works better for women moving in more conventional circles: if the person you’re interested in has a history of asking women on dates, and he’s interested in you, he’s likely to ask. (“I suspect” because that isn’t my history/experience.) But if you’ve known someone for a couple of years, and he’s been single the whole time and never asked anyone out, it means nothing that he hasn’t asked you out either, any more than it means something that you haven’t asked him out yet.

      Yes, asking is scary, but it gives the other person the chance to say yes.

    3. Oh dude me too. Though an important characteristic in the list of Things That Make a Good Boyfriend is thinking I am the shiz, it cannot be the only thing. If you aren’t into it his affection can move very quickly from charming and ego-boosting to pathetic and suffocating.

  5. LW, it sounds to me like he likes you (romantically) (insofar as it’s possible to tell from a brief letter posted on the Internet) (but seriously, he likes you). So all I can say is, follow the Captain’s advice to help decide what you want to do about that, starting with determining whether you like him back, or are at least curious in that way, or whether you are only interested because he is.

    1. Yes. This this this. Way more important than “Does he like me?” is “Do I like him?”

      We (geeks, women, and perhaps especially woman-geeks) have this bad tendency to ask the first question instead of the second. But you know what? If you don’t like him, who the hell cares if he likes you? It’s spectacularly annoying to get all wrapped up in crushy does-he-like-me feelings only to wake up one day and realize that you don’t actually care.

  6. I can totally relate to what the LW mentioned about not realizing that people have crushes on you. I have a pretty bad history of being completely oblivious to the admirations of male friends. It has often blown up in my face in a totally awkward and embarrassing way. However, I refuse to blame myself too much for it. Yes, I could have read between the lines a little more. These men still should have worked up the courage to tell me how they felt before it got to the point where they had been secretly crushing on me for years, and then as soon as I find a boyfriend who I am really into they try to sabotage the relationship in sneaky ways until I figure out what’s going on. Then they drop the FEELINGS bomb, publicly, and admit to trying to derail my relationship, causing my new boyfriend to hate them, and creating a situation where it becomes incredibly uncomfortable for us to hang out. Friendship disintegrates. Use words before it’s too late.

  7. LW, I don’t think it really makes a difference whether or not he’s trying to hint stuff subtly at you. Are you interested in a date with him? If so, I’d suggest asking him if he’d like to go on a date, with a nice clear statement that it’s cool if he’d rather just stay friends, instead.

    Then, if he’s into you, he’ll have a chance to say yes, and if he’s not, he can tell you he’d rather just stay friends while the stakes for you, emotionally, are lower than if you spend several months trying to mind-read him and also figure out your own feelings in a major way.

    If the date doesn’t work out for you, then it’s not like you’ve just asked him to get married. You can say you had a lovely time, and he’s fantastic, but you don’t feel like you work as a couple. Then spend a couple of weeks avoiding tete-a-tetes but being normally friendly in groups, to make it clear you’re still friends.

  8. LW here:

    Firstly, I want to thank the Captain for taking the time to answer my letter. She’s already mentioned that she has many more letters of a more dire nature in her inbox, yet she took the time to help out a confused geek with something so trivial. I could survive confused over feelings, but there are people out there in potentially harmful situations. I am deeply grateful to the Captain for giving me advice on something so silly in comparison. Now I feel a little bit selfish. Thank you so so so much!

    Secondly, thank you to all the commentors and your wonderful reflections, stories, and advice! It really helped me with personal self-reflection, which has been neglected for the past 2 weeks due to a massive mountain-load of work and huge work-related disasters that needed straightening. I’ll definitely try to sort out what’s in my brain and hold off on converting to a Cyberman!

    P.S. Thank you Captain for playing up the DW references. I put in the Cyberman reference because I know I’m capable of shutting down my feelings in necessary situations. But honestly, the Doctor popping in wouldn’t be half bad!

  9. So I read this entry yesterday, and didn’t get the Doctor Who reference. This morning, my husband is watching an episode, and lo and behold, I hear him say “I don’t know, it’s your marriage, talk to her.” How timely!

  10. Here comes a cautionary tale. I had a friend a couple of years ago who I had a bit of a crush on, only I was way to anxious and awkward to tell him so. We were a little flirt and after a year or so we almost had sex, but then I backed out (because FEELINGS). Which resulted in him pretty much dropping our friendship and me feeling hurt and rejected. Causing me not to talk to him.

    Flash-forward two years or so and I realize he probably did so because he felt hurt and rejected too. Because he probably liked me.

    Totally avoidable situation if we hadn’t both been anxious teenagers afraid to use their words. Don’t be like us.

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