#581 There is no way to know in advance what will happen to your heart & #582 But sometimes there are things you can do to protect it.

A warning sign: Danger Crush Points with a graphic of a hand getting crushed. Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like to ask for your opinion of a situation that is currently happening in my life, hopefully whatever you may say might give me another perspective.

I have a crush on the most gorgeous boy, my family friend and we’ve always been friends. He had a crush on me once, years ago, but now the tables have turned and it’s me who has these feelings. I just adore him, it’s the same old story.

There’s this other girl, one of the popular girls and she has a boyfriend who goes to another school but that doesn’t stop her and said boy from flirting all the time. She’s just all over him all the time and he is too, but all of my friends say that they’re just good friends and that’s it.

I just want to know, from the outside, without knowing all of the
information it may seem like he likes her, and I feel that way also, but I
swear sometimes he steals glances at me, we laugh and joke together
sometimes, he like obnoxiously sings songs to me in class to make me laugh (and he succeeds) and he’s shy around me, even though he’s one of the popular boys and he’s seemingly cocky and confident all the time. 

He’s so much different around his friends and it’s in those moments when we’re together at each others houses that I feel like maybe something could happen. These feelings I have for him, I just feel it in my stomach and in my heart. I want him so badly it hurts.

Captain Awkward, do you think anything could ever happen between us?

Because I would really like to know, so I could know if all this wanting
is for nothing. All I want is something…..anything.

Love, Eleanor x

Dear Eleanor x,

There is only one person who knows the answer to this question.

That person might like the other girl.

He might like flirting with the other girl but also like you (or someone else).

He might just like flirting with everyone and not like anyone in particular. Or, it may not have occurred to him that you might like him so he doesn’t quite see you that way. Attention from cool people feels good, there’s nothing wrong with him enjoying it.

Watching him like a hawk, reading all of his laughs and smiles and glances like tea leaves, and speculating on his desires are not going to get you closer to figuring out his feelings, but they are going to get you more invested in an outcome that may or may not happen. Trust me, you can spend years in this headspace, ignoring all other people who might be cool romantic partners, obsessing over the slightest changes in his facial expression, boring your friends with another analysis of “the way he leans” and yet getting no closer to putting your lips in the neighborhood of his lips.

What would happen if the next time he was at your house, without his friends, you said something like “I am developing a crush on you, is that weird?” or “Do you still ever think about us getting together?” and then you talked about it?

One possibility is always that he says, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” Which would be embarrassing in the moment, but then you’d at least know what’s going on. You could take a little time to regroup and then go back to being friends. Your friendship survived his crush on you, why wouldn’t it survive this? Reminder, when someone tells you that, it’s best to say “Well, that’s sad news, but I had to ask” and then back off.

There are other possibilities, though. “Let me think about it!” “REALLY ME TOO ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ <3”

I want you to think of everyone you know who is happily, mutually in love with another human. Your friends. Your family. Then think about everyone in the whole world who is in love that way. Every single one of us had to navigate an awkward moment like this. Someone had to be brave and say the thing. There might have been hints and signals leading up to that moment, but no one was ever sure before they took the leap.

Hope and courage and love, Miss Eleanor.

"You know that tingly feeling you get when you like someone? That's common sense leaving your body."

Hello Captain,

This seems like such an common problem that I was surprised there hasn’t been a post about it before – but then, maybe it’s so commonplace and everyone but me handles it fine so it doesn’t need a post.

Your column has helped change from a “build the crush up in my head” Firther to someone who Uses My Words and asks people out when I first become interested in them. Sometimes they say yes! Other times they say no but I’m still better off than I would have been had I let the crush fester! I can’t thank you enough for your advice on this topic over the years.

Yet now I have a problem. Over the past few months, I’ve developed a crush on this fellow, whom we’ll call Fellow. Fellow is in a serious, monogamous relationship and has been for several years. From my outside perspective, they are very happy together and likely to get married. I have no desire to negatively impact this relationship.

Fellow and I have been acquaintances for years, but have recently started talking more and have become Actual Friends within the past few months. We talk online quite a bit. We don’t see each other in person often but we got to hang out at a nerd event this weekend. Apparently, our in-person interaction is obviously flirtatious enough that several people asked me what the heck is going on with us.

I think he may be flirting with me with the assumption that it’s all in good fun and nothing will come of it. I’m worried that it’s dishonest and wrong to continue as we have been with him not knowing that I’m seriously interested and would make a move if things were different.

Fellow is also semi-famous in our particular nerd world, and has said things that imply to me that he perceives my sometimes-nervousness around him simply as being starstruck (not in an egotistical way; he always reminds me that he’s not a big deal and that we really are friends). It also follows that he may know that I have a crush on him, but think it’s more of a celebrity crush than real feelings.

I can’t tell him that I like him, right? No good can come of it.

Am I obligated to cut down on the flirting, or can I pretend it’s just for fun since that’s probably why he flirts with me?

And what on earth can I do to stop this crush from taking over my brain if I can’t talk to him about it?

I Was Doing So Well

Dear Doing So Well:

Having a crush on a monogamously attached person isn’t wrong (or if it is, I am retroactively sorry, like, 1,000 times).

Your instincts are also good on the whole “don’t tell the happily partnered friend about your crush because you don’t want to throw a wrench into his works or beach yourself on the rocky shoals of his disinterest” thing.

But your question illustrates the limitations of that strategy, when your endgame isn’t “get with this dude,” it’s “enjoy his company without shredding your own heart” as he casually flirts with you.

So this is about finding a way to take care of yourself. One way is to wait for the next time he flirts with you and address it.

Hey, it can be really fun to flirt with you, but could you chill out with it for a while?

He’s gonna say something like “Aw man, why?

And you can say “Eh, it’s just a bit too much, thanks” and leave it there. You don’t have to give reasons. Repeat versions  and variations of “It’s too much.“I know you don’t mean anything by it, but it feels like too much.” 

I’m usually against invoking Mysterious Other People Who Agree With Me That You Are Doing Things Wrong in discussions, but the fact that it’s noticeable enough in public that other people are commenting on it can be part of the reason. “In public it attracts more attention than I’m comfortable with, and in private it just feels confusing and inappropriate.

Get ready for him to defend his honor and your honor. But we’re just friends! I don’t mean anything by it! My girlfriend is okay with it! You’re my friend, you’re not some fangirl groupie, etc., etc.

The thing is, this doesn’t have to be about his relationship, the rules of his relationship, his just-a-friendly feelings for you, or whatever. This is about you and your comfort. His right to flirt with you ends at your comfort with that. You get to reset the boundary within your friendship. “No flirting for a while” is a perfectly reasonable request, and a true friend (especially someone with a little fame who is used to ‘starstruck’ fans) has a lot of room to be cool and understanding. You’re not obligated to keep flirting with him just so that your friendship will never change and he will always feel 100% okay about his behavior, so don’t get sucked into that trap.

This discussion might spiral into a FEELINGSTALK, if you set a boundary about behavior and he keeps digging for reasons.“I don’t want to get between you and girlfriend, or make our friendship weird, but the flirting stuff makes my feelings confused. The problem isn’t that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I *really* enjoy it, in a way that feels inappropriate given that we are not involved and you are very happily involved with someone else. I’d like very much to stay friends with you, but I need the flirting to stop for that to comfortably happen.

In the screenplay in my head he says “Oh.” and you say “Bet you wish you’d just stopped back when I said ‘can you lay off the flirting for a while?‘”

The other way is to pull back a bit from the friendship and put your energy into meeting new people and otherwise distracting yourself. You don’t have to slow fade or cut things off, and you don’t have to notify him that you are doing it or why. Just let him do the work of initiating conversation for a while. Maybe train yourself out of responding immediately by filtering his emails to a folder that you check once a week. Maybe don’t be so available on IM. Maybe be more scheduled about IM sessions or phone calls so that you can compartmentalize a bit and it’s not all flirty messaging, all the time. When you have a crush like the way you have a crush, your brain interprets any attention from him as “Happy Reward Times! RELEASE THE PLEASURE CHEMICALS” and you need to cut into that cycle somehow.

