#407: Was I “leading this guy on” when I asked him if we could be friends and then he suddenly showed up where I live?

Smeagol looking scarily enthusiastic.
If you had met up with your ex that day, this would have been the expression on his face. Still feel guilty?

Hi! This is very sweet, right? But don’t spring it on someone the first or second time you meet them. Friend-date people for a little while and if you’re meant to be friends you will totally figure it out.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I ended my first romantic relationship earlier this year. I’m in my early 20s, still in college. He was 10 years older than me. Long story short, we had met during the previous summer and had been attempting a long distance relationship. We talked constantly. Though he was needy and was borderline smothering me at times, he was sweet and fun. We finally met up again in early spring and everything seemed fine. Shortly after, he decided to tell me that he had slept with two other girls while we were apart. To get them to sleep with him, he told them that he had feelings for them. I was disgusted and called off our relationship. Still wanting to be amicable, I left the door open for a future friendship, but I told him that I needed some time. 

I wish it ended there. After a few months, I contacted him again. In a moment of loneliness and weakness, I wrote him a letter apologizing for cutting it off so abruptly. I also apologized for not being expressive enough-I’m not lovey-dovey and I tend to be shy about expressing my true feelings around men (Somehow, at the time, I felt that I had caused him to cheat on me-which I now realize was HIS decision. I have no control over his actions.) I missed him, and I wrote that I wanted him back in my life. Note that I never expressed any desire for a romantic relationship, and I had previously said that I wanted to be friends in the future.

After a month of casually e-mailing back and forth, he suddenly sent me a text message asking to meet me somewhere near my school. After a few texts back and forth, I found out that he had traveled cross country to see me, without warning. A trip to see me would have been long and costly. I panicked. Clearly, what he was doing was beyond being “friendly”. My entire mind and body seemed to be screaming: “Do.Not.Meet.Him!” I didn’t. I sent him an e-mail to leave me alone, and everything finally ended there.

I never wanted to start a romantic relationship again. I had only wanted to start our friendship over again. Was I leading him on? I’m still beating myself up over this. I hate that I had to hurt him, but at the same time, I don’t want to see him again. I felt that he was trying to pressure me into doing something that I didn’t want to do. He proved that he would always think about his own needs/desires first, not mine. But I still can’t justify my own behavior. Was I in the wrong?

Love Rookie

Dear Love Rookie:

Your former dude mistook your friendly email for a romantic gesture, so he made what he thought was a big romantic gesture in return, except really it was a stalkery gesture. That isn’t about you “leading him on,” that’s about a story he told himself in his head about what you wanted and about what would happen when he showed up. You say you felt like he was trying to pressure you into doing something you didn’t want to do. You felt correctly! He was in fact a “needy & smothering,” high pressure and manipulative guy! Who lies about his feelings to get girls to sleep with him, which constitutes actually “leading someone on!” You learned what he was like the first time you parted ways, and then you tried to give him another chance to be in your life as a friend, and he blew that other chance.

Lloyd Dobbler holding up the boombox of loserdom.
Maybe, after getting dumped the second he hit the UK, Lloyd Dobbler grew up and stopped being such a smothering, clingy weirdo. That’s not really Diane’s problem to solve, though.

You did the right thing by not meeting him. Your instincts, the ones that said “Aaah! Too close! Too weird! Don’t meet him!” were protecting you. Maybe from danger. Maybe just from an extremely uncomfortable confrontation with a guy who thought flying across the country at the drop of a hat was a normal thing to do. That’s the Gift of Fear at work.

I’m sure it was very hurtful to him when you did not want to meet him, but that’s not your fault. He set himself up for a fall and seriously overstepped your boundaries. Hopefully he will learn to save giant, romantic gestures for people who are actually interested in his giant, romantic gestures.

Since he has not gotten in touch with you since you asked him to leave you alone, I think you’re safe from further pop-ins, but it might make you feel better to block him on email & social media and see if you can block texts and calls from him on your cell phone. It’s one step closer to leaving him and everything about him entirely in the past.

I don’t think you did anything wrong here. You get to change your mind about people. You ESPECIALLY get to change your mind about people as a direct result of their actions. So why are you beating yourself up?

Well, there’s the whole idea of “leading someone on” to contend with.

I think it is cruel to deliberately toy with someone’s feelings for fun like, for instance, lying to them about your emotions in order to get them to sleep with you, which your ex-boyfriend did to people. That is bad and he should feel bad.

But what mostly happens is that people are in the middle of working out how they feel, or they haven’t figured out how to express their feelings. Maybe they want to be more into someone than they are, so they try to psych themselves up to date someone and then realize later that they aren’t that into it. They get put on the spot and don’t feel like they can say no. Or maybe they are just having fun flirting, or they have a different level of interest in someone than that person has in them at a given time. I’ve definitely really liked someone after one date and then not been so into them after date two or three, and I’ve definitely been on the other side of that, where I like them more the more time we spend together and they like me less. Navigating that stuff can be painful, and awkward, but it’s just part of being human.

Poster from 500 Days of Summer.
This movie has totally grown on me as a movie about the power of Wishful Thinking and Entitlement.

The badness comes when the other person puts on their Entitlement Goggles and runs everything you say through the Wishful Thinking Translator. The Wishful Thinking Translator adds deep, heavy meaning to all interactions. And it also translates things you say into things that the Wishful Thinker gets to have: Your time. Your attention. Your affection. Your pants.

Say you have a nice time hanging out with a new acquaintance or date, and this conversation at the end of that.

Other Person:Do you want to have dinner sometime?

You: “Sounds good. I’m a bit swamped at the moment, though. Can I get back to you next week?

Wishful Thinking Translator: “She promised to definitely have dinner with us next week. Time to start scanning Yelp reviews and making reservations.”

Say you remain swamped, stuff slips your mind, and you don’t actually call the person to get together next week.

Someone who really likes you but who is not using a Wishful Thinking Translator on what you say might feel a bit bummed, like, hey, maybe she doesn’t really want to have dinner. They might check in in a casual way, like “I’d still love to make a dinner plan, maybe on X day? Let me know when your schedule clears up.”

If you really like them and want to have dinner, you’ll probably reply and try to set something up. If you don’t want to have dinner, you’ll hopefully send a reply saying so, but if you don’t, both parties will figure dinner was not meant to be and drop it until you do get in touch.

Someone who is using a Wishful Thinking Translator is angry. You promised you’d have dinner, precioussssssss. You owe them dinner gollum gollum gollum. If you do not actually have dinner with them, you are a flake and a mean person who “leads people on.” They will come across as needy and smothering in trying to set up that dinner. And if you say “Oh man, I am so sorry, I am still really swamped” you’ll get a passive-aggressive “I BET YOU ARE” or “If you don’t like me, you can just tell me. You don’t have to LEAD ME ON like EVERYONE ELSE.” This is because when someone is speaking Wishful Thinking and the other person is speaking normal speech, refusals or failures to connect or follow up get sent directly to the Jerkbrain where they receive the worst possible interpretation. “She didn’t reply to my email or call me to arrange dinner = I AM HORRIBLE AND I SUCK AND NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME.

The bummer is, I think most of us have been on both sides of this interaction. Someone we like agrees to get “coffee sometime” and we pump our fists in the air because Coffee, It Is On Like Donkey Kong! And then coffee never happens, because OBVIOUSLY WE SUCK AND NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE US. If we react to the person from that place of extreme self-doubt & entitlement, our reactions will be disproportionate and weird. We will creep them out.

When you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s extreme wishful thinking, it can really mess with your head. A seemingly innocuous interaction will end badly and leave you feeling bad and second-guessing yourself. Like, were you being a flake? Do you lead people on? You’re a nice person, and you don’t want to be someone who leads people on, so should you just go out with them one more time to show that you’re not like everyone else? (No.) Or apologize in some way?  (No.) All they did was try to do something nice, right? So why are we so creeped out? It’s not fair!

A manipulative person will use that tiny bit of self-doubt to wedge themselves into your life. They can’t have your freely given affection, so they’ll appeal to your sense of fairness and desire to be a nice person who doesn’t reject people who make nice gestures, like flying across the country at the drop of a hat to pay you an unwanted visit. Gavin de Becker calls this “loan sharking”, and commenters here call it “favor sharking”: Doing something for someone that they didn’t ask or want you to do, and then acting as if it entitles you to a favor or time or attention or affection in return. When someone’s attention feels strange and unwanted, it’s important to cut through all the favors and expectations of niceness and ask yourself, bluntly: “Do I want to spend time with this person? No? Okay, then, let’s all believe in the no.”  Love is subjective and unfair. Manipulators will do almost anything to cut you off from asking yourself that question and saying a clear no. They will do anything to make it about abstract things like “fairness” and whether you “led them on” and what their expectations were. They want it to be very difficult to say no. Sometimes you have to cut people off in a way that feels quite cold and brutal, both to you and to them, and it sucks. But it’s better than staying involved with someone you don’t want to be involved with.

Remember this: It is not your job to anticipate and manage every possible iteration of other people’s feelings. It’s your job to figure out what your feelings are and be true to them.

And so often, accusations of “leading someone on” go hand in hand with male entitlement and slut-shaming. “You smiled at me/wore a pretty dress/have had sex before/have had sex with ME before/looked like you might have had sex with someone at some previous time/said you’d go out with me again/kissed me/fell asleep in the same room as me…..and I interpreted that as being some kind of written contract with my penis.” It’s a way of making someone else’s desire for you and wishful thinking about you all your fault, to try to guilt you into doing what they want. So if someone uses the phrase “You led me on” or “I bet you just lead guys on” or “Are you leading me on?” see it for what it is: EXTREME NO-GOOD RAPE-CULTURE BADNESS. It’s a neg. It’s designed to get you to spend more time with and/or sleep with someone who senses that you don’t actually want to sleep with them. It is, in the words of Admiral Ackbar, a trap.

You’re suggesting that you “led him on”, and I’m suggesting that you are not a bad person because you’ve internalized some of our fucked-up culture into your head and think that “leading someone on” is actually something that can happen without malicious, deliberate intent. Intent that you did not have, ergo, you did not lead anyone on.

The Death Star
Good news: Your self protective instincts are fully operational!

Letter Writer, this ex of yours sounds like a major manipulator, and I’m betting that he did a real number on your soul and you’re still sorting through the aftermath. I bet the way he treated those other girls is also telling about some ways he treated you. People like him are great at making you second-guess yourself. I’m here to tell you that his unplanned visit to your campus was not friendly, it was not romantic, and it was way out of line. I’m here to tell you that you were smart to break up with him, kind to want to mend fences, and extremely smart and self-protective to mistrust his motives and stay away from him. Your self-protective instincts are fully operational! Now what remains is for you to get the last of him out of your system.

Suggested steps:

1. Block him on every conceivable communication outlet. I don’t think you should have any more contact with him ever again. I don’t think you guys will ever get to a happy, friendly place where everything feels good, so make a completely clean break and do what’s best for you.

2. If you find yourself worrying about this, and cycling through memories and thoughts of him, stop and say: “There is nothing to forgive, but I forgive myself anyway.”  Or write that in a journal 1,000 times. Or write a letter to him that you don’t ever send. Do some ritual thing to make a break with the past.

3. Channel residual guilty feelings into being nice to people that you want in your life. Volunteer. Buy a friend pancakes.

4. Talk it over with a counseling pro. I think this guy probably got into your head in more ways than one, and it may take some time and a trained, friendly ear to get him back out again. If it’s affecting you to the point that it is messing up your moods and your life, it’s worth doing whatever you can to lay it to rest.

5. Be nice to yourself and spend time with awesome people who make you feel awesome.


Captain Awkward

203 thoughts on “#407: Was I “leading this guy on” when I asked him if we could be friends and then he suddenly showed up where I live?

  1. “Leading someone on” has such a deliberate and malicious connotation, that I think you need to use it very sparingly in your brain. It should be reserved for people who deliberately lie about their feelings to get someone to do something or be more invested in them than that person would otherwise be.

