Dear Capt. Awkward,
So, I’m a 25 year old lady. Like a lot of your readers (I think?) I’ve never really had a lot of dating success, and definitely have never had a boyfriend. This sometimes makes me feel a little sad, but I’ve never really gone out there in pursuit of a boyfriend, and in general don’t have a lot of guy friends/acquaintances as a dating pool, so most of the time I don’t worry about it too much. I relate it only because it’s sort of relevant, I guess? My problem, though, is actually from a different quarter. It’s happened repeatedly, and it’s stressful. What happens is that some guy I know a little bit will start acting weird around me. I’m pretty bad at unspoken social thingies, and I know my threshold for putting up with dudely awkwardness is a lot lower than that of most ladies my age, but I think I’m not wrong that these dudes are Interested in me. However, usually, I am Not Interested in them … actually, a lot of the time, I am like, “why are you interested? we have few things in common and you are hard for me to talk to! please leave me alone!” A lot of the time they are guys I don’t even particularly want to be friends with. I’m terrible at flirting and all that, so I don’t think I’m unintentionally giving them signals that I don’t mean to, or anything. But, the thing is, they never come out and say that they are interested, so I’m not sure. I feel like this never gives me a chance to flat out say “no thank you” and then I have to live with all this, like, unspoken intention looming at me uncomfortably and it makes me feel very trapped and grossed out and want to shrivel up inside and do everything I can to avoid the dude in question under any circumstances. If they ever ask me out, it’s always in the most noncommittal, low-risk way, like with lots of other friends, or “just for a beer to talk sometime,” so even then it’s not clear — is it a date? is it not a date? are you just being friendly? or are you hoping for something more? So I feel like I can’t reject them without seeming egotistical and like I think everyone wants to have sex with me. Uncool!
The most recent dude to do this is a coworker whose desk is next to mine. He has a girlfriend, but was in the past definitely, um, got around with the ladies, and he and the girlfriend are having a tough time right now. He’s a nice enough dude, but very weird and passive-aggressive, and in talking to him about his girlfriend (who is an acquaintance/semi-friend of mine) it’s pretty clear that he’s been trying to make her jealous with other ladies recently, going on coffee dates and so forth. He just sent me a FB message that was like “blah blah, know you’ve been having a hard time lately, just want you to know that I think you’re great and awesome and also beautiful, sorry if that’s awkward,” and my alarm bells are pretty much at red alert. I mean, most of my “regular” friends don’t send me that kind of message when I’m having a rough week, let alone some dude. He also asked me to have a beer with him last week … which, not interested. I can’t imagine anything I could talk to this guy about for longer than five minutes at a time, and I REALLY do not appreciate potentially being used as a jealousy-creator for someone I’m friends with.
So, am I being oversensitive here? How can I avoid this (I know on some level I can’t, right? only responsible for my own actions and all that jazz), or at least deal with it more gracefully? I feel like if I ask outright if they “like” me, they will backpedal immediately whether or not they were hoping something might happen, to save face. Most of the time I don’t care about staying friends with these guys, often they are people I still have to work with (or in the past, go to school with) so I’d rather things stayed smooth and low key, although if they don’t, that’s okay. I definitely don’t like confrontation, so some of that is contributing, but I also honestly just don’t feel like I ever get an appropriate opening to say to these dudes that I don’t like them in more than a merely polite and friendly way. Is there something about me that is catnip for socially awkward passive-aggressive dudes? Why can’t they just ask me out like regular people? What am I doing wrong here? Please help me.
I’m Just Not That Into You
Howdy I’m Just Not That Into You! CommanderLogic, here.
You’re not doing anything wrong, and you’re not being over-sensitive. Okay? You’re just being terrifyingly amazing, and some people cannot even begin to deal with that.
From your letter, I think you’ve got a collage of problems that you can solve with two actions:
1 – Only acknowledge and act on what is actually said out loud.