If he notices that you are not so available and asks you about it, and if you feel up to it, you can level with him. “Since you ask, last time I saw you at Event, we were very flirty, and it made my feelings confused. I don’t want a little crush on you to make our friendship weird or lead to anything inappropriate, so I’ve been pulling back a bit until my feelings get less awkward. I’ll see you/talk to you in (time frame that is probably a few months), is that cool?

Everything that makes you fun to flirt with for this person is within you. It’s not some glow imparted by this one dude’s Nerdfame or attention, it’s your wit and attractiveness and good humor and loyal friendship or whatever Terrifyingly Amazing stuff you’ve got going on. This is the good part of crushes, the part that lights you up and makes you smile and get great haircuts on the regular and stand up straight and flirt shamelessly with hot nerd celebrities. Keep being brave and awkward, and when love comes to you it will come correct.


90 thoughts on “#581 There is no way to know in advance what will happen to your heart & #582 But sometimes there are things you can do to protect it.

  1. Oh, Eleanor X. The thought of asking someone out can be terrifying and like it will END EVERYTHING. To reach out and actually do it takes an amazing amount of guts.

    But I believe that you CAN do it, and what’s more, if he doesn’t like you back that way, you can live through it. You can say, “I took a big risk to do something I cared about,” and know that you didn’t do anything wrong or make any mistakes; life is just like that sometimes. Sometimes you’re disappointed; sometimes things change. But if you try, at least you have a chance of getting what you want.

    1. Defintely take the risk. Sometimes even if it doesn’t work out, it makes a fun story. In college I worked up the courage my sophomore year to ask a boy out to the movies. I borrowed a friend’s car to pick him up and everything. He said yes, and when I arrived, he had brought a friend! I took that as a sign he wasn’t romantically interested in me, so decided to focus on having fun. I ended up taking 2 Jasons to the movie. And then we argued about who got to sit in the middle. Since they were the 2 Jasons, I thought they should flank me. Jason 1 thought that since he was the nexus of inviter-invitee, he should be in the middle. I think I lost that one. But we sneaked into a second movie and so saw a double feature and had a great time all around. And I got to know Jason 2 better, which was a win too.

  2. If this dude is remotely enlightened, I Was Doing So Well, he knows how ickily toxic the nerd world can be to the symmetrically chromosomed. So you should be able to say “my in-good-fun flirting has ended up getting me some thoughts and comments from people who could make my life more difficult so I’m just trying to cut it out” and have him not question it. If he presses you say it’s no biggie but it’s what’s best for you and you’d just as soon let it go.

    If he won’t let THAT go then maybe it’ll be easier to let go of your crushfeelings, ya know?

    The reality may be that the thoughts that can make things harder for you are your own thoughts but it’s not really anyone’s business but yours, right?

  3. I Was Doing So Well, I know that feel! But CA is RIGHT. Telling your friends what is up is a right of friendship, and you are allowed to tell people that their flirting is messing with you. I did this with someone and explained that when he “accidentally” brushed my thigh under the table at games nights or made sexual puns *at* me, it was confusing for me because when I made a pass at him we made out and then—OOPS! he did not want to date me. Yet he continued to flirt with me outrageously. So I told him, I wanted to date, not just flirt or make out because I liked him so much. It turns out he was still off/on seeing his ex. Being the third wheel in that wasn’t what I wanted, and I didn’t want to be flirted with and have what I wanted dangled in front of me, but never up for grabs for real. And what’s amazing is that I went from being on tiptoes and pins and needles around him to feeling in control again once I laid down that boundary. I was able to shape my own destiny again! It was intoxicating and reassuring and wonderful. I think you should definitely take control back by being honest about what makes you feel in control of your own destiny.

  4. “Keep being brave and awkward, and when love comes to you it will come correct.” LOVE LOVE LOVE.

  5. Captain, I see the point of the advice you always give about asking people out right away, but the thing is, my crushes tend to be fleeting, ephemeral things, and I’ve gotten into a lot of emotional trouble before by acting on crushes and then having them evaporate and feeling guilty about having to let the other person down. So in my own personal life, I feel it’s better to wait and see if the crush sticks around before I say anything.

    Also, having a crush on someone and wanting a relationship with them are two completely different things for me. I might think someone is cute and funny and have a huge crush on them, but also know that they are bad at Using Their Words and opening up emotionally (ahem, current situation), so I don’t actually want to pursue a relationship since I know it wouldn’t last. Am I weird in this? You always say to act on crush feelings right away, but I’d rather wait and make sure they are someone I’d actually want to be with.

    1. You should go at whatever pace feels good to you and works for you. But I think you might be missing a step between “having a crush” and “wanting a relationship” which is “go on a date or two and see if you want a relationship.” And I think that’s the stage that a lot of us over-thinkers miss out on, and one I’d like to reintroduce.

      I don’t think people should ask people To Relationship right away, but I do think people should ask people To Go On One Date sooner rather than later. Sooner = can be after you think you might like them in a dating-way, but before you get to Firthing stage. Not the second you meet them, or the second kissing thoughts flash before your eyes. Most of my dating questions, like the one from Eleanor today, are from people who want to be sure. They don’t want to make any move until they are sure of the outcome. I think this is both a) impossible and b) sets you up for a much harder rejection if the other person doesn’t feel the same way. You don’t have to be sure of their feelings and you don’t have to be sure of yours. You don’t have to be sure about anything to ask.

      Because in my world, after that date, “Eh, maybe not” is a perfectly reasonable response from either party. I think too many people have the idea that a date must be the beginning of a long-term thing or else it is a failure. It’s not. It’s one date. It’s one evening or afternoon. It’s one admission of the possibility of something more/something else. Asking sooner, to me, means lowering the stakes all around. “Let’s try this and see” Not “I have had a deep romantic relationship with you in my head for three years, now let’s enact it!”

      More flirting, more possibility, less Romance LARP.

      1. Yeah, I really hate going on dates. It feels like this high-pressure situation where nobody is really being themselves. Also, what I hate even more than that is the horrible part where I have to say no. I know dates aren’t supposed to be a promise of a future relationship, but I’ve never been able to do “sorry, I’m just not feeling this” very well. I can think the words, but I can never seem to get myself to say them. I know, I know, I should practice. Thanks for your response, and I’ll definitely try to get to a point where I can go on dates without an anxiety attack, but I don’t think I’m there yet.

        1. So, I feel you – and when dates give you anxiety attacks and feel like too much work, don’t go on them! It’s when they don’t feel like work that it’s good. But I think dates ARE practice for exactly this kind of stuff.

          If sitting on your feelings until you are sure about them before saying anything is working for you, then keep doing that thing. Is it working? Only you decide.

          1. and when dates give you anxiety attacks and feel like too much work, don’t go on them!

            Can I print this out, laminate it, and show it to my friends who insist my resistance to dating is unnatural and unhealthy and I should make myself do it?

        2. God me too! I feel so much better knowing there’s someone else out there who has this issue!

          I actually did some internet dating with people who were interesting but entirely disconnected from my real life with the rule that I would say no to everything I didn’t want to practice, and it helped some-I certainly felt more empowered.

          But I still HATE dating, and can only fathom a relationship with someone I have been gradually getting to know in group settings without dating pressure for at least a year, because I hate dating so very very much, and it makes me miserable and hunted.

          1. Oh notemily and mehting — I am with you. I have also gone out on dates just to feel braver, and it sort of worked. At least, I found out some things I DON’T like, and found out I can make chipper conversation with just about anyone for an hour!

            But the way a date is set up is sort of antithetical to me actually being ABLE to feel attraction. I have to trust the person to more or less not be an asshole and feel really safe in their company before my attraction-o-meter even flips on. And on a date, the fact that I’m actively aware the other person is using this as a trial thing — a “huh, are you cool enough to bother with” thing — pretty much short-circuits the “do I feel safe” loop and vaults me into “FUCK YOU DON’T CARE” loop. Which is fine for making the date less stressful (because fuck this dude, who cares what he thinks?) but also pretty much ensures I won’t feel attracted to him. Or anything at all, really.