    But relationships are messy and people are messy. And you can get stuck in trying to figure out the rules, or feel stuck in relationships you don’t want if you don’t acknowledge that fact. In being messy and human in a relationship, you get to change your mind. It can be for a reason, or for REASONS, or for no reason at all. You aren’t stuck in a relationship that you don’t want just because “they haven’t done anything wrong” or for some bullshit reason like that. It isn’t leading someone on to realize that you don’t feel the way you felt or thought you might feel or wish you felt. It’s not wrong or bad or malicious to not want someone the way they want you to want them, even if you wanted them that way before… even if before was only 15 minutes ago. This is true for love affairs and for friendships and for sex. You get to change your mind at any point in any of these things without guilt.

    When someone says, “You were leading me on.” What they mean is, “I want you to feel guilty for not wanting what I want you to want.” But here’s the thing, you are in no way obligated to want the thing that someone else wants you to want, ever.

  2. Okay, this?

    “There is nothing to forgive, but I forgive myself anyway.”

    THANK YOU FOR THIS. I recently had a confusing friend break-up that I am slowly working my way out of. And, like, ten seconds away from this person, it was just SO OBVIOUS that they were gross and it was NO FUN being their nurturing, condescended-to punching bag and life was going to be WAY BETTER now that they had thrown a dopey gaslighting shitfit too massive for me to ignore or make reasonable-sounding excuses for.

    There is some cause for celebration here, because I know that early 20s me would’ve spent WAY longer with this person, and would still be engaged in some sloppy FEELINGSMAIL, but I have seen this one play out enough that early 30s me is so, so done. But I notice this thing I do that I didn’t fully map out into a pattern until what you wrote here. I start thinking about the fact that I had this friendship at all (maybe early 40s me won’t even start these things?), and I feel embarrassed for myself, and contemptuous, and angry at being so duped. And then, slowly, I start thinking about all the good times! Maybe it was me! Maybe if I had just said X more clearly! I am early 30s me so I know not to act on those thoughts, but I still have them, and I know they’re DUMB because this person was THE WORST, and then I feel more embarrassed at myself, and then more thoughts about how maybe they were nice after all, and on and on.

    And I think what’s happening here is that I want to think of myself as a smart, strong, good person, and I’m viewing the person who wanted to be friends with this individual as stupid, weak, and not worthwhile, because they’re so obviously awful. And since I don’t want to be that person, something has to change, and so my mind starts remaking it. They weren’t that bad! I’m blowing this out of proportion! We had good times! If all that is true, then I wasn’t a stupid person for hanging out with them! Except no, they were gross and awful, which means I am a stupid person. Wait, no, they weren’t bad, and neither am I!

    “There is nothing to forgive, but I forgive myself anyway” is such a perfect way to break that cycle when my thoughts get wrapped up there. I am not a bad person for having feelings and seeing the best in people and wanting goodness in my relationships. I am not a bad person for giving the benefit of the doubt. These are parts of my smart, strong, goodness, not deviations, and I have nothing to forgive for being a good person who wants friends and wants to care about people, but I forgive myself anyway.

    1. 1000 X YES to what you said. That statement resonated with me too – also in the context of some lingering guilt I had about ending a horribly draining and unhealthy friendship earlier this year. Mostly of the “how could I have let that person into my life” variety.

      It’s amazing how manipulative people can follow such an absolutely consistent playbook sometimes.

      The only way I found any peace was to just accept that getting fed up with people and irrevocably ending unhealthy friendships is just part of who I am. When someone repeatedly violates my boundaries, I will make an effort to use my words and tell them about it. When they keep doing it, I will banish them from my life. And I mean: banish.

      I’ve been ashamed of this personality trait for so long, and I really have made active attempts to move more slowly when making friends, or to proceed with caution when I see red flags ahead. I have many long-term, cherished friendships and in reflection, I’ve never banished anyone that I ended up missing later…there were no unappreciated diamonds-in-the-rough in that dustbin. So it has been really healing to accept the Blown Up Bridge as a personality trait of mine and just own it.

      1. If only that could just be part of who everyone was. It’s so damn hard, though. I hope you’ll get to where you can celebrate it instead of being ashamed.

        1. I have done this all my life. I have always been ashamed of it looking back, like it’s a weakness of mine that I ‘just can’t take it anymore’ and blow up. Now I am reconsidering. I’m pretty sure I haven’t thrown any diamonds in that dustbin either, come to think of it. Although, with a healthier understanding of boundaries, I find that many of these false diamonds now just drift away on their own because they don’t get what they want out of me, which is even better perhaps. Hm. I shall be thinking about this, thanks for posting!

    2. At the end of a relationship, it’s usually deteriorated to the point that you don’t remember the hopeful, happy selves who got involved in this thing, so there is a big cognitive dissonance. The answer to “Why did I put up with X behavior for so long?” is often “But for a long time, X was not a factor, or it wasn’t a dealbreaker. It only became a dealbreaker later, when the good feelings had eroded by comparison, or when it was a problem that felt like it was going to stay a problem instead of improving.”

      My friend Karen is great at clarifying breakup thoughts, and is always quick to remind me that of course it hurts – there is a reason that you loved this person in the first place, and you are grieving all the things you hoped it would be and all the things you hoped you would do. At the same time you’re really pissed off about the stuff that you ended the relationship over, and it’s hard to reframe crappy things that happened as “reasons I’m glad I’m not with that person anymore.” It can be an ugly, awkward time while your brain does that work.

      My friend Raymond, who has done some guest posts here, is brilliant for looking back at an old relationship and all the drama and anxiety and saying “Well, what matters is: I could have been happier.”

      It doesn’t have to be objectively awful to leave, just, you could have been happier.

      And if at the end, it feels objectively awful, remind yourself that in the beginning there was something you needed and loved about this person.

      And forgive yourself.

      1. This is pretty good and helpful. Because I am completely doing this false opposites thing — either this person was totally awful and I was totally shammed, or they were totally great and I should really be missing them. It can be a collection of all of that or none of that.

        This person had some qualities that I really liked, and when I get twisty about it, I start trying to convince myself that all those qualities must have been a lie the whole time, or that I was totally weak to let those small things overpower my good sense. Like I should be “strong” enough not to want those qualities so much that I make mistakes in looking for them. I should just, like, I don’t know, suck it up and never want things? I think that’s the end goal of the jerkbrain.

        But no, I just really dig those qualities and it was totally okay to dig them, and it’s totally okay to keep digging them, and it’s totally okay to admit that this person still did have those qualities even if they were just kind of yech otherwise. The yech just got too big and overwhelmed the good, but I can totally find somebody with those qualities and without the yech, instead of getting this false correlation embedded in my head the yech is always a part of these things that I like and thus I am stupid for liking things.

        I know some of this is elementary to you guys! But man, it’s good to talk it out. Thanks!

  3. Everything is well covered, LW. I just want to add something: Please don’t feel like you “have” to be friends with an ex, or that you owe them an apology for ending things abruptly. You can break up with someone for any reason at all.

    Finally, the only person who was leading people on was your ex. By his own lights, he led two women on in order to be able to fuck them. Which is shitty. You saying “I miss you” isn’t saying “I want to date you again.” If an ex sent me an email that I *thought* sounded like he wanted me back, I’d ask him what he meant. I wouldn’t casually email him for a month and then show up on his doorstep.

    1. You saying “I miss you” isn’t saying “I want to date you again.” If an ex sent me an email that I *thought* sounded like he wanted me back, I’d ask him what he meant. I wouldn’t casually email him for a month and then show up on his doorstep.


  4. Even IF your email had been romantic instead if just friendly, that doesn’t matter. You’re allowed to listen to those alarm bells at ANY time and halt all proceedings. Whether you’re just friends, dating, about to go to bed together or in the middle of sex!

    1. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Someone who thinks that stopping things when you want to stop things = leading someone on is trying to erase your will in the matter. They are saying that what you want is less important than what someone else has convinced themselves that you want. It is literally dehumanizing you in favor of someone who wants something from you.

      As a culture, we do it to women, especially young women, all the goddamn time.

      1. Yes. And you don’t owe anyone “an explanation” for it.

        It’s one of the Great Secrets of Adulthood. And it took me a loooong time to believe it (I still slip up and try to explain myself sometimes).

    2. And actually on a similar note, even if he made that trip NOT trying to get the romance (sex) back but just as a friend, it still doesn’t matter, just in case any casual visitors are thinking maybe he just wanted to be friends. Because you’re allowed to end any relationship for any reason, and honestly in this case it has benefits for both of you, because he needs to learn that this shit is not okay, and hopefully he does instead of shifting the blame. It’s creepy and scary behaviour that needs to end.

      1. It doesn’t matter if he made the trip as a friend. Many, many years ago, in cahoots with someone else, somebody did that to me. They all meant well, but it was still imposing and awkward, and I felt guilty for ages after for not appreciating the grand gesture.

        1. Right. Real friends would check with each other as to whether its ok or not. I mean, even just logistically! What if during your little “surprise visit”, your friend isn’t available? Working overtime? Mother is in town? On a last-minute business trip?

          To just assume and then impose yourself, uninvited, seems pretty crappy to me even if you aren’t creeped out.

          1. We were both students at the time, and the person she was in cahoots with was my mother, so there was a whole lot of Meaning Well and Technically Invited involved. We’d also never met in person before. But it was still a mistake, and would have been much more fun for everyone involved if it had been done openly.

      2. YES OH MY GOD YES. Because you know there’d be all this second guessing and “oh, maybe he doesn’t mean it that way” and insinuations that the LW must be totally egotistical to think that he is interested in something more than friendship, blah blah blah.
        Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter what’s going on in his head. Behaviour matters. Her boundaries matter. Everything else is irrelevant.

  5. Were you, at any point, brooding in your secret volcano lair, fingers steepled, monologuing to your flying monkeys about how you knew this guy was genuinely, deeply in love with you, so of course you were going to lure him to you at great expense and then brutally cut him off forever, moo hoo ha ha? I’m going to guess no, so you’re in the clear. You didn’t ask him to fly out. You didn’t ask him to get back together some day. You did establish clear, platonic boundaries. You did make it pretty darn clear that lying to other girls to get in their pants was a deal-breaker for you. You were pretty decent about the whole thing. He just went and fucked up in the hopes that you would hold that bag he so loves to fob off on other people. He was testing your boundaries because he knew they were there, and because he didn’t want them to be, and because he’d had some success chipping at them before. This is his deal. If anyone was scheming in a secret lair, it was this guy. He has a habit of it, as established with you and with these other girls (and, I think, by the fact that he is dating someone 10 years his junior; that is certainly not always predatory, but it sure seems like it is with him). He crossed the line and that’s not your fault, because you drew the line and pointed to where it was. I’d say you’re well shot of him, and I think it would be a great idea to talk to a counselor about this. He sounds like an insidious dude, and you don’t want any of his accusations lingering in your head as you move forward.

  6. Wow, your ex sounds like a real douchecanoe. Sharing that he’s cheated to make himself feel better and manipulate you as a bonus… great catch, that one. By travelling across country to see you he’s trying to get some nice shiny gold stars in relationship points from you. ‘I came all this way for you, the least you can do is sleep with me a few times!’

    He is trying to make a little apartment for him in your head and is now picking out the curtains and some nice lamp shades. This guy isn’t your friend, nor does he have normal boundaries.

    1. He is trying to make a little apartment for him in your head and is now picking out the curtains and some nice lamp shades.

      That right there is beautiful.

  7. If you need an idea for step 3 and you’re a dog person, you could volunteer to walk the dogs at your local humane society or dog rescue. They usually need people to help out, and you will be showered with lots and lots of uncritical doggy affection. Instant self-esteem boost!

    1. And if you’re a cat person, many of the same shelters have volunteers that spend time in the cat room, petting and socializing with them.

  8. I panicked. Clearly, what he was doing was beyond being “friendly”. My entire mind and body seemed to be screaming: “Do.Not.Meet.Him!” I didn’t. I sent him an e-mail to leave me alone, and everything finally ended there.

