#857: “I thought I made it clear that I just wanted to be friends but apparently not.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 23 year old college student, and the kind of degree and profession I want to work in requires constant joint projects where working alone is not an option, and because our industry is so small, making good connections in college with your peers can be really important.

My problem is this: last semester, while working on a project together, a class mate told me he liked me and wanted to go out with me, and I turned him down because I wasn’t interested. We finished the project, he was professional, and I pulled back from hanging out at school because I didn’t want him to feel awkward.

Then the semester was over, we didn’t really talk, and when a new semester started, we hang out a bit more at school (sitting in class together, chatting at breaks), because I liked him as a friend and would have liked to work on more projects together. Two weeks ago we made some vague plans to go see a movie, he saw it without me so I offered to go to a different movie. We ate something and saw the movie (each of us paid for ourselves), and apparently he thought it was a date. Thing is, I deliberately leaned away from him and put my beg between us to not give the wrong impression. He took my bag and put it on the floor (wtf), then put his hand on my knee. He asked me if it was okay, I said no and he took his hand off. We’re on break from school now, and haven’t talked since.

I’m mad at him, and I don’t know if I’m being cruel or not. On one hand I’m pissed off he just assumed I changed my mind. On the other hand, did he harbored a crush on me for months and I was careless with his feelings? Did I sent the wrong signals, or did he ignored the signals I sent? Should I assume he is not interested in being friends?

Truth is, I’m a very traditionally attractive woman and I usually gets more romantic\sexual attention than I would like. I work with other women on projects, but only working with ladies will really limit my options.
The whole not-date throw me into a spiral of insecurities (I’m not really talented, nobody really likes me, guys lie to me and only put up with me because I’m pretty etc) and I’m feeling really shitty right now, and I can’t focus on my school work. What can I do to make things better, and to prevent situations like this in the future?

Frustrated student
(female pronouns)

Dear Frustrated Student,

You made it perfectly clear and none of this is your fault. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this. There is one sentence in your letter that really brings everything home, when after the first time he asked you out.

“I pulled back from hanging out at school because I didn’t want him to feel awkward.”

This is YOUR education, YOUR career, YOUR precious time to learn and make connections and his awkward feelings about being rejected don’t really matter. Having a crush on you is not wrong, and asking you out is not wrong, per se, but a man not taking no for an answer or continually interpreting professional/collegial/friendly interest as romantic or sexual is a nuisance that makes it harder for women to participate in educational and professional life. You have to actively fight to overcome the way you’ve been socialized (to worry about men’s feelings) in order to get the education you signed up for, and you have to hope that he won’t retaliate in some way by making your experience miserable. And then I have to say stuff like, “Well, probably don’t hang out with him one-on-one anymore” and “He’s probably a bad fit for a classwork partner” and it feels like I’m blaming you for what happened or trying to constrain your movements even though you didn’t do anything wrong.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in class this term or how you’re going to make decisions about partnering up on projects, but I advise – nay, IMPLORE – you to prioritize your own feelings and your own career and education. Do not avoid school, do not avoid socializing with your colleagues en masse, and if this guy tries to ask you out or make a move or touch you again, consider telling the instructor or a mentor/advisor you trust. “Mike has asked me out several times, I’ve said no, and he continues to try to make something happen between us. It’s making my learning environment very uncomfortable. Can you speak to him/make sure we are not assigned to the same team for the time being?” If the mentor/instructor gives you the “Well, you’re gonna have to learn to work with all kinds of people if you want to be successful!” cop-out, try this:

“I realize that, and I was able to work with ‘Mike’ successfully after the first time he asked me out and I said no. The thing is, both at work and at school, there are laws and policies to protect me from harassment by a colleague, and I think that Mike needs the same reminder you just gave me: In the professional world, he is going to have to work with all kinds of people, and his career could be harmed by his inappropriate behavior. I have told him “no” x times and maintained my professionalism. Now I hope you (as his instructor who wants him to succeed) will do the same, so that I can fully participate in the educational experience I am paying for.”

If men make passes at you and are rejected, it is on them to handle it and to behave themselves in the aftermath. You were just minding your business and their feelings are not your fault! It is on your instructors and your institution to create a safe learning environment for you.

Crushes happen, but they don’t have to derail your semester. To that end, I’m going to answer the questions you didn’t ask for people who want to avoid annoying the crap out of their colleagues:

Question: I have a crush on a classmate. What’s the best time/way to ask them out?

Answer: After the class has ended for the term is the best time, and please make sure you are clear that what you are asking for is a date. Do not use “hanging out as friends” or doing classwork as a fig leaf when what you want is a date.

Question: They said no, but I still really like them and now it’s awkward. What should I do?

Answer: Find another outlet for your feelings, like writing in a journal or making up sad songs with your guitar or telling a friend, so that when you’re around your crush you can try to behave in a relaxed and professional way. Do not mope at them or eye-fuck them or try to get on every project and team they are on. Give them (and yourself) some space!

Question: I asked them out, they said no, and it was weird for a while but now things seem to be more relaxed. They are being really friendly and I’m wondering if they’ve changed their mind about going out with me. What should I do? Should I seize the day?

Answer: Leave the day un-seized. People don’t forget when a friend or colleague makes a romantic move like asking for a date or putting a hand on their leg at the movies. The most likely explanation for the relaxed mood between the two of you is that you’ve handled rejection well and let the topic drop, they’ve stopped bracing themselves for more romantic advances from you, and they are psyched to have the friendship that they hoped for in the first place. If that’s not the case, and they have changed their mind about going out on a date or getting involved romantically, they can tell you that in words. Or make a ‘move’ or whatever. Their affections are not a game for you to win, so turn off the wishful-thinking generator, do not manufacture ways to be alone, and do not take their friendliness as a cue re-start your courting behaviors.




468 thoughts on “#857: “I thought I made it clear that I just wanted to be friends but apparently not.”

  1. It is very risky to try to maintain “friendships” with men who want to date you. As a woman, and remembering my friends (and even myself…) at this OP’s young age, I am reminded that some women like to be pursued and DO change their minds. All the time. So men can get mixed signals and are not crazy for hoping you might change yours. Consequently, it is very risky to go to a movie… then a dinner…. with a male friend…. alone…. who you know has feelings for you. You can maintain a professional/working relationship with this person, or perhaps socialize in groups…. but by going to a movie/dinner with him alone you ARE saying that you are “interested” in him. You like spending time with him, want to spend time with him alone, you consider him a friend etc… A lot of such relationships to develop into romantic ones. And honestly, from your message, I am not entire sure if you know what you want… So to be so critical of him reads off to me.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. It is actually, a bit cruel.

    1. The way you say you are interested in someone romantically is to say “I am interested in you romantically.” Or “yes, I would like a date!” When you say “I am not interested in you that way, but I’d like to be friends” to a request for a date and then, months later, you sincerely act like a friend toward someone who has been treating you (so far) like a friend, you are not suddenly dating them or confusing the issue.

      When you sit next to someone at the movies and you put your bag between you, that is also a way of saying “Do not get closer.” The Letter Writer does know what she wants. She wanted to be friends with this guy and have a good working relationship with him. She wants to feel like she can go to class without dealing with his feelings of attraction and rejection. She is not the one sending confusing signals.

      You’re right, it can be “risky” for women to remain friends with men who say they want to date them, but it’s not women who are making it that way, and we already spend way too much time and emotional labor trying to manage the risks while we try to work and learn and have friendships. Let’s make the world less cruel and risky. One step is for men to believe women the first time when they say “no thank you.”

      1. OR men can learn that if a woman is sending “mixed signals” it’s a good idea to stay backed off until such time said woman can use her words and say “my feelings have changed and I’m now interested in dating if you are.”

        Life is hard and confusing for everybody, and everybody’s going to run into somebody who doesn’t know what they want/honestly thinks the ‘come here/go away’ thing is sexy or endearing/is a flat out manipulative asshole or sociopath. All you can control is yourself, and the sooner EVERBODY learns to say “I want X, and this person seems to be tangling X up with A-Y, I don’t want or need to play this game” the happier everbody will be.

        1. Or, men can say, “I do still like you. Could I ask you out?” And then go along with whatever the answer is.

        2. I genuinely do not understand the complaint of “Oh no! Sometimes ladies change their miiiiinds and I must keep asking them out because what if they changed their miiiiiiiind!”

          A woman who is incapable of telling you that her feelings towards you have changed is not a woman you should be dating.

          1. That’s because the claim is disingenuous.

            People who make this claim don’t accept that the objects of their desire are subjects of their own lives.

      2. Also! Don’t reposition people’s bags without their permission! I am not a person who ever puts my bag on the floor because it’s in my lap a lot. I would totally bite your head off if you picked my bag up from in between us and put it on the floor!

        1. Not only is he moving her personal belongings – which probably hold her phone & wallet – but he’s moving them onto a sticky movie theater floor? Even someone I’m actually romantically interested in would hear some words from me for trying that.

        2. No kidding, if someone grabbed my bag or any other of my possessions and moved it without asking me, especially so they could have unwanted physical contact, there would be PROBLEMS.

        3. Agreed. The minute I read that, I practically saw red. That is MY PURSE with MY THINGS in it that I don’t want stolen ever, how DARE anyone lay a hand on it like that. That alone honestly might be enough for me to not interact with someone again in the future. I for certain would say something caustic in the moment (which I realize not everyone is comfortable doing, but I’m comfortable with confrontation). But just like… that is SO RUDE. Like excuse him? I am so mad at him in LW’s behalf. Just. Ugh.

          1. If nothing else, I pay good money on my handbags so I don’t go flinging them around on cinema floors! That, on top of the ‘moving personal things’ made my teeth go on edge. I am equally as mad about it.

          2. I am trying to figure out if I am a total bag whore because I was literally “on a theater floor?!?!?! EWWWWWWW!” when I read that.

            I think this guy is a turd.

      3. One thing that a lot of people don’t understand is /why/ you don’t continue pursuing after a rejection.

        Even if they are the kind to change their mind, it is predicated on their opinion of you. If you repeatedly ask, you become that clingy creep shoo won’t take no for an answer; it’s hard not to resent someone who constantly intrudes on your ‘safe zone’.

        On the other hand, if you take it well and can remain on friendly terms without invading their safe zone, the other person will see that you’re polite and won’t hurt/bother them for expressing their desires. When you are able to remain on good terms like this, it is a really positive trait and fosters trust, so it can really help improve your prospects if they do become interested.

        That said, they will express their interest when they are ready. Otherwise, assume that what they’ve told you still stands. By rejecting you, they’ve invoked a magic seal on your relationship that can only be undone by the caster. So please, don’t be an idiot by proving their decision right.

        1. Fuelling your personal belief the person was wrong and will come to their senses if you just stealth-charm them out of their perceptions and feelings is *not* actually why you don’t continue pursuing after a rejection.

          1. I used a lot of ‘if’s and ‘even’s because stealth-charming isn’t even a remote possibility. They like you that way or they don’t and that decision does not generally change. Although it happens, being creepy, pushy, and clingy after a rejection is certain to destroy any possibility whatsoever. You’ve misunderstood and hopefully I’ve clarified things properly.

        2. “they’ve invoked a magic seal on your relationship that can only be undone by the caster”

          As an extremely geeky person who’s going to be playing the original Baldur’s Gate later, can I just say that made my day? Because that just made my day.

          1. Thanks, you made mine too! (I make a lot of geeky jokes that faceplant). I really enjoy the Forgotten Realms 😀 Have fun!

    2. How ’bout “NO”?

      Say we were to extend your ” logic” here. What kind of contact is “acceptable” between women, and anyone who may, at some point in time, develop feelings for them? What wouldn’t you consider to be a “mixed signal”? Eye contact? Speech? Laughter? Physical proximity?

      Maybe baby girls should be sealed in hamster balls, keep them in bubbles, lest they give off mixed signals between cradle and grave.

      1. By that same advice, I should never, ever (as a straight woman) attempt to be friends with gay women, because those gay women would be attracted to me and want to date me.

        I hope that it is clearly obvious to all and sundry that such a notion is solid-state bullshit. Ridiculous solid-state bullshit.

        I have a friend and former work colleague who is a lesbian and who is attracted to me and had a pretty hard crush on me at one point (I know this because she told me). Our friendship has some boundaries and walls in it that are not present in friendships with straight women, and we both accept those. I don’t cross them because yes, it would be cruel to tease her about dating me or some other things….but I’m not crossing them, and that’s that. In return, my friend knows that yeah, I’m straight, it’s not going to happen, so don’t let wishful thinking cloud your judgement, moving on here.

        That isn’t what is happening with LW. She is doing normal things that normal people do, and the man who is crushing on her is letting wishful thinking cloud his judgement. If the wishful thinking is getting to the point that it is interfering with her ability to be a normal person around him, and not worried that saying something as sexually provocative as, “will you pass me a kleenex?” will have him hanging over her in wistful anticipation, then that’s not on her, that’s on him.

        Unfortunately for LW, the only way I’ve found so far with that kind of Grisóstomo is to decline to do anything with them. If they won’t take no for an answer, if they’re only hearing the answer they want to hear in spite of all kinds of other evidence, if they’re blaming LW of mixed messages when they are the ones conflating friendship with romantic attraction….they lose the privilege of being her friend. It’s sad and it hurts, and that’s the only answer they’ll usually come to accept.

    3. It is the 21st century. If someone cannot handle having a friend of another gender, the onus is on them to speak up. They’re the anomaly. You don’t ask everyone to cook gluten-free because someone might be allergic. You don’t ask people to refrain from friend activities because someone might not understand friendship.

      I mean, I can sympathize. An overactive Wishful Thinking Translator hurts. Distancing yourself might be the right choice. But still, the action is on the person who has the problem.

      Not to mention the logical fallacy in “A lot of such relationships develop into romantic ones”. Just because most A started as B does not mean that most B will develop into A. Statistics say that most people average 5-12 lovers in a lifetime. How many friends can we compare that number to? I’ve made seven friendly acquaintances these past four months alone. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna fuck all of them. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna fuck a statistically significant number of them.

      Sure, the Friendship Backdoor Gambit has better odds than winning the lottery, but let’s be real. So does getting struck by lightening.

      1. Yep! I’ve been the person with the unrequited crush (this happens to women too, and is so rarely acknowledged! it’s always “oh but men get ideas and we have to be careful not to lead them on” but women get “ideas” too). I get it. It sucks. But if someone can’t handle being around their friend because of their feelings, it’s up to them to say something post-rejection, like “Ok, thanks for letting me know. I need to take a break from hanging out for awhile.” or later “I realized I still have romantic feelings for you that make friendship a not great idea right now, so I’m going to pull back” etc.

        I’ve even been the person who turns somebody down, then later develops feelings for them after I get to know them! But then it’s up to me to say “is that offer of a date still open” not up to them to keep re-interpreting my signals.

        1. Good comment! Unrequited feelings are not new, and indeed, they can happen to anybody. For every relationship that develops, there are usually more than a few other ones that didn’t. One-sided courtship is a lot more common than media portrays.

          I went on a fun date with a previous coworker of mine and although we had a great time, I really wasn’t feeling it for various reasons. There have also been a some strangers and/or colleagues who’ve hit on me in the past, but I’ve only become comfortable accepting invitations recently. There’s a huge difference between getting together (whether as friends or to test the romantic prospects) and dating!

          Generally, if we’re already friends, I don’t need to qualify you with a few dates in public safe places. Strangers don’t get to skip the ‘who are you and why do you like me’ phase, but friends can more or less confess at any appropriate time and I’ll have an unambiguous decision.

          Usually the decision is based on personality and compatibility – these traits don’t change very fast, so my decision almost always remains the same. It’s only when the decision is circumstantial that it changes; I’d let them know when it does.

          In short, maybe 12-14 people have liked me and I dated only 1; learning to handle rejection is a much more important skill than learning how to change someone’s mind (and many many times less effort and less likely to make people uncomfortable). Seriously, people have innate manipulation radar and relationships go sour really fast when it’s constantly going off because you think you have subtlety and finesse.

          Yet somehow there are so many online dating guides for girls AND guys try to sell the idea that you can seduce your crush who turned you down D:

          1. “learning to handle rejection is a much more important skill than learning how to change someone’s mind” yes x1000.

        2. I feel like the Sheezlebub Principle applies well if you have an unrequited crush. How long do you want to carry this candle around for? A few weeks? A year? Three? Been there, done that, and it’s bloody miserable. It’s so much healthier and happier for everyone if you do yourself a solid and not see them for a while to heal up and, if not be able to move on, at least process the feelings in a way that you can trust yourself to behave in a non-jerky way when you see them again.

      2. As somebody pointed out on the Intertubes, the existence of the friendzone is predicated on the prior existence of the girlfriendzone. That is, see woman, categorize woman as desirable for sex and bare emotions, get fussy when woman does not do sex or bare emotions. Flipping that around gets this: see man, like man, like to be friends with man, discover that man considers friendship to be an unfortunate Sorry card in the game of “get into her sex and bare emotions.” It’s a nasty shock to discover that somebody you considered to be a friend isn’t your friend at all and just wants you.

    4. Huh. That hasn’t been my experience at all, I have a significant number of male friends who at one point or another expressed interest in me sexually. I didn’t reciprocate the feelings, and we went on to stay friends, some for decades. Of course they all are men who respect boundaries because I don’t do well with people who don’t respect boundaries I clearly set.
      Actually thanks for the reminder I gotta call my best friend in the whole wide world and see if he wants to see Captain America with me, we’ve been friends for 23 years and I was best man at his wedding (where was he gonna find a man better than me?)

      1. Word. My high-school friend groups featured, unsurprisingly, a lot of crushes and dating within themselves. It was that time of our lives, after all, and friends are pretty “safe” people to crush on or learn to date with. And with very, very few exceptions, shooting straight with a guy (or girl) would result in a period of awkwardness, then the friendship would pick right up again. I think that’s because everyone was being honest and acting in good faith; no one was playing a game or assuming they could wait someone out/wear them down. I was honest with my friends who asked me out, and they in turn were honest in both their disappointment and their respect of my feelings.

      2. Heh, are you me? My very best friend and I met in the same elementary school class over 25 years ago. We tried dating in high school, it didn’t work out. Twice in our early 20s, he suggested trying a romantic relationship again, and I politely declined. And he *listened* to me and *respected* my decision.

        Years later, he was the maid of honor in my wedding. I wasn’t the best man in his wedding because he and his wife eloped. They’re my kids’ godparents. Good thing I didn’t consider remaining friends with him “risky”.

      3. You’re lucky, Mary-Sue. One of my closest friends in the whole world got drunk and asked for sex after we’d been awesome friends for over 7 years. When i said no, he claimed he had “earned it” by being friends with me for so long and i should do it to say goodbye to him as he was emigrating to the other side of the world.

        We are still friends, but nothing like as close as we used to be. I waited till he was sober and pointed out exactly how gross that conversation had been. I had to ask him how he would feel if someone did it to his sister to make him see my point, but i guess its better than nothing.

        Other male friends like to bandy about the whole “men are only friends with women they want to have sex with” crap. I always, without hesitation, tell them how that makes me feel uncomfortable and sometimes unsafe around them.

        They are often surprised at my reaction, too.

    5. This is a load of horseshit. You know what’s cruel? Faking friendship when all you want is a romantic relationship. Acting like you’re cool with things and then pushing the issue anyway. Refusing to accept the no.

      By going to a movie or dinner with someone alone, you’re saying you’re interested in hanging out with them. That’s it. Not dating them, not sleeping with them, not being their romantic partner.

      I’m fucking livid at this thinking because we cannot win. I had a male friend who did a far more aggressive version of what the LW’s friend did. When I distanced myself, I got yelled at for not being in contact (it was cruel, after all, why couldn’t we just be friends?). When we did hang out I was leading him on. Stop promoting this bullshit trash-fire ‘logic.’

      Saying no should be enough. If your logic holds, then going anywhere with anybody is risky. If a man continues to fake friendship with a woman to try and date her, he’s being a dumbass. Yes, some people change their minds, and when they do they can use their words. What does not change someone’s mind is being nagged, having someone continue to make a play for you when you don’t want it, or trying to manipulate your way into a relationship. Wearing someone down is not the way to start a romantic relationship.

      And for all she knew, he was over it. She didn’t know he STILL had feelings for her, and HE KNEW she did NOT share those feelings. So if he couldn’t handle it, he should not have suggested it.

      1. You know what’s cruel? Faking friendship when all you want is a romantic relationship.

        This! How come we (as a culture, not the commentors here) spend so much time talking about women “friendzoning” (ugh, that is not a thing) men, and so little about men fuckzoning (or girlfriendzoning, if you’d rather not swear) women?

        Hint: it’s the belief that men’s needs matter and women’s don’t.

        The whole thing makes me ugh so hard. Treating someone like they’re worthless to you unless you can have access to their orifices is about a bajillion times crueler than saying “I don’t like you that way, but I’d like to be friends if that works for you.”