            I guess I don’t really know how to make a date a low-stress thing, because if it was just a “hey let’s see if we want to hang out more” thing, I wouldn’t have called it a DATE. I would just invited dude along to a dinner or normal friend activity. It’s pretty much explicitly an audition for a sexual relationship, or least the potential of sexual acts, which. . . kinda. . . kills it for me. Like, I need to know if dude is an asshat before even CONSIDERING whether it might be pleasant to put my face on his face (or my anything on his anything), and having him jump to step 2 before we’ve executed step 1 makes my blood run cold with creepies.

            That being said, I’m not sure what discarding the date as a getting-to-know-you device and only being romantically interested in people you’re only well-acquainted adds up to for a functional model after the initial confession of Interest. “Let us attempt a normal activity together, but with a romantic subtext!” “Let us now attempt a minor face-bump to ascertain if it this is indeed a path down which we would like to proceed!” “Let us a watch a movie as previously, but with added groping!”

          2. “At least a year” is always how I’ve felt too! But I never say that to people, because my friends would say that’s too long and “most people” don’t wait that long before getting in a relationship with someone. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

            I want to know how someone reacts to various situations before I decide if I want to be with them, and dating is a very structured, limited situation, so by definition I feel like I’m not getting to know the whole person if I just date them one-on-one.

          3. Jane-I laughed at your switches, because that was an awesome description of exactly my mental process in a date! I’d never made the connection between the F you, DON”T CARE to why I felt perfectly comfortable but never got at all interested in any of those guys!

            notemily-Yes! How can you get to know anyone without seeing them in context? Dating is as far out of context as it is possible to get someone! I don’t get how people can possibly get to know each other through dating-there’s nothing there to grasp hold of to know the person!

            Thank you both-it feels so much more okay to have these reactions knowing that other people have similar reactions

        3. ugh I know!! I’m on a break from dating at the mo, but in the last bout I cottoned on to following ‘just not feeling it’ with ‘I know you’ll find someone great, it’s just not me’… which somehow moves the conversation into being positive about them and it sort of dissolves the tension a bit… giving me enough time to run away. Before I just shouted ‘look over there!’ before running away. I feel this is marginally more dignified

        4. Might I suggest a blog post? I think I first heard about Emily Nagoski hereabouts, but regardless, I think she does a good job of discussing sexual response. See –> http://enagoski.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/how-sex-works/ if you want. It may help explain why dating, being a stressful situation, is just about demanding that the sexy fun times are not about to happen, because stress.

        5. (I’m replying here because nesting endeth and all that.)

          I’m from a culture where “going on dates” isn’t really a thing. Like, it exists, but it’s not really done a lot? So it’s a concept that feels kind of inherently foreign to me and the majority of people I know, so your friends’ saying your “resistance to dating is unnatural and unhealthy” is also pretty nearsighted (and insensitive) when you look at it from a cultural point of view, not only a personal one.

          1. Well, I’ve asked them and their point seems to be that they think I’m afraid of having any kind of romantic/sexual relationship at all, which I don’t think is true. I just take longer than other people to feel comfortable enough with someone to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with them.

          2. So how do you do it? I so often feel at a loss for how to find relationships without the dating model for growing intimacy and with the date RIGHT AWAY model for so there’s the fact that in a new group of people, I may end up starting off getting to know people by rejecting their advances, which makes things awkward before there’s even the chance of friendship to balance it out. I’d love to hear other ways of doing it!

            (my friends are wonderful and have never once told me my way was unnatural or unhealthy and are loving and supportive and believe entirely in my ability to form happy relationships in my own way and time, but I don’t think they have much more idea of how that starts than I do)

          3. @mehting: Okay, let me tell you straight away that I can’t give any personal examples or experiences because I’m asexual and aromantic and have never really had an interest in relationships and so have never been in one. So, all I know about this topic is the general… well, knowledge about my culture as well as experiences of my friends and family. I hope that’s okay.

            The thing here is… pretty much everyone I know is dating someone they shared a social circle with beforehand. That could be anything from having the same group of friends or going to school together or working together or hanging out at the same bar at the same time all the time. So it’s like… they naturally get to know each other without the thought of being a couple on the horizon (or maybe they are interested in each other from the get-go, but people generally take some time to actually voice that interest). What I believe primarily Americans (? I have no idea, it just always seems very “American” to me, but please correct me if I’m wrong) view as dating, like, going to the movies or to dinner together is typically done after you are already a couple. OR you do them before that but the difference is that these interactions aren’t romantically coded in any way. It’s completely normal to regularly have dinner with someone (just the two of you) if you so desire and it gives off a feeling of “I want to spend time with you because you’re rad” rather than “in inviting you to dinner I’m making it clear that I’m potentially interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with you”.

            Argh, I don’t know if I’m explaining this very clearly, I’m so sorry! If you got any follow-up questions I’ll happily try to answer them (and maybe get my relationship experienced sister to help^^).

        6. Related to your

          Can I print this out, laminate it, and show it to my friends who insist my resistance to dating is unnatural and unhealthy and I should make myself do it?

          question, not only that but it’s going on my list of “someday, this will be cross-stitched” lines.

          You never never never need to go on a date if you don’t want to, and nothing you described about your preferences sounds unnatural or unhealthy in the damn slightest.

      2. Oh Captain, my Captain.
        Where were you back in December when a guy in my martial arts club told me straight up he liked me and I lacked the words to say “Thank you I’m flattered, let’s go on a date and see how it goes” and instead I said “Thank you I’m flattered and yes” and then were immediately a Thing and immediately I regretted it.

      3. I kind of want to write you a letter about my thing with crushes, Captain, but it’s not so much an “I have a question that I need help answering/a situation that I need help finding words for” and more an “I’m pretty damn sure I know what the answer is and what the words are, now I’d like those answers and words to move from my brain to my heart.”

        of all the things I could have chosen to self-medicate my depression with, “new relationship energy”/crushfeelings is probably the cheapest, least physically damaging, and least lifewrecking addiction I could have chosen. on the upside, I had a lot of great experiences because of having constant, more or less random crushes on people and pursuing them. on the downside, I had a lot of not-so-great experiences, which in retrospect make amusing anecdotes (like the time I went to a friend’s wedding with a boyfriend, and there were THREE OF MY EX-BOYFRIENDS also in attendance, at which point I realized it was time to skip town).

        more to the point, it created a feedback addiction–1. find new crush object 2. feel great about having crushfeelings 3. interact with crush object 4. get rejected/have to reject crush object when I realize it wasn’t serious 5. feel depressed. 1. find new crush object

        now, my depression is pretty much in remission, which is great! and I don’t feel the *need* to find constant crush objects to obsess over, which is also great! but *damn*, I miss that high. and there’s a whole lot of “One Twu Wuv” bullshit tangled up with it too. I have found myself increasingly wishing that I could get a proper crush on a fictional character, but as much as I wish, it’s evidently not something I can manufacture on command.

        so, I guess chalk this up as one part explanation of why I prefer to sometimes specifically not use my words (the crushes do die down eventually, usually), one part I Know That Feel, and one part WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW. and five-eights pointless rambling commentary…

        1. omg, heffalumps, are you me? I was addicted (for lack of a better word) to that crush-high for most of my life. It’s only when I went on antidepressants that the need went away. Unfortunately, so did most of my sex drive, so I’m trying to wean myself off of them without the depression coming back. We’ll see how that goes.

          1. oh, wow–yes, you may be me! I also went on antidepressants and had my (always pretty low) libido completely crash. fortunately, since my sex drive has been low all my life I’m used to dealing with it. there was a brief period after I stopped eating gluten but before I started this antidepressant, when I had what I think is a “normal” sex drive, and it was–PHREEOW! *extremely distracting*, really.

            the depression-in-remission (or quite possibly the medication, which is also used to help people quit smoking by breaking the addiction pattern, SO THERE’S THAT) has cut down on the crush-need tremendously, but the craving is still there, you know? I don’t feel like I *need* it to function, but I miss it, like I missed gluten-foods for a while after I stopped eating them. nowdays I hardly miss gluten-foods at all, between having excellent gluten-free alternatives to pretty much everything and not missing the really nasty side effects that went along with “cheating,” and I imagine I’ll get that way about crushes too, eventually. at least, I really, REALLY hope so. :]

    2. If you are weird for enjoying crush-feelings without wanting to pursue them, then I am weird with you. I often enjoy the little “ooooh Beard McSexypants had, like, a *conversation* with me!” Without actually wanting more than that little pick-me-up. I don’t think that’s Firthing, because it doesn’t involve trying to use Meaningful Silent Glares to take the place of “would you like to go on a date with me.”