    Ohhhh, yeah, you did the right thing there. I went on several dates with a guy when I was in high school that went nowhere, and I broke it off because I wasn’t into him, and while he was usually nice to me he gave off a vibe I didn’t like, and was a bit possessive, and he was always atrociously rude to his mother and sister, which my mother had warned me once was a bad sign (yeah, she was right). Anyway, I broke it off with this guy, but said I wanted to stay friend, and he said he was okay with that.
    Problem was, I’d asked him if he wanted to be my date to my school formal (kinda like prom) and I didn’t really feel I could take it back. Then, on the day of the formal, I had really, awful, 40-degrees-celsius flu. I was sick. But since it was one of those landmark things I would regret not attending if I didn’t go, I somehow dragged myself along anyway.
    Instead of being a reasonable dude and allowing me to enjoy my school formal as much as was possible for someone sitting at a table being feverish and ready to pass out, Assbutt (as I shall now call him) decided to take advantage of the fact that I was sick, unable to think clearly, and didn’t have the strength to stand up to him. He spent the whole night leaning in close and harassing me to date him again, pointing out how happy the other couples looked and didn’t I want that, touching my arm, etc. In addition, he utterly ignored everyone else at our table, which was awkward and rude. After like an hour of this I felt trapped and uncomfortable, so I left the ballroom. One of my friends, knowing that I was really sick and being concerned about me, came out to see if I was okay. At this point Assbutt storms out, looking furious, looming over me and acting threatening, and yells expletives at me for embarrassing him by rejecting him in front of everyone (the phrase ‘how dare you walk away from me!’ was involved), while my friend stands there looking gobsmacked. It was humiliating. Anyway, too sick to have it out with him like I normally would, I made up some meek excuse about needing some air because I was sick, and he glared a bit and hesitated, but because my friend was there and looking shocked by him he went back inside the ballroom. I stayed outside for pretty much the rest of the evening.
    I spent the next three days in bed, and when I was a bit better I rang him and told him we were not going to be friends because he obviously could not handle that and I did not want to speak to him again, because he knew I was sick and at a disadvantage and tried to use that against me, and was really out of line in his behaviour. His mother apparently got the story out of him, because she made him sent me an ‘apology’ letter, which when I read it was full of vitriolic justifications about how it was my fault he had behaved that way because I lead him on – obviously I wanted the attention because I wore attractive clothes and was trying to use that against him to control him, blah blah blah.
    Six months later Assbutt rang out of the blue, all nice and congenial, like nothing had happened, wanting to meet up for coffee. I was so stunned by this that I kind of almost agreed, except that someone else in the household was listening to my side of the conversation worked out what was happening and told me to hang up on him. I did.

    1. I’d have been tempted to correct all the facts and point out the bullshit and then send it back to his mother. But I probably wouldn’t have because I was terrible at being assertive in high school. That really, really highlights the distorted thinking these guys have though – he deliberately takes advantage of you being sick and feverish to push something on you that you told him you didn’t want, and then gets mad when you still don’t want it! Like, what did he think would happen? Not only would you agree to go out with him again, but that later when you were feeling better and not being actively badgered about it you wouldn’t change your mind and you’d just love him forever?

    2. I really, really hope he got the flu after being all up in your grill all night. That is the very least of the things he should have.

    3. Yes, because all logic dictates that you’d TOTALLY throw yourself at someone who berates and yells at you in public. While you’re sick. And falling over. Because like, you TOTALLY got sick AT him for revenge or something right? Also – if you’re SO HORRIBLE and MAKE him do these horrible things why would he want to be with you in the first place? HOW RUDE HOW UTTERLY RUDE.

      Lord-Buddha-Allah-Universe-Gaea have mercy. My sarcasm-meter just broke. Good on you for hanging up on the wanker.

  9. The phrase “leading me on” when used in the “I am so entitled to your time and attention, even if YOU don’t want it,” makes me want to punch someone in the nut sack. LW, you have intuition for a reason, please use it. And yes, I would block him from social media, but I would leave his number on my phone for the simple reason of if you block him, and he tries contacting you, well, he’s been telegraphing his intent, and if you do not have an avenue of communication that you monitor, you won’t know what his intent is. It’s like in the Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker says that you shouldn’t just change your phone number, you should get a second line, and put an answering machine on the original number….and only give the new number to people you trust. That way, you are monitoring your resident Creepy Dude still, if you keep him in your phone and don’t block him. You know, via voicemail and text (and do not respond to any of them – if you ignore, ignore, ignore for 100 phone calls and texts, and answer the 101st, Gollum will know that he can get you to respond after 100 tries, so that’s what he’ll do, because that’s what you taught him by your response), what exactly Gollum is up to, because he will TELL you.

    I think he’s done, because you’re no fun anymore. But, on the off chance he’s not, monitor your voicemail and texts very carefully. Block him on social media. And always be aware.

    1. Yeah, the other reason for not deleting his number if you don’t go through the trouble and expense of blocking it is not accidentally answering it 2 years later when you’ve totally forgotten it and he calls you out of the blue to wreck your whole day. This is why my creepy controlling Darth is still in my phone, 4 years later… as “DON’T.” I second the above advice, with the addendum to delete his /name/ and replace it with either a reminder (right after the break-up, I needed it) or something that mocks his very existence.

      1. I like the idea of replacing his name with something that mocks his existence a lot. “Boundary Violating Asswipe Who Doesn’t Deserve A Second of Your Attention” has quite a ring to it, I think. Or possibly just “Gollum”.

  10. Stories like this reconfirm my pet theory that men (that is, straight, American men), are much more invested in and deluded by romantic movies ( that these same men like to deride as “chick flicks”) than women are. These “big romantic gesutres” are, imo, manipulation. Like, those guys that spring marriage proposals on women in public. It’s trying to force her to say yes, because everyone’s watching her and everyone wants to see a happy ending. Seems like the opposite of what you’d want to do to someone you care about, to me.

    1. I agree, and I think a lot of men really believe that all women become helpless and weak-kneed in the face of romantic-movie-type stuff. I have a couple of close male friends who are lovely, intelligent guys, but are CONVINCED that deep down I want someone to “sweep me off my feet,” when in reality the idea makes me gag. Anyone who approaches me as a romantic object rather than an equal can just forget it!

      1. “I have a couple of close male friends who are lovely, intelligent guys, but are CONVINCED that deep down I want someone to “sweep me off my feet,” ”

        Gracious. What an unpleasant concept. Not so much the sweeping, but the idea that “Every woman wants to be swept off her feet.”

        For me, it’s a particularly unfortunate phrasing. Years of practicing falls and grappling in karate taught me that if there’s on thing I hate, it’s being swept off my feet. I don’t even like doing arials or dips in Swing Dancing–suddenly all your momentum and whether you fall or land safely completely depends on another person.

        But yeah, if there’s one thing that sets my hackles up, it’s the idea that “EVERY woman wants X.” I’ve had a female friend of mine insist that, no, really, I did just want a big, tall, strong dude and lots of sex, I just didn’t know it yet. And also that I really did want to doll up and dress pretty because every woman wants to feel pretty, and if I did it once, with her tutelage, I’d see. We don’t hang out all that much.

        1. I feel like “we don’t hang out all that much” is the perfect ending to that comment. Understandable. /laughs.

    2. Some of the clingiest clingors who ever clung to me have been Brits, Czechs, and one horrible German named Martin Georg Weber. I will forever remember an evening I spent not looking at Weber because I knew that if I looked at him he would take it as a sign to move his moist fish lips onto mine, and he showed up at my dorm all the time in Prague uninvited and got very mad when I had security throw him out. Sorry, wounded entitlement + grand gestures + wishful thinking is not an American phenomenon, though I do agree that romantic comedies are just as influential on boys and young men as they are on girls. Terrible way to build a culture, really.

      1. wounded entitlement + grand gestures + wishful thinking is not an American phenomenon

        They’re definitely not American…! I shudder at the fish-lip German dude.

        My own “there’s Klingons on the Starboard bow” moment involved a British man of Polish descent whom I talked to once at a dull academic cheese and wine party and shared a joke about something I forgot about instantly, who took this shared joke as a Sign that we were Made For Each Other, and a few days later had found out where I lived, and managed to convince the porter in my apartment block to let him up to my flat because he wanted to deliver me a secret romantic surprise. Luckily that secret romantic surprise was only a hand-embroidered wall-weave of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz and not an assault, but still. Ugh.

        Creepy grand gestures born of wishful thinking and a diet of romantic comedies are truly international.

        1. See, that would be an amazing gift… if it came much, much later in the relationship. Big amazing gifts at the start of a relationship are always baaaaaaad signs. “WARNING WARNING! TOO INVESTED AND/OR TRYING TO MAKE YOU OWE A FAVOUR (PROBABLY SEX)!”

          1. Whenever I’ve met someone for a first internet date (so I’m meeting them for the very first time) and they pull out a “present” they’ve brought me, like say, a Mix CD or their feature screenplay to read, or a bunch of red roses that I have to carry around for the rest of the night advertising to all and sundry that “I AM ON A DATE,” my hackles go up. Either they are already thinking about me WAY more than I am thinking about them, or they are trying too hard in a way that bespeaks really low self-esteem, or something. Something is off. I never, ever, ever want that gift.

            Flowers are great when someone makes you dinner, or for no reason at all when you’re IN a relationship, but the first time it makes me feel like you’ve watched too many romantic comedies and are following a script that I don’t want to be following.

          2. @ Ms Pris,

            A gift is thoughtful when you genuinely think of how the recipient will feel upon getting the gift. Not just “This is cool and they will like it/me!” But genuinely think of the implications of said gift.

            We’ve got a guy in our crew who is…well, he’s a sweet guy, but sad as heck, really, bless his heart. And he was abroad for years. And now my friends and I tend to look toward Christmas/birthdays with dread where he is concerned, because for those occasions, he would send big, elaborate gifts, or lots of little ones. Usually both, really. Shipped abroad. And not once in the years that he was gone did I send him something for his birthday (Christmas just once, because he came back in for it). We don’t DO elaborate gifts in our crew because most of us have decent-but–not-great-paying jobs, so no one wants anyone to feel awkwardly obligated to respond in kind to something massive. Small thoughtful gifts or usually just secret Santas, that’s what we stick to.

            This guy… I mean, seriously, we’d open a box and just feel like lousy human beings. It was Too Much. Every time. It was…very sweet, and very well-meaning, more or less. It came out he’d been nursing a very unrequited crush on me for a while, so now those gifts take on an extra level of “Notice Me! And Like Me Back!” that borders on emotional manipulation.

            That’s not even sort of something that compares to, y’know, sneaking into a near-stranger’s home to leave them something special. It’s just my long-winded way of saying that a big, elaborate gift is only thoughtful IF YOU KNOW THE PERSON YOU ARE GIVING IT TO APPRECIATES THOSE KINDS OF GIFTS.

            (And also, I dunno, maybe after three years, just back off and send a card or something?)

    3. Not only that, but they frequently take home the wrong message from these movies! The interesting thing about that scene with Lloyd and the boombox (pictured above) is that his gesture doesn’t work. Diane stays in her bed and doesn’t come to the window. It’s only after he quits being a fly around her butt and leaves her alone for a while that she contacts to him. But I wonder how many people actually remember that part.

    4. Totally agree about the public proposal, or any other way of manipulating someone into saying yes. Not that I mind romance – my beloved and I have a very romantic relationship and have for years – but that sort of thing is awful. Worst example I can think of was slightly different, it was a Russian guy who faked being killed in a car crash to convince his girlfriend she really needed him in her life. Horrible, horrible stuff.

      1. Aaaah, that guy gave me the screaming horrors! Abusive, dependent, and manipulative to the max. There was not one single alarm bell that did not ring loud, long, and clear when I heard about that.

      2. Oh, I remember that one! My first thought was that I’d be dumping him at something slightly less than the speed of light for that stunt. Poor woman- can you imagine a life with him and the drama inherent?

    5. I’d say men in general, but otherwise, I agree.

      Also, we all vary in what we consider romantic in the first place. To me, Lloyd Dobler is annoying, not romantic- I’d be thinking about my neighbors having to listen to this nonsense in the middle of the night and end up curdled with embarrassment. I have the same feelings about any kind of public proposal.

    6. Sometimes I think that some of the guys watching those rom coms think they are the instruction manual for women or something. This guy in a movie did it, and HE got the girl by the end so this should totally work!
      Not remembering all the drama that was caused in the interim, but, if they are watching rom coms for tips, they probably aren’t all that observant or good at listening anyhow…

      I also know that there are women out there who think that all those romantic gestures found in rom coms are fabulous! But, I grew out of most of that by age 18.