        1. Right?

          It is okay to not hang out with someone if you can’t handle unrequited feelings, but I am perpetually baffled by people* acting like someone* they like wanting to be friends with them is the WORST THING IN THE FUCKING WORLD. OH NO, SOMEONE I THOUGHT WAS COOL DOESN’T WANT TO TOUCH MY GENITALIA,* THEY ARE LITERALLY SO TERRIBLE AND DEVIOUS, OH MY GOD, WAS ANYONE EVERY TREATED SO CRUELLY

          People* = mostly dudes
          someone* = mostly women
          *Genitalia = dick

          1. It’s SO insulting. Since when is my friendship some kind of consolation prize? I will have you know I am a delight.

        2. Silly Mel Reams, don’t you know that women aren’t really people and are only here to cure sad men of their sads and provide them with social status, clean clothes and hot dinners?

          1. And one of the best ways to cure sad men of their sads is to touch their boner, apparently.

        3. Thank you for adding “fuckzoning” to my vocabulary. I think that showing the flipside of “friendzoning” is critical to getting through some skulls how awful the concept is.

          1. Disclaimer: I originally got that from, uh, somewhere else. I’d give credit if only I could remember where on earth I read it. But yeah, incredibly useful phrase.

            On a related note, I hate hate hate how some guys don’t seem to realise that me not wanting to fuck them is my natural state. No dude, I am not the prize you get for showing up, I have my own needs and wants and they certainly do not include your supposedly magical penis.

          2. Yes, this! Love it. “Girlfriend zoning” always seemed too… kind, not conveying the level of WTF NO STOP the mentality deserves.

        4. I just want to say that the term “fuckzoning” is brilliant.

          I mean, if anything, men who complain about “friendzoning” have “friendzoned” themselves. You billed yourself as a friend, not as a potential partner; why are you so pissed that the woman you befriended only wants to be your friend?? The only answer is that you never actually wanted to be a friend, which is a pretty shitty way to act towards anyone…particularly someone you want to date.

        5. Also, the awfulness of friendzoning is very much a one-way street. If I, a fat middle-aged woman, expected one of my male acquaintances to date me just because I’d listened to him telling me about sad things in his life, would he be a horrible person for ‘friendzoning’ me? Or would I be both wrong and disgusting for suggesting that he might want to fuck me while I am willfully refusing to be a 22 year-old bikini model?

          1. That is a fantastic point and I really love the phrase “willfully refusing to be a 22 year-old bikini model.”

        6. or we don’t complain about men friendzoning women! As mentioned upstream, women get crushes on guys who don’t reciprocate the feelings! (And most women take it sensibly, and others turn into creepers. But we feel really bad for men who are the targets of creepy women; there hasn’t historically been much sympathy for women who are targeted.)

        7. And no one (in the general culture) ever talks about men “friendzoning” women. Men reject women, too, but some how that doesn’t make it into the narrative.

      2. In honesty, guys tend to make boundary mistakes a lot more often than girls. I made the mistake once and I’ve done everything since then to learn from it. Dating is a difficult skill to learn, but it doesn’t give anybody a free pass to be disrespectful. Respect is a much easier skill to learn, and I don’t understand how it’s one of the more common mistakes made while dating.

        I’d be really annoyed if somebody thought hanging out was the same as going steady; even when we’re both head over heels, it’s still not dating until we have /both/ /agreed/ upon it. The keyword is ‘mutual agreement’! Usually this means one of us asks to be a couple, and the other says ‘yes’ (not ‘maybe’, not ‘no’, not ‘I need to think about it’). If a certain behaviour would make me annoyed, it should be clear that I shouldn’t do it myself.

        There’s really no excuse for disrespect; I always appreciate when people give me a single warning I’ve been disrespectful, then expect me not to ever repeat the mistake. The implied cost being their continued goodwill, and potentially, punishment by any relevant governing body. In my opinion, you can only be ignorant of boundaries the first time you cross them (and are warned/punished), at which point you have no excuse afterward.

        1. Good comment (especially the last paragraph), but I wanna push back on the “guys tend to make boundary mistakes a lot more often than girls” part because while I get the sentiment, I don’t believe it is correct. Girls make just as many boundary mistakes, but they are punished harder and more swiftly for them and thus learn quickly to avoid them. In contrast, many boys are allowed to leave childhood without learning these things, and the decent ones have to play catch-up during adulthood. There is nothing inherently oblivious about being a guy. We all learn the same lessons, some just learn later than others.

    6. >> You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      Hm – out of interest, which bit of “I want full access to my education and a career in my chosen profession without having to manage men’s feelings, just like men get too” is the cake, and which bit is eating it?

      I agree that asking someone out twice with several months between the two isn’t automatic “Mike is a terrible person” territory. What he does next is my determiner of terrible personhood: if Mike manages to harbour hoped after two clear Noes, several months apart, then he’s heading into terrible personhood. But it’s also totally legitimate for LW to be frustrated and annoyed by this, and it’s rotten for you to make it sound like she’s at fault.

        1. Not to nearly the same extent or with nearly the same regularity, no. Mike has no reason to worry that being a creepy boundary-violating creepster towards LW will have serious lasting damage on his career. Meanwhile, LW is worried that not coddling Mike through the experience of rejection will have serious lasting damage on her career.

          That’s a clearly unequal burden, and it’s worth noting that it’s not because one person is more senior, or is better positioned within the industry, or has loads of contacts and is well liked – these are all positions which could put a man in the position of having to cater to an unreasonable woman. Mike and LW, on the other hand, are in identical positions apart from the fact that Mike is a dude and LW is a lady. And we all know it’s not a once off.

        2. Okay, let’s hear it. How are you culturally expected to manage women’s feelings? I am sincerely hoping you’re not about to bust out “sometimes women ask men if they’re fat or want compliments on their new haircut”.

          1. I’m a woman, so I end up managing everyone’s feelings. But I think that there are men who don’t make their rejection clear because they don’t want to hurt the woman who’s crushing on them.

            I think that most decent people feel some level of responsibility for managing other people’s feelings.

            I don’t think men get the broader societal pressure to do so, but it’s there. It’s not just women.

          2. I don’t think men are ever expected to prioritise the female co-workers’ feelings over their careers. Maybe it happens somewhere, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that a man should not apply for a job, a promotion, a project or anything else because it might bring him into the orbit of a female co-worker who Like-likes him. Nor that an attractive man will have to learn to deal with women having crushes on him and figure out how to conduct himself in the workplace in a way that will gently but carefully let manage the feelings of women who might develop crushes on him, or that they need to think at an early stage of their career how they will handle intense late night working on projects. But that’s pretty standard discussion for women going into certain fields.

            We’re not just talking about “trying not to hurt someone’s feelings”, we’re talking specifically about “managing the feelings of someone who fancies you is expect of you in a professional workspace and not supposed to prioritise your own career development over it”.

    7. “…As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”
      “I do assure you, Sir, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.”
      “You are uniformly charming!” cried he, with an air of awkward gallantry; “and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable.”

      Don’t be Mr. Collins, guys. Just don’t.

        1. It is rather sad, isn’t it, that Jane Austen pointed this out so many years ago, and men (and apparently some women) still haven’t evolved to behave in a more rational way.

          1. To reference a different, repellent author, there are very few people that I would not hide from the Tick-Tock Man, but whoever standardized feigned disinterest as a part of heteronormative courtship gets floodlights and free biscuits for the coursing hounds. I have lost far too much of my life being accused of brazenly and wantonly smelling like shampoo when all I wanted was clean hair and I want that back, dammit.

          2. @The Awe Ritual… I had to snigger when you mentioned the shampoo thing. I remembered a book I read in my teens. The plot took place in early 20th century’s Spanish countryside, where an unmarried woman who came from the city was accused of being libertine because she bathed frequently and, you know, “women only need to wash, mostly, once the month or before they’re meeting their men”. It’s amazing that cleanliness/slutiness links is kept as valid by some modern folk.

      1. This times one million. Don’t be Mr. Collins, guys. No means no. BTW, not sure how CA and the Awkward Army thinks of Meghan Trainor but the lyrics of her new song “No” seem applicable.

      2. This is so sadly relevant. And she never does convince him herself, IIR. She has to enlist her Dad whose refusal cannot possibly be confused as the coquetry of an ‘elegant female’ due to his possessing those manly parts that allow a person to mean what they say. And this is just the first guy Elizabeth will shut down that is incredulous because they are so clearly entitled to her…

    8. …………wow.

      There are so many things wrong with your comment that I am not even going to bother.

    9. No. It is *not* on the LW to throw her networking and future career under the bus by not forming friendships because one dude can’t control his feelingsboner. And, for the record, I’m in a largely male-dominated field, as well. It’s not too much to expect grown-ass adults to act like adults.

    10. Uh, no! Do you realize what an impossible standard this is for women to meet? I take part in a ton of hobbies that are male dominated. If I never did anything alone with a guy, or said “no” every time someone asked to get food after a hard day, I’d never do anything.
      Based on your comment, it sounds like you assume women and men can never be friends, because every friendship is just a relationship waiting to happen. That is BS.

      If I want to date someone, I will tell them. If they want to date me, they should tell me. Otherwise, the assumption is I enjoy spending time with them as a FRIEND.

      I’m not going to limit my social life just for boys who don’t understand what “no” means.

    11. Translation: some men are a bit clueless and see interest where there is none because they desperately want to see it.

      1. And unfortunately, these guys are ones you really end up needing to worry about, because if they have any contact at all with you, they think it means you’re secretly saying you want to fuck them.

        Honestly, when I’ve had this problem I have really needed to AVOID THE HELL OUT OF THE GUY for months at least. I’ve dropped out of social circles because some guy went all When Harry Met Sally on me. I’ve found that it’s best to go quite awhile before seeing the dude so his feelings would cool off because hanging around me and me acting like a normal person who doesn’t want to bone was only putting fuel on the fire, apparently. There’s a lot of scientific studies about how guys do this kind of thing, i.e. assume all interest is mutual, and I’m really tired of being burned by that. I know it’s not fair and it’s not right, but I am the one thing in life I can control on that situation and I’ve found that I’m way better off just acting like they have cooties than trying to be friends or acquaintances with a guy who wants to bone.

        I do feel for the LW because she can’t totally avoid him. Unfortunately, it looks like a friend-hang isn’t a good idea with this one.

        1. Amen to this. It gets so very tiresome to have to constantly apologize for the male entitlement imagination.

    12. “I am reminded that some women like to be pursued and DO change their minds.”

      Well, that is their problem.

      Men should be respectful of the women who do NOT want to be pursued and are mature enough to say that they changed their minds if they did.

      The women who can’t behave like mature adults when dealing with men, should not be in relationships anyway. Staying single until they figure out how to let a man know that they like him will do them good.

      1. And is that even a thing, really, women who want to be pursued? I’ve certainly never seen it in real life and feel like this “trope” only exists in the first place because of being portrayed in various media outlets, not because it’s something that happens all the time and everywhere.

        1. Yeah, I think it is. Just like there are some women who like to be wolf-whistled. I think it’s really important to notice that women like all sorts of different things and it’s not wrong to like stuff that other women find annoying! But the rest of is definitely shouldn’t have to put up with harassment just so the minority who fight find it annoying get their kicks.

          1. Women – not a monolith! What an amazing concept!

            If you’re not sure what someone likes, ask them. The fact that some people somewhere out there at some point like being ‘pursued,’ whatever the fuck that even means, is completely not relevant to the LW’s dilemma here.

          2. “[Women] shouldn’t have to put up with harassment just so the minority who fight find it annoying get their kicks.”


        2. Yeah, it definitely is — I’ve seen it both in real life and online. There’ll be an article talking about stopping sexual harassment/unwanted overtures etc and a woman will say something like “I like to feel chased! I don’t want guys to stop telling me I’m pretty!” etc. It’s not wrong to want those things, but I do think it’s pretty bad to basically imply “I like unsolicited attention from guys, and all those women who don’t are making it less likely for me to get it!” Not getting compliments in public one would like is not on the same level of sad things in life as being harassed and approached by guys who won’t hear “no”…

          1. “Compliments” vs “not getting street harassment” is a false dichotomy anyway. When some random guy in a grocery store went “dude your outfit is awesome, where did you get that hat”, that was 1) a compliment and 2) not creepy or harassing.

        3. In the sense that human behavior is complex, I’m going to say there probably are some women who like to be chased. I’ve never met them, though. I’ve met plenty of women who love falling in love–doesn’t everyone like NRE?–and women who like meeting and having sex with new and interesting people, but I’ve never met a woman who specifically told me she loves being pursued. Conversely, I’ve met a lot of men who love the chase, so I think this is an example of men assuming women like something as much as they do. It’s a lot like penis size, really. Almost every woman I’ve ever met, minus a couple of size queens, want a partner whose penis is within a standard deviation of average, but almost every man I know thinks all women want the biggest, thickest penis. So I’m inclined to think that both those things are examples of male empathy gap, since in both cases men assume that women want the same things men want, even when they don’t.

        4. Watching Mad Men, even Joan (who liked male attention at first) was like “I want to burn this place to the ground” eventually. And if “pursuit” is your thing, leave it at home when you go to work or school.

        5. I have heard about such women, like, a friend of a friend knows a woman who is like that, and occasionally, I meet women who seem to make it a hobby to embody every harmful misogynist steretoype ever, and where I would not be surprised if they also wanted to be pursued.
          However, they are certainly rather rare. And anyway, for a decent man, it would be no loss if he just accepted such a woman’s “no” at face value. A relationship with a person who cannot simply say what she wants would be incredibly stressful.

          1. Yeah, it just seems so… incredibly inefficient? Because it just always comes with the chance of someone actually accepting your rejection at face value and then you’re just standing there all sadly because the other person didn’t want to “chase” you. Clear communication is just so much better all around.

          2. There are some women who deliberately try to “play hard-to-get” because they think MEN like the “thrill of the chase” and the men will lose interest if the women actually try to pursue them. See: “The Rules,” etc. I wouldn’t want to be with a dude who couldn’t handle me showing interest in him, but I think for some women it’s not that they want to be chased, it’s that they think men want to do the chasing.

        6. I think of myself as “wanting to be pursued”, but in my head I define that as “someone I’m interested in also showing interest in me and making the first move”. And now that I think about it I feel like everyone who’s interested in flirting and/or dating would enjoy that?

          1. yeah you might want to be a bit pursued by someone you’re interested in; I kind of define that the same way I think. But often in that case there has been some kind of mutual indication of interest already such as flirting, or it’s happening in a place where some of that is a bit more ok bc of where you are like a club. There’s a big difference between that kind of stuff and ‘guy I already rejected explicitly moved my bag and put his hand on my knee.’ The dude should be assuming that this woman does not want to be flirted with or pursued in any way and certainly not assaulted, harassed, touched in a sexual way at all etc etc

          2. Yeah, I want to be “pursued” in the sense that I want a guy who is interested in me (who I am also interested in) to initiate plans and show genuine enthusiasm about spending time with me. Someone who makes time with me a priority. Of course I do all those things in return, too. And…I would never in a million years say “no” to those invitations if I meant “yes,” just to make him try harder.

          3. See, that’s not what I would define as “pursuing someone” at all, that just sounds like normal showing of interest to me. I feel like that can be a big reason for many people reacting so differently to the subject of “pursuing” a romantic partner – because it’s not clearly defined and everyone understands it differently. For me, I’d only ever use “pursue” in such a context if I meant “trying to get with someone although they’ve said to you/shown you that they’re not interested”, so it gets a definite “nope” from me which someone who uses the word more like you might not understand as a result. Aah, language.

        7. I’m not sure how universal it is, but my impression is, there used to be a LOT of messaging that “if you’re a woman, being good is saying no, and if you want someone, you say no less hard”. And it’s hardly surprising that if that’s the message you hear all your life, it ends up affecting you.

          Like, it’s possible to recognise that’s a problem people have that might not be their fault, without saying that justifies normalising ignoring boundaries.

          1. Also, you know, if you aren’t sure what someone means, you also have the option of using YOUR OWN words to clarify that with them. Like, in the unlikely event that some dude is genuinely not sure whether I am giving him a soft no or “playing hard to get” or whatever, he has the ability to ask me. “Hey, I’m not sure if you’re saying ‘no, I’m not interested’ or ‘chase me harder’, which is it?”

          2. Also the ability to go, “this is confusing and not fun, I’m going to step away now”.

        8. Yes. From this link I just read this morning (which is why it’s fresh on my mind): http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/magazine-feature/7341537/yuna-interview-pharrell-williams-usher-muslim-faith-new-album

          “Some guy on the street just shouted, ‘You’re ­beautiful!’ ” [Yuma] says, letting out a pinched giggle. “That just made my entire day!”

          Also when going out with friends when I was younger, they told me not to pursue guys otherwise I’d be seen as desperate. I have since dropped them (at least when it came to boozy social things) and have pursued my own husband. But that is very much a pervasive attitude.

        9. I am a woman who likes to be pursued. But with a GIANT ASTERISK next to “pursued.” There is a huge difference in my behavior when I’m not interested versus when I’m “playing hard to get” (god I hate that phrase, I don’t think it’s accurate at all but there isn’t a better one). Lack of interest gets you a polite “I’m sorry, but no. I’m just not interested in you in that way.” “Hard to get” gets you an insincere, exaggerated insult consistent with my general flirting style (for example: “No because you’re literally the worst”), said with a smile, standing at an I-am-flirting-with-you distance, possibly followed by literally skipping away from the conversation like a child. Basically, if I don’t like you, you shouldn’t try pursuing me because that’s not what liking to be pursued means. And if I do like you, you will know (or if you don’t know, then I won’t like you anymore, because my personal preference is for guys who can tell when “go fuck yourself” means “you’re great” and that is pretty much why I like to be pursued). So in summary I essentially wrote this comment to say: yeah, there are women who like to be pursued… but that doesn’t mean creepers get to creep or that women are to blame for the creeping of creepers.

      2. Yes! Let’s say I have a friend who makes homemade brownies for gifts, and I don’t like brownies.* She offers to me some that she’s brought to an office potluck, and I say, “no thank you, I don’t like brownies.” She remembers this. But for Christmas, for my birthday, for a promotion, any conceivable reason to give a gift, she gives me brownies. She knows I don’t like them, but she gives them to me, and she acts hurt that I don’t eat them or see grateful. Is she not an asshole just because sometimes people change their minds about what food they like? NO, SHE IS AN ASSHOLE. Purposefully pushing something on someone who you know doesn’t want it, just because sometimes, in this world, people change their minds, is not ok.

        *This is just a hypothetical. In real life, give me all the brownies.

        1. Yeah, “sometimes people change their minds about stuff” is certainly true, but the leap that some people make from “sometimes some people change their minds about some things, eventually” to “anyone with a different opinion than me will probably have changed their mind on any given topic I want them to within the next thirty seconds” is freakin’ mind-blowing.

          And that’s not even getting into how goddamn RUDE it is to pester people with “Have you changed your mind yet? How about now? How about now? Alright, what about now?”

          I have large, immovable, possibly self-defeating mental blocks about a whole host of random things in life that I’ve just been pushed too goddamn hard on and have ~changed~ my mind from “I don’t do thing X because I don’t have an interest in doing thing X” to “THING X IS FOR ASSHOLES AND I NEVER WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN AND I WILL NEVER DO THE THING UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EVER.”

          And people are still like “You might change your miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind!”

          Maybe, someday, if I get 10+ years of nobody bringing it up so I have time for all the psychological associations between Thing X and General Assholery to fade. :/

          1. There was someone in my college choir who didn’t like chocolate, and I can remember turning to that person and saying, “Wow, that must be terrible, people must always be giving you shit about it,” and they were like, “OH MY G-D SOMEONE GETS IT.”

            Wish more people could make that connection!

          2. A friend of mine has this reaction to anime. He hates it. Hates all varieties of it. He finally snapped one day when someone (yet again) suggested that he just hadn’t found the “right” anime and said, “Look. I don’t care how may different ways you suggest that I get kicked in the balls, I’m never going to like it.”

      3. I think “being pursued” has different meanings. I know some people who think it means merely that a man takes initiative to let you know he likes you, and if you respond encouragingly, continues to take steps to let you know that he’s interested (feeling out the waters for a bit, so to speak). That’s what I was raised with (as far as the definition of “pursued”), and that seems like something that would be fairly helpful as long as the woman is giving indications of interest. It’s when she’s not, or when she tells him plainly that she’s not interested, that the “pursued” part becomes unwelcome.

      4. Well, that is their problem.

        Exactly! It is not even slightly my problem that some women enjoy the appearance of their boundaries being ignored. If that’s how they like to do relationships, they need to let the guy they’re interested know that. Through a friend if that’s what it takes to preserve the illusion, but for fuck’s sake tell the guy what you want. Nothing about me wanting my boundaries to be respected as if I’m a person or something prevents you from expressing your desires like a freaking grownup.

        1. Right? Also, you’d think the dudes complaining about ‘mixed messages’ would want to discourage all that terrible behavior. So if a woman says ‘no’ when she means ‘keep pushing’ and you take her no at face value… she learns that it’s important to be clear rather than expecting people to risk ignoring your consent. Win-win.

          1. Also, you’d think the dudes complaining about ‘mixed messages’ would want to discourage all that terrible behavior.

            Hah, yes. If guys actually wanted women to stop giving them “mixed messages” they could fix that in a couple of weeks, tops, by simply taking us all at our word and ignoring all subtext. Pity “but she was sending mixed messages” and “but women are soooooo confusing, I just can’t figure out what she wants” are so convenient for guys in general to believe.

    13. Oh hey look, I’m back again! My nap has cleared my brain, so I can state this effectively.

      WRT “mixed signals, poor menz, &c”

      Men* understand when women say “No”.