      1. Weird sisters unite! I think the second part of your comment is key — if you don’t want More from a crush, then it’s not Firthing, it’s just a harmless crush. It’s at the point when the Firthing is about to begin that it’s time to use ye olde words and get an answer.

        1. Used to work in a coffee shop. This was a real conversation.
          Me: *siiiiiiiiiigh*
          Coworker: “The cute guy who works at the Apple store was in, wasn’t he.”
          Me: “Oh my yes.”
          Coworker: “Isn’t he gay?”
          Me: “As springtime.”
          Coworker: “So, why?”
          Me: “It’s like the Mona Lisa. You’re never gonna touch it but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice long look.”

        2. Can a boy join this sisterhood? I really enjoy that thrill of attraction with people. I don’t want to change my friendships out for any sort of romantic relationship with them, but they are cool, awesome, even sexy human beings, and I enjoy that frisson of attraction, for its own sake.

        3. Totally love harmless crushes when you know that you don’t really want anything more. The fantasies and the giggles are nice and pretty safe.
          I remember actually finding one healing years ago when I was having difficulty getting over a break up. I’d been alone and rather hung up on my ex for awhile so it was really nice to find myself attracted to someone else – kind of a “hey look, I can find other people hot. Maybe, I can maybe move on and not be condemned to the world of the ever-pining.”

          We didn’t have much in common and he had some opinions that horrified me so dating/relationship attempt would have been a terrible idea and I knew it. I also knew we wouldn’t be in each others’ lives for long so it was nice to flirt a little, fantasize over him being a different person and just generally enjoy a break from my somewhat self imposed early twenties ‘I’ll never love again’ angst.

          I figure it helped because a few months later, I met someone new and it was awesome.

      2. right? like half the straight women at my previous job had crushes on the UPS guy. (The words “rugged good looks” may have applied to the UPS guy.) None of them wanted to DO anything with that crush; they just wanted to look at the UPS guy and maybe collect a smile from him with some light flirting.

        But I think there’s a difference between that kind of lightweight, not-going-anywhere-and-no-one-believes-it-could type of crush, and the more-intense I-have-a-crush-on-a-friend stuff.

    3. Notemily nothing you said seems weird to me. I think the point to remember is that there’s a lot of ground between the first sparking of interest and desperate *be mine* firthing. You get to pick where in there seems to be appropriate for the “asking out”. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to wait until you think the crush is going to stick.

      I think you can also “date” with a range of explicitness, from just hanging out more all the way up to restaurants and roses. Restaurants and roses are profoundly Not My Thing, but you can still invite someone to do more stuff with you. Spend more time around them and see how you feel in a way that shows interest in them. Flirt and whatnot, see how they respond. I’m more likely to go hiking or bike riding with someone, but it could be any mutual interest. Then if it seems like a good idea you can use your words and let them know you’re interested (or not). Obviously you should make it clear that it’s just the two of you at this thing, so it’s not weird and awkward and they’re all like “where’s everyone else?” but other than that you don’t have to state outright that it’s a date until you really want to.

      There’s even a half way point there too, where you do invite them to things with a few other people, just to get to know them better in a definite “not date” setting. Inviting someone to more stuff sends the message that you like them at least in a friend way, and feels like a reasonable early step to me.

      1. THIS. in situations where you don’t already have a clear idea of what you want and don’t want to lead anyone on, I think there’s a whole lot to be said for a plausibly deniable “Let’s hang out” with no-one saying anything about a date.

      2. I definitely recommend the gradual stages of getting to know each other/hang out strategy. And make sure that when you do the inviting (or receiving of invitation), you make it clear what stage this is–group hang out, or solo expedition together. That really cuts down on the awkward moment of showing up and looking around and asking where’s everyone else and discovering that it’s just the two of you alone unexepectedly (for one of the parties at least) o.O.

        I had that moment, and it was awkward, and made me a little sad. My freshman year, a guy invited me over to his apartment to bake cookies. I was pretty excited because I really missed baking and hanging out with friends. And I was under the assumption that it was going to be a fun group night, not a date in private in his home. So I had that oh shit! reaction because I barely knew the guy, didn’t know what I felt, and was still reeling from a traumatic experience just a month or two before, and here I was alone off campus in the private space of a person that I really didn’t know very well. And I have no poker face. He was great, though. He took in my reaction without saying anything, we proceeded to make cookies, he was as nonthreatening as possible, and after that, he just did the quick fade. And yet, again, I didn’t have the tools to have these important conversations. So I was sad that I hurt him with my involuntary reaction and that I didn’t really get to know him better because he basically walked away, which was great and respectful and the opposite of Nice Guy, but I didn’t really even know what I felt and never really got a chance to find out after being completely surprised by the sudden intimacy (which only made my run away! run away! instincts flare like a flash grenade).

        So be brave and explicit and maybe build up to that moment. Or better yet, have an actual conversation with words and cool things like that. It’ll feel so much better and feel less like regret in hindsight.

    4. Not every crush is a romantic crush, either.

      I get friend crushes, where I meet someone and get that spark of recognition that says “This is someone who might want to over-analyze nerdy things while making up silly stories about the people around us as we eat various types of food!”

      I’ve gotten aspirational crushes on people who were 15-25 years older than me since I was a teen, I don’t want to sleep with them, but I really want their focused attention and to do things that make them think well of me.
      I’m old enough now to be on the other side of that too. I sometimes have mentoring crushes on people 15-25 years younger than me, I like showing them things, and encouraging them. Their energy and openness are infectious, and it feels good to be admired for my skills.

      When I was younger I thought that every crush was a sexual one and was very disturbed by my attraction to older professional married people. It was a relief to realize I didn’t want to break up their marriages, I wanted to know how to do that.

  6. “Fellow is also semi-famous in our particular nerd world, and has said things that imply to me that he perceives my sometimes-nervousness around him simply as being starstruck (not in an egotistical way; he always reminds me that he’s not a big deal and that we really are friends). It also follows that he may know that I have a crush on him, but think it’s more of a celebrity crush than real feelings.”

    I’m having a hard time figuring out how “I’m somewhat famous, so your behavior around me is obviously due to my famousness and your natural and automatic reaction to my famousness. Clearly your feelings are shallow responses to my fame and not really real. We’re totally friends, though,” can possibly be not egotistical. (I do assume the delivery was much better since LW values his friendship). It just seems so… diminishing? I can’t think of the right word. Maybe minimizing.

    1. Eh, I get this. I have a somewhat famous friend. The first few times we hung out, I was awkward, trying to figure out if I was trying to impress him, or how. That went away quickly in this situation as we became quite good friends; it might not go away as quickly for all friends/acquaintances of somewhat famous people. I see other people acting celebrity-crush around him quite regularly now. It’s kind of a weird thing to navigate.

    2. Well, he didn’t say the last bit. That’s just what the LW think he MIGHT think, IF he knows about the crush. “Your behaviour around me could be because I’m pretty well-known – but don’t worry, we’re totally friends” isn’t that egotistical.

      1. Ah, you’re right, I got that part wrong. He didn’t say that it was a celebrity crush.

  7. Eleanor X, what the Captain says is absolutely true: basically everyone who is or has been in a happy relationship has had That Awkward Conversation. I certainly did! I developed a crush on my current boyfriend shortly after we met, and for six months after that, I was in Investigation Mode: what did that smile mean? What did that one offhand comment mean? When we hung out and watched TV shows, was that just a friend thing, or did his willingness to marathon-watch Buffy with me mean he was into me? Did he have other romantic prospects that might swoop in before I could make a move? Why would he just notice meeeeee? I strategized, I agonized, I recruited my friends to ask him about our Buffy-watching nights in case that got me any extra insight. It was exhausting, and at the end of the six months, I had almost nothing to show for it: I knew he was a cool guy who I liked a lot, but I had known that before!