  11. Just out of interest: Is this omnipresent “going on out for a coffee = date+possibly intimate body contact” metaphor something US- or English-speaking-countries-centric? I stumbled over this quite often in blogs lately.
    Where I live (central Europe), it’s perfectly acceptable to invite somebody to an espresso in order to – just drink an ounce of water shot through ground coffee beans and have just small talk. *scratches head, wondering*

    1. Going out for coffee is a low-key social thing, which is low-key in part because it can be a date thing or a friends-hanging-out thing depending on the people involved. It’s also convenient because it’s a way to go to a public place, have some tasty food, and then part ways (or go somewhere else together) without the time commitment and expense of a full meal, and without alcohol consumption and the greater background noise of a bar.

      So it can be a sort of a “Let’s go and get coffee and figure out if we want to call it a date or not at the end of it” shorthand, if you’re not sure if you’re both into each other or not. But it’s often a good first date even if you are sure you want to call it a date, because it’s a cheap way to spend time together in a public place that transitions well into “Hey, want to catch a movie together, if you don’t have anywhere else to be soon?” or “Well, this has been great, but I have to be getting back…” or whatever ending seems most fitting.

      Basically: it can be a metaphor for a date, or it can be just talking + coffee. In my life, it’s pretty much always for gathering with friends, or collaborating on writing somewhere more interesting than my living room, or otherwise unrelated to dating. But I think it is becoming the fallback first date for a lot of urban twenty- and thirty-somethings, at least.

    2. “Where I live (central Europe), it’s perfectly acceptable to invite somebody to an espresso in order to – just drink an ounce of water shot through ground coffee beans and have just small talk. *scratches head, wondering*”

      Yup, that’s what it usually is here, too. Getting coffee together is a normal thing for friends to do, and generally doesn’t imply anything beyond friendship. People often use it as a way to sound out someone they like and get to know them before formally asking them on a date, though, so it leaves room for Wishful Thinking. IMHO, coffee is just coffee until both parties decide otherwise. Foisting expectations on the other person due to coffee is really not called for.

    3. I think it’s also worth mentioning that inviting someone IN for a coffee (that is, into your home/bedroom/private space) is definitely a euphemism. It’s different from a date at a public coffee place, but I guess there might be some confusion since both are ostensibly about coffee.


      1. It CAN be a euphemism, but is not even close to always a euphemism for kissing/romance/date/sexytimes. Euphemisms by nature are in the delivery, not in the wording.

        1. Right, sorry. I meant to say more that going IN for coffee (or up, I suppose) and going OUT for a coffee aren’t the same thing, at least as I understand it.

        2. Agreed. I won’t invite dates in for coffee if I have no intention of having sex because I’ve learned that people assume way too fucking much (and if a guy pushes the issue, then it’s my fault for leading him on, what did I expect, everyone knows what inviting someone in to your place means). Of course, not doing this because of fears of assault/dudes taking it the wrong way is derided as “paranoid.” We cannot fucking win.

          I did have a joke with a boyfriend (now ex,but a good guy, who I vented to about this BS), “Look, just so you know, I’m inviting you in for sex. I don’t actually have any coffee at the moment.” He would joke back “NO COFFEE? YOU WERE TOTALLY LEADING ME ON I WANTED A DELICIOUS CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE.”

      2. I have actually been invited in for tea, late at night, which was obviously actually just tea. (Then it turned into not-tea, but to start with it was intended to be tea!) But the euphemism of inviting someone in for coffee/tea was recognised, with some amusement.

        OTOH, inviting someone in to see your etchings is a euphemism probably 98% of the time, at least in these parts. If you’re talking to an artist or art collector you probably want to make sure before you start stripping down though.

        1. …I kind of want to start collecting etchings just to be able to non-euphemistically invite people in to see them.

        2. Ooh, etchings is a euphemism too? Is it just etchings, or “wanna see my art?”

          Because wow, I may have sent mixed signals to some folks.

    4. Yes, “Wanna get a coffee sometime?” means what FlyBy and Beth B said.
      However, “Wanna come back to my place for coffee?” is usually a sexual proposition.

      The duality tickles me. Theoretically, a very successful coffee date at a coffee shop could end with one person asking the other over for coffee.

    5. It’s not a secret code for “a romantic date” in the UK, at least not in my experience. Coffee is the non-date beverage of choice. I used to go out for coffee with male coworkers a lot, and it involved talking shop over a caffeinated beverage in a cafe. OK, sometimes we talked about Harry Potter and Dr Who, but it still sure as heck wasn’t a date.

  12. Is this “going out for coffee” = “have date and possibly bodily contact” something US-centric? I’ve been wondering lately… where I live (central Europe), it’s perfectly acceptable to invite somebody on an espresso and just actually drink an ounce of hot water that has been shot through finely ground coffee beans while doing small talk or watch the other guests at the cafe. *doesnotfullygetit*

    1. MisMis, I’m a US native, and I don’t get it, either. I would like to believe that “do you want to get coffee sometime” actually only means “you’re fun to talk to, so do you want to do that while we drink coffee?” but my radar is very faulty for whether someone asking me that question actually means that, or whether there are greater expectations involved.

      And I avoid such engagements altogether because I just don’t understand what the implicit expectations are.

    2. It’s a regional thing in the USA I believe, since the USA is so big and full of different customs depending upon location. Another example would be the use of the words “honey” or “sweetie”. In California, calling a stranger “honey” or “sweetie” is considered creepy or condescending and generally directed only at females. But in the south (namely Louisiana for me), calling someone “honey” or “sweetie” is the norm, tacked onto the end of practically every sentence and used for both genders in equal amounts. Depending on location, “sweetie” could be a spoonful of Nutella or a wad of gum on the bottom of your shoe.

      The “have a cup of coffee” seems to be regional too; in larger cities more Northern (or just larger cities in general), there are generally tons of cafes and places to get a cup of coffee so it’s a more common thing. People see it more as a casual hangout than a date. In other places though, “going out” with anyone anywhere could be interpreted as a date.

      Then again, I agree with the Captain’s comment on Wishful Thinking Translators. A person with wishful thinking could interpret “Hey, you left your wallet behind. Meet me in front of the grocery store at noon to pick it up.” as a date. Mostly mentioning this because it has happened to me before (and it was awkward as hell to have a guy follow me around while I grabbed groceries).

      1. The first time a coworker called me “hon” I was completely [internally] freaked out — was he hitting on me? He knows I’m married, right? Then I realized that was just a regionalism, and all was well.

      2. I think “go for coffee” as a pre-date. Nothing much invested if you don’t like each other. Sort of like the interview stage of meeting people.

        I kind of dislike it in a way; while nobody wants to get stuck with someone horrible (or maybe they can’t afford it), I still think it’s nice to have a dinner first date sometimes. I figure at least I’ll have eaten something tasty so it won’t be a total waste if it goes badly.

      3. I live in Louisiana. I’ll take “honey” or “sweetie” from a woman, but it really bugs me from a guy. I’ll grit my teeth and smile if he’s a much older guy, but if you’re thirty or younger…no. Just no.

        I just really hate it because I know they wouldn’t say that to a man. (Whereas women will address men and women with an endearment.) I already get very little respect from the patrons at my job, and that little bit is enough to take away just a bit more, y’know?

        Heck, rule of thumb–don’t call anyone behind a counter one of those things. It’s a subtle reminder of who’s in charge (right up there with making it a point to read the name tag and address the person by name in a very smug voice) that no one needs.

    3. BTW sorry for double-posting, I had the impression WP ate my first comment without any feedback or error… *blush*

  13. Whoa! This guy definitely doesn’t come across as either trustworthy, safe or respectful. He clearly thought “awesome, she has said she forgives me, so I bet if I surprise her she’ll immediately want sexytime and a relationship,” or something to that effect.

    What you and I’m sure many other people are thinking “wow, presumptuous much?” Of course this guy may have taken a “well seeing as I’m here, you may as well invite me to your place,” approach to that and while I’m not saying he’s necessarily a predator, Listen to those instincts! He reeks of entitlement.

    “I like you so much, let me remove your spine so I can move in and we can be closer than ever. Forever.”

  14. You were emailing back and forth with him for a month. You viewed those emails as friend-mail. That means that you wouldn’t have said anything that was explicitly romantic, and presumably if he had you would have mentioned. The kind of person who emails back and forth for a month with no explicitly romantic discussions and then flies across the country to see you without warning is never going to be happy with your behaviour unless you’re doing exactly what they want – they are willfully seeing things that aren’t there because they aren’t willing to accept that they’re not. People like that can even see repeatedly saying no as leading them on, because you kept talking to them, so that just means you’re playing hard to get, right?

    No. No, it does not. LW you acted completely within the bounds of normal human behaviour. Your ex did not. Your ex is wearing a three-piece suit of tiny red flags sewn together and a massive red flag cape. He is telling you that you can’t trust him, almost literally, and you did completely the right thing. It’s not your fault that you missed him and expected him to act like a functional human being, don’t blame yourself for that. That’s completely reasonable. He’s ten years older than you, he should have learned how by now, and being able to forgive people is a really good trait to have. It’s just sad that some people take advantage of that and then society blames you for it.

    1. I am laughing at the suit of red flags with the giant red flag cape. This should be a thing on Regretsy.

      1. Like, I would draw an army of little Captain RedFlags and they would pop up EVERYWHERE. They would be behind the sofa and one of them would be in the bathroom minding your toothbrush and there would be one sitting in your car keeping the seat warm and another one would be on automatic doors that insist on opening whether you want them to or not.

  15. LW, him just showing up is incredibly creepy. There are very few people I know who could get away with going “Hey, I just travelled a really long way to see you, let’s hang out now!” and certainly none of them are exes. And actually, I think none of them exist. I’m running through people in my head who I would give a “Oh cool, be with you soon” response to and I think it might be no one. Yeah, it’s no one. Of all the people I love and care about in the world, I would be quite freaked out if any of them did that.

    That’s not even getting into the fact that your ex is a megadouche. You did the right thing by not seeing him. You did the right thing by cutting contact. I recommend you go for giving yourself some permission to be angry at this dude and enjoy thinking for a while on what a fucking idiot and a creep he is. Talk to Team You about how this guy cheated on you, you told him you might be able to be friends with him, and the creepy fuck flew across country without telling you and just turned up in your town. Your friends will laugh and call him pathetic and creepy and it’ll make you feel a lot more validated in your decision to not see him.

    1. Either of my sisters could do it, where it not for the fact that we all live within a few kilometres of each other. Anyone else? Nope. Nope nope nope. That’s just creepy. Also really impractical – who would think they could drop in unexpectedly and that you’d not have any important plans already, that you’d drop anything you could drop, or try to get short notice time off work, or whatever else? There’s this huge assumption that you’re just sitting around with your life on hold, not doing anything else of importance.

      1. I think the sort of person whom you wouldn’t mind if they just turned up on your doorstep unannounced is by and large the sort of person who wouldn’t do that. And that’s not a coincidence.

    2. Yeah I’m trying to think of people who I’d be cool with doing that to me, and at first I was like “oh, I guess if X or Y did it” but then I realised those people all have family in the area and thus wouldn’t be turning up unexpectedly on my doorstep so much as happening to be in town and wanting to hang out, which is completely different.

      I think thegirlfrommarz is right on the money – the sort of person who you’d be fine with doing it? Wouldn’t do it. Yeah.

  16. Just thought I’d mention that the captain’s advice holds true for more than just romantic partners/love. It also applies to friends and family and basically anyone you interact with.

    1. I was feeling the same thing. I had to cut out a chunk of friends after college, because I realized I was letting “friends” get away with shit I would dump a romantic partner for without hesitation. Reading the words of wisdom here has really helped me clarify that that was an ok thing to do.

      1. I ended up cutting out nearly ALL my friends after encountering the good Captain, because all of them were either randomly cruel or friend-zoning themselves* which is 0% friendly. I’m making new friends now, and I don’t feel shitty about myself after I see them! It’s awesome!

        *the friend zone is a thing, but only because they made it a thing.