      They understand the direct “No” or “NO!”.

      They understand a soft “No” like:
      – “I’m not interested in dating right now”
      – “I’m too busy with work/kids/levelling up my paladin”
      – “Let’s just stay friends”

      They understand non-verbal “No” expressed via body language, lack of a response/reply, or a change of subject.

      They understand things like a solid object placed in their way (OMG, No waiii!)

      They get it, they understand it, and they know exactly what it means. The thing is, a scarilylarge number of them just don’t care. ** It is never, ever alright to blame the victim of unwanted attention/touch/advances/whatever because you’ve been lucky enough to be unaffected, and a raging case of ‘Just World’ fallacy is affecting your assumptions.

      *Please don’t even start with the whole “what if he’s socially awkward/on the autistic spectrum/from Metebelis 3”. It’s been done and, as a neuroatypical person, I don’t want a Tri-Dimensional Chess tournament against people who throw that out every time a man ignores ” No”.


        1. Shucks! 😀

          Although, the bigger the ranks of my Big Pink Resistance, the easier it will be to overcome the forces of ebils. So yes, join us!

      1. *solidarity fistbump of another “I got Stuff, but that doesn’t mean everyone around me can’t have boundaries or feel safe” brigade*

      2. Seriously.

        I dated a guy for many years who insisted I was a poor communicator. He just couldn’t understand what was okay and what wasn’t okay! So hard! So tricky! Much confuse! Such uncertain!

        My job is like 99% communicating with people and I have literally never had a single other person in my life call me a poor communicator. He just didn’t WANT to hear what I had to say, so he CHOSE not to and pretended it was MY fault.

        1. Oof, yes, this!

          When someone is deliberately sticking their fingers in their ears and then saying they can’t hear you, YOU are not the problem.

          1. It got completely ridiculous, to the point where I was literally writing him e-mails being like “I need you to do X, Y, and Z at A time in B way” and I STILL heard “you’re just bad at communicating! I don’t know what you want me to do!”

        2. My sister-in-law was exchanging messages with a guy she met on a dating site, and he asked her to go camping with him. Alone. For the weekend. At first, she was actually ok with the idea, and had some suggestions for it, but then he started to get weirdly pushy about the plans and rejecting all her ideas, so finally she said “Look, you insisting on making all the plans is making me uncomfortable. I no longer want to meet you at all, anywhere, ever.”

          The text she got back was “Ugh, I don’t understand these mixed messages you’re sending me! Why can’t you say what you mean!”

          1. Does she live in Vancouver and was he an accountant? Because that sounds like my interaction with an online dating guy forever known to my friends as Sean The Foot-Eating Accountant.
            Him: Let’s meet up!
            Me: Sure, how about X place at Y time?
            Him: Oh, I can’t.

            [two days later]
            Him: let’s meet up!
            Me: Oh, um, okay, what about A place a B time?
            Him: No, that’s too close to where I work, how about I pick you up in my windowless white van and take you to an undisclosed location that might be my murder dungeon?
            Me: Uh…no.
            Me: please don’t contact me again.

            [two weeks later]
            Him: Hey, Novel, it’s Sean, want to meet up?

            [four weeks after that]
            Him: Hey want to meet up?
            [four weeks after that]
            Him: Hey want to meet up?
            [continue for a year and a half]

      3. Thank you for this. We need to change the cultural narrative on this because that whole “oh those poor men, bless them, they’re just not great at communication” thing exists TO FACILITATE their privilege to ignore women’s boundaries.

        1. These are the same gender that wrote the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, so I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to grasp this concept of No.

          1. Thank you for adding Magna Carta and Decl of Independence into my bucket of arguments.

          2. The Declaration of Independence kind of is a breakup dialog, isn’t it? That’s oddly delightful.

      4. and as someone on the spectrum, I can assure you it’s possible to be both autistic and an asshole at the same time. The solution to “I don’t understand” is not to expect others to let you do bad things without consequences, it’s to put more work into learning to Use Your Words (and/or other communication devices), and respect boundaries without having to understand them first.

        What’s really scary is the times I literally forget how to say no. :/ Partly because of people who ignore non-verbal no’s, and partly because on rare occasions I can’t even get out a non-verbal sign.

    14. I’m not super sure why you think it’s my responsibility to curtail my life and manage other people’s behaviors due to men’s refusal to self-soothe. Men are grown-up people and they’re perfectly capable of making their own selves feel better. I am not at all okay with being told that it’s my fault if men let their wishful boners get in the way.

      1. Thank you for the phrase ‘wishful boner’, it is PERFECTION.

        Dear dudes who don’t listen/believe when someone says ‘I’m not interested’, please mail your wishful boner/self to Antarctica.

        1. Since it’s world penguin day, I feel I must express a big NO NOT ANTARTICA HOW ABOUT OUTER SPACE/DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN on behalf of my icy bird brethren.

      2. Men are grown-up people and they’re perfectly capable of making their own selves feel better.

        And speaking of men being grown-up people, wouldn’t it be a dick move to assume a guy you turned down for a date couldn’t possibly be enough of a grownup to be platonic friends with someone he once had a romantic interest in? If dude says he’s happy to be friends, it’s not cool to assume you know what he wants better than he does. And the assumption that men can’t possibly deal with their own wishful boners alone and need women to make them feel better is tremendously insulting to men.

        Funny how all these horribly misogynistic assumptions rely on men being incapable of adulting. It’s like bigotry is bad for everybody!

        1. I’m telling you, no one hates men in quite the same way as misogynists. I always think it’s weird how people think feminists hate men when we’re usually like “I believe that men have the potential to be full, beautiful human beings, so they need to take responsibility for their actions.” Then people who hate women will jump in, after all their slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and talk about how men are basically irresponsible children who have to be coerced into acting like adults by being bribed with sex, that they’re too weak and helpless to make themselves feel better after being rejected, and that they have the same ability to control their tempers as a toddler. It’s bizarre.

          1. I think I read a thing once by Scott Adams where he was whining that no, really, women are in charge in Western culture because women are naturally just better at things like cooperation and men are naturally aggressive and violent, but we as a society tamp down those natural masculine instincts and promote the feminine ones!
            Quite apart from his desperately needing to check his premises, he seems to be arguing that social condemnation of violence and aggression is somehow *bad*.

    15. A lot of people have said great things to push back here, but I’d also like to unpack a little bit of this idea of “being pursued,” because it IS a thing in the world, but there’s also a reason commenters are (rightly) so vehemently opposed. Women have long been socialized against expressing sexual agency and autonomous sexual desire, and so historically, a part of the heteropatriarchal courtship dance involved a pseudo-Guess Culture where interested women could only give subtle signs or even just *not stop* pursuit from a man because anything more overt than that would be “slutty.”

      The thing is, that socialization (which is baggage that most of us internalized at some point) is TERRIBLE, and we need to get rid of those social norms as soon as possible because they contribute to rape culture and make women the constant targets of unwanted advances. “Not stopping” an encounter absolutely should NOT be taken as a signal of anything!! Men with their Wishful Thinking Translators often over-analyze what they think are possible Guess Culture-esque courtship cues while doggedly IGNORING signals like OP’s bag. In fact, this whole letter is a story of OP telling him “No,” explicitly, and then later trying to send him subtle “no” signals, which he ignores while seeing other things as “yes” signals. OP hoped that sending “no” signals will encourage him to cut it out without embarrassing him (for all the feelings-management reasons that others have said), and that STILL wasn’t enough and she had to tell him “no” yet again. That’s not just “pursuit gone wrong/awkward.” That’s not “mixed messages.” That’s “I used my words and this guy still cannot take a fucking hint.”

      So yes, because some people, including women, still follow the heteropatriarchal courtship dance model, there will be confusion sometimes (especially from men willfully misconstruing women’s behavior as Guess Culture signaling), but this letter really shouldn’t be one of these cases, because once someone has said “No” explicitly, there’s really no excuse for reading into anything else in her behavior as a sign of interest. “She’s going to a movie with me, does that mean she’s interested?” “NO, because she already TOLD you she’s not interested. With her words, which means there’s no wiggle room for interpretation or misunderstanding.” Even in cases that aren’t this cut-and-dry, moving away from Guess Culture dating norms flavored by patriarchy could do a lot to make women feel safer in their professional and personal environments.

      1. Thanks for the phrase “Guess Culture” – I’m going to steal that for my own purposes!

      2. Hmmm… This: ““She’s going to a movie with me, does that mean she’s interested?” made me think of something.

        I’ve known many women who do this sort of “intelligence analysis” about men. Usually less mature people. And usually in a situation in which, frankly, the guy doesn’t really care about her. Because (as my husband insists), “if a guy likes you, he’ll let you know.”

        It’s almost a cliché.

        So, if men hear this, do they think, “women expect me to play communication games instead of being straightforward”? And do they then think, “that’s probably because THEY play these sorts of communication games”?

        And so absolutely yes, eliminating the “guess culture” and the “intelligence analysis” that some women do would b ea good thing.

      3. Oh hey, it’s the Baby It’s Cold Outside argument every damn year! (IOW, I agree.)

    16. jfc not only did she tell him she wasn’t interested, not only did she not agree to a date, she put up a PHYSICAL BARRIER between them. and he took it down. without her permission. what, do you want her to just hide in a cave forever?

      and i don’t know where the hell you got the impression she isn’t sure what she wants, since she says repeatedly she is not interested.

      also the bit about women changing their minds all the time? but apparently they don’t say so or anything, other people just pick it up from their brainwaves or something?

      i am giving you a serious side eye right now. sorry not sorry.

    17. “You like spending time with him, want to spend time with him alone, you consider him a friend etc…”

      And you can think all of those things about someone AND STILL not have even .00000001 percent interest in dating or sleeping with them. Two of my good friends are men, and I like spending time with them alone. Why? Because we’re friends, and I want to talk to them one on one, much like I do with my female friends (whom I also don’t want to date or sleep with). Those sorts of interactions are what close friendships are built on–you can be *friendly* with someone you only see in groups, but not really *friends.*

      1. I so agree! I have been told that if I wanted to spend time alone with a male friend, that was a no-fail sign of romantic inclination, but realized that I look forward to spending time alone with good female friends, too. Yeah, of course! Thank you.

      2. Hell, both parties can even want to date/sleep with each other and they can still avoid it and just be friends!

        I have a wonderful friend who I would sleep with in a heartbeat if our situations were different. But they’re not, so we are not going to because: the power of choices and self-control! And using your words!

        I would hate to have to give up our perfectly good friendship over sexual feelings that are going to fade with time. But if he was like the LW’s harasser, I would be forced to give up our friendship because I have said “no” and I expect my decision to be respected (regardless of our situations that make it inappropriate – because everything else is a moot point compared to respecting my autonomy).

    18. You’re getting a lot of flack for this comment, and rightly so, because it’s ridiculous.

      But I want to draw attention to something that you’re stating as, essentially, an inescapable fact of friendship:

      “by going to a movie/dinner with him alone you ARE saying that you are “interested” in him. You like spending time with him, want to spend time with him alone, you consider him a friend etc… A lot of such relationships to develop into romantic ones.”

      I have been to innumerable movies and dinners alone with other women. I like spending time with them, I want to spend time with them alone, and I consider them friends. Etc.

      Am I saying that I am interested in my female friends? Do a lot of such relationships develop into romantic ones?

      I’m sure here you want to say, of course not, because they are women and you are a woman and as such there can be no sexual motives behind your enjoyment of their company. But I’m bisexual. By your, dare I say, “logic”, am I automatically barred from all friendships ever, because I cannot control my pantsfeelings when alone with a person of the appropriate sex, which is “D, all of the above”? Or wait, am I entitled to friendships with whomsoever I please, because as a woman, I am just naturally able to control myself in ways that men cannot be expected to do?

      What I’m saying in my confused, headachey, allergy-ridden way is that your assumptions are heteronormative, sexist, a little misogynist, and a lot offensive, and the OUTRAGEOUS double-standard you are promoting is exposed the instant you put someone who ISN’T a heterosexual man in the position of the creep who is pushing his attentions at the LW, which to my eyes looks like a painfully bad argument.

      As for having your cake and eating it too, when it comes to platonic friendship with people you don’t want to have sex with, yes, actually, you can. Hang on tight to the German Chocolate Cake Of A Friendship Based On Mutual Respect And Appreciation, and then have a nibble of the Red Velvet Cupcake Of Someone You Actually Want To Fuck, because that is, in fact, PRECISELY how it works.

      TL;DR: you’re wrong.

      1. That’s why I suggested hamster balls in my initial (pre-nap, pre-pills) comment. I’m gay Rabbit’s tosh would reduce me to walling myself off because, apparently, it’s impossible to be friends with anyone who could theoretically have any non-platonic feelings toward me, or vice versa. Men, apparently, do not have to operate under such restrictions.

        Ah well, back in my massive hamstwr ball. So lonely, so scared of ~leading on~ manzes.

        1. If you get to roll down a giant hill in your massive hamster ball, perhaps you can go all lawn bowls on this ridiculous nonsense.

      2. I’m asexual. DO I HAVE TO BE FRIENDS WITH EVERYBODY??????

        Because frankly that sounds exhausting.

    19. *blink* Say what now? What “cake” is she trying to have and eat? Is she trying to have the cake of a professional relationship while eating the cake of casual friendship? Please explain this metaphor to me.

      And how do you diagnose a person over the internet, saying what they want, as “not really knowing what you want?” Do you have some idea how weird and condescending that is?

      I’ve had “feelings” for guys before that weren’t interested. Like, a lot. And I’ve pursued unwise friendships with them before I was ready. Know what I managed not to do? Put my fucking hands on them after they told me they’re not interested and gave me NO SIGNS of changing their mind. I HOPED they would. I PINED for them to. I stalked their facebooks for new women in their lives. But I still managed to listen to their words and behave like a fucking adult when we hung out. Seriously, why is SHE being cruel for treating him with the respect due a grown ass man who can manage his own pantsfeelings?

      1. I think the “cake” is “having a friendship with someone (a thing that you want) while also not dating them (a thing that you also want)”, but, you know, the things aren’t incompatible.

        I think it’s being confused with “getting all the benefits and none of the drawbacks of a relationship”, which does occasionally happen, but I’d bet my back teeth that it’s mostly dudes wanting only the banging parts of a relationship and none of the cleaning the sink parts (which, sure, if you both only want the banging parts *and say that* then that’s fine). There’s a pervasive trope of the woman who gets men to move her furniture with the promise of sex which never materialises, but I’ve never seen it happen? It would, in fact, be quite dangerous because we live in a rape culture.

        Ugh, too tired for compact sentences.

    20. It is “risky” to the extent that the men in question ignore your stated wishes in favour of their wishful thinking. That is on them, and while you appear to have correctly pegged that in this case the “friend” is that kind of wishfully blind person, perhaps reframing it so it wasn’t on the LW would do better.

      (If every person I went out to dinner and a movie with alone was someone I was interested in, I would be chasing some dear married friends, some of whom are of a gender to which I am not attracted. I am not saying I am “interested” in them with my dinner-anna-movie, I am saying they are my friends and I want to spend time with them.)

    21. I have had lots of friendships with women I had crushes on. Huge crushes, even! And yet, somehow I’ve never had a problem with owning my own feelings and taking care to never make them anyone else’s responsibility. And by this I mean that if I’m crushing on my friend and/or want to do sex with her, but I know that she doesn’t want that with me, I carry on happily being her friend and I don’t make it weird or invite her to do things with me that I know she’s not into. That’s what respectful friendship looks like. And it’s not something I work hard to do. It’s not even something I think about. I care about what my friend wants; I care about respecting her desires and I would be really sad if I behaved in a way that made her uncomfortable around me. I only want to do things with her that she also wants to do. That’s what a real and respectful friendship looks like.

      I also hang out with my friends one-on-one all the time. We go to movies. We see shows. We have dinner. This is totally normal stuff for friends to do together, and if I have already invited my friend to date me or do sex and she said no, then it never even crosses my mind that maybe my friend has changed her mind about that. If my friend decides at some future point that she wants to date me or do sex with me after all, she already knows that I’m probably going to be up for that. So until she uses her words and tells me she’s changed her mind, I know that she still doesn’t want to do the thing that I invited her to do before.

      A woman who says “I don’t like you like that, I just want to be friends” and then proceeds to…be your friend…and hang out with you…and do stuff like eating food or watching movies with you…is not sending mixed signals. She’s sending a very clear signal, and it says exactly what she said in words: that she wants to be your friend. If you want to be her friend, believe her. If you’re disappointed, that’s your feeling to cope with on your own and not something she’s responsible to help you with. If you can’t stop wishing for what you can’t have with her, that’s also your feeling to deal with on your own — limit contact, stop seeing her, do whatever else you need to do, but don’t make it her job to take care of you. If you pretend to be her friend because you’re hoping that someday she’ll change her mind and sleep with you / date you, you’re being selfish, dishonest and cruel, and you’re not her friend at all.

      1. ” Huge crushes, even! And yet, somehow I’ve never had a problem with owning my own feelings and taking care to never make them anyone else’s responsibility. ”

        I figured this out in high school–I wasn’t one of the ‘cool kids.’ And the guys I had crushes on never had crushes on me. But I realized that they didn’t mind my crush–didn’t mind knowing about it, and seemed in fact kind of flattered–as long as I was friendly without being flirtatious. Or, in some instances, was mildly flirtatious , but then immediately walked away.

        As long as I did not make my feelings into something they felt pressured to do something about.

      2. “A woman who says “I don’t like you like that, I just want to be friends” and then proceeds to…be your friend…and hang out with you…and do stuff like eating food or watching movies with you…is not sending mixed signals”

        I am currently flailing around pointing and frothing “This!” incoherently. I have never known quite how to phrase it, but you are exactly right.

    22. >> So men can get mixed signals and are not crazy for hoping you might change yours. Consequently, it is very risky to go to a movie… then a dinner…. with a male friend…. alone….

      This is veering dangerously close to ‘she was asking for it, what did she think would happen when we were alone?’ territory.

      For fucks sake, she made it clear to this guy that she was not interested in him and even put a physical barrier between them!!!! How this translates to ‘mixed signals’, and ‘I am not entire sure if you know what you want’ is completely beyond me.

    23. And honestly, from your message, I am not entire sure if you know what you want

      NO This sentence is bad and you should feel bad.

      The OP stated quite clearly they don’t want to date this guy. There is no subtext or hidden meaning that you should be deriving from, “I turned him down because I wasn’t interested.”

    24. I have never had a problem taking a woman at her word. If she said she wasn’t interested in me, that was the end of it. Not that it made me feel good, which is why I (and I assume a lot of others) are afraid to let their feelings be known. The idea that a woman who is nice to you wants to have sex with you, or a relationship with you, is a really messed up assumption. Making that assumption after she has expressly told you she isn’t interested is insane (and scary).

  2. I think CA is mostly right. Frustrated Student (FS) should prioritize her studies and the rejected student’s feelings are not her concern. She did nothing wrong.

    However, I also think this guy Mike hasn’t done anything wrong. Asking someone out during the semester is fine. Even asking them twice (after some time has passed) is reasonable. FS needs make it clear to him that she is not interested in hanging out with him outside of class because “being friends” doesn’t seem to be an option for this guy.

    As a pretty female in a disproportionately male profession, surely this situation will happen again for her and she needs to know how to handle herself. Stay away from this dude and don’t think you can be friends when he’s clearly indicated that’s not what he wants.

    Keep things professional. Don’t pair up with this guy on future projects. Seek outside help if this guy keeps being pushy or makes you uncomfortable.

    1. I would argue that MEN “in disproportionately male professions” (and why is the profession that way, I wonder) need to learn a lesson about professional behavior, like, don’t treat work or school as your dating pool, think twice before you ask out women in your program, think about why they might be uncomfortable if you keep pursuing them, realize that your feelings of attraction are not inherently important to other people in the class, and if you want to be professional and easy to work with take no for an answer the first time and stop trying to make “fetch” happen with female colleagues.

      Women already expend an enormous amount of emotional labor trying to navigate this. Catch up, men!


        I work in a male-dominated profession, which required getting an education in a male-dominated field. I am so, SO thankful for the many cool guys I went to school and work with who treated me as a colleague, not a potential girlfriend. Of the guys who did not treat me or other ladies in our program that way, the less said the better. Don’t be that guy.

        [Maybe OT? A quick note, as I am one of those people who did meet my now-husband in class — it worked because he 1) got to know me without being creepy, 2) clearly expressed interest and asked me out on a real date, 3) DID NOT ASK OUT/ HIT ON EVERY GIRL IN OUR PROGRAM, and 4) once we started dating, was very good about maintaining boundaries between GF-me and classmate-me – i.e., we might study together, but we intentionally did not sign up to be on the same team for projects, he did not whine when I needed to do school instead of hang out, etc. Tl:dr – If it is twu wuv, it will only happen if you are not a huge distracting creep.]

        1. Seconding this! I had nearly the exact same experience: met my fiance in class in an extremely male-dominated field. He behaved LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING ADULT about it. It’s really not. that. difficult.