2 – Let go. You are not responsible for other people’s emotions.
So let’s talk first about all the guys who are “conveying” at you. If they cannot put words together to express their feelings, that is not your problem. One reason they are probably not putting feelings into words is so that you can’t reject them, and they have plausible deniability if you do, because if you call attention to it YOU’RE vain and full of it and the bad wrong one. Gross. But! that sword cuts two ways, and you will never go on a date with them unless they ask you on an actual date. So, until such time as they can say words, try to act like nothing is wrong except maybe they have a piece of spinach in their teeth. Their inability to act like humans is not your fault or your problem, just like that bit of spinach. If they are making you uncomfortable with something they are actually doing or saying, then it IS your problem and you can say “I feel like you’re leering at me, and it makes me feel gross. Please stop.” “You’re standing too close. Move.” “I know you think it’s cute to talk about my hot ass, but it’s really demeaning.”
I know you’re thinking now that “OMG CONFRONTATION! I AM BAD AT IT!” Nope. This is not confrontation. This is being assertive. This is speaking the thing that occurs to you WHEN it occurs to you, which can be super scary and definitely takes practice. Fortunately, you can practice being assertive by being positively assertive. “I love that t-shirt!” “You are super funny!” “I need to pee, can I get you something while I’m up?” “I know you don’t like this song, but I love it.” All of that? Assertive. It’s good to have a brain filter, but a lot of the time, we have way WAY too many filters, and second guess ourselves in a pinch. Practice removing the filters from positive assertions, and then when something comes up that requires negative assertion (You’re weirding me out. You’re in my way. You don’t get to say that to me.) maybe it will get through.
Now! Let’s say one of your conveying friends actually does ask you to a “thing” “sometime.” First off, unless there’s a specific event at a specific time, this is not even a friend-date. You can reply: “I’m busy ‘sometime’, but thanks for the invitation.” “*Shrug* I don’t know. We aren’t that close.” I like this second one because it pretty much forces the conveying friend to be more specific about his/her desires.
If a conveying friend actually manages to work out an event and a time, don’t worry about if it’s a date or not. That really, REALLY doesn’t matter. Focus on “Do I want to do that thing in the presence of this person.” If the answer is yes, go do the thing. If the answer is no, say “Thanks for the invitation but I’d rather not.” “I’d rather not, no thank you.” Repeat until he goes away. If dude starts getting shirty about it, he’s just handing you reasons to continue to say no.
Above all, just be as direct as you wish that the conveying dudes would be.
And about that co-worker dude. Yep, he’s being a creep and shitty to his girlfriend, your friend.
Were I in your position, I would email or tell him something like:
Yes, it’s pretty awkward to tell your girlfriend’s friend that she’s beautiful. It’s also pretty awkward to tell your co-worker that. I strongly prefer to keep my personal and working lives separate, so I don’t go have drinks or outings with anyone at the company, including you. Thanks for the message and the invitation, and I hope you and [Friend] have a wonderful weekend planned!
It’s not your fault or your problem that this guy is a creep and shitty to his girlfriend.
Finally, a special bonus round suggestion:
I would like to recommend an online dating project for you. Not a find a boyfriend and couple up forever project (We at Captain Awkward Enterprises are fully cognizant that the rest of the goddamn universe is pressuring you to couple up and make with the babies. That pressure is not on you here. You are already a full and complete human being. Do whatcha want!). This is more of an assertiveness and flirting practice project (for science! YouScience!). What I’d like you to do is spend a month on a dating site, and go on three or four first dates with guys or gals outside your friend group. Find out what it’s like for you when you are on an Official Date. Find out what sorts of rules you have that you didn’t expect you had. Heck, maybe even scratch a Dating Horror Story notch in your cocktail chatter belt. At the end of your project (either the month or 3-4 dates, whichever you choose), delete your profile and go back to being single if you like! It’s for science!
Whether you do the project or not, good luck out there.