          1. Psh, I would de-friendzone anyone who used that phrase and meant it. My Friend Zone is an awesome place full of comfy sofas and excellent food and video games and watching old-skool TNG and doing Riker impressions and in-jokes and hugs and tea when you are sad and going on adventures and tons and tons of love. Anyone who thinks that’s some kind of second-best gets evicted immediately

          2. Ahaha yeah, seriously. What kind of person thinks “oh no! not more friends! quick, get out of this place, people are FRIENDS here!”

            The answer to that is probably: someone who needs more friends. But also not someone I want to be friends with.

      2. Yes yes yes! I have a problem with letting family do things that I’d never accept from friends. But when I stopped talking to the Jerk Relatives I’d feel so guilty….. ’cause they’re FAMILY. It took a few years to realize that no, actually, sharing a few genes does not mean you have to put up with someone’s BS.

        1. My grandmother has at times mentioned that she’s thought about just “hopping on a bus” to come visit me and my husband at our home. Six hours away. I think I made it clear to her that that wouldn’t be a good idea, but if she ever DOES do it…. I’m going to remember this comment.

    2. I was just thinking “the only person who has ever, EVER, without warning, flown across the country and ambushed me is my boundary-crossing asshole father.”

      I can certainly think of situations where I would find that sweet! (Like the time I was at a work thing near my mother-in-law and was going to visit her — which she knew about — and my husband flew up to come with me as a surprise for her.) But…they are pretty few and far between, and ALWAYS involve someone who would have a reasonable expectation that I would love to see them, because we _already have a relationship where that is OK_, not because one of us WANTS a relationship of that kind.

      1. The one time someone’s just shown up for me was really nice, but it was all about the context surrounding it. It was my first year at uni, which was an 8-hour drive from home, and it was going to be the first year my family wasn’t around for my birthday. I had mentioned to my mum that I didn’t have any plans for my birthday and didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone at uni that it was coming up. My birthday came, and I was having the worst day (I don’t even remember why), and then my mum shows up right at the end of my shift at work and takes me out for dinner. But she did two important things; in retrospect, I realised she had asked for my timetable on that day, and she brought along her best friend (who is a family friend), so when later that night one of my friends showed up with brownies and yelled at me for not mentioning my birthday before, I could spend time with her without feeling obligated to entertain my mum.

        My mum tried to pull the same stunt the next year with my sister, but I guessed a week in advance what they were planning. It was just as nice when it wasn’t a surprise though.

  17. Wowza, you didn’t do anything wrong by a longshot. He clearly has boundary issues, and honestly, when you take a trip across the country UNANNOUNCED to see someone, you take on all responsibility for what happens. Yes, the way you handled it ended the relationship, but that sounds like a good thing that you are happy with so… no problem, right? When he showed up, you weren’t excited, you were frightened. This doesn’t sound like someone you really want in your life. So don’t feel bad about it one speck, if anything, maybe he learned a valuable life lesson about taking other people’s wants into consideration BEFORE spending a bunch of money trampling all over their life. So congratulations! You are free! He is not your problem anymore and you don’t have to worry about how you rejecting his huge, boundary-violating, weird intrusion into your life might affect him! I would just move on and feel thankful that this weirdo removed himself from your life.

  18. Captain has nailed it again!

    Look at it this way, even IF your emails had been romantic and even IF you had actually wanted to get back together with him. travelling cross-country to turn up unannounced isn’t, despite what romantic comedies and the like will have you think, a wonderfully romantic move. It’s creepy and over-the-top and WAY too fast! And presumptuous. What, didn’t he think you might actually have stuff going on that you’d need to reschedule? Didn’t he care?

    When someone’s romantic interest in you is an interest IN YOU, they care about your input. They’ll call ahead to ask if you feel like meeting up on X date.

    When someone’s romantic interest in you is an interest IN THEIR OWN WANTS, they’ll show that pretty clearly in how they treat you. Just like your ex, here, did.

    1. This is great and needs to be amplified.

      You get to change your mind at any time, for any reason. A lot of times the idea that a woman “led someone on” is used to erase her basic humanity and will. Whatever she wanted or didn’t want becomes invisible as we invest in his interpretation of events. Witness the recent clusterfuck of awfulness at the Good Men Who Only Rape People Sometimes Project. (Not linking – if you don’t know, and you want to read some SERIOUS BADNESS, look it up yourself). This whole thing is bullshit and we need to fight it.

      1. Good point — it’s like the whole cock-tease, blue balls kind of crap, that if you start something (a.k.a. explore stuff with a guy) you’re not allowed to get off the train until the guy decides it has reached its final destination.

        In both cases, it’s all about making you responsible for his expectations, even though the real problem is his attitude of entitlement, in which your consent is presumed (or just unnecessary).

  19. Also, remember that this is a guy who does not hesitate to lie to get into pants. It is entirely possible that he traveled across the country for an unrelated reason, but pretended it was a Big Romantic Gesture specifically for the LW, because he thought there might be a chance of pants-time. Which is a different flavor of manipulative weirdness from being stalkery, but it is still something to stay away from.

    1. I’ll go you one better: it’s entirely possible that the jackass was NEVER EVEN IN the same city as LW. The whole communication was via text.

      1. Regardless of geographical location, though, one thing stands true: this sort of behaviour is terrifying and Not Okay.

        Good on you for doing what you did, LW.

  20. Yeah, traveling across the country: huuuuuge case of kind sharking (I think that was the term, which was used … anywho …). If you would have, implicitly, accepted his actions as something that’s okay by meeting him, I’m pretty sure you would have felt guilty (or he would have made you feel guilty) about this ‘nice’ gesture in the future. Only that it isn’t a nice gesture when you don’t ask the person you are traveling to beforehand. Instead it’s trampling all over your boundaries–and trying to guilt you into further interactions.

  21. Oh, what you said about people’s different levels of interest, and changing feelings- Ding! sudden clarity! This exactly points out what is bothering me about my mom’s new relationship. She just met him, has known him for a week, brought him to the family Christmas party. It’s like she’s all in, and I’m thinking, you just met the guy? She keeps saying “He’s nice.” Well, that’s a good start, I mean, he doesn’t kick puppies as a hobby, hopefully there are some other qualities there.

    Anyway, LW, you sound spot on. Your instincts are right, and creep-o was taking absurd steps. Like you cracked the door open to say Hi and he barged in and started hanging out on your couch in his underwear. No Thank You. It is ok to cut people out of your life that are bad. Dude is bad.

  22. I’m trying to think of a circumstance in which “I drove cross-country to see you without notice” isn’t creepy and weird, but I’m drawing a blank. Even if you wanted to restart the relationship, that still requires some major league ground-setting, especially after what he pulled the first time. Life is not a romantic comedy where you show up at their door with flowers, music plays, and everything somehow magically works out. This is pretty much all on that creeper.

    That said, if I were you, I would have shut the door on ANY possible future associations after the grade-A scumbag moves he pulled while you were still dating. “Needy, smothering liar” isn’t really in the profile of people I’d like in my life in any form. I’m a big fan of the scorched earth tactic, but I only learned that after getting screwed over and played a few times. It may or may not be for you, but it sure has cut down on my interactions with slimy jerkoffs. Burn the bridge, take a picture, and send it to them in a postcard with “WISH YOU WERE HERE” captioned.

    1. I think inside established relationships, it could have a place. Like, you’re in a long term relationship and you get a sudden break in your schedule, and you have good reason to think your partner is not otherwise occupied and would welcome you. Good reason like your partner saying, several times, recently: “Oh I miss you so much, I wish you were here! I wish you could just appear in my living room! I don’t want to wait until next month when we can actually afford the airfare!!!”

      (And even then you have to be prepared for something like “Ummm…. I have opera tickets with my sister….” or “I agreed to work tomorrow” and be ready to entertain yourself for some of the visit.)

      It’s just that LW was never saying anything like that. She didn’t call and say “Please come to my town! I need to date you again! What would really make my day would be you telling me how I feel and then we have sex!”

      1. Yeah, if you’re definitively with someone, and they have expressed a desire to see you, and you are showing up with no pressure on them to entertain you/disrupt their schedule, that could be endearing and nice. But that hypothetical is so far from the LW’s situation, it’s not even close to visible. “I miss talking to you” is about as noncommittal as it gets for those of us not using a Selfish Weirdo Decoder Ring.

        1. I planned that once with a long distance relationship. I managed to figure out his schedule without him noticing anything about my plans. In the end I couldn’t get to his town, but I told him about the plans. He was very sad that I hadn’t been able to make it. That is so completely different from what’s happened here though.

      2. I think the question to ask before making the trip is, am I not telling them because I’m afraid they will say no? If the answer is yes, then don’t go! If there is a chance they will say no, then it becomes an act of manipulation – “It’s a surprise! It will be romantic!” rather than “It’s a surprise! I’m a stalker!” Unfortunately, these are thoughts that should be directed at the friend, not the LW.

        1. Problem is, I don’t think the creepy people can be trusted to answer honestly. After all, they’re determined that they and their target are wonderful and happy and perfect together and all that stuff the person said about final exams or having to work crazy hours or really enjoying their full social life with their new friends or being so busy they barely have time for personal hygiene was just noise. “She couldn’t possibly have meant a visit from ME would be unwelcome! Inconceivable!”

          1. “She couldn’t possibly have meant a visit from ME would be unwelcome! Inconceivable!”

            Dear Creepy Stalker,
            I do not think that word means what you think it means.

          2. They fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never travel cross-country to visit someone as a romantic gesture unless you’ve checked with them they want you to come”.

        2. > am I not telling them because I’m afraid they will say no?

          This is really good. There were times in my teen years when I did that — took a longish bus ride (like, 15 miles, not across country) to some friends who were sharing a house, and just turned up with plans to stay the weekend. It was so cute, wasn’t it? No, no it wasn’t. It was needy and slightly manipulative and I’m really lucky that the times I did this, folks were home and with no plans to leave AND none of these slightly-older friends told me that I really should just go home again.

          A few years later I was reflecting on those friendships and had this sudden realization of what I had been doing. And it was exactly this: I wasn’t giving them a chance to say “no”, because I was so afraid that they might.

      3. I knew a married couple where one had a long-distance job. One weekend, they each informed the other they’d be busy and unable to visit. Each bought a plane ticket to the other’s city and ended up equally alone for the weekend.

    2. Full disclosure, in 1996 I took a bus from DC to New York City to “surprise” my college boyfriend even though we’d agreed to break up after graduation. I showed up at his place first thing on a Saturday morning, ready to have a fun surprise weekend in the city. Surprise!

      It was intrusive and creepy as hell, and we broke up for real because of it and didn’t talk for a long while. I cringe when I think of it. I thought I was totally romantic and fighting for my love, when really I was just impinging on someone’s really busy grad school schedule.

      1. This actually makes me feel a whole lot better about a fair bit of what I can now look back on and admit was pretty obsessive, stalkerish, Queen of De Nile behavior in my youth.

        So where *did* the whole idea of rom coms as being the standard of Love Conquers All narratives start from? I’ve never ever found them appealing; but films like Year Of Living Dangerously, where Lust Breaks Down the Door of Repressed Soulmatiness have probably not been so helpful in real life situations…………

    3. I nearly drove cross-country to visit a friend who’d just been through a brutal break-up although she hadn’t asked. She was hurting a lot, and I was in the middle of summer so I had no classes and nothing I couldn’t work on from elsewhere. I was planning to get a hotel room, in order to ensure that if she wanted privacy I could be nearby but not expecting her to house me after I’d shown up without an invitation. There’s a slight creep factor to this, but if it’s a best friend rather than a romantic partner I think that makes it a lot easier.

      1. Yeah, I think it is a lot easier to be uncreepy when you’re not dating the person in question. My mom’s sisters flew out for her 50th birthday as a surprise, but they had also worked with my dad to see to their accommodations beforehand, and had asked me about fun stuff to do when they were left to their own devices. That’s about the only instance of appropriate surprise-visiting I can think of in my own life.

        1. Yes. My mother flew across the Atlantic Ocean to surprise my aunt: but the surprise was “I’m coming to your low-key courthouse wedding after all,” and she didn’t expect to stay with my aunt.