      2. I want a choir of angels to sing this on a regular basis. I would make it my ringtone.

      3. YES TO THE INFINITE POWER. I’m gorram sick and tired of having to do all the learning and balancing and negotiation. MEN NEED TO CATCH UP.Q

      4. Yeah, I’m in a political group (lots of young people and overnight conferences) and I always tell people: The condoms are over there. If some people want to have together and everyone involved wants it, go for it. However, this is a political organisation. **Women here are here to make politics**, not to find a fuck buddy. If they happen to want to combine it, fine. But don’t assume that the women are here to find someone to fuck, (and if they want, don’t assume it’s a man they look for). They are here to make politics, like the men. If they are interested in sex, they’ll let you know. But unless they ask you for sex, assume they don’t want it.

      5. *delurking for this*

        Hi, I am a conventionally-attractive woman who learned, after a few embarrassing and/or borderline-dangerous experiences with male colleagues, to ‘handle herself’. I tended to refuse invitations to out-of-work socialising events, particularly if they were one-on-one, with Xmalecolleague plus a new group of people I didn’t know, or were likely to involve alcohol. At social networking events, I tended to gravitate away from one-on-one conversations with male colleagues, particularly if they seemed likely to express any non-work-related interest in spending time with me. As a result, I did indeed successfully avoid getting embroiled in any more of the difficulties described in the LW’s letter.

        Why am I using the past tense in the paragraph above, though? Because gradually, after a while of doing this I seemed to fall out of professional networks, was not mentored or steered towards new opportunities, did not move in circles that got me rapidly informed about upcoming projects and was less and less on the tip of anyone’s tongue when thinking of a young Xprofessional who could take on Xproject. Partly as a result of this, I am no longer working in that field, and have switched to a different profession where professional and social networking is much more structured and monitored.

        Make absolutley no mistake about it, there is a professional cost to ‘staying away from that dude’ just as much as there is a cost to encountering and having to deal with him, and it can be really fucking high.

    2. Why the fuck can’t men learn how to handle themselves? Why the fuck do WE have to do the calculus of “if I ignore him or distance myself I’m a bitch or I’m hurting my chances professionally/academically but if I’m friendly I’m leading him on”? Why do WE have to do the calculus of “I said no but maybe he didn’t really take it seriously since men only take the NO’s from other men seriously.”

      I used to think asking someone out twice after a reasonable period of time has passed is reasonable, but I’ve changed my mind. First, there’s a huge subjective margin on what different people consider to be reasonable. Second, if I’m afraid that someone’s going to keep dropping that bomb, I’m not going to want to continue to even be friends with them. If I’ve told you no, I don’t feel that way about you, accept it and move the fuck on or don’t lead me on acting like you’re cool with being friends.

      1. Preach. I have not had this experience, but I know people who have. So damn tired of hearing variations on this LW’s story, yet the onus always falls on *us* to cope with other people’s bad behaviour.

      2. Yeah, like CA says — people don’t forget their friends/coworkers etc asked them out! If somebody asks me out and I said no, then I change my mind (this has happened!!) it’s up to me to make the next move! The attitude of “asking them out again” seems to say either “me asking her out again in just the perfect way will make her realize she likes me” r “she has potentially changed her mind, but as a Ladyperson could not let me know, so I must be the one to ask her again!”

    3. >> Keep things professional. Don’t pair up with this guy

      OK, how does this work? Here’s the damned-if-you-do bit: your advice to LW is that “professional” behaviour is to avoid working with someone in case he can’t manage his feelings? How many times do you think she might have to that in her career, and how many opportunities do you think she might miss out on by being “professional” like that?

      If you put that kind of responsibility on women and not on men, you’re basically saying that all the things that men get to prioritise cone second for us.

    4. She doesn’t “need” to do anything differently or learn any new lesson about how to interact with pushy dudes here. She’s doing just fine.

      Imagine an alternate scenario in which instead of gently turning him down and making the effort to maintain a friendly/professional relationship, she turned him down in very clear terms every time he sent a signal that could be interpreted as pushy or flirty. Now she looks like a cold jerk or a woman with such an inflated ego she thinks every friendly man is flirting – not professional, in either case. Your advice seems to be setting up an impossible standard to live up to – if his behavior is reasonable, why isn’t her reaction reasonable too?

      It is not her fault that this guy interpreted her actions the way he did. He’s looking at them through his own distorted lens.

      1. THANK YOU. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Who wants the fake “Oh, I wasn’t flirting with you!” comment, complete with a disgusted look if you’re unlucky and complete with much worse than that if you’re really unlucky?

        Either you validate his flirting attempts and risk retaliation for bringing it out into the open, or you tolerate it until it escalates dangerously or you can get away. Yay.

    5. You don’t think picking up someone bag and moving it without permission, so you can touch their knee without permission is wrong?

      Please examine why you think it’s LWs job to be even more explicit (because creating a physical barrier AND saying verbally “i do not want to date you” is, apparently, up for interpretation) that he does not have consent to touch her, instead of his job to keep his hands to himself.

      1. THANK YOU. Mike seemed like a decent guy right up until he did that. Removing his hand when she said it wasn’t okay just takes him back down from raging skeezeball to just plain skeevy.

        I do actually think she should continue to create physical barriers (sit across, not beside, if he moves closer tell him he’s making her uncomfortable), but that’s because I think he’s made it pretty clear he’s gonna be an asshole about this.

        To be clear, LW, you have done nothing wrong. You did everything right. You were clear with him, you tried being his friend because you wanted that, you gave him all kinds of opportunities to be decent. He wasn’t. I think you’ll be more comfortable if you keep things very professional with him, because I think there is a good chance he’s going to keep pushing.

        And seriously, you deserve friends who don’t make you feel like this.

        1. Yes to all of this!!! It’s remarkable how some of the more problematic comments just totally fail to address LW’s desires here: To be friends with this guy. It’s like that doesn’t even matter – like it’s all about her responsibility to him, to her own career, etc. They treat his desire as totally natural and expected, and hers as something she is OBLIGATED to squelch for the greater good. FFS!

      2. I’m just trying to imagine how awkward this was, too. Like did she put her bag in the seat between them? I know people with long arms and even they’d need to stretch ridiculously far to reach across an empty seat to put a hand on a knee. Like, “it is not an accident this person is sitting so far away from you” far.

        Nothing says romantic like being just within arm’s reach!

      3. Yeah, this is what I was going to say. Asking somebody out after she’s turned you down once isn’t ideal, but it’s forgivable. Putting your hand on someone’s knee after she’s turned you down … less forgivable.

      4. yeah, this.

        I kept trying to write something that said “Mike wasn’t such a bad guy, and he asked for consent,” and thinking that her actively suggesting they go to a different movie might have been read differently, and I kept then running up against him moving her bag. It’s just such a deliberate move. (I love Frustrated Student’s “(wtf?)” that she dropped in there.

        There are plenty of “ooh, put your hand on my knee” moves a girl can do; she can lean into him (our Frustrated Student specifically emphasizes she leaned AWAY from him, plus there’s the bag between them), she can scooch her chair close to him at the restaurant, etc.

        I think there are skeevier guys than Mike, definitely. But he was in the wrong, and Frustrated Student shouldn’t second-guess herself at all.

        She does need to second-guess Mike, and from her on out I’d suggest she interact with him very little. If he’s in the group, she can just not really speak to him much. Relegate him down to “some guy in my class.”

    6. He didn’t actually ask her out twice. He asked her out once and she said no. He then proceeded to treat their hang-out months later as a date. If the person has already _said no once_, actually asking the person flat out if “Is this a date?” seems like a good idea. The only information about how she felt he had was a clear “no”.
      The thing is, he probably knew she was going to say no if he asked. So he didn’t ask, probably in the hope that he could nudge closer on the Couch of Plausible Deniability. He used her friendship to bypass the clear boundary she had already set.

      1. Exactly! If he was feeling confused by the “mixed signals” of her saying “no” to dating him but also agreeing to a (possible) date, it would have been fine to clarify by asking, “is this a date?” But he chose to automatically assume that she WAS into him and it WAS a date. Which suggests to me that he suspected she would turn him down if he was forthright about it and so tried to sneak past the boundaries. Definitely creepy and not cool.

    7. Even leaving out everything else, he did do something wrong: he touched her without her consent. He moved her bag (he should not have done that, even if it was just in his elbow room – he should have asked her to move it), and then he *put his hand on her leg*. I don’t care that he took it off after she told him no, or even that he asked if it was okay – he should have asked before he touched her. Or at least gone for her hand first. Leg touching is far too sexual to be OK in that situation.

      1. the bag-moving just has me flabbergasted. *my husband* asks me before he moves my bag! or he asks me to move it! he only moves it without asking if it is actively in his way AND inconvenient for me to move it myself (like I’m in a different room). WHO DOES THAT.

        1. *grumbles* If someone put my leather bag on a sticky movie theatre floor I’d be putting THEM on the sticky movie theatre floor. No no no no no.

        2. I was just going to comment, my ex was not great at boundaries or social skills in general, but one thing he definitely did know was that you don’t mess with someone’s purse. There were even times when he would ask for the checkbook, and I would say, “It’s in my purse,” and he would kind of shift around uncomfortably waiting for me to get it because You Do Not Mess With Someone’s Purse.

        3. I was going to say this! Mr. Bells will say “can I move this?” if there’s something between us. We’ve been married for 10 years and he asks!

        4. Also, we all know that the reason he didn’t ask ‘May I move your bag so I can sit closer (and touch you)?’ is the same reason that he didn’t ask ‘is this a date?’ – because he knew that she would’ve said ‘no’. He wanted to be sitting in the Theater Seat of Plausible Deniability so he could keep his rep as a good guy, which in this case looks an awful lot like the Theater Seat of Skeeviness.

    8. However, I also think this guy Mike hasn’t done anything wrong.

      Moving her bag to the floor was just plain rude, regardless of the following romantic overture. If someone puts their purse somewhere, that’s where they want it to be. Especially if the option is a grimy theater floor. I mean, I’m whatever about germs and my purses are janky old army/laptop bags and suchlike, but plenty of women don’t want their nice purse on that nasty floor.

      If you need to move someone’s purse/bag/anything that they’ve put down for whatever reason, then basic politeness requires that you ask first.

      So, that’s a basic politeness fail.

      Then you get to the actual moves he made. She went to a movie with him–which is something you do with friends, and she put her bag between them. Sure, some folks can be socially unaware, but it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to realize that she put something between them–she wants there to be something in between them while they sit together. It feels willfully ignorant of him to not “realize” that (more in the ballpark of “men actually do understand soft-no, but they frequently choose to ignore them”).

      Then he put his hand on her knee.

      That’s not friendly contact. That’s romantic contact. Romantic contact he initiated after physically removing a barrier between them. Which, again, tells me he knew exactly why the bag was there—he had to move something she put between them so he could put his hand on her leg.

      I’m not saying “Sound the alarm, dude is the worst human being ever!!!” But he is a guy who will ignore a girl’s stated wishes (“No, I do not want to date you”), ignore her physically placing boundaries, and physically remove those boundaries so he can touch her. He doesn’t pay attention to signs that she doesn’t want to be touched. She wasn’t even being mysterious. Putting a thing in between you and another person is kind of universal “I do not want you to touch me.”

      Bro didn’t care.

    9. ” I also think this guy Mike hasn’t done anything wrong.”

      Please. He put his hand on her leg even though he had to physically remove her bag, which she had placed between them, in order to do that. Even IF she had considered this as date, his behaviour would have been wrong.

    10. LW deliberately put her purse between her and Mike. Mike deliberately picked up her purse and put it on the floor to put his hand on her leg.
      Mike not only kicked over the universal “maintain physical distance” barrier, he put her purse on the floor, which if it was your typical theater floor was gross, sticky, and disgusting.

      You need to reconsider what you think counts as “anything wrong.”

      And ditto to all the other comments that it’s time to end the bullshit that it’s women’s responsibility to keep men from acting like jerks.

    11. She deliberately put space and a physical (and quite personal) object between them and he moved her purse and touched her romantically and THEN asked her if it was OK (spoiler: he already knew it was not). Mike HAS done wrong. A thousand times ICK. Maybe a hand on the knee doesn’t seem like a lot, but “I’m going to ignore your clear indications you don’t want to be close to me physically,” is actually a really bad sign. Best case scenario here, his emotional intelligence is dangerously low, and worst case…

    12. Mike did something wrong in my book. Asking out someone twice is reasonable in some cases. It’s less reasonable when people’s educational and professional lives are involved. It crosses the border into being completely unreasonable when people don’t use their words. The Couch of Plausible Deniability is an awkward place to hang out anyway, and it stops being an option if you’ve already been rejected by someone. If you absolutely must ask someone out a second time, it needs to be explicit – something along the lines of, “I noticed the way we interact has changed lately, and I was wondering whether you might have reconsidered getting involved romantically.” Even that can sometimes be too much, but it’s certainly a better option than a vague not-a-date, touching someone else’s purse, and putting your hand on their knee.

    13. Did you seriously just advise the *LW* to keep things professional? She wants to! That is literally why she wrote CA this letter: because she wants advice about how to do exactly that!

      No, there’s nothing wrong with asking someone out, and you’ll notice that after that first ask, the LW calmly turned Mike down and went on happily being his friend. She has behaved like a pro every step of the way. Mike, on the other hand, went and fondled her without so much as asking, and he needs to learn that this is not professional behaviour.

      Your comment is all about how the LW should change her behaviour. But she’s not the one who needs to do that. The person who needs to make a change is the one who fondled his classmate against her stated wishes.

    14. What? Even without reading the rest of your comment, I need to answer like your second point.

      Yes, he did all the wrong things. She said no. He didn’t ask her out on a date a second time (and if he had, HE’D STILL BE WRONG, NO PESTERING, NO, DOWN, BAD COLLEAGUE, NO COOKIE/PROMOTION FOR YOU) they were hanging out as friends, he made a physical move (UNASKED FOR WTF), she shot him down, she put a physical barrier between them, he removed it. So. Many. Wrong.

      The only right thing you have said is this dude apparently is incapable of having a friendship with someone he’d like to bone. Which is his damage. Not hers. If he can’t hack interactions with others as a result, he needs to seek help, not expect others to curtail their education so he has no straws to grasp at when trying to believe she’d be into them doing the hypothetical hankypanky. HE DID ALL THE WRONG HERE.

    15. Funnily, I totally agree with your comment in one way, but I disagree in others.

      >> Asking someone out during the semester is fine. Even asking them twice (after some time has passed) is reasonable.

      I’d agree with this statement. But that doesn’t sound like what happened here. If you ask someone out once and they reject you, you need to be super clear when you ask them again. Minimally, acknowledge that you remember their last answer, make it clear that you would like a *romantic* date, and keep it low-pressure. I use something like this, personally:

      “Hey, I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I think you are great and I feel like we’ve been becoming closer friends. I’d like to see if our friendship could develop into something more. Would you like to go on a date with me to [movie]? If not, that’s cool. I’m enjoying being your friend.”

      This guy did not do that.

      He did not ask her on a romantic date. She reasonably thought that they were seeing a movie together as buddies. He didn’t ask her if she wanted to be touched until *after* he touched her. (Ugh, so pressure-y.) He tried to sneakily change a friend-date into a date-date midway through, which she definitely was not signing up for.

      As for your solution, I agree with this completely:

      >> FS needs make it clear to him that she is not interested in hanging out with him outside of class because “being friends” doesn’t seem to be an option for this guy.

      If this had happened to me, I would absolutely re-evaluate my boundaries with this friend. I would not feel that I could just him to be “just friends”, and I would pull way back, until/unless he did something to show me otherwise.

  3. “I don’t know if I’m being cruel or not” & “spiral of insecurities” struck me here as part of a really common pattern in the letters the Captain gets sent. It feels like it is always the female pronouns LWs who put so much worry and emotional labour into worrying whether they are causing upset and harm to the at best wilfully clueless and at worst downright creepy (and in some cases stalkery) men. Maybe there should be a test or mantra we could use like, “Do I think that the guy is carrying even 10% of the burden of worrying about this situation that I am?” if not = permission to stop agonising over their feelings, cause they clearly don’t care about affecting yours.

    (Long-time lurker, first time commenter, how exciting! hello all 🙂 )

    1. I agree with this test!

      Women and female-presenting people of the world, when you are annoyed at a clueless or needy straight dude in your life who seems to require a lot of emotional labor from you, ask yourself some questions:

      Would he behave this way toward me if I were a fellow dude? (handsy/touchy, entitled, needy, full of suggestive comments & excessive monitoring behavior)
      Would a man in my shoes agonize this much over whether he was being sufficiently reassuring/understanding of a fellow dude’s repeated pushy & selfish behavior?
      Do I look forward to and actively enjoy spending time with this guy? (vs. feeling drained or like you’re performing a service).
      If the answer to any of these is “Nope” then give yourself permission to let go of worrying about this guy and what he thinks of you and how he is doing in life. Men and women can be friends, but some guys need to go back to the drawing board of what a friendship is and maybe consider being friends only with people they don’t want to fuck or use for free therapy, aka, #DudesFriendingDudes.

      1. I have a male friend who lately emailed a group I’m part of and said, “I had a locksmith round the other day, and he was vaguely unpleasant and kind of creeped my wife and me out. Also, he did not do a good job and some of the work needs fixing. My wife thinks he should come back and do it but since we had that conversation, I googled him and it turns out he was very recently CHARGED WITH MURDER but the case fell through. Is it OK if I don’t have him back in my home? It’s not OK, is it? I feel terrible about my reluctance because he isn’t a PROVEN murderer! I’m being a horrible intolerant person who won’t give a poor, merely-suspected murderer access to my home!”

        At which point I was all “Oh my God, read The Gift of Fear.”

        And of course, the locksmith wasn’t actually pressuring my friend to do anything, and my friend didn’t have to reject him to his face (thankfully)! And yet I think he found it harder than a woman with a history of being creeped on (i.e, a woman) would have done. He had less experience of defending boundaries because they had been respected before he ever had to. It just brought it home to me that it’s completely natural second-guess yourself, to find it hard to turn someone away, and yet women are expected to be experts at it from birth, but they’re also punished if they DO gain that expertise.

        And you know what? One of the men in that thread actually did put pressure on my friend to “give the poor guy a chance.” All the women were like “change the locks.”

        So – a man might agonise over being “sufficiently reassuring” — but I don’t say that in the spirit of “but poor men have it just as hard as we do!” I think it’s that men get put in that position so much less often they can be quite unprepared to handle it on the rare occasions it comes up.


          A CHANCE TO WHAT? Come over and use the locks he recently installed to open the door and possibly murder someone?

          Jesus fucking christ tap dancing on a cracker in the back of a Ford pickup, I would just like to take this opportunity to say that IT IS OKAY TO NOT BE NICE TO PEOPLE SOMETIMES, AND IF YOU DECIDE NOT TO GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE, THE WORLD IS NOT GOING TO CRUMPLE IN ON ITSELF.

          1. IKR? He literally said the locksmith “might have been falsely accused!”

            It amazes me how patriarchy will eat its own, using the exact vocabulary it uses to screw over women, if its privileged members find themselves in territory usually occupied by women/other marginalised people.

            (I said “take it from a woman: ‘give the poor guy a chance’ is a calculation ONLY for circumstances in which you are not already afraid of serious harm.’ My friend seemed immensely relieved by permission to prioritise himself/his family and decided to fix the lock himself, by the way.)

          2. IKR? He literally said “the poor guy might have been falsely accused!”

            It always amazes me how patriarchy will eat its own when push comes to shove.

        2. Yes, I have given people chances when they had done something stupid (illegally stupid) in the past, but only if I felt like there was a good reason to give them that chance. Having them come over to my house when they were creeping me out just doesn’t cut it.If your gut is saying no, and you find hard conclusive evidence that backs it up (even if it’s just an allegation), then it’s time to LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.

      2. One test I do is “Why isn’t anyone worried about ME being upset?” This works in lots of situations with difficult people when you keep getting told to put up with questionable behavior in the name of keeping the peace.

        Why isn’t purse-moving, knee-grabber writing an advice column about his embarrassment and his insecurity that the LW will out him as a creepy creep to all his classmates?

  4. I love the Captain’s script for talking to the folks in charge, if there is pushback, I am considering adopting it for when I am just SURE the dress code discussion is going to come up…..

      1. “Well, if you’re gonna dress like that of course boys will think you’re romantically and sexually interested in them.”

        Said about every clothing choice ever

  5. LW, you didn’t do anything wrong! You spoke up. You worked professionally. You offered ongoing friendship.

    Here are examples from my own experience during school:

    1) A guy asked me over to his apartment to make cookies. I said yes because I thought it was going to be a casual friends hangout with multiple people. I arrived and discovered he was alone. My dismay was obvious. He remained chill, we made cookies and hung out, and he did not try to push my boundaries at all. After that night, I really didn’t see him again. He excused himself from my friends circle. Made me a little sad because I definitely like him as a friend. But he respected my boundaries and did the work to make sure I felt safe. Success! Great guy and not a jerk!

    2) I asked a guy out to the movies with the vision of it being a date. Not sure whether I specified it was a date. I drove to his dorm to pick him up, and he had invited a friend along. Message received: not a date. We 3 went to the movies together and had a lovely time. I continued to hang out with them as friends for the rest of the term and put the thought of dating this particular person out of my mind. Success! Great guys (both of them), and I was not a jerk!

    I’m sure there are lots more, but those are the ones that leap to mind from my past.