    So I did a little more agonizing and strategizing, and finally had the most nerve-wracking conversation in the history of ever, in which I felt kinda lightheaded and stumbled over my pre-rehearsed words and wanted the earth to swallow me up, and he was pleasantly surprised and said sure, he’d be interested in being more than friends. I have had many other awkward conversations and moments with him in the year-and-a-half we’ve been dating since then, because that’s just how we roll, but that moment when I asked him out was the crowning moment of awkward in my life, and possibly in recorded history.

    But you know what? It paid off! Boy howdy, did it pay off. During those whole six months when I was in Investigation Mode, he had NO CLUE what was going on. None of my snooping or hinting or batting my eyelashes had tipped him off in the slightest — he really needed to be asked point-blank. And now I have an excellent boyfriend who I love very much. If the conversation had gone a different way, I had set myself up to deal with that: I asked him out right before a break from school, so if he had said no, I would have had a few weeks to lick my wounds and recover from my crush before I had to come back and try to be regular friends. But there was no way to answer “Could we ever be together?” without literally asking him “Would you like to be together?” It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and I’m so glad I did it.

    1. This is so amazing! Good for you, seriously. It feels so triumphant to just say it. Well, afterward. It feels scary as shit to actually make your mouth say the words.

      I still remember calling a boy (on my landline, so I had to go through his parents) in 11th grade to ask him to prom (possibly the most nervy thing I have ever done…he said yes!). And then telling my now-husband (back when we’d been dating for a month or so) that “I referred to you as my boyfriend today. I hope that’s okay” and praying that he would say it was.

      There are other boys who I didn’t say anything to, who I wish I would’ve, or at least not wasted so much time pining for. Everything really did work out, but Using Words is good.

    2. That is an awesome story. It took me *years* to figure out how to read a guy’s “I like you” signals, I certainly wouldn’t have known how to in high school, or even college, without just asking straight out.

      Eleanor, I am an old now, but one thing that has always haunted me was that I never asked out the hot blacksmith’s son (for real! Rural high school) who sat behind me in 10th grade. He was way more popular than me, but we were friends, and I spent an entire year wondering if the tickle fights, mutual exchange of mixtapes (I AM OLD) accidental-on purpose-serenading and random hallway shoulder squeezes meant that he like-liked me, or was just a naturally flirty person.

      I used to torture my friends with questions like, “How do you tell someone you like him without actually telling him you like him?” (we never solved this.) I was so afraid of scaring him off at the time but DAMN, I should have just asked him. By the time I called him over that following summer to see if he wanted to go to the movies sometime, he already had a new steady girlfriend and then I lost my nerve, and he was always in a relationship after that until the end of school, and then we lost touch.

      Years later, he became that one “what if” guy. When our 10 year reunion came around, I found out that he’d died, and I was really torn up about it. Now I will never know.

      Don’t be me!

  8. Only thing about the advice to Doing So Well is that he might deny he was flirting at all. DSW, you know it’s flirting, people around you know it’s flirting. But he might either genuinely not see it as flirting (“but I’m like that with everyone!”) OR know damn well that it is but want to pretend otherwise.

    Which doesn’t really change what you should do in its essentials, but maybe if you raise the idea that behaviour-that-could-be-construed-as-flirting-whether-or-not-one-agrees-with-that-definition exists BEFORE you explain that you need it to stop, you’re less likely to be stuck in a conversational loop of “But we’re NOT flirting! What even IS flirting?” and, I think, it might make you feel a little safer in the conversation, less at risk of anything that sounds like “why are you bringing up this crazy idea that I am flirting with YOU, I would never do that,” which would hurt you. And it allows you to keep the focus on actions that you both definitely agree are going on, and need to change in future, rather than interpretations of the meanings of those actions.

    You could invoke the Mysterious Other People for this: “Some People see the way we joke around as kind of flirtatious, and to be honest, I do see their point.” And from there you could go into the Captain’s “it’s such fun but” scripts.

    (I may be doing the guy’s maturity, self-knowledge and emotional literacy a great injustice, but if part of what’s held you back from asking to stop flirting so far is the fear he might react badly to the notion he WAS flirting, that might help.)

  9. Oh Doing So Well, I really hope the person you’re talking about doesn’t get his semi-celebrity from YouTube. It’s hard not to see it that way having read about all the horrible fan/creator abuse stories. And because this guy does not sound the best (I have the same issues with him as boutet above). Take care of yourself okay.

      1. There have been many stories in the last few years about white, males who are popular on YouTube taking advantage of young girls (see Mike Lombardo from a few years ago (who is now in prison) and more recently Alex Day, Alex Carpenter and Tom Milsom).

        I’m of course not saying that that’s what is happening here. But it’s hard not to see similarities.

        1. Uh, I think there are always some famous guys doing terrible things and taking advantage. I don’t think youtube fame makes that more or less likely than TV fame or movie fame or music fame or book fame or comic fame.

          1. Yeah you’re right but that sort of misses the point. I was saying I hoped the person wasn’t from YouTube (because it sounds an awful lot like they might be and because there have been A LOT of stories about that recently) but you can insert any kind of fame into there. Anyone who has any kind of power over you because you’re their “fan” and who then flirts with you (thereby in my opinion abusing that power) is bad news.

  10. What if you’re the other person in “I Was Doing So Well”‘s letter?

    I am in a (currently) monogamous relationship, and boy do I enjoy the heck out of flirting with people sometimes.

    The problem is – where is the line? My spouse trusts me and has no problem with the flirting, and I know where the line is in terms of our relationship and have no desire to cross it unless the terms of our relationship get renegotiated (which they may, but if they never did I would be perfectly fine with them as they are).

    But I am always worried that I am doing a disservice to people I am flirting with. It’s not always easy to tell if they are just having fun or if there are real feelings behind the flirting, and having a serious conversation about it tends to kill the flirting pretty dead or at least create a weird vibe. For a while I came down on the side of ‘They’re adults and can make their own decisions about how they want to engage with me’, but sometimes that has resulted in hurt feelings down the road. But on the other hand, crushes and flirting can be so much fun – I’d be a little sad to lose that based purely on speculation that is honestly probably a little egotistical.

    1. Well, if one of your friends asked you to stop flirting so much, one thing you could do is go “ok” and then stop.

      If that’s not happening, then carry on as you are. Or, if your gut is telling you something might not quite be ok, take one of the flirtatious friendships that makes you wonder “where is the line?” and find out what happens if you stop initiating flirting? Does the person pick up the slack, or do they seem perfectly happy or even relieved not to be flirting? That doesn’t have to be a big deal or a discussion, just a way of checking in with yourself periodically.

      1. This exactly. This EXACTLY. It takes some self-awareness and humility, but in a world where ask-culture and offer-culture intersect and spawn miscommunications, and where people often aren’t even clear in their own heads about what they actually want, it’s a good practice – not just with flirting, but also with humor and other interactions where “go along with the group” can be a thing.

        I’d also add – it’s great that you and your spouse are on the same page about your monogamy, but it would be a good thing to – in low-stakes, non-flirting contexts – establish baseline awareness that among your friends group as well. This lets your flirty pals do the same self-aware self-selection from the other side, armed with good information.

        You say you might be open to nonmonogamy in the future, so I assume you’re basically an ally. Be open about that. Be willing to engage in conversations about relationship norms. Call out slutshaming where you see it. Don’t let people make assumptions about your relationship because straight-and-monogamous shouldn’t actually be the default assumption, you know? (Hey, you may already be doing this – in which case HIGH FIVES TO YOU because that is AWESOME.)

        Seriously, there are times I think the world is ready for widespread use of sexuality geek codes. But that’s speaking as a bi, poly, het-partnered, not-currently-seeing-anyone-else woman – which gets misread all the time, even by people who know better. I’m gearing myself up for the uncomfortable “dude, are you flirting or FLIRTING?” conversation with a friend who may or may not be poly and who I THOROUGHLY ENJOY flirting with but have no interest in sleeping with, and it would be so much simpler with a little more context.

        1. “You say you might be open to nonmonogamy in the future, so I assume you’re basically an ally. Be open about that. Be willing to engage in conversations about relationship norms. Call out slutshaming where you see it. Don’t let people make assumptions about your relationship because straight-and-monogamous shouldn’t actually be the default assumption, you know? ”

          Yep, absolutely! I am definitely trying to speak up about this stuff when I can. A few of my friends have relationships that I would describe as very successfully monogamish, so it helps a lot to have that context.