          Rather, Mom called me and said “Can I sleep on your couch this weekend?” and I blinked and said yes (and then she bought the airline ticket). She stayed here, and my aunt was surprised and delighted to see her: but not only are they sisters, and close, she had been invited. “I changed my mind, I’ll be there” and no expectation that my aunt would host.

          1. A friend of mine did that for her mother’s 75th birthday party. No, I won’t make it. She flew in two days before the party and was planning to show up at the party. Her mom died the first day she got there, and to this day she wonders if she’d have lived another two days if mom knew daughter was coming and in fact in the country.

          2. My mother and I did something similar for my aunt’s 50th. It was a surprise party, and she lives in another state. She really thought her birthday would come and go with just a nice lunch with a friend or two because everyone else lived elsewhere. My mother, my grandmother and I arranged to stay with another relative.

            It’s one of my favorite things we’ve ever done because of how happy it made my aunt. We surprised her with a nice lunch.

            Not with houseguests. That’s just… I dunno, I’ve been raised with too much Catholic shame to ever try that. But surprises can be nice.

      2. Yeah if a good friend did that for me I’d be really touched. It has a lot of elements of thoughtfulness built into it, firstly that you’re wanting to do it because of something happening in HER life, secondly that you had plans showing recognition that it was an imposition, etc. The really key thing is to have that established relationship, I think. When you have that you can change other circumstances, but if you don’t have that it’s never going to not be creepy.

    4. My “person who thinks rom-coms are real” experience was kind of backward from most of these: Many years ago in my even-more-foolish-than-now youth, I started sort of semi-date hanging out with a friend from work. And when I use that weird hedgy phrase, that’s because that’s what it was. A few vibes of “is this going somewhere,” but it had NOT gone there yet … and then he abruptly CANCELED a two-week trip to Europe, about which he had been previously speaking very enthusiastically, so he could stay home and hang out with me.

      This was decidedly NOT a romantic gesture. It was a)creepy and b)wastefully stupid. Go to Europe, for bleep’s sake! Send me a sweet email or two while you’re there, come back with a cute present and stories of your travels and tell me that you kinda missed me and let’s hang out more. But don’t put it on ME that after two or three instances of semi-date hanging out, you are soooooooo swept off your feet that you can no longer proceed with any of your own previous life plans.

      1. Ahaha, yeah actually in a recent relationship, a minor contributing factor to us *getting together* was that even though we’d been sleeping together and vaguely talking about dating, I decided out of the blue to go on a month-long trip overseas, and she liked that I didn’t put that on hold for the prospect of a relationship with her.

  23. LW, I totally sympathize with trying to figure out how you contributed to the situation. You ended up in a really uncomfortable place with your ex, and you’re looking for how you can act differently in the future to not end up in a situation like that again. he acted badly, but you can’t control his actions, just your own, so it’s very very tempting to work on changing yourself.

    don’t do it, though. as women, we’ve got a lifetime of socialization telling us that it’s our job to manage other people’s feelings. it’s such a bullshit part of the culture we live in that we feel responsible for this stuff, because it really is out of our control. You didn’t do anything wrong. You just acted like a normal human who expressed your feelings as you had them to another human being.

    If he exhibited some red flags that he was not good at respecting boundaries, maybe the lesson you can draw from this is how to recognize those red flags in new people. Unless that’s the case, though, there’s really no lesson for you to learn. Unfortunately, you ended up with a not great guy, but fortunately you got out of a relationship with him. The best thing to do is to put him out of your mind and move on.

    1. “It is not your job to anticipate and manage every possible iteration of other people’s feelings. It’s your job to figure out what your feelings are and be true to them.”

      THIS! THIS! THIS! And figuring out our own feelings and how to be true to them is hard enough!

      1. “And figuring out our own feelings and how to be true to them is hard enough!”

        Most definitely. I have a terrible problem of doing things based on what I think people want/need.

        It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to start seeing my OWN feelings as important and also the only thing I can really DO anything about.

        You didnt lead him on LW, you did what you had to do to stay safe

  24. When I was a very young 19 year old, my First Real Love broke up with me. I didn’t have the tools to really deal with all the FEELINGS and I didn’t have the experience to really get outside my own head, and was quite the pest to her. I remember that, one day, I hoped maybe she’d call me (we were pretending we had already gotten to the point where we could still be friends). She didn’t call, but that’s ok. It was just my hope. But the next day, I thought, Ah! Maybe today she’ll call. No. She didn’t call me the next day or the day after that, or the one after that either.

    But my Wishful Thinking Translator went into overdrive. When I did finally see her a week after I’d first hoped she would call me, I nearly bit her head off. I mean, how cruel! She ignored me for a whole week!!!11!!1!

    Then I heard what I’d just said. Oy. The bright light of reality is a great cure for the WTT. Thankfully, I was dreadfully embarrassed by what I’d done and learned — quickly — to disengage the WTT, or at least, to shine some reality on the results when the Translator does kick in.

    1. I’m thankful I never entered any relationship before my friends made me realise that I was a victim of the Wishful Thinking Translator. I mean, I interpreted everything as a sign. We held eye contact for 0.7 second, it’s a sign! We brushed elbows, it’s a sign! No, it’s not a sign. A sign would be a positive answer to “Wanna go out on a date?”

      [A few months ago, I commented 3 or 4 times using a different nick, but I really hate it now. I hope it’s OK I changed]

      1. Ahaha this comment sounds like it could have been written by me. I think a lot of people fall into that trap, especially as teenagers, but I was particularly bad. The silver lining is that my high school diaries are HILARIOUS to look back on.

        Fortunately, in addition to an overactive Wishful Thinking Translator, I was also always an extremely upfront person. I’d spend maybe one or two weeks being convinced that ~everything was a sign~ and it was going to be a ~big dramatic love story~, and then I’d be like “hey, so you’re cute, wanna date?”

        I got rejected a lot. Like a LOT. But on the upside, I did not spend a lot of time pining. And I feel like getting rejected a lot in high school is good practice for the rest of life /laughs.

        1. Oh, I’m not afraid I might have been rejected. It would have felt bad, but it woud’ve been even worse to enter a relationship in that state of mind. The wishful thinking never stops. One month into the relationship, I might have thought ‘this is it, we’re meant for each other FOR ALL ETERNITY’. (Yikes. Scary, I know.) That’s the kind of thing that sets up a pretty dysfunctional relationship.

  25. This reminds me of something that happened two years ago, when I was recently single and doing the whole OK Cupid thing.

    I had been chatting with a young man for a couple of weeks, and we exchanged texts. We arranged a date, which I was excited for. Except- O NOES- disaster! On the day of the date, my boss had an emergency funeral to go to, and her back-up babysitter was unavailable. I agreed to fill in.

    Upon texting the young man the sad news, and asking when another day would work.

    Cue epic text-tantrum. “Do you even WANT to meet up?” “Why would you even agree to go on a date if you’re just going to string me along like this?” “Did I say something to offend you?” “What’s your fucking problem?” “I bet you don’t even have a job and are just making this up because I’m too much man for you to handle.” <—- Seriously, that last bit is practically tattooed in my brain for all time.

    Eventually I texted him back, saying something to the effect of “You know what? Never mind. Let’s not reschedule. Let’s just not go on the date after all.”

    After a few texts of "BUT WHYYYYYY~~~~?!?!?!" he eventually got the hint.

    Point being, the tie the Captain makes between rape culture and this weird "BUT YOU OWE ME" attitude definitely exist. And for future reference, if this sort of thing ever happens, just see it for what it is: A nice big red flag to take seriously.

    1. Ok, that third paragraph is all screwy because finals week has eaten my brain. It should read,

      “Upon texting the young man the sad news, I then asked when another day would work.”

    2. Wow, I think I might have gone on one date with this same guy! [SPOILER: it was really, really, REALLY not worth it.] Or, possibly, they are all reading from the same script.

      He freaked out at me online after the date when I didn’t want to see him again, and for some reason I continued to engage him in argument for several hours to convince him that NO I AM NOT GOING OUT WITH YOU AGAIN. I am not sure why “Did/Do you even WANT x?” (with the implied “Or were you just LYING to me?”) is supposed to convince me to date you, dude. Yes, my secret hobby is jerking local OKCupid guys around before deciding not to date them! It’s just such a productive use of my time!

      1. I honestly have no clue what these men want us to say to them. “No wait, you’re right, I am SUCH a bitch! Please let me take off my pants for you ~right now~!”

        I actually ended up posting this story over at my friends “what not to do on OK Cupid” blog, over at http://femalederection.tumblr.com. I’ve… made a lot of contributions there because for a while I attracted some seriously troubling dudes.

    3. Geez, you had to reschedule ONE time and he went all RAWR on you?! Dodged a bullet, you did.

      1. I know, right? It was bizarre, especially since the tone of my text was like, “This is a bummer but I still totally want to go on a date!”

        Homeboy does/did not respond to perceived-rejection well, at all.

    4. Oooh – that JUST happened to me recently! I got overwhelmed with some Stuff for Reasons – and sent a nice text saying I was sorry and perhaps another time? He sent me pages and pages of texts – first negging me, then outright insulting me, then the plead/beg and then telling me how much of a shitty jerkface jerk I was for not responding. After the first Neg-text I had told him, thanks but no thanks – and goodbye.

      He actually continued having the whole convo with himself for two days afterwards (and was kind enough to share after I had long stopped responding) until I blocked his number and reported him to the site.

      Jedi fist bumps of solidarity!

  26. LW, I get such a spooky, icky feeling about your description of your ex. A guy who sleeps around while you and he are in a relationship is rotten, but lying about his feelings? Then dropping everything and swooping in from across the country? (shudder). I think you dodged a bullet. He sounds like some kind of serial killer. Don’t let him jerk your feelings around any more. He’s got you doing his dirty work for him, making yourself feel bad about not falling in with whatever plans he had for the two of you. Weird, creepy, ugh.

    1. It actually keeps nagging at me that he TOLD her he lied about his feelings to get girls to sleep with him. Quite often (I won’t say usually because I can’t back that up) when people confess cheating and want to continue the relationship they’ll play down their actions. It’s like he was testing her reactions, wanted to see what she’d do, or something. Like “how much will you let me get away with?”

      1. I was in a relationship with a super manipulator once and he told me that it was so easy for him to get his way with people because he was upfront about being manipulative. He called it ‘hiding in plain sight’ and explained that if you tell people you are being manipulative they think you can’t possibly be doing it to them because you are disclosing, just like when he told people he was a fascist or misanthropist they thought he was joking because no one would say that stuff if it were true. Needless to say he was manipulating me (and was actually a hate filled fascist) and even though he’d told me all this stuff it took me a while to see it. (And like the LW, I was in my teens/early 20s and he was 12 years older.) I hate talking about this, but it feels like it might be useful information to share.

        1. Uuughhh. I knew a creep like that. And he went one better, talking about how no one should ever sneak up and poke him or anything because this one time, he seriously almost clocked a girl for doing it before his friend stepped in. It’s an “automatic reaction” and we’d been warned. Yup.

          Guys who tell you something truly horrific about themselves like they’re bragging are just a bag of dicks, and they’re still somehow hard to see through. My very very smart friend was involved with this guy, and yeah, it took her awhile to see it too (I think the only reason I cottoned on a quick as I did was because I was on the outside and super-protective).

          Sorry you had to deal with that creep, but good on you fro seeing it–they’re weasels, and you now have weasel-detecting skills.

          1. We could be talking about the same guy. In fact, I wish we were because that would mean there was one less supercreep out there.

            He used to sleep with seriously scary weaponry down the side of the bed and issued similar such warnings about not sneaking up on him. Sometimes when someone’s behaviour is so extreme it’s harder to see it for the red flag it is, or to know how to respond, especially as those guys often prey upon young/inexperienced/vulnerable people who, no matter how intelligent, are less likely to stand up for themselves.

            I’m glad your friend had you looking out for her. And huzzah to weasel detecting skills! I’m not quite sure if the price was what I really wanted to pay, but the lesson was a valuable one.

          2. On the whole, I agree. But this thing about reacting violently when people sneak up on you and poke you? May also be a symptom of having been abused, bullied, manhandled too many times. I do tend to have a very straightforward physical reaction to that. Because when someone started with that, they’d go on to do much worse. Much, much worse.