    Out in the working world, when I was in my 20s, plenty of male coworkers expressed sexual interest, though I didn’t always figure it out in the moment. I am not conventionally attractive so was rather surprised, frankly. I mostly ignored it and was fine, but I had female colleagues who had to deal with a great deal of sexual harassment, most of it low level and hard to point a figure at. Things from single or married colleagues giving flowers, asking out on dates, complimenting too often, offering to help with any little thing, offering to “mentor,” doing favors a little too readily or unasked. So this is something unfortunately that you’re going to have to develop an entire toolbox to deal with well beyond your school years. Do your best to kick them off the couch of plausible deniability whenever possible. Clear the fog and gray zones when you can. It sucks that the burden is likely to fall on you to protect yourself more than on your colleagues to not be jerks. Find mentors and advocates in positions of authority where you can to back you up.

  6. I am so very sorry. This is not your fault at all!

    This reminds me of back when I had a summer job at a park during high school. One of the other lifeguards who was a decent guy but I was zero attracted to asked me if I wanted to get ice cream one day. Since it was very common to go over to the snack shack during breaks (we got free food there) and I was all for going to the snack shack to get ice cream during break I said “sure!”. When i get on break i find out that he has told everyone else that works there that we are going on a date that night to get ice cream. I tried to be very nice and tell him “I thought ice cream meant going to the snack shack to get ice cream -now” But he acted like I was breaking up with him – and that is the story that he told everyone. Plenty of people somehow “took my side” in the breakup and told me I could do better and that they didn’t blame me but I didn’t manage to convince a singe person that I was bate and switched. It was so bewildering and awkward.

    1. Ugh, I just had a full-body shudder about a similar bait and switch by a college boyfriend. So we were kind of doing the heavy petting thing at the time, but there were some other acts I was just not ready for. We were making out one day and he’s massaging a part of my non-genital anatomy with his hand. All fine and good. And then he goes “Can I kiss it?” I say yes, figuring the antecedent of “it” is the body part he’s currently working with. Nope, he immediately tries to dive down to the genital area. When asked, he told me that “it” always always means the genitals, and I should have known that.

      Icky dude actually trying to twist consent against me, ick.

      1. Wow. His life must be a veritable catastrophe. Poor thing, always assuming that “It” means genitalia. Not only must it make his everyday life impossible, but he’s in for a hell of a shock if he ever picks up a certain Stephen King book, yikes!

        Okay, seriously, what a pukewaffle. You had a lucky escape!

        1. Lava wolves! I want lava wolves. I would cuddle them very carefully while dressed in an asbestos snuggie.

          1. Fuck “like” buttons, we need an “oh, fuck yes,” button. Those stingrays need to be on the ballot next November.

          2. Those are AMAZING! I adore them. I don’t suppose you have a pattern/plan for them that you’d be willing to share. If not, no worries. I shall just bask in the warmth (see what I did there!) of knowing they exist. 😉

          3. @Sarah – Send me an e-mail at socchan (at) gmail (dot) com and you can be the pattern tester 🙂 Just give me a day or two to get the pattern typed up!

            And anyone else interested in crocheting stingrays, lava-y or otherwise, I hope to have the pattern up on Etsy shortly after I get feedback; alternately, I frequently offer my patterns in exchange for equal value donations to charities and the like, and would definitely consider Captain Awkward a worthy cause for this pattern 😉

      2. I should have known that

        I’m sure you know this but just because it always bears repeating: if this had been a *genuine* mistake, his reaction would have been, “Oh wow, I’m so sorry! I thought you knew that I meant – Oh wow, sorry! I’m really sorry! Are you OK? I’m sorry!”

    2. Oh God oh god this similar thing happened to me in college, when a guy I’d never met before came up to me at a party, asked me to dance, and then suggested we go for dinner sometime (at the dining hall. where I usually ate.)

      And then he told everyone he knew that we were going on a date. And then he followed me around like a puppy for a whole evening afterward and threw a tantrum when I told him that I had plans later that night to see a band on another campus. And then called me at 8am the next morning to “check in.” So I had to have the chat with him about how I was not his girlfriend after one meal together, and he acted like it was a breakup too, and sulked for months every time I walked into a party and he was there. It was so unfair – I was doing the baseline of getting to know someone, and he twisted the whole narrative into some nonsense about how I was a “tease” and “led him on”…because I didn’t realize that I owed it to him to be his forever girlfriend AFTER ONE MEAL.

      1. Why why why do some people do this?

        My sister went on a couple dates with a friend of mine, then turned down more dates. He proceeded to be EXTREMELY WEIRD about her for YEARS and eventually let slip that in his mind she was an ex-girlfriend with whom he’d had a serious relationship. She was like… …. …….?!?!?!?!?!?

        1. Ugh, that’s horrific!

          I’ve come to the conclusion that certain dudes have a Girlfriend Box, and they kind of try to stuff you into it unawares as soon as you give them the smallest sliver of attention. In my imagination, it kind of looks like the embroidered sack that Borat makes for Pamela Anderson. They just can’t let go of the fact that they think you owe them a relationship, because they had it all built up in their heads.

      2. I knew a guy like that. I was 16, he was 31 (and worked with my dad, and somehow my parents thought this was fine!!!). We were (I thought) friends, cos we had a lot of geeky interests in common. I did not have any other interest in him. We’d been to a concert with my family and then he asked me if I wanted to go to another one. I said yes, thinking the whole family would go and then he runs downstairs and tells my dad that I’m dating him. I’m horrified but too polite (at that time, now I know better) to say no, so I go on the date. Then I spend the next week desperately trying to think of a nice way to break up with him, fail to do so and just tell him it’s over. He responds by having temper tantrums at work, having lunch with my stepmother to find out WHY I broke up with him and writing me letters which my parents insisted I accept in person from him.

        Even after that my parents still invited him to parties at our house, so I would come in a room, see him and immediately leave. Joy. I have not spoken to him since then and have no intention of doing so ever.

        1. Oh my god what the hell were your parents even doing. They were pushing their underaged daughter at a 31-year-old who was behaving like a jackass. There is no world in which that is okay. Parents are supposed to protect and support their kids, not set them up for Badness. I’m so sorry they did that to you.

          1. Well I’m in UK where age of consent is 16, but yes, I am still unimpressed by the way they completely failed to have my back on this.

        2. writing me letters which my parents insisted I accept in person from him

          Oh wow. I’m so sorry your parents did something that made you feel so horrifically unsafe.

        3. I think my head exploded with indignation on your behalf as I was reading your comment, Ange. That is so NOT OK. Not the way the guy behaved, and especially not the way your parents encouraged him and failed to support you when you said no. I am so sorry that happened to you.

        4. 16? 16?!? 16???!!!?!?!???

          That guy is a douchecanoe of the highest order, and your parents suck, too.

        5. Holy shit, age of consent is 16 here too (which I heartily approve of) but that’s still super gross and bizarre? 16 is so young to be seeing anyone more than a couple of years your senior. Never mind (which we shouldn’t) the part where your interest was not relevant. I’m sorry you went through that, it’s super disturbing.

        6. My heart hurts for 16 year old you.

          That man is a lousy excuse for a human being (hitting on a coworker’s 16 year old kid? Yech).

          Your parents acted abysmally.

  7. I absolutely second the Captain – do not rearrange your class schedule shy away from classmates you’d like to work with because of his feelings. And if you do feel the need to take it to your professor do not let the Prof or school administration give you a blow off answer.

    You may even need to broach the subject with the guy and say something like, ‘Hey what you did the last time we hung out was not cool. Let me be clear: I’m being friendly because it’s in my nature to try and get along with others, especially since we’ll probably continue to have classes or do team projects together. But I am not interested in a romantic relationship with you.” If he STILL oversteps then you know he’s an ass and you need to take it to your professor. People like this guysuck – the ones that look for any little glimmer of hope that you’ve changed your mind when all you’re trying to do is be nice/be professional. Ugh.

  8. I second the advice to speak with an academic advisor. You do not deserve to have your future derailed by some dude’s refusal to hear “No”.

  9. He put your purse on the floor. He put your purse on the FLOOR. On. The. FLOOR! He showed no respect for either your personal belongings or your body. Guy’s an entitled ass.

    1. This is such jerky behavior! Like, (if you can’t take that beat to wonder why it’s there, between you) at least hand it to her or put it on the seat next to you. Ugh.

      1. Yep. I shuddered when she said that. If I have to put my purse down in any situation that is not my house I put it on top of my shoes (if my lap isn’t available [ex: in the movies eating popcorn – I have a huge purse]). DO NOT TOUCH MY PURSE!

    2. So much this. If they were married and growing old together, putting the purse on the floor would still be all kinds of wrong. He not only stepped over the line, he took a piss on it.

      1. Right? I’ve been married for over twenty goddamn years and no way would Mr. Jaunty grab my purse and set it on the floor unless it was to get out it out of the way of spurting arterial blood or something equally important. You don’t grab somebody’s personal things and move them (let alone set them on the fucking floor) like that without asking.

      1. OMG, I read your story and I can relate so much. In my case, I cut off contact, blocked the guy and changed my morning commute to send the message home. When I didn’t respond to his texts (that I never received due to blocking his cell) or his email, he ambushed me one morning on the train and did a feelings dump. I called him out on his behavior, but he didn’t see anything wrong with it. And then friends of mine actually asked if I had been “clear enough” in communicating my decision to end communication. O.o

        I’m glad that the people who frequented the student lounge banded together to block out your creep! I wish that happened more often.

      2. “Grain of salt!!!!!” That could be like, my new metaphor. I want to share this story to all my friends so we can just use “grain of salt” to reference pushy dudes that don’t take no for an answer, and we’ll all know what we mean.

        Also, I knew a guy in my undergrad who was like this. It went much harder for him though, and everyone involved. After his “girlfriend” (who had no idea she was his girlfriend) “cheated on him,” (accepted a date offer from the guy she’d been VISIBLY crushing on for weeks/months), he tried to kill himself. He lived, thank God, but endured a pretty horrible experience of having his stomach pumped and some other stuff.

        After his attempt, she wisely cut off all contact, but he tried to get her to talk to him using mutual friends who tried to guilt her. When that didn’t work, his own MOTHER tried to convince her to “just talk to him. He just wants to talk to you. Please, I’m so worried about him. Why can’t you just talk to him? You were friends once! You must care for him!” It was… pretty appalling. It petered out with no further violence, but I’m not really sure how much the guy learned from that whole experience. I think he just took from it that women are incomprehensibly cruel.

        1. Miguel de Cervantes wrote a section almost exactly like that in Don Quixote, some 500 years ago. All poor Marcela wanted was to be left alone, and when Grisóstomo died of a terminal case of stupid chasing after a woman who told him no over and over, she was put on trial for cruelty.

          Marcela’s takedown rant is a thing of beauty, and even Don Quixote literally white-knighting her is glorious.

      3. …Also, I blame Kevin Smith at least partly for the “I can turn her” trope re: gay women. Chasing Amy had some really great stuff in it, but dude. That scene where Ben Affleck confesses his love and she runs back to him in the rain and kisses him is up there with winning the girl by playing a boombox under her window. NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. PLEASE STOP GIVING MEN FALSE HOPE.

    3. I particularly like “Is this ok” after he’d already done it, and without removing his hand when he asked. Way to signal what an entitled asshole you are, entitled asshole! It’s almost like maybe you shouldn’t believe that PUA bullshit about pushing boundaries!

    4. Exactly, it screams, “Hey, this physical boundary you put between us? It means NOTHING TO ME! All boundaries are bullshit anyway.”

      1. More often, I see a nervous, blubbering “B-b-but….if she’s making space on purpose she might not like something I’m doing. Therefore her bag placement HAS to be mere coincidence!”

  10. Hi, could you kindly go back in time and tell me this? I had a guy friend who would try to put a move on me every time I was single to the point where I decided I would not hang out alone with him for a period of ~4 years … and then the minute I finally figured it was in the past and hung out with him alone, he did it AGAIN.

    Anyway excellent advice.This kind of thing is SO frustrating and looking back,it’s really infuriating how my soft nos were always artfully ignored.

    1. It’s like he has you on his list… you didn’t let him tick you off the list the first time, but when another opportunity arose, he went for it again.

  11. It makes me so angry when people aren’t interested in being friends if the possibility of a sexual/romantic connection isn’t there. It’s just so gross and objectifying.

    Conversely: it is totally possible to be friends with somebody after romantic/sexual interest is expressed and declined. One of my dearest friends – of over 15 years – is a guy I would really have liked to date. He said no but continued to be friendly; I respected his boundaries; friendship flourished.

    1. The thing that gets me is that it seems to be way easier to women to maintain a friendship with men they at one point hoped for a sexual/romantic relationship with, than it is for men to maintain an appropriate friendship with women they once hoped for more with. You hear from women all the time about how they don’t have a problem reining in their pantsfeels, but also you hear all the time about how men do have problems with it. I don’t want to stereotype, but there does seem to be a general pattern.

      I am all bothered by this phenomenon because of an event that happened to me a few days ago–I posted, and am not sure whether my comment will show up or not but I don’t want to cause more work for anybody by re-posting. I am just angry about this in general right now.

      1. Yes! This is always my reaction to these discussions:Women do the supposedly impossible task of suppressing romantic/sexy feelings when they need to keep a relationship professional, or because they can tell the feeling isn’t reciprocated, all. the. dang. time.

        Trust us when we say: We know what it’s like to have unrequited feelings. We know what it’s like to be pressed to reciprocate feelings repeatedly. We know which one feels worse.

        1. You are being ironic, are you?

          Though perhaps that way of looking at it reveals the difference. We think about this in terms of unrequited heartsfeelings. What if this is not the case at all, and it is all about pantsfeelings?

          If you are in love with someone, false hope hurts and you therefore avoid it.

          However, a desire to get into someone’s pants has no such potential for heartbreak, and might thus explain the determination of men to pursue was is most likely unachievable for them.

          1. Oh very ironic.

            There’s a cultural trope that women don’t feel lust.

            Or, if by some odd chance we do have sexual desires, we aren’t womanly (or at least not lady like). This is utter nonsense.

            I am quite sure that the reason women (appear to) get over crushes and lust better than men is that women are socialized to think about other people’s wants and needs.

            Additionally, I’m not convinced that women are “better” at getting over things or remaining friends. I think we are socialized not to complain as much.

            If we complain we are bitches, and whores.

            So yeah, there isn’t much leeway for us to talk about how he led us on and that’s why we kept badgering him for sex.

          2. And we’re socialized to think that, if The Boy doesn’t like us back, the fault lies in us. It’s in all the teen mags. You were too flirty, not flirty enough, too fat, too thin, too smart, dressed in last year’s fashions. Change yourself from head to toe and maybe the next one will like you.

            I think some men are raised with the idea that if The Girl doesn’t like them back, the fault lies with The Girl. She’s just too shallow to understand all he has to offer! Something something nice guys!

            So no matter who’s the unrequiter and who’s the unrequitee, the wrath gets turned on the woman.

        2. Yesssss! Sarcasm time: It couldn’t possibly be that women are trained from birth to assume that men are not only people but people whose needs are more important than ours and that’s how we manage to treat men like people even when they don’t give us what we want, oh no no noooooooo, it must be that women don’t feel lust the way men do. If we did, well obviously we’d *completely* understand why that guy just couldn’t bear to respect our boundaries.

          1. Noooooooo! Couldn’t be!

            You mean People Are Individuals? We aren’t outcroppings of the monolith that is our Femininity or Masculinity?


      2. I will pipe up and admit that, way back when I was just brand new at romantic relationships – about 17 – I (a cis woman) was THE WORST at reining in my pantsfeels. I had a crush on a guy friend who had a girlfriend, and I just pined after him for, like, a year. Maybe longer. It was terrible, and I was terrible, and I do feel bad.

        So, you know, anecdotally, at least one woman has refused to be responsible for her pantsfeels. Although I then, you know, grew up and realized how shitty that was of me.

      3. I’m a woman and I don’t find it easy to be friends with someone I’m interested in. So I’m gonna back waaaaaay off, not try to do the friends thing.

    2. I think it’s fine to not want to be friends with somebody you have an active crush on, who has turned you down, but there are ways to express that without being horrible! Like, not making the other person feel like it’s their fault for not being interested, and not having an attitude of “why would I ever want to be friends with any women if there is no possibility they will sleep with me.”

      1. Yes! Just like it’s fine not to be friends with exes. Some emotions run too strong (if you’re going to pine and lie in wait for an opportunity, don’t try to be friends). Sometimes there’s just nothing to hold you together (if you know you’re trying too hard, it’s okay to stop trying).

        The older I get, the more I feel like there are no hard-and-fast rules here besides being respectful.

    3. Yeah, and coming from someone who DID almost manage to ruin a friendship with my terrible response to being romantically rejected, it’s totally possible to bounce back from your personal pain and come around to seeing someone as a friend again. I promise, it is!

      Actually, I think my story is relevant because, aside from my being a girl and my friend being a guy, the signals he was giving off were harder for me to interpret at the time. So, quick version: my friend is one of those people who is really good at making people feel like they’re important and valued when he talks to them, and this was especially the case with girls in high school. We were both really weird, awkward, nerdy kids who liked to read, so we became best friends, and naturally everyone assumed we were dating. He would do things for me like buy me slightly upscale jewelry as presents (once a gold-plated replica of the One Ring) and pass me doodles during class. He asked me to multiple dances, not explicitly confirming it was as a friend. To this day, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t know that what he was doing could be interpreted romantically, but I don’t know for sure. So when I told him after school got out and he said he didn’t want to date anyone, I spent the next two years limping along emotionally and trying very hard to be an adult about it and treat him like a friend. (Meanwhile, I was busy figuring out I wasn’t straight and never had been, but that’s another story haha) It took me an absurd amount of time to lick my wounds and get over myself, and also come to the conclusion that no matter how perfect it seemed on the surface, I could never have been happy with him. Now we’re totally chill and it’s like old times together (possibly helped by the fact that he got married and I am now engaged to a woman, but even if I were still single I wouldn’t feel the same for him that I did).

      tl;dr: it took me a while, but I got over my feelings and am still friends with the guy, and if I can do it after four years of emotional entanglement, these guys can manage after less than six months of it.

      1. I also once upon a time had a friendship-of-mixed-signals with a guy. What is with this asking to dances and not specifying whether it’s a date? Yes, yes I thought you were asking me on a date when you asked me to go to the dance with you! (I now wonder if my guy friend is a still-closeted gay man, but that’s a different story).

  12. This is so timely for me. I’m 38, and I feel like I should know better, but I’ve been stupid/naive in several discrete situations over the past few years. I didn’t really deal with male/female friendships until 3 years ago for various reasons. Now I’m divorced and dating, and I have found several times that relationships which were verbally defined as non-romantic/non-sexual were nudged repeatedly towards romantic/sexual by my male friend (or boss). And every single time I wind up feeling this toxic mix of shame (did I lead them on? But I used my words!), and like I’ve been really stupid/naive, and anger (but I used my words!).

    Like the LW, I am conventionally attractive and successful, and am socially outgoing/friendly/people pleaser. It’s a potent mix of attributes while dating–or even friending, as I am finding out. I find that I have to do a lot of work to sort out what I actually want vs what men want, which is super annoying and I am wading through this with the help of my therapist. Some of this is on me, but some is because people try to push boundaries in slimy ways that can be hard to pinpoint under the varnish of plausible deniability. Hugs that lingerrrrrrrrrr. The repeated referring to an outing as a date despite mutual prior agreement that it wasn’t a date.

    A few days ago a friend of mine who is 1) a decade younger than me, 2) married and 3) father to a newborn told me that he wanted me and thought he loved me. He also loves his wife and adores his newborn, and has no intention of doing anything stupid to disrupt that, so thank goodness I am not worried about that, but oh my fucking god I do NOT want to hear that. We have talked a fair amount over the past few years about how nice it was to find a friend with whom you could geek out about sciencey stuff, and there was no flirty stuff (that I was picking up on–but was I missing signals? or inadvertently giving off signals? But I thought of him as a little bit like my younger brother so probably not? this all pisses me off, that I am forced to question myself like this), so this really took me by surprise.

    Why, oh why, can’t people (I orginally wrote “men” but I am sure that people of all genders can commit this upon occasion) take a friendship for what it is and not violate verbal boundaries? It creeps in (hah! creeps!) in these little plausibly deniable ways, until you’re sitting on the couch receiving a Totally Platonic Shoulder Rub which isn’t. And then you’re kicking yourself for believing your friend’s words and being stupid and naive. And then vowing to never again offer or accept any touching of body parts with anybody you’re not currently dating/sleeping with, unless maybe it’s a fist bump. And then then make sure you’re not inadvertently doing the fist bump in a non-flirty way (WTF).

    Anyway, LW, you are doing NOTHING wrong. This guy needs to re-examine his actions and motivations, and Captain was right when she points out that the responsibility for his inappropriate behavior is on him alone. And moreover that this sort of behavior has the distinct possibility of hurting him socially and/or professionally in the future so it’s to his own benefit to learn to pull his head out and stop doing it.

    1. No one “inadvertently” gives off “the wrong signals.” If you are smiling at a guy, talking to him enthusiastically, laughing with him, and HE takes that as you want to date him, that’s ON HIM. He can ask, of course, but then must believe you when you say no, you don’t want to date him.