          Honestly, flirting as a whole can be very confusing sometimes. The line between what is actually flirting and what is just having fun and joking with someone can be very, very fuzzy. And some people interpret flirting as ‘I want to bone you’ and other people interpret it as ‘yay this is fun!’ and sometimes it is one or the other or somewhere in between or both and who the heck knows anyway?

          When I was much younger I worked at a bookstore and had a very very minor crush on an older coworker. He and I would have a lot of fun and just be silly sometimes and everyone around us interpreted it as flirting. Maybe it was, but that wasn’t ever what I had really intended it to be? An actual relationship would have been inappropriate (I was 16 and he was 22) and I wasn’t particularly interested anyway, but he was damn cute and we did have a lot of fun joking around and stuff. *shrug*

          1. SO CONFUSING. *sympathies* But the fun continues to outweigh the confusing, most of the time!

          2. YES this is relevant to my life. I refer to this sort of flirting as “flirting for sport and pleasure”, flirting without a romantic or sexual intent behind it but as a friendly, hey-you’re-awesome type of banter-y flirting. I am this type of flirt, and when I meet other people who are this type of flirt sometimes we get into a little flirting loop and oftentimes it’s funny and totally fine and not a thing at all, and other times it’s a bit more fraught.

            I am very flirty with partners but also with friends, and probably come off as quite warm and bubbly with acquaintances a lot of the time too. Most of the time it is a TOTAL non-issue, especially in decades-old friendships where it’s not unusual at all to send “<3 I LOVE YOU MORE THAN I LOVE YO MOMMA WHICH IS A WHOOOOOOOLE LOTTA LOVIN'" texts.

            I did have a very warm/funny conversation with a new boyfriend's friend who I had just met (who was into medieval reenactment and was just generally awesome, I was delighted!) and was super-surprised to hear that my boyfriend had to talk himself down from being possessive and thought his friend was being "over-the-top" by flirting with me.

            ANOTHER boyfriend's friend described me as a "terrible flirt" – but this is someone who is so flirty himself that I initially asked if there had been any history between him and my (bi) boyfriend – much to boyfriend's amusement.

            There was an almost-moment with a casual friend, who was partnered. We were very flirty, and when I realised he was flirting with intent I clearly said that he was partnered, we would not be assholes about this, I shut it down right away and stopped all flirting. I was so used to harmless flirting that his flirting-with-intent left me a bit shaken.

            Anyway. Flirting! Mostly good and fun!

      2. Absolutely, if anyone said “hey can you stop this” or in any other way indicated discomfort I would definitely back off.

        That seems like a decent rule of thumb in terms of checking in, though with some of the guys I have flirted with, they would neither pick up the slack nor would they be happy for it to go away – there’s an element of social awkwardness there that makes it a little harder to read the cues sometimes. But it is probably something worth trying regardless, just to sort of ‘check in’.

    2. Some of it might depend on how far you’re going with it. I’m still a little pissed at a person who runs in my circles about the way he flirted with me two years ago. We all go on a four-day adults-only clothing optional camping trip once a year, and this person started chatting me up on FB a few months prior to the trip. Since I’d kind of liked him from the time I met him, but hadn’t said anything to him because I knew he had a girlfriend, I took this as a positive sign.

      So at the camping trip, this individual felt me up a bit in the communal hot tub, which I enjoyed at the time, but when I confronted him later about it, he said he still had a girlfriend and wasn’t planning on leaving that situation. I told him that being fondled is not a casual thing to me, so if he wasn’t really on the market, he shouldn’t do that to me in future. He agreed, which was fine, but I got a creepy vibe from him from then on because every time I saw him for the rest of the weekend, he was nude with his legs splayed open. The place is clothing optional, so NBD on the nudity, but the splaying? Ick. Double ick.

      I couldn’t help but notice that next year, a few months before the event, he started chatting up another of my single friends on FB.

      1. I had a very similar experience my freshman year of college! Group trip to go hot tubbing. I shared my tub with a boy and a girl, and the boy spent the whole night feeling me up. Later, when we were back in the dorms, I tried to signal my interest by nodding off against him in one of the social rooms (totally poor communication there). And then the next day, I found out he was dating a good friend of mine. Like, if you weren’t interested in me, why were you even groping me? Or maybe he decided I was so awful that he moved onto the next person? Admittedly, I was pretty dysfunctional and not capable of using my words at that point, but I left that encounter feeling hurt and confused and no idea how to talk about it. Many, many years later, I visited that guy in grad school and finally worked up the courage to ask about that incident, and he told me he was using me to fend off the advances of the girl sharing the tub with us. Dude, that’s not okay. And on reflection, might not even be true. But still, the cognitive dissonance of an otherwise stellar and amazing person in just about every parameter I can think of treating me so poorly–it does not compute. So all of that is still a big mystery to me. It would have been so much better if I had been able to have a straight-up conversation about the whole thing while it was still fresh. But I didn’t have the tools and was too hurting to try. I had more than one awkward college experience like this–this one was just the most confusing to me.

  11. I would just like to applaud Doing So Well for being clear on not wanting to futz with Fellow’s current relationship despite her crush. That was the reason I came to hate Ally McBeal. (What? Courtney Thorne Smith did not deserve that! Work your own stuff out, Ally!)

  12. The Captain is wise as ever, but I want to touch on something that maybe is relevant to Eleanor X: Eleanor, you sound like you are in school–high school, perhaps? The amount of class-focused flirting you describe is something I associate with life up to the end of 12th grade (speaking of: enjoy that while you can!) If I am wrong, apologies in advance.

    So, if you are in high school, you are young. And, that being the case, while all of the Captain’s advice is still true and helpful and wonderful, another step you should take is really thinking about what “something, anything” is to you when it comes to Gorgeous Boy. The Captain tells people all the time to imagine their “perfect scenario” for whatever imagined future/potential happening they are dealing with. What is yours? Mutual declarations of undying love? Boyfriend/Girlfriend? What does that mean to you? What would change and in what way after you had this conversation? Would “casual make out buddies” be on the table? (Many high school aged Gorgeous Boys would like this option, but not all).

    There are no correct answers to those questions, nor are answers even really required, but they are all worth thinking about. This sounds like it might be your first time at bat, romantically, and though you might not understand until you’re in the thick of it, these are important questions. As is this follow up: Has Fellow ever dated anyone before? His own self-knowledge on these questions may not be complete.

    I do think the Captain is right, that acting on a crush sooner rather than later is usually the best call, but I also want to offer a little support for the myriad joys of crushing, when crushing is all one is ready for. You sound like you think you are ready for more, and I wish you good fortune in your romantic endeavors. But if the above questions terrify more than thrill you, or flummox you entirely, I also want to say that there is no hurry. As a formerly awkward and unsure early dater, I just want to put it out there that it’s possible the version of dating* that is accessible to you may not end up being something that you want (yet). You may not know until you try, of course, but I sure wish I’d had someone suggest thinking about these things before I had my first “boyfriend.” Not all crushes need to turn into significant others, and it’s hard to know which is which without practice, but if you don’t have any practice, caution is also wise.

    *Do the kids these days even still call it dating? Going steady? Proclaiming monogamous (or not) interest? I don’t know.

  13. I’m in a similar situation to Eleanor X. I have a crush on a friend who’s maybe(?) flirted with me before, and has a mutually flirty vibe with her other friends. However the big difference is that we live states apart, so I can’t ask her out!

    Assuming I get past the confession stage, what’s the next course of action for long-distance?

    1. My honest advice is to focus on the confession stage and then let her help you figure out the next step, if any. Don’t think many steps ahead if you are a recovering over-thinker. Think ONE step ahead and then invite the other person into your thinking process.

      1. as a recovering overthinker, I love this! might put it on a post-it note in my room somewhere 🙂

  14. Eleanor X, go for it! About 5 years ago, I had a GIANT crush on one of my best friends, complete with several months of over-analysis of whether he liked me too. Finally, he wrote me a letter saying basically “I kind of like this friend of mine, but I should probably be dating you and everything is confusing.” I said “F*ck it” and sent him a letter saying nothing but “Dear [friend], You’re right, you should be dating me. Love, Lor.” As it turned out, he actually did like the other person and started dating her instead. It was a total bummer, and it took our friendship a little while (and my starting to date my fabulous current partner) to recover, but it did. He’s still one of my best friends, because the friendship that was there in the first place was actually a really good one.