          3. Apoidea Theorem, I completely agree and apologise wholeheartedly if it felt like I was making that reaction seem inherently sinister. In and of itself I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a (somewhat proportional) violent reaction (for whatever reason) to people touching you without permission. However, to clarify, what I was talking about was the use (appropriation?) of that reaction in a wider programme of abuse and manipulation to control others, instil fear, and condition the idea that violent reactions are the victim’s fault. Certainly in my case it was never presented as ‘I really don’t like this and sometimes react very instinctively, so please don’t trigger me’, it was disclosed to me as a threat and a way of normalising extreme behaviours by hiding them in plain sight. Again, I’m sorry if what I said was insensitive to your situation which I can very much empathise with.

          4. Manatee, I see what you mean – I’ve been dating that guy too. He thought it made him very cool and interesting. (Spoiler: It didn’t, really…) It’s very frustrating to have something that resembles PTSD appropriated by people trying to use it to make themselves cool, or to abuse others.

      2. I think it might be that Master Douchecanoe actually thought he WAS downplaying his actions. Like, ‘So I slept with these other women, but I totally didn’t FEEL anything for them! It’s only YOU that I love, those other women, psshh, I just lied to them. I never betrayed you in my heeeeaaaaaarrrt…’

        It doesn’t matter anyway. Either way, he’s still a massive Darth Asshole.

        1. AAAAAGH it’s my ex-husband.
          GAAAGHHHH it’s my ex-husband.

          Whether it’s internalized Wishful Thinking or externalized desliberate manipulation, this kind of exceptionalizing is still a form of gaslighting/manipulating reality. “I just lied to those chicks for sex, you’re different because we’re in Lurve.” “I only manipulate people who don’t ultimately matter to me.” “I tell you what I’m doing to those people because I think you’re smart/clever/”in” enough to get it.” “It’s us against the world, baby.” NO NO RUN AWAY.

          1. Oh boy mine too! “I broke it off with her because it’s wrrroooonngg to cheat on my wife and I looooove you!” Until the next girl came along. Lather rinse repeat.

      3. Oh my god, I couldn’t stop coming back to that too! Like, “I didn’t have feelings for them” is a pretty common line when apologising for cheating, but it seems PRETTY WEIRD to accompany it with “even though I told them I did!”

  27. I know the Captain already said all of this. I am just reiterating.
    The behavior in this letter is not ‘leading him on’.
    He misread your intentions, took a big risk, and drove cross country. And that risk did not pay off. You definitely don’t owe him anything. Good for you LW, for not caving in to the pressure to meet him in person.
    You are allowed to change your mind, or say no at any time during a relationship (or friendship). And doing so, is not ‘leading them on’.

  28. Wow – we could almost have dated the same guy. The same much older, long-distance, boundary-violating, wishful-thinking guy…

    When I broke up with mine, I floated the possibility of being friends “someday.” (Although, had I had the Captain’s advice at the time, I would not have done that.) He was very quick to reply to that with “OK, how about now?” I said OK, but I really didn’t think I could handle seeing him in person for at least six months. He said that he was booking a trip to my city the next month, and that there was nothing I could do to stop him from doing that, and that it would be really nice if I could have lunch with him to “say goodbye.”

    For some reason, I agreed, and we met for said lunch, and when I turned to go home, he threw a fit. He thought, he said, that I was planning to spend the day with him. He proceeded to badger me by email for the rest of his time in my city, asking if we could meet up again (to say goodbye some more, I guess?) – and when I refused, he called me a slut.

    So, just know that you are not the only one to have had a run-in with an entitled asshole who will try to help himself to a mile when you give him an inch, and try to heap the blame on you when things go awry.

  29. This is the plot of “The Guild” season 1, right? Also close to the plot of an old song by Velvet Underground.

    It shows up in art like this because it’s so common. Some years back I came to a slow realization – that a lot of guys think perfectly ordinary, friendly behavior by women is a secret signal that “she is totally into me, dude”. This came after several conversations with male friends who, after a mutual female acquaintance had left the party or gathering, would tell me “she was flirting with me the whole time”. In none of these cases had I seen any flirtatious behavior on the part of the woman being talked about, and I would shake my head in confusion. “No, she totally wants me, I can tell!” they would insist.

    If, like me, you peruse the relationship section of Yahoo answers, you can find this phenomenon taken to appalling extremes, Yesterday I saw someone who was trying to get people to agree that his female coworker is into him because two shifts in a row she said “I’m hungry” as they were closing up the store. This utterly perplexed me. But then I thought about it and realized yes, “Wishful Thinker” totally reads that as “She’s hinting to me that she wants me to take her out to dinner and start dating her!” This is so far-fetched it’s laughable, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me afraid of saying or doing anything around men I am not interested in at all, because if saying “I’m hungry” to a co-worker makes him think he is hearing “I want in your pants”, there’s NOTHING safe to say.

    I feel bad for guys who aren’t like this, because the high number of men who ARE like this ruin it for you all.

    1. if saying “I’m hungry” to a co-worker makes him think he is hearing “I want in your pants”, there’s NOTHING safe to say.

      “OMG, she’s totally into me, man! She’s so nervous she can’t even talk around me.”

    2. “This is so far-fetched it’s laughable, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me afraid of saying or doing anything around men I am not interested in at all, because if saying “I’m hungry” to a co-worker makes him think he is hearing “I want in your pants”, there’s NOTHING safe to say.

      “I feel bad for guys who aren’t like this, because the high number of men who ARE like this ruin it for you all.”

      ALL of this. I am sometimes actually afraid of trying to have platonic friendships with men my age because of this Nice Guy narrative that’s floating around out there like a really terrifying cautionary tale except not actually a helpful one. *shudder* Yuck.

    3. I can tell if someone is physically attracted to me. I can’t tell if they want to act on it or not though!

    4. While I definitely think women do this too (I should know, as I said earlier I used to be appalling for it), I wonder if perhaps in guys it’s partially symptomatic of the idea that men are supposed to be the pursuers and women are only supposed to flirt and subtly indicate interest? Like, if women aren’t allowed to SAY when they like someone, then presumably to show their interest they do have to use secret coded signals. Men assume they’re supposed to be looking for them because otherwise how will they know if the woman is into them? It’s not like she’s going to actually USE HER WORDS or anything /facepalm. Yet another reason to hate gender stereotypes.

  30. No, you were NOT leading him on! The core element of “leading someone on” is INSINCERITY: making them think you want things with them that you really don’t, to make them give you stuff (material things, sex, more of their life) that you know they wouldn’t be inclined to give you if they didn’t believe it was part of something bigger. Is that what you did? No.

    You liked being with him, so you were with him. When you decided (for damned good reason) you didn’t want that anymore, you told him so and got out. When you missed him and wanted him in your life, you said so (having already said as a friend), and entered a friend-level exchange of emails. When he showed up uninvited and you didn’t want him there, you said “aw hell no, go away!” All good, honest communication. Not insincerity, not manipulation, not leading him on. Acquit yourself!

    The Captain is right: your ex is a master manipulator who tries to make other people (particularly you) responsible for his feelings and actions. But nothing you did could REASONABLY be understood as an invitation to resume a romantic relationship, much less to travel cross country without so much as a “would that work for you?” The responsibility for that “misunderstanding” rests squarely on him and his Wishful Thinking Translator, which would have translated anything less than a restraining order and a bodyguard as encouragement. With people like that, anything about other people’s wants, needs, interests or LIVES — or that sounds too much like “no” — gets translated as “bzz bzz bzz.”

    The only thing I would suggest for the future is that you practice giving the side-eye to any “friend” who is purposely making you feel bad. Ask yourself, “What’s up with that? Am I REALLY responsible for whatever crap he/she is putting on me? Or is this person maybe being a manipulative jerk? What kind of person deals with their friends this way?” Make a rule for yourself that you will give freely when it feels right and joyous, but that when people try to neg you into shit the answer will always be no, even if it is something you would have been happy to do if they’d just said “hey, would you do me a favor?”

    1. “The core element of “leading someone on” is INSINCERITY: making them think you want things with them that you really don’t, to make them give you stuff (material things, sex, more of their life) that you know they wouldn’t be inclined to give you if they didn’t believe it was part of something bigger.”

      I had a friend once who totally fit this description. She was in her early 20s and the guy in question was slightly younger and extremely socially awkward. She allowed him to drain the college fund his parents had painstakingly saved up over the years in order to rent her an apartment and buy her a car, knowing full well that he was doing it because he wanted to date her, which never happened. THAT’S leading someone on, not normal behavior like being friendly/having coffee/agreeing to hang out/etc.

    2. “The only thing I would suggest for the future is that you practice giving the side-eye to any “friend” who is purposely making you feel bad. Ask yourself, “What’s up with that? Am I REALLY responsible for whatever crap he/she is putting on me? Or is this person maybe being a manipulative jerk? What kind of person deals with their friends this way?””

      Pro-tip everyone: friends want to make their friends happy! 😀 That’s the whole point of having friends, isn’t it? To lean on each other when you need it and get support and cheer each other up?

  31. What’s that acronym Dan Savage coined? Oh yeah. DTMFA. That’s what I’d say. He’s no friend, he’s a cheater and a stalker.

  32. A lot of the Captain’s response reminds me of explanations I’ve given of why the Bruno Mars song, “I’d catch a grenade for you,” is creepy, gross and manipulative.

    1. I hate that song!!! So glad I’m not the only one. This chick clearly never asked him for that kind of self-sacrificing devotion, and the idea that she’s wrong for not being into him because of this is a really, really entitled notion. I change the station every time it plays on the radio.

      1. It always sounds to me like he wants to act out some creepy Romeo & Juliet ‘let’s leave this world behind together’ thing, and the girl he’s singing to was justifiably freaked out by the idea that commitment, to this guy, means being willing to face torture and suicide – he lists out all this awful stuff he’d do to prove he loves her and then adds ‘but you won’t do the same.’ Well… no, dude, and any sane woman you asked that of would run screaming.

      2. The “romantic” song I do really like is Crush by… that one lady singer from some years back. “It’s just a little crush, not like I faint every time we touch.” It’s so moderate! It charms me. I find that far more appealing than epic self-sacrifice. I would much rather casually date the lady who has her own life and doesn’t need my obsessive devotion.

        1. I am delurking to say I just looked up this song… “Crush” by Jennifer Paige and it is awesome. “Not everything I do depends on you”. Perfect for my current crush, which is the first one I’ve had that is pleasantly mild instead of distractingly distracting. A good sign, maybe.

      3. Yeah – Natalia Zuckerman’s “Loved Like That” is an excellent riposte to this kind of thing.

    2. Whenever I hear that song, I think “what kind of AWFUL WORLD do you live in, that catching a grenade for me is EVEN A THING?”. A couple of years ago I heard a DJ spoofing it, singing things like “I’d walk your dog for you; I’d wash up your dishes right now” and pointed out to my husband and brother (also in the car) that the “spoof” sounded way more helpful, useful and frankly more attractive. Who wants people with grenade fantasies when there’s someone who’ll walk the dog?

  33. “You’re suggesting that you “led him on”, and I’m suggesting that you are not a bad person because you’ve internalized some of our fucked-up culture into your head and think that “leading someone on” is actually something that can happen without malicious, deliberate intent. Intent that you did not have, ergo, you did not lead anyone on.”

    Thanks for this bit. I worry about leading people on *all the time*, to the point where I can’t always even be myself because I’m afraid I’ll be “too friendly” and give someone hope when they haven’t got a chance. It totally sucks.

    1. I’m coming out of lurking mode just to say I love that comic! Defintely a good one to post here.

  34. This! A million times this.

    About this time last year, I went out on a few dates with a guy. We met online via OKC, but it turns out we had been following each other on the Twitterz for a while. Anyway, He seemed quite nice and interesting and stuff. I was interested in seeing him again after our first date.

    But then shit got weird. We went out one night to a film and I realised that I was not attracted to him. AT ALL. And he kept like, being all octopus like and not picking up on the signals that I was totally not into him.

    I tried to end it as sensitively as I could. He kept CALLING AND CALLING AND CALLING and sending so much FEELINGSMAIL

    He accused me of leading him on. I had kind of accepted that well, even thought I didnt mean to, perhaps I had. I felt bad about it. And to this day he makes veiled references to what a shit person I am on the interwebs.