      1. Thank you. I know this as it applies to other people–I just have trouble remembering it for myself.

    2. People CAN take a friendship for what it is and not violate boundaries. They choose not to.

    3. FATHER TO A NEWBORN? Okay, that is low. I would not speak to a guy ever again who did that.

  13. Dear LW,

    Let me start with you did nothing wrong. He is acting like an entitled jerk.

    Oh the Heller it. He is an entitled jerk.

    Not for asking you out the first time, that was reasonable, but for touching your stuff, without permission and then groping you. That’s just lousy.

    Please do consider taking it up with your adviser.

    Also, if possible, look into female mentors.

    I am very angry on your behalf.

      1. ha! I thought you were making a Catch-22 reference. Your autocorrect is very well read. 🙂

      1. “A great chorus of formal condemnation shall be lifted up, and my male colleagues will sputter with gall, appalled by the actions of bad apples so rare they have been encountered by every single woman I know.”

        This. So much This.

      1. The bad apples thing really gets under my skin because I have worked at an apple orchard. “One bad apple spoils the bunch” is a truism! One apple going bad will cause the rest to go bad, because science. It is why we REMOVE and DISCARD bad apples. We don’t ignore them and hope that people will be fine biting into gross rotting apples because it would hurt the bad apple feels otherwise!

        I would very, very much like to do this with any and all “bad apples” encountered because they are toxic, everything they touch rots, and they’re already spoiling the bunch.

        1. EXACTLY. The truism is not “a few bad apples are no big deal and should be quickly thrown out so we can pretend they never existed.”

          1. It generally seems to be ‘A few bad apples is no big deal and bad apples are all just misunderstood anyway, so a bunch of the other apples will surround them and protect them from mean people who think they should be thrown out, and now there’s a really horrible smell, how strange, I can’t understand it at all.”

    1. UGH. The Feelings Letter.

      Jezebel did a post about this same article and women in STEM fields basically said it’s so common that it’s practically a given: some colleague or other is going to write you a Feelings Letter and it’s suddenly on you to negotiate this out of nowhere field of unwanted love landmines.

      Said it before and I’ll say it again: MEN. IF YOU WOULDN’T DO IT TO A MAN, DON’T DO IT TO A WOMAN.

      And I don’t want to hear that “but I’d never write a man a love letter, No Homo, durr hurr.” It’s got NOTHING to do with sexual attraction and EVERYTHING to do with boundary violation and power plays. How would you feel if your mentor who’s old enough to be your father wrote you a letter telling you he loves you like a son and demanding unquestioning loyalty and fidelity from you? How would you feel if a coworker wrote you one declaring you Platonic Soul Mates and how nobody understands your essence the way he does?

      You would not feel flattered. You would not feel complimented. You would feel bewildered, grossed out, and “What does this fucking lunatic want from me?” would probably be uppermost in your mind, along with real fear for your personal safety because somebody who just erases all professional propriety like that may decide he’s got nothing left to lose, career or legal freedom-wise.

      1. CAN CONFIRM.

        Well, sort of. Instead of the feelings letter, I got the pants-feelings text message from a grad school labmate: “I’m drunk. Wanna have sex?” I said no, with a side of “Please do not ever do that again.” He spent the subsequent 6 months telling anyone who would listen that I am the sluttiest slut who ever slutted (not wrong, just an asshole). I didn’t know the full extent of it at the time, but I wish I’d reported it and gotten his ass kicked out of the program.

        My mentor’s feelings letter was more along the lines of what is outlined in the article: her Ph.D. advisor sent her an email (after she had graduated and left the university, thank FSM) telling her how he was so unhappy with his wife, he thinks she is his soulmate, they could be so happy together, and so on. Gross. Within a few years, he had divorced his wife and married his postdoc. It’s a tale as old as time, unfortunately.

        1. Ah yes, the sluttiest slut who ever slutted because you wouldn’t slut with ME!!!

          I am familiar.

          1. YUP. Exactly. His problem wasn’t that I was sleeping with lots of dudes, it’s that I was sleeping with lots of dudes who weren’t HIM. So transparent, so childish, so horrifyingly common.

        2. That happened to me too in grad school — twenty-two years ago. Fucked a guy (it was mutual, fine, no worries), it didn’t work out; Other Guy, with whom I’d enjoyed ten minutes of garden-variety flirting, found out about me and First Guy, and simply decided that I had signed some sort of contract that I would be his personal bedroom toy. When I finally got him to understand that no, in fact, that’s not how it works, I was also the Sluttiest Slut Who Ever Slutted.

          Of course the response to that is: “So what?” You can’t try to shame the slut and still expect to get any, dumbass.

  14. A few people have described Mike’s behavior as “asking the LW out twice,” except that doesn’t sound to me like what happened. He asked her out once. Then he decided that they were ON a date, and treated it as such, including making physical contact, and THEN asked if it was OK. (And as someone who has flubbed “asking someone out” to the extent that when we got to the theater he asked if anyone was meeting us there, I do understand failed communication and misunderstandings. BUT he’d already asked her once before, and she said no. This guy is capable of using his words to find out if she’s interested, but he chose not to.)

  15. Here’s what bothers me (and it’s a prevalent thing, I know): if someone tells you “no” when you ask them out, you do not get to assume that time or circumstance will change that “no” into a “yes.”

    Saying “no” ONE TIME should be all you ever have to hear. It is then up to the person that you asked to let you know that their feelings have changed. You don’t get to repeatedly ask the same question hoping to hear a different answer. It’s disrespectful of their feelings and tells them, “I didn’t trust you the first time,” or “I think that I can change your mind,” or “I’m hoping to wear you down” or whatever, but it never says “I respect you and your choices.”

    Ask once. If you get rejected, that’s your answer. If the askee changes their mind, they will let you know, but otherwise do not operate under the assumption that you can just ask again later and the answer might change “because reasons.”

    1. *But it never says *I respect you and your choices*”


      I was raised to think of that Continuous Pursuit shit as flattering. Which meant I got to learn, the REALLY-really-hard way, just how much chauvinistic contempt is encoded into a (religious! mother-approved!!) dude not taking one’s “no” seriously.

      Rapey. Selfish. Manipulative. Asshole.

      So, uh, yeah. Probably not friend-ing material either, unfortunately.

    2. I wanna know what these guys think the first “no” even means in the first place.

      Like are they assuming that it means “I’ll say yes eventually but I want to sting your emotions with rejection at least twice before I do.”?

      How about “I would say yes but my evil boyfriend-eating stepfather is hiding behind the frozen lemonade machine and will leap out and bite your face off if he hears us.”?

      I’m really struggling to grasp exactly where all these maybes, eventuallys and laters are coming from.

      1. Is that rhetorical?

        Because if you’re asking seriously, (I believe) many boys think the following:

        – Girls aren’t people, so meaningless noises come from their mouths
        – Girls don’t know what they want, so boys have to tell them
        – Girls are supposed to say no
        – Girls are supposed to somewhat boys want
        – Boys are supposed to press for sex all the time

        All of this comes down to socializing children to believe that genitals determine character and wishes.


        1. Also:

          – Girls/women all want to be in a romantic relationship even if they say they don’t

          (I’ve been single by choice for nearly 10 years, and if I had a dollar for every time someone’s told me that I’m “in denial” and secretly longing for a boyfriend, I could retire to Celibacy Island and live there happily forever.)

          1. Also also:

            – who cares what girls want, if boys want something, they have a right to demand and pressure girls into it

          2. Just look at so many of the ‘romantic comedy’ type stories – how many times has a woman in those movies been perfectly happy with the man she’s with, or alone, and some dudebro comes along and is like ‘no you’re not actually happy because you aren’t fucking me’ and she drops everything to be with that guy even if he’s an asshole, even if she’s literally at the wedding alter? They tell people that women don’t know what they want, and have to be told by some douchecanoe being piloted by his balls.

          3. Do you know/remember the song “You’re Beautiful” by James Bleuurgghnt? Whoops, sorry, James Blunt!

            Everyone used to wank on, and on, about how “romantic” it was. I snapped one day, at work, and said “Have you are listened to the lyrics? The bits where he isn’t just whining about how BYOO-ti-fuh-ull she is?”. They hadn’t.

            Fortunately, I have Sisterhood Approved (het)ear(o) defenders™, and they strip away the wangsty whinging designed to trigger feelingsbombs, so I explained the song. He saw a woman on a train, and an angel told him the woman was his. She is clearly in a relationship with someone, but it’s OK! James has a PLAN! Every person at that table physically recoiled. They made the face that says “Oh yuck, what died in here?”.

            That’s what your comment reminded me of! So very ‘Every Breath You Take’, the way we’re socialised to see that crap ~romantic~.

          4. It always disconcerts me how many of these songs there are. They sound catchy and awesome until you listen. I enjoy the sound of a few Billy Talent songs, but holy crap does his (hopefully) imaginary character have a persecution complex. Surrender is an especially wince-worthy song that I can only stomache if I imagine it dripping with sarcasm and ‘this is so you can learn not to’ signs everywhere. I enjoyed the sound of that James Blunt song, but I could only put the Weird Al version (You’re Pitiful) on my iPod; it rightfully makes fun of the creeper undertones of the original.

            Evanescence is one of my favourite bands, but sometimes the normal ‘I’m strong and not putting up with it’ message turns into a brooding ‘I’m weak and want you back’. There are more than a few of my Favourite Songs(TM) that I’ve eventually deleted because the lyrics make me really uncomfortable.

          5. And, once being told you are not interested, variations on:

            – “[blank look, pause]…what does that have to do with anything?”*

            – “I’m not going to let you make a mistake you’ll regret!”

            – Oh, too many others to list, circling back to what a woman wants or doesn’t want isn’t that important and/or is some mysterious thing… like those optical illusions that could be a rabbit or a duck, depending on what you concentrate on.

            *this happened to me, not as blatantly, in the form of “But *I’m* interested.” End of conversation. But doesn’t it mean the same thing? Gah.

          6. The other day, I got told by a guy on Twitter that I might be missing out on a great guy by assuming that every guy who randomly paid me a compliment was trying to have sex with me. I am gay and also gay-married, so the thought of missing out on a great guy who shouts at me in the street is not keeping me up at night.

          7. @Big Pink Box (ran out of nesting) At least Sting never pretended that song was romantic. “Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.”

          8. Going on about romantic lyrics that turn to be creepy… My partner loves music from the 80s. Because I am not native English, only recently I was able to understand the lyrics of songs that I only could recognize for the tune. And I discover that apparently most songs from male artists in the 80s could be re-titled The Stalker Song.

            For example, for me, this is the worst offender: “I drove all night” from Roy Orbinson. “I drove all night to get to you, I crept into your room. Woke you from your sleep to make love to you. Is that alright?”…

            WTF?!?! NO, IT ISN’T. If we were in a relationship and I decided to move to a place far away enough that you need to drive all night long to get there and you feel compelled to do this without forewarning… this means most probably that I moved away because I wanted to be away from you, and you know it. And even if this wasn’t the case and we were in a long-distance relationship, the last thing I want to experience is waking up in my bed, still groggy and disoriented, and finding out that there is a man who was not supposed to be there lying beside me and whispering in my ear that he wants sex right there and now! Defensive mode on, someone call the police!

            My partner complains that I am ruining his favourite songs…

          9. ‘You’re Beautiful’ is the second track on my Creepy Stalker Songs playlist, right before ‘I Spy’ by Pulp and just after Nsync’s ‘Tell Me, Tell Me…Baby’ (which has such explicitly creeptastic lyrics that I always wonder what they thought about it when they put it on the album). It’s a pretty long playlist.

          10. @Big Pink Box:

            “So very ‘Every Breath You Take’, the way we’re socialised to see that crap ~romantic~.”

            I never cared for that song until I learned that Sting *intended* it to be creepy. The stalker/narrator was in no way meant to be sympathetic. Sting could never understand why people played the thing at weddings.

          11. Yep, it weirds him out, but as he’s the one who wrote it… Ugh. I actually have a tenuous connection to Sting. My English teacher, who taught me for three years in comprehensive school*, actually did his teacher training with Gordon Sumner aka Sting. He comes from the same region I do.

            I’ll tell you what else carries a really harmful, toxic course in “possessiveness and stalking = twoo wuv” , ‘Twiligh’t, and it’s spawn , ‘Fifty Shades of Grey”. The former is an especially egregious offender, because it’s aimed at young girls.

            *secondary education, from 11-16 years old. Hell on earth for five years!

        2. “Girls don’t know what they want, so boys have to tell them”

          In the case of my friend-turned-creeper during my first quarter of college, it was “This girl has never been propositioned before, so her flustered response is just normal virgin uncertainty and maybe a little not-wanting-to-look-like-a-slut. I know better than her how it goes, so I know what her answer really is, or is going to be. I just hope she doesn’t take too long figuring it out.”

          I know that’s what he was thinking, because he said so explicitly. Some of the above, change it from third to second person, and it’s exact quotes.

          He was very taken aback when I told him that my “I’m not sure” was not “I’m not sure how sexual relationships go, please tutor me!” but in fact “I’m not sure I’m even into you that way, and I need to figure that out.”

          However, his insistence that he knew my mind better than I did (based in part on–I kid you not–his having read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) helped me figure out real quick that I was absolutely not into him, no way, no how, and would not in fact ever allow myself to be alone with him again.

          This guy was a masterclass in how to destroy someone’s trust in you, and in their ability to be safe around you, in three sentences.

          Bonus points? He even demanded that I give him a hug to reassure him that the conversation hadn’t made me scared of him. I was still very flustered, so I gave him that hug and that reassurance–but it was false reassurance, because I really was terrified to be alone with him from then on. He’d told me outright that he interpreted my “I don’t know” as a “yes, eventually.” How could I trust him then to respect any “No” I might give him later?

          Brrr. Still gives me the chills thinking about it.

          1. It makes sense you are remembering this with major creepy feelings because by asking for that reassurance hug, he was testing your boundaries right after you rejected him. You said “I don’t want to” and he immediately went for “Let’s see how far I can psuh her”. I assure you, your instincts were extremely correct.

        3. Girls don’t know what they want, so boys have to tell them

          Heck, the very first comment on this post literally says, “I am not entire sure if you know what you want”. As if women are required to convince/prove to men that they’re uninterested.

      2. A lot of these guys really do think of women as a sex-vending machine that you put money and kindness coins into and get affection and sex from. The first “no” is seen as “insufficient money and/or kindness coins deposited; please deposit additional funds and make your selection again”.

        Of course, it’s not exactly that simplistic of a view. Guys like this also see sex as something like a pinball game, or a boss-fight in a video game: they believe there’s a specific sequence of actions they can take, phrases they should use, that if done right, result in MULTI-BALL sex and/or romantic affection. So each “no” they get, they interpret as “Game Over, Would You Like To Try Again?”

        1. Oh, lord…until I read this comment I kind of liked the movie “Groundhog Day.”

          1. It’s a really cool concept, and you see great character development, but the romance with The One felt shoehorned in. There were a lot of opportunities to make a movie about him learning to be selfless and stumbling onto subplot resolutions for the towns-folk (like the honeymooning couple).

          2. What I do like about Groundhog Day, though, is that he doesn’t ‘get the girl’ by learning to treat *her* perfectly. He spends a long time trying to play things out so that she falls for him, and on all those days he creeps her out. Because treating her that way is inherently creepy, and sooner or later it comes across. She only actually becomes interested in him romantically when he’s genuinely become a better person, which he does by taking an active interest in *everyone* around him, not just her.

            Of course, she’s still fundamentally his prize for being a better person and that’s still sucky storytelling. But at least *treating* her as a prize to be won gets him nowhere.

      3. Like I said upthread:
        – these men get a “No”
        – they understand that “No” perfectly well
        – they just don’t care.

        They don’t believe that the object of their erecaffections should get to make that call. Their sense of entitlement leads them to believe that they deserve whoever, or whatever, gives them the happypant. They then pursue that, regardless of the feelings, agency, or dignity of the recipient of their Golden Boner Award.

        1. ^^This. LW, you DID make it perfectly clear. And he made it perfectly clear that he didn’t care what you wanted.

          1. Yep. I’m having flashbacks to the guy-I-thought-was-a-friend who declared to me (over the phone, long-distance, fortunately) that he was never going to give up, and so he would get me eventually, and it would be easier on me the sooner that was. Ugh.

            “No” does not mean “try harder.” It means NO. No freaking way in hell, this is completely dehumanizing, do not call this number again SLAM.

    3. but it never says “I respect you and your choices.”

      The more I think about the entire concept of asking someone out again after getting rejected, the more I hate it. You’re absolutely right, it never says “I respect you and your choices.” Having to turn somebody down is pretty stressful, I guarantee the askee remembers that you are interested. They will goddamn well say so if they change their mind.

  16. I don’t think this sort of thing is miscommunication. In 99% of the cases, it is not.

    If you’re head over heels in love with someone, you don’t behave in a way that lets them believe you are just friends. You know that you couldn’t cope with the pain of that disappointment, so the wise thing is to explicitly say that you want a date. That way, you get the rejection immediately, can make a clear cut, and let it heal.

    The men who ask women to do things with them that are normal things friends do together, and then suddenly act as if it is a date, perceive women as prey to be hunted. They think that if they are sneaky enough, they will manage to make a woman fall in love with them. Essentially, they think they just have to push all the right buttons. They don’t perceive women as human – and that’s vile.

    1. Yup.

      Another reason why I think you have to avoid guys like this: no good comes from being around a guy who won’t take no for an answer.

  17. The NY Times recently hosted an essay by A. Hope Jahren, a professor of geobiology, that addresses the culture and costs of sexual harassment in the academy. I think it’s worth reviewing in the context of this LW, as Jahren briefly incorporates some advice about how to manage harassment from peers and supervisors within the discipline in a way that enables one to continue pursuing their career. It is available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/opinion/sunday/she-wanted-to-do-her-research-he-wanted-to-talk-feelings.html. LW, best wishes to you in moving on from this situation and nipping it short in the future!

    1. Thank you for this. I will have to save it to read later, but, based on your description, I suspect it’s exactly what LW needs.

      Perhaps because of my own experience, I suspect LW is in engineering, mechanical or electrical. In such male-dominated engineering fields (with classes that tend to be such large lectures), it’s often difficult to determine which professors/advisors will genuinely support LW versus which ones who will require Captain’s script to be reminded of how they’re supposed to act as educational professionals. The latter might view LW as “a troublemaker” anyway, and thus be less likely to provide her with good references when she needs them for internships or job applications in the near future.

      LW, one of my biggest regrets was not spending more time with the Society of Women Engineers in college. While the Society will inevitably be dominated by Materials Science, Chemical, and Bioengineers who don’t face the same demographic challenges as women in even more heavily male-dominated fields, you may still learn through the grapevine which professors/advisors will take Mike’s lack of professionalism the most seriously.

  18. *Flames. Flames on the side of my face*

    Dude is being creepy and he knows it. He is being deliberate by ignoring both the hard and soft no you already provided to him; the hard “no, I don’t want to date you”, and the repeated soft no of social avoidance and/or limited social contact over time, body language and non-verbal cues.

    This dude is crossing the line and is trying to hide behind the line of “plausible deniability”.

    I also suspect dude has likely tried this with other women/female classmates. Usually creeps like this keep on creeping.

    LW: You are not responsible for his sadfeels or his sadboner. Dude is.

    Dude’s creeping isn’t your fault. You did nothing wrong.

    1. You know, I don’t necessarily agree with you that he knows it. And I was going to just ignore it, but I think there is something important to say:

      It doesn’t matter if he knows it. It doesn’t matter what his intentions are. You still get to say no, and your no still gets to matter. He can be the nicest, least creepy, most oblivious, most honestly-read-the-signals-wrong guy, and you are still not responsible for him.

      I think it’s important to say because if the LW believed what you were saying, she wouldn’t be writing. And it’s important for her to hear your side, which is that a lot of intentional creepsters hide behind plausible deniability. But I think it’s equally important for her to hear that his intentions don’t matter. He will be a better person and a better professional for learning to handle rejection well.

      1. It’s a pain when people ignore boundaries intentionally Cats are my favourite pet because they’re so independent and fickle. Every cat has their own unique boundaries and they make those boundaries completely clear.

        If you invade the boundaries, they get irritable and begin warning you to back off. They could not care less about your feelings. If you ignore the warnings, they will attack as a last resort to get you out of their comfort zone, but they prefer to reclaim space without harm if possible.

        Sometimes I visit friends of the family (plural) who are complaining about how vicious their cat is. Without exception, I realize that the cat is constantly having its boundaries invaded by would-be coddlers and lashing out after really obvious irritation.

        It’s a really pleasant experience when a cat relaxes its boundaries because I indicated my desire to cross them and then respected any boundaries they made. Usually the cat and I were best friends by the time I had to leave. Some cats just hated everybody and hated me a bit less for being respectful, so they would accommodate the occasional head-pat but nothing more.

        Like people, cats have their own unique boundaries, and some of them will never actually like /you/, but learning to respect their boundaries has a huge positive impact on any relationship.

        In my workplace, I was well-liked because I was considerate and hard-working. There were some people that despised the job and everybody in it, but while other people had constant disagreements with them, I somehow managed to find them quite tolerable.

        It was a very positive experience for me and I wish I was that skilled at social interactions outside of a work environment. I generally don’t have friends (many acquaintances though) and classmates often give me comments along the lines of ‘You seem good, but I don’t feel like I got to know you well’ when year end comes and everyone is saying farewell. I don’t even know where to begin, and a lot of people who initiate interaction just get impatient with how long it takes me to drop boundaries. That and I tend to silently disappear when I make social mistakes.