    And besides that, I am still SO PROUD of myself for asking him out. It’s one of the bravest, most honest, and most direct things I’ve ever done. I remember putting that letter in the mail, and having no idea what would come of it, but already being so happy to just come clean and be direct. And when I found out he was dating the other person, I knew that that was his informed decision, so I could grieve and move on. It was really an act of self-care to tell him, even though it was so hard, because there’s power in saying your truth, and because it freed me from wondering about his feelings and let me move on to fall in love with my partner.

    Basically, what I’m saying is, even if he’s not interested, you will survive, and five years down the road, you might comment on one of the Captain’s posts saying, “once, I asked this dude out and it was the best decision.”

  15. IWDSW, I hope that’s a reference to Imogen Heap’s “the Walk”, love it. There are two aspects to this question. First, how do you let your crush know that you know where the limits are? I’ve found it effective to say it, lightly as possible, “good thing you’re dating someone or I’d be nervous about asking you out”. It puts the situation out there, says that you don’t plan on making it weird. Next, I don’t know where you live, but I promise you he is not the only person like him in the universe, probably in your city or nerd group. I know it hurts to call someone fungible, but in this case that means there is enough of him to go around. Does he have a younger brother, literally or figuratively? A friend, a younger colleague, someone who is on a different dating trajectory? Sometimes, the purpose of a crush is to let you know that the Real Thing is on its way so get ready. Maybe it means you’re finally fishing in the right pond, or that you’re over that thing that happened last year, or that you’ve figured out what it is you want. This happens with hunting mushrooms, that it takes awhile to get your eyes. Your first finds might be tiny, not worth picking, but it means your brain is picking out the morel pattern in the wild.

    1. “Sometimes, the purpose of a crush is to let you know that the Real Thing is on its way so get ready. Maybe it means you’re finally fishing in the right pond, or that you’re over that thing that happened last year, or that you’ve figured out what it is you want. This happens with hunting mushrooms, that it takes awhile to get your eyes. Your first finds might be tiny, not worth picking, but it means your brain is picking out the morel pattern in the wild.”

      I love this.

  16. Eleanor X, this is one of those cases where simple does not equal easy.

    It’s really hard to lay your feelings out on the table when rejection is a possibility. It does get easier with practice, but it never stops being scary. Every single time I’ve done it, I had an excited/scared/queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    Wishing you courage and love!

  17. “Flirting for sport & pleasure” is a favorite pastime of mine. I usually limit it to people that I’m not interested in, like monogamous partnered people or other Femmes (I love flirting with other Fierce Femmes). Sometimes I do worry that the objects of my flirting think it is “flirting with intent”. But actually I have a really hard time doing “flirting with intent” because I get anxious around folx I’m really attracted to (in the sexual/romantic sense).

    1. Hahahaha, yes on the “only capable of flirting with people I’m not interested in or who are firmly in the Cute But So Unattainable As To Be Practically Imaginary category”. Actually-interesting people in my actual-vicinity: I can’t flirt, all I can do is bang into doorways, trip over my words, and generally flee in terror. My dating strategy is to sit myself down on a stable surface somewhere nearby (to avoid actual falling-over incidents) and say, as awkward and red-faced as can be, “I um, hey uh, er, sorry bout spilling my drink on your stuff, um, want to go on a date?”. The same strategy goes for when it’s time to ask to put lips on lips.

      On the upside, this is a cunning strategy for ensuring that anyone whose lips go on my lips is able to handle awkward, red-faced directness, and is not turned off by clumsiness. These are helpful traits for anyone dating and/or kissing me to have.

      On the downside, this inability to flirt with the actual object-of-crush, while being super capable of flirting-for-fun with everyone in their vicinity, has led to many a confusing “oh, but I thought you were interested in X, not me!” scenario. SO MANY TIMES it turns out that the, for instance, hot femme I was actually pursuing, thought she was helping to set me up with her cute butch friend. Or the perennially-awkward “wrong half of a poly couple picking up my vibes” scenario. All good arguments for using the words sooner rather than later, of course.

      1. “On the upside, this is a cunning strategy for ensuring that anyone whose lips go on my lips is able to handle awkward, red-faced directness, and is not turned off by clumsiness. These are helpful traits for anyone dating and/or kissing me to have.”

        This… is a very good way of looking at it! Thank you!

        ” Or the perennially-awkward “wrong half of a poly couple picking up my vibes” scenario.”

        Agh, right?!? It’s easy and fun to flirt BACK when guys flirt, because it’s all low- (no-)stakes fun and games, but not so much fun to be awkward-to-dumbstruck with the fella’s lovely wife who I’m crushing madly on. I KNOW exactly what kind of misunderstandings this leads to, and yet it seems to keep happening.

  18. I think the advice to #582 is a little one-sided, actually, in telling the LW to say to her friend “Stop flirting with me”. Um… it takes two people to make a conversation flirtatious, we can’t put all the blame on Fellow here. If LW wants to dial things down a notch (which I agree is a very good idea), this can also be done by modifying her own behaviour. Don’t just ask him to stop flirting with you – stop flirting back!

    It isn’t wrong to have these feelings, but if Fellow is in a committed relationship then all this flirty interaction (to the point where other people have noticed it) would make me super uncomfortable if I was Fellow’s partner. Try putting yourself in the partner’s shoes.

  19. Eleanor! I was terrified of asking a girl out MY WHOLE life because WHAT IF REJECTION. Here’s what happened when I tried it: I asked my crush out at an event all our friends were at, she wasn’t interested, and she walked in on me afterward when I was awkwardly crying about it in the toilets with my friends, whereupon I fled into a booth and tried to pretend none of this was happening. I know right. So no matter what happens, yours will *probably* go better than that.

    However, and this is the point, I am still fucking delighted I did it. I was falling hard for that girl, and I have a history of building up crushes for months or years to the point where I am totally obsessed and can’t even begin to think about asking her ANYTHING because if she said no my whole made-up world would crash down around me.

    This time, I realised I was falling for her, went ‘uh oh’, and asked her out early enough on that like a week after the rejection I was okay again. It was awkward for a while, yes, but nowhere near as much of a problem as my ongoing deathcrush would have been if it had kept building.

    Plus, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I was brave as fuck. I was a warrior! You should do it and be proud of yourself too.

  20. I have a slightly different take on “Doing So Well”. I would probably refrain from saying anything about the flirting to the Fellow. I think the risk that he’ll try to defend himself or argue he wasn’t flirting etc. is too high. Plus, I feel like it’s pretty much impossible to have this conversation with him without giving away that you really like him. Letting him know that could open up a whole can of worms you may not want to open. He could even interpret it as an implicit invitation – “you should stop flirting with me if you’re not actually interested because it might hurt me” can be turned on its head and become “Well, if you ARE interested after all, I’m open to it, and I’ve now let you know”.
    Instead of talking explicitly about this, I’d probably just cut down on the flirting myself and deliberately choose a more friends-but-only-friends tone in your conversation. And then not react much to his flirty behavior if it still goes on. I’d also reduce the talking online a little bit – it’s always a good idea to get a little distance from an unavailable crush.
    I’ve gone through several crushes kind of similar to what you describe and I was ALWAYS glad later that I didn’t disclose my feelings – whether explicitly or implicitly. It’s very possible my crushes still knew how I felt, but not telling them preserved plausible deniability and made future interactions – after the crush had subsided – less weird. A few overly flirtatious conversations can easily be forgotten, but an awkward meta-conversations about those flirtatious conversations… I don’t know.

  21. I wanted to add something, namely that I think it’s not unethical at all to continue flirting with him for fun (if you can pretend it’s just for fun). In my opinion it’s completely irrelevant that you would make a move if circumstances were different as long you don’t actually make a move on him. Nothing bad is going to happen to him or his relationship if you keep up this little “dishonesty”. I’m sure I’ve had people flirt with me who would want to make a move if I were not in a monogamous relationship, and I don’t think that’s dishonest or unethical of them at all. Things only become problematic when you actually start acting in a way that disrespects somebody else’s relationship.