    Thanks LW, for writing in about this and thanks CA for such a great answer.

    So FU dude that has basically turned into a men’s rights activist and blames me. Your guilting of me is EXTREME NO-GOOD RAPE CULTURE BADNESS.

    So I will not give you another thought, guy.


  35. The more I think about this, the angrier I get. People like LW’s ex are counting on a combination of social pressure and our insecurity to take advantage. I.e. every person who proposes if front of a big audience. How easy is it to say no when you’ve got a bunch of strangers hanging at your word?

    Call it romantic all you want – that is deliberately making it harder for the proposee to say no.

    YMMV of course, these are my two cents.

    1. Having once been on the receiving end of such a marriage proposal, I completely agree. I was also very VERY drunk, I got made stand ON A BAR, while a friend videotaped the whole thing. Thankfully, because I was so drunk I don’t remember it as clearly. But nearly nine years on, I still can’t listen to My Immortal without cringing.

    2. Like that Russian jerk who was in the news, who faked his own death before proposing, because, direct quote, “I wanted her to realise how empty her life would be without me and how life would have no meaning without me.” |:(

  36. Here’s a question: HAD THIS GUY ORGANISED ACCOMMODATION FOR HIMSELF? The LW mentioned it was costly and long for him to travel so presumably he wouldn’t be able to just tun around and go home. And if he hadn’t organised anywhere, just where did he think he would be sleeping? Hmmmm? I can bet if the LW had met him he would have pulled a line like, “but where am I going to sleep? you’re not going to just abandon me, are you?” Which is being a manipulative dick and making his idiocy her problem

    Seriously LW, well done for listening to your instincts. That could have been anything from a horror movie to an awkward conversation over coffee.

  37. I have a friend who did something like this. He’s a nice guy (not a Nice GuyTM) but he’s not very good at reading social cues. He met someone online and there was a lot of flirtation, and he decided to surprise her by visiting (he was apparently “trying to be more spontaneous”). He texted me about this plan and I immediately rang him to say “NO WAY DON’T DO IT, THIS IS GOING TO TERRIFY HER!”. Unfortunately he was already on the bus when he decided to text me, so it was too late… They did meet, it was rather awkward, they had no real-life chemistry, but are still friends; however, she told me (we are now also friends!) that it totally freaked her out.

    What struck me at the time was that he didn’t even consider how his desire to be spontaneous trumped her weekend plans and put her in a really difficult position. It was all about him and not about her. As far as I can tell, it was entirely unintentional on his part, but that didn’t change the consequences for her. On the plus side, I am sure he will never do it again!

  38. Yay for Lord of the Rings reference! Totally agreeing with Captain here, you didn’t lead him on in any way and he should have waited for you to say “Let’s meet up” before making a ridiculous gesture like that. It sounds like you were just working through what you felt about him because you were lonely and he was important to you once.

  39. Hi Captain Awkward, Alpha Kitty, and the Amazing Awkward Army!

    LW here!

    You are all wonderful, lovely people. Thank you so so much for your comments and encouragement. I’ve really been distressed about what happened and your support means so much. It’s become so easy for me to drown in everyone else’s needs and desires that I often forget my OWN needs and desires. You’ve given me the courage to reassess the way that I approach my relationships.

    I’ll keep sticking to my guns!

    P.S. Captain, you had me at Gollum. So fabulously perfect.

  40. This story really called home. I was in a similar situation this summer. I felt very angry with the whole situation, and also, I had this situation in which after being accused by the guy a”leading him on”, his tantrum was reinforced by a third person which should have known me better. To follow the comment of Our Captain about very mistaken translation of guys about what it is being said by their female friendships, here is a link of interest (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=men-and-women-cant-be-just-friends).

    My story goes as follows: at a friends’ wedding (last year) I got introduced to this guy. My friends gave me good references and encouraged that we should be friends, so we exchanged emails and FB. My male married friend told me about how the guy had difficulties establishing friendships and he, my friend, would appreciate that I had patience with the guy. I really appreciate this friend and he was telling me the guy was ok, so I thought that making this new friendship was ok. During the next five months I was completely absorbed with finishing my PhD project, and he lived in the other side of the continent (I visited his city just for the wedding), so all contact (mostly mails telling me how he did his job and or how he had steadily problems to socialize) was only through the internet. When I got my first job and things got quieter in February, suddenly there was the realization that he was ALWAYS online, liking my posts in FB within 20 minutes after posting and making comment which sometimes weren’t related (he said that as self-employed he always had internet on). Also, he turned to be rather paternalistic and dismissive: making fun of things I did not know, saying aloud that he had not got a PhD, but… please… he knew better, pointing to the fact that I was female and that well… you know about how women behave. I pointed that to him and his reaction was in the line “nobody understands/likes me, I am no stalker, I will never get how to make friends, buahhhh…”. So, he sulked a lot, stop commenting for a while, but increased again interaction progressively.

    At some point, I got so angry after one of his remarks that I told him not to contact me for a while and deleted him in FB. His response was to post in his blog, making easy recognizable references to me, accusing me of only showing interest when I needed something, and visiting other blogs I followed, leaving comments in the line “you have a follower that is manipulative, selfish, etc” to make sure I read them. I must say that over the months before he sent me images, links and such that he was sure were of my interest. I think that, in his mind, those were “accumulating points” or sending the message “I am a great attentive guy”, but the message did not work because I do the same for friends, colleagues or even people that I don’t know. Had I known about this, I would have stopped him dead on his tracks, Anyone who only does favours when awaiting payment does not deserve my respect.

    After his posting around (plus some hate mail that laid anonymously in my inbox), I was so angry that I needed to consult someone, so I phoned the married couple. My male friend said that he understood my reaction, but, when I spoke with the female friend, it turned out that the guy was using her as a confident, and told her that I was the first true love in his live (he was 40ish). She directly called me stupid for not getting that the unlimited attention, which I thought was just him… being him, was some kind of flirtation (come on! we only communicated through internet and never gave a clear move!). She literally said that everything was my fault because I had been playing with his feelings, and made a hint in the line that I had no good reason to think evil of the guy and that I should relent a bit with him. It was a clear example of guilt-trip confabulation, because I had several of these conversations with her meanwhile the guy kept posting alternatively about how much he wanted me to contact him again and how an undeserving bitch I was because I neglected contact. Even since, I got to know that my female friend assessed the guy without her partner knowing… and that she did not want the partner to know.

    The last straw was that he got a cousin of mine, who lives in his same city and visited me when I was beginning to feel at peace, to bring me a present, which I did not accept. I sent him an email explaining to him why he had upset me so much and why I did not want him to contact me again. His answer was that it was HIM who was cutting ties with ME, because I was so paranoical. Funny enough, I still cannot feel that I acted wrong, or that I encouraged him. I never felt any attraction to him (really, not my type).
    The backdraw of this story is that I have the feeling that I lost these two friends. She took it really personal, and he sent me an email saying that he appreciates me a lot, whatever happens, and he hopes that I will be successful in life and be happy. It sounds rather final…

    1. Wow…..okay, basically it sounds like they felt sorry for him and decided to “hand you over” as a friend. You totally get to decide to be friends with someone and when that person starts acting like a sexist misogynist douche, you totally have the right to decide that you don’t want to talk to them anymore. Come on, some mansplaining idiot go would actually think “yeah, I know you’re studying this but I’m a man and therefore know more than you because of reasons.” That alone would make me think “wow, y’know what? thanks but no thanks.”

      But for her to turn around and tell you it’s your fault is disgusting. It’s like “but you’re supposed to be totally tolerant of everything he does and if you don’t like being disrespected and treated like crap then you’re a horrible person.” Women are always socialised to give someone the benefit of the doubt, let offensive comments slide. Well why should we? This guy sounded like a fucking wanker, and you’re well within your rights to not have to communicate with him because he has so much trouble making friends. Jeez, wonder why. Heaven forbid anyone would consider the problem lay with him for being a creepy stalking ass.

    2. If this topic ever comes up again with these people and you want to smooth things over, here’s your script: “I tried my best to give him a chance, as you asked, but alas not everyone is destined to get along!”

      I’m super-pissed off at the wife’s assumption that because he decided to fall in love with you, it must be something that you did to cause/encourage/enjoy it. Nope. Nope. Nope.

    3. I definitely don’t think you did anything wrong, either. And the only encouragement going on was your “friend” encouraging the creep to believe only his feelings matter, that the object of his so-called “affections” doesn’t get to have an opinion on his & her compatibility. Yuck.

      Good riddance to the creep and the creep-enabling wife. Sorry you’re losing the male half of the couple as well (that did sound kind of final); he doesn’t sound as delusional and as entitled on the guy’s behalf as his wife. But he clearly doesn’t have your back, either. Understandable in the sense that his wife is the one to whom he has made a lifetime commitment, and I suppose this might not be where he’d choose to make a stand… Though seriously, she was waaaay out of line and should be apologizing for putting you in such an awful position, not criticizing you for having some standards!

      1. “But I want you to get with him so our friend can have a girlfriend, how dare you go against my little fantasy so Lonely Awkward Friend will have a companion who puts up with his shite.”

        You are allowed to choose not to like someone based on their behaviour!

    4. Thank you all for your feed-back! I left for my home country the day after I posted my comment and could not check in between, but when I saw your comments a moment ago they really cheered me! I must say that I had settled down the whole issue (I was in remembrance mode, last time)… until a few days ago. I must correct something I recently discovered: my experience doesn’t come close to the LW’s situation. I even feel a bit out of place updating here. Sorry that I vent this here.

      After my arrival home, I had a conversation about the whole adventure with my mother and she seemed to have gotten a bit of insider knowledge ever since through my cousin, who was annoyed enough to ask questions. She skipped telling me because she knew I needed time to get over the online hate mail and others, or I would achieve the farthest level of wrath ever. She is wise… The last thing I needed was to handle the guy’s delusions and, additionally, Female Friend’s secret bad temper.

      Surprise! It seems that Female Friend had always disliked that I was in so good terms with Male Friend. I guessed he mentioned my name once too many, even when we neeeeeeveeeeeeer had anything going on between us: I have known him only as Female Friend’s partner. So, when the common guy friend (originally Male Friend’s colleague) showed interest on me, she decided to encourage him even when she knew I would never tag along (or maybe because of that). Otherwise, would I have fallen in love with him, she would relish on the fact that she got rid of the grievances of the guy. She made sure to keep his interest telling him that I was single and feeling alone and that my loneliness drove me to be “easy” with guys. He must have thought that with small tokens and his attentions I was going accept him no matter what. This is unheartening: she tampered with my reputation and it isn’t even that she liked the guy (although Male Friend did)! I was angry with him; now I still resent him, but also pity him, because he is thinking that she is his best friend as she took his side in the conflict.

      And me? I am enraged and hurt and momentarily doubting on my capability of assessing people’s real intentions. I mean: I could swear she appreciated me. She seemed to care. She was the one who handed the wedding invitation over, dammit! How can somebody pretend to like someone he/she really dislikes over seven years until he/she has the chance of dismissing that person with such malice? It’s so… like high school!!! Come on: you are in your 30ish! You don’t like me: tell me!!!! You don’t like me being pals with Male Friend: tell me again and I will do my best to avoid frictions (he is your husband first, my pal second)!!! And also, don’t be such an hypocrite and spare yourself the pain of sending me a Christmas’ card after weeks ignoring my mails and calls just to show that you are the “good one” here! It’s exasperating!!!

      So, it seems, Dear Captain, that I won’t get the chance to apply your advice. Thanks nevertheless! In my opinion, she doesn’t even deserve an African violet! I took the resolution to never contact Married Couple unless they contact me willingly, and even then I won’t be able to act fully friendly. I know they will complain about me cutting ties “unrightfully”, but I have achieved the conviction that Female Friend will translate each of my actions into something she can take advantage of. So, either I keep the appearances (and lose my dignity) or I cut with her and her stupid behaviour before she has the chance to put me into another similar situation. And I choose myself here.

  41. Not like you were at fault, but I think even staying friends with him was too much of a honor on your part. A friend is someone you can TRUST and who helps in trouble. Not a selfish, demanding cheater.

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