      2. I think he knows that she doesn’t want him. He doesn’t accept (for whatever reason) that her lack of romantic and sexual interest is completely out of his control. As it should be, because she is a person and has agency.

        So yeah, he may not know he’s a creep. If he doesn’t, though, it’s because he doesn’t accept that LW is a real person. That’s pretty creepy too.

        1. Mind if I join the chat? My (ex)boyfriend told me once, when we where talking about movies and I was (vecry viciously tearing apart several rom-coms), that persistance was a valid way of gaining the affections of the one you desired. I told that he was wrong, and he told me “That was the way I got you to date me”. I looked at him, I mean, relly looked at him, and told to myself to leave. That this this was doomed. He considered me like a person with no agency, no desires of my own. And reading one of our last conversations, whenhe writes to me that “I respect your decision, but I dont share it#. I don’t care! This is not a democracy! I will do whatever I want with my life, dude!
          (I’m sorry for the rant. The breakup has been recent, and I feel like there is so many things I left unsaid. but I don’t want to explain my resans to him because… I really, really don’t want o see him any more. Really considering just mail him his stuff, eveng when he lifes 10 minutes away from my place, just for my peace of mind. I don’t know.)

  19. Ugh ugh ugh this has happened to me so many times. I would like to have dude friends, but making dude friends who are not currently dating other friends seem to cast themselves in a rom com staring us? And don’t want to hang when I turn them down? Because the only thing that interests them about me is my lady parts?

    Just. No.

  20. LW, do you know what’s really super awesome? When a guy asks you out, you say no, there’s a little awkwardness, you become great friends, such great friends that sometimes there are Moments (because Moments do sometimes happen between friends of all genders/gender identities!), and he still respects your initial no/doesn’t try something again.

    I hope you get to find friends like these. Because asking people out is awesome! Handling rejection beautifully is admirable! And great friends figure that you are an adult, and if the circumstances change, you would Use Your Words and tell them – because they’re not hanging around pining for you looking for any signal that *maybe* you changed your mind.



    I hate that I live in a society where there are actually people who think his behavior is okay and justified by virtue of him having a dick. His ‘waah why won’t someone touch my boner’ should NOT get in the way of someone continuing their career and schooling. If he can’t handle his own genitals, that’s HIS problem, not yours.

  22. In college I went on one date with a guy and decided I wasn’t interested in more dates with him. He actually called me over to his apartment to have a meeting to discuss what we would do next. See, by going on that one date with him, I was leading him on. I then owed it to him to spend time with him at least once a week for the next couple of months, or else I would be a terrible person who didn’t take responsibility for the feelings I had engendered in him.

    I’m so disappointed to say that I believed all this. I tried to do right by him and I felt so guilty for having been a “tease”. After hanging out with him a couple more times to meet my obligations toward him, I realized that my feelings had changed after all! I absolutely couldn’t stand him, even as a friend, anymore.

    Also, long time lurker, first time commenting. I love CA and the commentariat here is great. The support and help for keeping my boundaries strong has been really helpful to me. Thank you all.

    1. This logic is so confusing to me. Going on one date means you owe me future dates or you were leading me on?

      Wouldn’t it be more leading on to continue to go on dates and behave like an interested person would when you are not interested? If “leading on” means “acted like you liked me when you didn’t”, then continuing to go on dates in this situation would be the very definition of ” leading on “.

  23. So I seem to have kind of a different take from everyone else here. The part that stood out to me most from all of that is “He asked me if it was okay, I said no and he took his hand off.”

    My understanding of the story is: guy asked LW out. LW said no, There was some distance. They became close again. Guy made another move. LW said no. Guy backed off.

    We can hate it all we want, but there is def the social narrative that as a guy you should keep trying. In this case though, guy did use his words and respect her boundaries. And the putting the bag on the floor thing? Yes it’s icky and not cool, but knowing that is a learned behaviour, and not assumed knowledge.

    If *I* were in this situation I would see how guy responded further that this. If he makes another move after you explicitly say. “I don’t want to date you, probably ever, if I change my mind I will let you know, but in the meantime I am interested in continuing to just hang out as friends if you are interested in that”

    Of course that may not be the best option for LW, “I’m mad at him, and I don’t know if I’m being cruel or not” LW, as a reader of this blog i’m sure you are familiar with ‘your feelings are always valid’. If you don’t want to be friends with this guy you owe him nothing. You weren’t careless of his feelings. You didn’t send the wrong signals or lead him on or be careless with his feelings. Who knows if he misread your signals willfilly or was just socially blind. But the ball is in your court here. If you wanna keep your distance, go for it! It if you wanna try and salvage the friendship and you think he might be able to get better at respecting boundaries? cool! Trust your intuition, it sounds like it has been helping you make good choices so far ❤

    1. “And the putting the bag on the floor thing? Yes it’s icky and not cool, but knowing that is a learned behaviour, and not assumed knowledge.”

      Really? Because I have always known that you don’t just touch someone’s stuff and put it somewhere else when the person is sitting right next to it, and that you don’t put your hands on them after. It isn’t mine, and I don’t have the right to touch it. If it’s physically uncomfortable for me to have the thing next to me, I’ll tell the person I’m with so that they can shift it around. But anyone who has ventured out from under a rock for more than five minutes knows you don’t go touching someone else’s stuff. Unless you’re raised to be (or are surrounded by a narrative that you’re) entitled.

      Yeah, there’s a narrative that guys should keep trying. SFW? That narrative comes with another one: Girls and women have no right to say no. We have no right to expect our no’s to be respected. That narrative has led to sexual assault (no means yes! Just keep trying! It’s on her to keep you at bay!) You know what the logical extent of that narrative is? It’s that a lot of women aren’t going to trust men or want to be friends with them, because the minute the dude decides he wants something, he won’t take no for an answer. Or he’ll “take no for an answer” but keep pushing and nagging.

      I am all out of patience with this shit. I thought it would get better as I’ve gotten older but it’s actually gotten worse. It needs to stop.

      1. I would say that not moving someone’s bag is learned, but it’s learned very young and adult humans damn sure better have “don’t mess with people’s stuff” down.

        It is one of those things that is such a base level of human interaction that we make sure kids who can barely walk and talk are told it, over and over. People say it to babies just learning to move around — “No, no, baby, that’s auntie Preposterice’s, no touching” — by the time kids get to preschool-age, they mostly know it, even if they’re still not great at respecting it.

        And some people are never great at respecting it, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been told. They’ve damn well been told.

    2. Sheelzebub nailed it.

      But I’m gonna add some stuff anyway because your comment really irked me.

      You have the narrative wrong. Here’s what happened:

      Boy asked girl on a date. Girl refused and explicitly said she wasn’t interested in dating boy.

      Boy and girl hang out occasionally.

      At the last such hangout, boy moved girl’s purse to the floor and groped her leg. Both actions came without warning, let alone permission.

      Please note:

      The boy in this narrative does not have any reason to think the girl is sexually interested in him.

      Even our cultural narrative of boys pursuing girls assumes that the boy explicitly tells the girl that he continues to be sexually interested.

      And while I’m on the subject, even if chasing after people who tell you they aren’t interested were ok (it’s not) touching legs comes way after touching hand or shoulders.

      In what part of the world is groping someone’s leg a legitimate first approach?

    3. Your understanding of the story is an extremely selective re-reading of what LW actually said, and then making a lot of yes-but excuses for the guy’s behavior.

      Dudes of the world who have been creepy or inappropriate in the past: you can still be good, decent, worthwhile people today despite having done less-than-stellar things in your youth! It is not actually necessary to try to retcon and excuse your behavior back then by frantically trying to make excuses for creepy dudes now!

    4. But he didn’t respect her boundaries – you learn not to touch other people without permission in KINDERGARTEN. His first move was asking her out. His “next move” was to assume they were on a date without checking with her and escalate to touching without any indication that she would welcome it. He doesn’t get a cookie for backing off when he shouldn’t have been doing the bad touch in the first place.

      In PUA language, that kind of touching is literally called “escalating kino”.

      She shouldn’t have to constantly clarify that any interaction with this douche is a date or hanging out. HE should be the one assuming the answer is ‘no’ until she specifically says ‘yes’.

      1. Oh god no! I looked up kino escalation because I had no clue what it was and it’s really discomforting to say the least. Pushing a person’s touch boundary as a /means/ to make trust and like is terrible; decreased boundaries are the /result/. If I like you already, I’ll grudgingly allow it UP TO MY ‘NOPE’ POINT. Everybody has a different nope point for each relationship; for most people, I draw it at shaking hands. Only a handful of people get permission to randomly hug me, and only because it’s a normal greeting they use with everybody. If someone tried to ‘escalate kino’, I’d silently cut off contact within the week and start hating them without knowing why. The problem is that touching anybody beyond their boundary who /doesn’t/ like you is a very quick ticket to ‘stay the hell away’.

        It’s implicit that if I want to drop my boundary, I’ll mention it, like I awkwardly did when my gf and I were watching tv side-by-side on the couch and I told her I wouldn’t exactly be against cuddling. ^^; She surprised me by being really happy to do so. I kind of miss having moments like that with a person I trust.

        1. Oh my goodness. I had to look it up too, and wow was I disturbed! I am a very friendly, cuddly person who has had mostly positive physical interactions with people around me, and I’m NOT into people ignoring whatever physical boundaries I might set. I can understand the idea of trying out some physical contact starting with something like a high five, fist bump, or even arm touch. I can even see, if the other person is responding positively, touching you back, leaning into you, etc., trying to go further. But only IF you’re getting positive signals back. If the person pulls away from you, or asks you to stop, then what that means is STOP. Continuing wins you not a roll in the hay, but a permanent slot on the Creep List. (And as someone who is cuddly and has had people set boundaries with me, I have no sympathy for not respecting someone else’s no. It’s not that hard to back off if someone asks you!)

      2. “But he didn’t respect her boundaries – you learn not to touch other people without permission in KINDERGARTEN.”

        This is not, in my experience, nearly as universal a lesson as you seem to think, at least not in These United States. I think it’s a rather serious problem that we overwhelmingly teach children the opposite, by insisting they engage in physical contact with people when they don’t wish to do so (often hugging or kissing relatives) – for some examples, Google “make kids hug relatives” and look at some of the pushback in the comments on the articles telling people to not do that. People, in my case overwhelmingly woman-presenting people, touch me ALL THE FUCKING TIME without my consent. As a thick-haired redhead, I have to put up with nearly as much hair-groping from random strangers* as Black people have to (based on what I’ve read about this from Black writers), and my arms are grabbed**, my back patted***, and my body hugged as frequently as multiple times daily (and at least several times per week). And people get SUPER mopey (or even attempt to coercively push back) when I tell them to not touch me. I agree it’s a problem, but asserting that we actually have a consent culture when in fact we have a rape culture (that is certainly gendered to some degree, but also not entirely gendered) is not consistent with my experience and understanding of reality.

        There’s also a pervasive double standard that I notice but can’t quite pinpoint whenever I see women discussing this phenomenon, usually in explicitly feminist spaces; I think it has something to do with an assumption that behaviors that are actually prevalent across gender are very gendered. It may also or alternatively have something to do with internalized patriarchal norms concerning men****, perhaps the idea that men would somehow feel less violated when experiencing physical boundary violations perpetuated by women, or the idea that men would never object to physical contact with women. These aren’t necessarily true. Again, I’m on board with a consent-based culture, which is exactly why I think it’s so important to point out what I perceive to be pervasive unknown unknowns in discussions of consent culture.

        *It’s especially true in regions where the population is largely ethnically homogeneous and red hair is extremely rare, but it happens in my day-to-day life in my area of the USA a lot, as well.

        **See Jackalope’s comment in this nested thread for a self-unaware example coming from someone in the very same thought that ze is decrying violating boundaries around touch: “I can understand the idea of trying out some physical contact starting with something like a high five, fist bump, or even arm touch.”

        ***See Mrs Morley’s comment upthread for a second self-unaware example: “And while I’m on the subject, even if chasing after people who tell you they aren’t interested were ok (it’s not) touching legs comes way after touching hand or shoulders.” Why? Why do some of you (appear to me to) assume that your personal or internalized hierarchy of touch is universal, especially in a context where you’re simultaneously insisting touch without consent is generally wrong? I suspect it’s because those of you in question actually engage in physical-boundary-violating behaviors that you have come to see as normalized – hence the double standard I can’t quite pinpoint. It’s not okay to assume that your personal hierarchy is universal, FOR ANYONE, so we either need to be fine with people presuming that some touch is okay according to their own socialization that may or may not be shared by others, as long as they don’t react badly to being told “no” and don’t do it again, or we need to make the standard truly universal, in which case you need to stop touching people without explicit consent, ever.

        ****Or people whom are interpreted by others as presenting as men

        1. I’m sorry so many people violate your boundaries so regularly. That sounds awful.

          I don’t think anybody here was making the case that other kinds of touching done without seeking consent first are okay — at least, I didn’t read it that way. I was seeing more of a culturally coded hierarchy than an individual preference one. I wouldn’t want an acquaintance to touch my arm, hand, or shoulders, but I’d be okay with, e.g., my husband consensually touching a female friend that way, whereas his putting a hand on their leg would bug me. Similarly, I’m fine hugging people who are into hugging, but wouldn’t hold hands with most people. Not because hands are inherently intimate, but because I live in a culture where hand-holding is coded as intimate while handshakes are not. I suspect I’d feel very differently if I’d grown up in a culture where hand-holding is commonplace between same-gender friends.

          I think part of what bothers me about Mike’s actions is that there is a general cultural script for how relationships and physical contact progress, and he skipped a whole bunch of steps without asking. And I’m not saying that not asking is okay as long as it’s for smaller steps — it isn’t. The kind of touching that is coded as less intimate still shouldn’t happen without both parties’ clear consent. I’m also not saying that everybody has to, or even should, try to follow that script, just that a lot of what we perceive as levels of intimacy related to touch is culturally coded rather than individually determined. Again, not saying that there’s anything wrong with individually determining these things, or that one way is better than another. Honestly, it’s kind of weird to me that I perceive hand-holding as more intimate than hugging, but those are the expectations I’ve been taught.

        2. I too am sorry that you’ve had many people violating your boundaries on a regular basis. I am still thinking about what you wrote, and trying to think how to respond. Part of my background is a) several years of experience as a ballroom dancer (and you don’t become a ballroom dancer if you don’t like having people touch you, a lot. You just can’t), where everyone is in everyone else’s space, and b) several years living in a country where physical touch was the norm (regularly walking around with a minimum of 4 kids hanging off of me, for example, none of them mine [and not always the same kids]), so that I’m used to sharing space with other people as a part of my norm. The cultural expectations I live with are clearly different from yours. That is part of why I try to be aware of people’s boundaries, since I know that not everyone likes to have their friends in their space all of the time.

          That being said, I think there are good reasons to look at some kinds of touch as being more neutral than others. A handshake, high five, or fist bump all involve the other person being literally at arm’s length from you, with the only point of contact being your hands (or, with a fist bump, your knuckles). That is part of why I consider those kinds of touches to be a way to figure out how the other person feels about having you in their space; you’re not getting too close, or too up close and personal, the other person has room to respond back in kind or not (and I believe that if you don’t want even that much touch then you can certainly say no and expect that you’ll be respected for that). Touching someone’s arm is closer and more personal, but still away from sensitive areas of the body. Touching someone’s head (I am sorry you have had your hair petted so many times; that seems very intrusive) or face is getting into a very sensitive part of the body, as is anywhere near breasts (for women) or groin (for anyone). I think that’s why everyone is reacting to the touching of her LEG. Not only is he touching a part of the body that is close to the groin, but he is sitting right next to her with more of his body close to hers (since he moved her bag). Also, at least in the US a high five or fist bump are not overtly sexual forms of touch, whereas in all of the cultures I am familiar with (which is a number but certainly not all of them), a man putting his hand on a woman’s knee IS sexual.

          1. ‘living in a country where physical touch was the norm (regularly walking around with a minimum of 4 kids hanging off of me, for example, none of them mine [and not always the same kids])’

            The country may be different, but generally kids have a much different boundary than adults – a waist-tall kid hugging you around the upper thighs is reaching as high as they can, an adult hugging you around the thighs had better be a good friend.

          2. A handshake, fist bump, or high five also have a very specific set of gestures involved. The first person puts their hand out in a specific signal, the second person responds. None of them involve just grabbing someone out of the blue, all of them present an opportunity to refuse the initial gesture (though some people get whiny about this, particularly with handshakes), so on and so forth.

        3. I’m sad that people violate your boundaries so much. That’s dreadful. They are wrong.

          Your example of hugging relatives is a good instance of how the U.S. isn’t a consent culture.

          Jackalope’s explanation of a hierarchy of touch is what I was thinking of when I asked about leg touching.

          All the same, I don’t perceive an inconsistency in desiring that people ask before they touch, and still being surprised by what they touched.

          1. Yeah, the “requiring children to hug people” thing is a gross violation of bodily autonomy. I’ll ask a child with whom I am close *one time* for a hug, and if they don’t immediately offer one I’ll ask if I can have a wave goodbye instead. I don’t act sad, and I don’t ask again any time soon. Children should have control over who is and isn’t allowed to touch them.

        4. Oh. One more thing: it’s possible that I indulge in physical boundary violating touch, but fairly unlikely. I am not a touchy person.

    5. Nope. Guy *touched* LW without asking, after having to transgress a *physical* impediment to do so. When she, I’m sure, flinched or made some movement or sound of protest or disgust, THEN he said “Is this okay”.

      That tells me that for him, seeking consent is an afterthought if it happens at all, and as such, no, he didn’t use his words or respect her boundaries, because he DID THE THING WITHOUT ASKING. That’s not using your words. That’s not respecting someone’s boundaries.

      You can tolerate this kind of behaviour for yourself if you want to, but don’t tell people who don’t that they’re being too hard on the poor menz.

    6. I don’t totally disagree, as in I don’t think this means that this guy is evil forever…but, I don’t think it matters really, either. I’d be really uncomfortable trying to be friends with somebody who tried to escalate a situation romantically after I told them “nope” because how am I to know if he’s not going to “misread my signals” again? I agree there’s a lot of social/cultural baggage on guys around pursuit and “women change their minds, ask her out again” stuff, but… it doesn’t sound like the LW wants to hang out with this guy anymore, really. If she had written “I really care about this guy and he’s a great friend but …” then maybe there’d be something worth salvaging, talking to him, whatever…but here I think it’s really not the case.

      1. “this guy is not evil forever” is NOT THE MINIMUM BAR for allowing someone to be your friend. NOT.

        Thank you, #societyingeneral, for adopting that mindset.

    7. Nope.

      He didn’t use his words or respect her boundaries. Using his words and respecting her boundaries might have looked something like “hey, I asked you out a while ago and you said no, just thought I’d see if you still felt that way? No? Okay, cool.” and then continuing to either hang out AS FRIENDS if he can deal with it and dialing back the interaction if he can’t.

      Using his words and respecting her boundaries was not surprise-DATE!ing her, moving her stuff without permission (also God help someone who picks up my purse and moves it, especially to a nasty movie theater floor – they’re going to end up missing a few body parts), and touching her WITHOUT her permission. Seriously, the idea of someone I don’t like putting their hand on my leg makes me want to vomit.

      I’m sorry, I learned not to fuck with other people’s stuff when I was a toddler. And I have been stuck in the OH LOOK IT’S A DATE! SURPRISE! situation more than once, and it is a deeply shitty thing to do to another person.

    8. “The part that stood out to me most from all of that is “He asked me if it was okay, I said no and he took his hand off.”
      *** In this case though, guy did use his words and respect her boundaries. ”

      Wrong. Using your words comes before you put your hands on someone’s body, especially in a sexual way. Using words after the laying on of hands is not using words.

      Respecting her “no” after he’d already made an uninvited sexual touch is still rape culture bullshit: it only allowed her to opt out of sex, instead of sex’s being something one opts into.

      Image if he’d put his hand on her breast and then asked if it were okay. Does that sound he respected her boundaries?

  24. I was thinking about this post this morning and suddenly remembered the time I agreed to go to a guy’s sister’s wedding with him, WITH THE EXPLICIT STIPULATION that it was “just as friends.” The wedding itself was fine, but then he got all mopey at the end of the night when I didn’t want to kiss him. DUDE! WE AGREED!

    Maybe he thought seeing people get married would awaken all my Mushy Romantic Feels and I’d immediately focus them on him? I don’t even know.

    1. See, YOU thought that you had an agreement. HE thought that you had established an opening negotiating position that would lead to you making progressive concessions until you slept with him. And yet somehow women are the ones who don’t communicate clearly.

      1. Beautifully put. Women aren’t bad at communicating; it’s the rest of the world that seems to be unable to respect what women say.

      2. progressive concessions are exactly what these dudes are looking for. I wish they would realize how fucked that is. You are literally cajoling and forcing someone into sleeping with you bc they are so sick and tired of saying no over and over and decide to take the path of least resistance and then just never answer your messages again.