  22. Long time lurker and occasional responder, here:

    @IWDSW: I am in a monagamous relationship with a “Nerd-famous” individual and it has also been a learning experience for me. Specifically, how zie interacts with fans and how to juggle public/private time when we are at events together.

    A large part of this has been sorting out my feelings and Using My Words to figure out where the boundaries are between his “Public Persona”, his “Private Persona”, and what is sort of endemic/natural/baseline for zim–I think this last bit is what has been a struggle for me and what is particularly bothersome in your letter to the Captain…

    … My “Nerd-famous” partner is “flirty”; it is part of his Public Persona and it is something zie enjoys for fun and pleasure (and without intent). It took me about a year into our relationship–through observation, discussion, and actions on zie’s part–to figure out the difference (for REASONS) before I wrangled a handle on it. While I really can’t speak for zim, nor can I really speak for the subject of your letter, here are some things I have learned and which may have bearing on the situation:

    — Zie really and genuinely cares about people, including zie’s fans
    — Zie is generally friendly and, if approached respectfully, will spend a few moments chatting
    — Zie also will let people know when they’ve crossed the line, and/or encroached on “private time” (or ZOMG! I totes need to use the bathroom now, can it please, please wait?)
    — Zie has some fans (and “super fans”) who do get “star struck” in zie’s presence. I’ve seen it. It is a strange thing to witness.
    — Zie is also pretty humble and gentle about the “star struck” folks; we’ve discussed it and it is strange for zie and I, too.
    — Zie has some “super fans”, whom zie considers friends; when at events zie (and sometimes I) will hang out together
    — Zie has some “super fans”, who are problematic; this is discussed with security and event staff prior to public appearances (and those folks know who they are).
    — Zie is a pretty darned good listener and a social advocate for certain types of change; it is part of zie’s draw

    LW, I am hoping that your “Nerd-famous” friend is like my partner; that they will listen and respect Your Words the next time you feel zie’s flirting is making you uncomfortable.

    Good Luck!

  23. Dear Letter Writers:

    First, the Captain is right. These are both situations in which Using Your Words can help a lot.,

    Eleanor, he’s a family long time friend, and he’d had a crush on you earlier. Ask him to something just the two of you if you’re scared to talk. But really, talking is better. Use the Captain’s script. I told my pretty fab partner (of several years) after our second date that I wasn’t going to be seeing anyone else because I thought there was potential for us. Did I mention partner of several years? And fab?

    Doing So Well: you too could try to talk. I’m leaning towards scripts containing “I’d rather chill on the flirting for a bit, so that’s why you’ll notice me chilling a bit. I hope you will too,” Because if he’s really a friend, he’ll accommodate you. You’re still doing so well.

  24. also, I’m seriously thinking about making that quote-picture in the blue box into an embroidery pattern, and then embroidering it and framing it, because. YES. THAT.

  25. LW2,

    I had a situation a few years ago where I developed a big honkin crush on a married colleague. We became friends and there as a very mutually flirty vibe.. Everything was mostly managed until drinks at a party for me upon leaving my old job. He ended up walking me out and I dropped him off in a cab and well…it was all a little bit too close for comfort.

    I thought about it for a while and realized that if I wanted to truly salvage the friendship, I needed to kill the romance. So the next time we went out in a group, I told him that I had a crush on him, and I knew he wasn’t available but that I would like his help managing it and I asked him for his advice. He was great about it, but the real point is that it took away plausible denyability for both of us. We can have dinner and hang out by ourselves now occasionally (and even still flirt) but it’s a lot easier on me now that everything is out in the open.

    Obviously only you know if your crush is approaching the stage where you need to take measures, but this worked well for me.

    Good luck!

  26. Ooh ooh I have things to say about both of those! First of all LWs, keep being Terrifyingly Amazing! As the Captain said, that’s coming from within you, whether these dudes are in your life or not.

    LW581, I feel you on the paralysing apprehension of wanting to know but being scared to ask. Here’s what worked for me. Last year I got gradually closer to a friend I’ve known for a very long time. There has always been flirting of the nothing-can-come-of-it type between us but late last year I realised I had actual serious feels for this dude. And I did ask him could we discuss feelings. I think what helped me to actually do it was that I went into that conversation basically prepared for 3 scenarios: 1-he also has feels and we finally figure out what us being in a relationship together would be like, yay; 2-he also has feels and we get together but it doesn’t work out; 3-he doesn’t have feels. Once I’d really thought about all 3 options I knew that even if it didn’t work out in the end, I just wanted to know. And so I asked. (It didn’t work out, but we are still friends).

    LW582, my experience is with the second option CA proposes for you. At one point I was long-distance relationship where there was sex and a lot of emotional closeness with a guy who basically made it clear that he didn’t want a committed relationship (it was one of those not now=not with you situations). When I finally accepted that a committed relationship was what I wanted, I found that he was not going to be the one to help put an end to my feelings. That had to come from me. So I made a conscious decision to redirect my thoughts whenever they turned to him (i.e. about a zillion times a day) and remind myself that even though I felt like he was perfect for me, his desire not to have a committed relationship by definition meant that he was not the one for me and I needed to move on. It was hell (I was deeply in love with him by that point), but it worked.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  27. A variation on IWDSW’s question: What if it’s not the flirting that’s the problem?

    My good-friend-in-a-monogomous-relationship-for-whom-I-have-feelings-without-intent and I are long distance. Our conversations aren’t particularly flirtations, but I am still filled with those fluttery emotions of trouble. Saying “let’s cut out the interactions that make me feel confusing feelings” would be like “let’s stop talking to each other*”, especially since we can’t really see each other in a neutral, group environment. Is silence the better part of valor in this case?

    It’s gone on long enough that it seems like a boundary ought to be set (because NOT being forthright about liking a relationship a little too much just feels inappropriate)…but what kind of boundary, when no particular action seems out of line?

    *And, indeed, this is pretty much where we’re at, since I feel so guilty and infatuated every time we talk

  28. Just wanted to leave a note to say thank you to both the Captain and Doing So Well. The former for providing such easy, applicable advice and the latter for prompting that advice to be posted. I read this entry earlier and realised I needed to have almost this exact same conversation with someone – and after MONTHS of putting it off I managed it just a few short hours after reading this – I even copied the script word for word at one point. It got a very reasonable response and I think from now on my life is going to progress… This had gone on way, WAY too long.

    Course, I feel like crap right now. It’s what I needed, not what I wanted. But I’m still thankful 🙂

  29. A few tips for the “flirting-for-fun-people”:
    – If your subject of desire shows no reaction then use your words. DON’T simply escalate to touching.
    – If your subject of desire shows no reaction DON’T assume they just didn’t “get the message”. They might have reasons for ignoring you.
    – If you try to force a reaction by e.g. pressing your breasts into your subject of desire’s back while passing by or hinting at masturbating yourself then you get sorted into the “emotionaly-manipulative-potentially-abusive-horrible-people-EVIL-BEES-INSIDE-DO-NOT-OPEN”-drawer and risk a quick aquaintanceship-freezeout.

  30. So, I love “flirting for sport”. And I often do so with friends, or new people I meet and like. BUT, if people seem uncomfortable, I stop. Alternatively, if they are SUPER into it, I have the “this is flirting for sport, and not with intent. If you are ok with that, we can continue” conversation. I’ve found this very helpful. I’ve also had the “you are nice, and where things different, maybe this would go somewhere, but this is not going anywhere.” conversation. I would rather be awkward early, and keep things clear.

  31. Eleanor X,
    Yesterday I asked my crush out! And it was scary and I wanted to curl up into a ball, but I did it anyway, and I’m still alive and let me tell you, even a no is better than not knowing. I know! Yesterday I was frustrated and I thought nothing would be better than a yes, but even just having asked I feel like a massive weight was lifted off my chest and now I can move on.

    Also, when I asked him out, he said it was very “forward” of me. So what I’m saying is you can maybe see that you wouldn’t actually work out by the way that the asking out happens.

    1. A guy who can’t handle being asked out and actually critiques you for doing it is not someone you probably want to go out with, long term. This is true.

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