        1. “You are literally cajoling and forcing someone into sleeping with you bc they are so sick and tired of saying no over and over and decide to take the path of least resistance ”

          and if the goal is to achieve pants-feelings-CONTACT! then this is a bad thing for the guy, why? nagging is a method. it works. yay. keep at it! #notastalker

        2. I think there’s some serious social/cultural history behind the “gradual progression” idea. These guys aren’t making it up out of creepiness; there are lots of stories in our culture that tell them this is The Way It Works.

          Talking about it may start to help them see how truly annoying it is.

          (But I always figured, why would you WANT to have a relationship with someone who wasn’t really interested in it right away?)

          1. Oh, there’s definitely some serious social/cultural history behind the idea!

            However, women HAVE been “talking about it” for the past couple hundred years. (Possibly longer, but my knowledge of what women talked about doesn’t extend much farther back than Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen – now there are two names you never thought you’d see in the same sentence lol.) Women “talking about it” has been mainstream for at least the past 40 years. When are men like these going to start listening?

          2. “why would you WANT to have a relationship with someone who wasn’t really interested in it right away?)”

            I’ve always wondered that, because I sure wouldn’t. Unfortunately I think the answer is probably “as long as I’m getting sex, who cares if she’s really into me or not?”

  25. My heart sank to the floor when I saw this title, LW. You did nothing wrong; your classmate took advantage of your civility and (platonic) warmth because he felt entitled to do so. He owes you an apology. Some people don’t understand that a lack of physical/romantic attraction does not present itself as disgust, or that one-on-one time does not mean it’s an automatic date. That’s on them to figure out.

  26. I’ve been on the other side of the awkward crush thing so I have some sympathy for a “crusher” in hoping that a “crushee” will have changed their mind when you bump into each other several YEARS later, but even then you have to use your words, ask, and be prepared to accept a no.

    While the other person may have changed their mind in the intervening time, it’s more likely they haven’t, especially if it’s only one semester to another, and you still have to actually ask before doing anything else. You DO NOT grope, and if your behaviour has made things awkward in your social group, YOU are the one who cleans it up.

    I made a big mess of things with the guy I had a crush on – he’d said he was not interested, worked overseas for a couple of years and when he came back I thought he might reconsider. I made the mistake of confiding about my feelings to a friend without having said anything to the guy in question, the friend went on to publicly tease us about it at a social event, things got embarrassing. The next day I rang the guy to apologise, and I rang all the key people in my social group to explain the situation and to make it clear that we were not and never would be an item.

    But the guy’s reaction highlights the male/female socialisation divide. Did he feel bad, thinking he’d sent an unclear message? Did he avoid settings where he might bump into me because it would be awkward? No, he did not. He told me in no uncertain terms that he was not going to change his mind and that I should stay away from him (and was quite nasty about into the bargain – telling me that it was inappropriate people our age to have crushes, accusing me of stalking him and trying to ruin his chances of other relationships, verbally abusing me over the phone in a way that made me feel quite threatened – but based on feedback from a friend who went out with him later I think that the degree of his reaction had more to do with him being a narcissistic dickhead than being male).

    TLDR – use your words, clean up your own mess if you make a mistake.

  27. Ah yes the the not-a-date surprise actually-a-date switcharoo. A tactic which has lured many an unsuspecting women to believe they could simply act as normal nice human beings without having to second guess if there attempts at decent social interaction will be interpreted as “interested” only to find that is exactly what’s happening. Horrible on many different levels, and pretty much guaranteed to leave the women in question with a giant pile of guilt, awkwardness, and other people’s feelings, that she in no way deserves.

    A friend of mine in college developed an effective means of dealing with this situation with something our sorority later dubbed ” Pulling a Corson.”

    After setting up plans to go see a movie with a classmate she was casual friends with my friend started realizing that he A) might be interested in her and B) might see this as a date. Not wanting to confront him about it directly for various reasons, she decided the best solution was to treat it exactly as you would going to the movies with a friend. Well what’s easiest ways to make a movie night with a friend even better? By inviting more friends. So that’s what she did.

    So this dude ended up going to the movies with her and about a half dozen of our sorority sisters. Did he actually think it was a date? I have no idea, but I do know he never tried to ask her out again. While it would be nice if my friend (and many other women) didn’t feel the need to do something like this, I can’t not get over the mental image of this guy all set to lay his moves on my friend only to end up becoming the third wheel on his own “date”.

    1. And women have to pull these kinds of stunts because if they call the guy on it being a date they risk being called conceited for thinking he might fancy her. Because you shouldn’t be aware that you are conventionally attractive and should be flattered every time it’s pointed out. One direction- talking to you here! LW I think you definitely can’t win in this sort of situation so don’t blame yourself.

      1. This.

        Women are supposed to work super hard and spend a ton of time and money and endure physical discomfort or pain to be pretty, but ALWAYS ACT LIKE YOU’RE SUPER SURPRISED THAT SOMEONE THINKS YOU’RE PRETTY. God forbid you’re like, hell yeah, I’m attractive, because then you’re an arrogant, stuck-up bitch! And then, God forbid, you might not be delirious with gratitude every time some dude tells you you’re attractive! (See every street harasser who got turned down and then yelled something like “well you’re ugly anyway, bitch!”)

        Seriously, it absolutely blows men’s minds/enrages them when they compliment a girl and don’t get immediately drooling appreciation in return.

        1. Right?? We’re supposed to spend all this effort to meet the beauty standards, but if you acknowledge any success at it, you’re conceited.
          Also, if anyone can tell you are trying, you’re shallow.

          1. I’ve started responding to compliments with just “thanks” and have watched more than one dude get super rage-ful that I didn’t immediately drop my underwear because someone called me pretty.

            It’s been a weird experience, I’ve been on both sides of being conventionally attractive and I’m only conventionally attractive because I’ve gotten plastic surgery, so I know I’m attractive because I paid to be made that way, so I’m not going to pretend like I’m shocked when someone else notices, but it makes guys SO ANGRY when you’re like, yeah, thanks dude, I know I’m pretty instead of falling all over yourself to reassure them that you just HAD NO IDEA you’re attractive.

          2. I tend to be taken for much younger than I am, and when people find out how old I am they’re always like “Oh my god, you don’t look it!” and I say “I know! Isn’t it awesome!” Women mostly laugh, but it’s interesting to watch how men react. Same with compliments on my appearance. But especially when I’m dressed for work or going out, of course I look good! I make an effort to look good, and I like to view compliments on my appearance as an acknowledgment and appreciation of that effort. 🙂

          3. I have a good friend who is a lesbian and who also had a pretty hard crush on me when we first met one another. It was a huge relief to hear her say out loud that yes, she was crushing on me, because then I could admit that yes, this thing existed, and no, I wasn’t either crazy or conceited. Once it was spoken out loud, then yeah, things got awkward, but it was *okay.*

            She’s a really neat person and I’m glad we both pushed past the awkward.

        2. It’s as if not only are we not supposed to notice, independently, if we succeed in being beautiful, we’re also supposed to have permanent short-term amnesia. We’ve got to forget the last time a guy called us pretty so we’re already to be amazed by the very idea when the next one comes along.

          1. My theory is that we’re never supposed to really believe that we’re beautiful, because that would make us stuck-up bitches who think we’re too good for whoever we’re dating.

  28. Hello LW!

    This is my first time posting a comment on Captain Awkward, but I’ve been an avid follower of this site ever since I stumbled upon it a few years ago. Awesome work is being done here!!

    I’d like to address my comment to LW and to all those who’ve commented above, by your responses I gather that quite a few of you have not been friend zoned.

    I leave you all with an article written by Chelsea Fagan on Thought Catalog a few years back, perhaps it can help you better understand the thought process of a person who has been friendzoned. As a woman I can wholeheartedly relate with her post.

    “There has been a lot of discourse lately around the concept of the friend zone, and the misogyny that can be found when we scratch the surface of its premise. Our thinking has become that “friend zone” is a more elaborate, more palatable way for a man to tell a woman that, because she exercised her right to say “no” to sex or a more intimate relationship with what was initially her friend, she is now a “bitch” or, worse, “slut” who was never worth his time in the first place. It’s a societally-reinforced disrespect for her decision to use her own discretion when it comes to who and when she wants to date.

    And this can happen. There have been many men who, upon being rejected by a friend with whom they wanted much more than platonic interactions, have turned brutally insulting and disdainful of the woman in question. Being turned down can bring out a true ugliness in people, and when coupled with the institutional sexism which tells us that women must fall on the spectrum somewhere between Madonna and Whore, there have been countless men who used their broken heart as a good reason to make this woman feel equally bad about herself for saying “no.”

    But the friend zone, as we know it, is a much more complex dynamic than that. What is most glaringly absent from this rhetoric of friend zone-as-sexism is the fact that, fairly often, women are friend zoned, as well. A brief look at one of Taylor Swift’s albums or any of the “notice me,” or “you belong with me”-esque tags on Tumblr will show that women are just as capable of experiencing this feeling of loving someone who is only capable of regarding you as a friend, and being absolutely tortured by the discrepancy in feelings. It’s easy to understand, with just a cursory observation of the way the dating world works, that having unrequited feelings for a friend and feeling unbearably heartbroken about it is far and away a gender-neutral experience.

    Speaking personally, I remember being friend zoned several years back, and it was one of the more painful emotional experiences of my life. I had been friends with this guy for several years and, over the course of our friendship, had realized that I wanted more out of our time together. It seemed natural, obvious even, that we should be together — look at how well we already got along! We would spend hours together in the afternoon, playing video games and talking about everything under the sun (often including dating). For me, a boyfriend would be all of those things, just with an even more profound layer of intimacy that I desperately wanted with this friend. One day, I worked up the courage to tell him, and he rejected me as kindly as he could. He insisted that he wanted to be my friend — that he adored my friendship, valued it above all else — and, not wanting to seem like a fool, I remained his friend.

    But it was brutal. Having to see him every day, to know that I was not the person he wanted to be with, that a million other girls who may not even treat him well were able to see that part of his life which I felt had been made for me — it was incredibly painful. It wore on me and, because he seemed not to realize how much it hurt me when he would go on and on about dating someone else when he knew the conversation we had already had about dating ourselves, I began to resent him. I realized that, fair or not, I would not be able to remain close with him if I wanted to have my mental health and some semblance of self-respect.

    We went our separate ways, and he told me that he was very hurt by my decision.

    The thing is, though, it wasn’t my decision. It’s not as though my entire friendship with him was a ruse to get him in bed, I genuinely fell for him over the course of getting to know him, and upon being rejected, remaining in such close proximity was beyond my ability to undertake. If I had a choice, I would have clearly chosen to stop feeling that way about him and go back to the way things were before. But being rejected is a risk that we have to take in love, and sometimes it does not work out in our favor. Having to cut myself off from such painful contact with him was not because I hated him, but rather because I cared for him too much.

    It is simply unfair to paint friend zoning — a clumsy term, to be sure, but one which absolutely describes a real phenomenon — as a uniquely misogynist concept. Yes, there are some men who become cruel to women after they fake their way into a friendship-as-gateway-to-sex. But there are also many men (and women) who, like me, simply fell for someone they could not control and were terribly hurt when the feeling was not reciprocated. It’s an awful position to be in, and one that we would all do better to be understanding about, especially if we’re lucky enough to have never experienced it ourselves.

    It is essential, of course, when someone tells you “no” not to use it as an excuse to malign their character or attempt to hurt them the way they have hurt you. This is unacceptable, even if you are hurt — and it’s a behavior that should absolutely be called out. But we should also work on being empathetic when we are the person doing the rejecting. We should never take advantage (as can sometimes happen) of the person who is clearly devoted to us, using them as an ego-boost or exploiting them being at our beck and call. We shouldn’t go out of our way to tell them all about our dating follies when we know that they have feelings for us and are doing their best to be respectful and a friend. We should do these things because we are all fragile human beings with needs and desires and irrational responses to being told “I don’t feel the same” by someone we love.

    In the end, there will always be friends who develop feelings on uneven footing. Rejection will always be a hard pill to swallow. And learning to overcome that to remain friends with someone you love will always be a difficult process that requires maturity and caring on both sides. But to paint this very human experience as uniquely male, or act as though it stems from an inherent claim to women’s bodies and relationships as their own, is oversimplifying the issue to the point of absurdity. Speaking as a woman who has been friend zoned — and who had to end the friendship for her own sanity — I can say with a certain measure of authority that these situations are never easy for any of us. We could all work on being more kind.”

    1. There will always be friends who develop feelings on an uneven footing, but there is nothing useful about the term “friendzone” IMO. The word is immutably linked with entitlement and I don’t see it as useful to try and reclaim(?) the term.

      I have heard younger friends refer to “friendzoning” gender-neutrally (eg: Xander in Buffy “friendzoning” Willow), and I think the word is here to stay, but I don’t like it. I feel like even ignoring its close association with misogyny, it’s an innately pejorative word for not being able to be in a romantic relationship with your friend and I can’t see how that can ever be a helpful way of framing it.

      Of course it hurts to be rejected, and you may not be able to deal with being friends for a while/at all, but the idea that the object of your affections did something bad by rejecting you is a pretty harmful idea. I just don’t see why we would want to use a word that means both “I continuously pushed the boundaries of my friend then painted them as a bad person when I finally asked them out and they said no” AND “I was rejected by someone I cared about and it hurts too much to be friends with them any more”. I’d really prefer not to muddy those waters.

      I don’t quite know how to describe it but I really do feel by having a word that centres the experience around “something this person did to me” (“X friendzoned me, I was friendzone”) it shifts the concept toward blame and entitlement even when it’s not what you mean. Vs just “I’m really sad that person isn’t attracted to me and that I may lose their friendship too”.

      I know this is a bit rambly, sorry. And I don’t want to have a go at you, but it’s very frustrating when people open with “obviously people here haven’t been [concept]”. That is a big assumption. I’ve been rejected by friends I was interested in and that was unpleasant to varying degrees but I have never, ever felt any kinship with the idea of the friendzone. Not everyone has the same experiences.

      1. Seconding this. Many people have been rejected by friends they have or developed pantsfeelings for. I sure have! It sucks! But I don’t feel like we ever needed an entire new word to describe the experience of being turned down for sex by someone who wants to be a friend. I think it’s way more important to dismantle this ridiculous hierarchy of relationships where friends are obviously a step down from dating. Friends and romantic partners are different, not better. And the desire to have a romantic partner doesn’t mean that the solution is “promoting” a friendship, because it does not work that way.

      2. There will always be friends who develop feelings on an uneven footing, but there is nothing useful about the term “friendzone” IMO. The word is immutably linked with entitlement and I don’t see it as useful to try and reclaim(?) the term.

        I totally agree there’s nothing good there to reclaim, but I do find it useful in a “here’s who to block/mute/stop talking to” sense. Of course, anyone that entitled is going to show it in other ways as well, but it is a handy red flag.

      3. As a word, “friendzone” is useful because it helps identify people who buy into warped notions of emotional entitlement. If you hear someone accuse a woman of “friendzoning” a man, it means something.

      4. You are so right.

        A person rejecting me romantically hasn’t put me some where. They have clarified to me how they feel.

        Their feelings haven’t changed, they’re still gracing me with their friendship.

        Maybe I can accept this, maybe I can’t, but they haven’t done anything to me.

    2. The whole idea of “friendzoning” as a verb is not just that unrequited love is painful — of course it is! And that’s no one’s fault! — it’s that the “friendzoner” has DONE something hurtful to the “friendzonee.” It turns a situation – an imbalance of feelings — into an *action* taken by one party.

      I’m not any more comfortable with the feelings of entitlement the writer of that piece expresses towards a man than I am when I see a man express similar entitlement to a woman. “[T]hat part of his life which I felt had been made for me”… ew. Plainly it wasn’t. And I think his whole life is entirely his, actually. It wasn’t very kind of him to talk about dating with her,(at least not in the immediate aftermath), no, but that isn’t analogous to any part of the LW’s situation. And aside from that, the writer’s beloved didn’t “friendzone” her. She wanted something he was not able to give her. If she’s decided the this wasn’t her fault because she couldn’t help her feelings, why would it be fair to assume he could help his?

      It’s absurd to assume no one here, female or otherwise, hasn’t had the extremely common, and ancient experience of unrequited feelings. I’ve developed a crush on a friend and asked him out, and been turned down. It wasn’t fun, but I think it would be completely wrong to say “He hurt me”. The situation was what was hurtful, not something he did to me. And it was briefly a little awkward but we’re still friends.

      I do think it’s a pity that the word went this way. In its apparent first appearance, in (appropriately enough!) Friends, Joey diagnoses Ross as in Rachel’s “friendzone” — but neither of them cast this as Rachel’s fault or a choice she has made. Joey explicitly says “she has no idea what you’re thinking.” The problem is not her, it’s that Ross has waited too long to declare his feelings and now Rachel will 1) find it hard to shift the way she thinks about him and 2) will be reluctant to jeopardise the friendship.It’s a noun, not a verb, and it’s a place you wander into, not a place you are put. I wish it had stayed that way.

      1. The advice Joey was giving Rachel in the episode was actually pretty good and respectful: that if you’re interested in someone, you should make that clear from the beginning, rather than trying to sneak in under their radar, which will only backfire.

    3. Welcome to the Awkward Army! I’m sorry though, I must add another “Nope” to the chorus.

      You appear to believe that the “Friend Zone” is a sort of reject pile you’re put in, after someone turns down your advances. You appear to be insinuating that we should feel pity for Mike, that he isn’t male entitlement made flesh, and that the LW’s situation isn’t gendered. Oh boy.

      Grab a beanbag and drag it over ro my Big Pink (soap)Box, and ill tell you why “friendzoning* triggers the misogyny megaphone, the creep klaxon, and the warning whistles.

      Creepy dude, we’ll call him Darren, has pantsfeelings for Layla, a girl in his psych101 class. Layla has an on/off relationship with Kyle, so Darren doesn’t ask her out, instead choosing to woo her gradually. He starts by making small talk over a book she’s reading, says “Oh hey, I thought I was the only one who liked $author!”, and goes from there.

      Over a period of monrhs they go for coffee, to a poetry reading of “their” favourite poet, binge watch “their” favourite trashy TV together, and bond over how they “have in common”.. One night, while they’re watching a dvd, he leans over and tries to kiss her. Layla stops him, says “You’re sweet, but I don’t like you that way.

      That night he goes home, and starts a thread on reddit about the “b*tch” who has used him for months, then rejected him! He has to listen to her going on about some boring author, watched her stupid TV show, and wasted perfectly good free time listening to poetry. He bought her coffee, held doors open, and was the perfect gentleman, and what did that get him? Nothing! She friendzoned him! After all he’d done!”.

      So, the fine, upstanding redditors tell him what to do. They tell him to keep going. Back off, apologise for the kiss, and tell her she’s his best friend Slowly and persistently get closer to her, convince her that his interest is purely platonic. Buy her little gifts that relate to her hobbies, subtly badmouth Kyle, and one day he will climb up the ladder into the “Boyfriend Zone”.

      You see, “Ladder Theory”, the home of terms like “friendzone”, is a horrifically misogynist, disgusting idea that posits that women exist to “give sex” to men. However, women are all inherently “shallow b*tches” who turn down any man who isn’t tall, dark, handsome, and rich. But, because women are also stupid, they don’t realise that such men only want them for sex, and will hurt them.

      What women really need is someone like Darren. Someone who is chivalrous, generous, and is always there for them. And because, as we all know, women are stupid, they don’t realise that every cup off coffee, every little trinket, and every hour that the Darrens spend watching ‘Orange is the New Black’, acts as a coin in the p*ssy dispenser. Bank enough ShitCoins in there and BOOM! Her legs will fly open, and Darren can plant his flag!

      One day, in a haze of post-coital bliss, Darren will tell his ambulatory vagina believed about how much he despises all of her stupid interests, and she’ll laugh airily at how ~romantic~ it is that he pretended he liked those things too!

      Should the “female” in question fail to dispense sex after gobbling up all of Darren’s ShitCoins, then she is a manipulative, scheming [string of misogynist epithets].

      Do you remember the ‘Konami Code’? It was a series of button presses on the controller of a video game cabinet (ah the fun you could have with 10p coins and some free time!), and it was used in home game systems, and even on some websites.

      If you pressed: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A you could get cheats, or access to secret levels etc. Well ‘Ladder Theory’ essentially teaches that there’s a ‘K*ntnami Code’ that men can use to “get sex” from women. Gift, Gift, Compliment, Compliment, Brush arm, Brush arm, Touch shoulder, Touch shoulder, Grab, Kiss. It’s gross because it reduces women to vaginas, treats them as a monolith, and ignores consent and agency.

      When you were rejected by your friend, you backed off. You didn’t pursue him, or pretend you had no sexual or romantic feelings for him. You didn’t pretend to be his friend just so you could fuck him, did you? You didn’t lie, manipulate him, or piss all over his boundaries because you care about his feelings and individuality. You put him first, as girls and women are socialised to do, and that’s what makes the difference. You didn’t feel entitled to his body, or his love.

      More importantly, you weren’t “friendzoned”. It’s a deeply misogynist myth that insists that that all women care about is looks, power, and prestige, and won’t look twice at anyone else. Women allegedly “friendzone” these poor, poor men on sight, because they’re stupid and shallow, and are too good for Charlie Cheetofingers and his hentai obsession. Climbing the “ladder” into someone’s vagina is just like treat-training a puppy – give the chosen “female” enough head pats and Bonios, and she’ll roll onto her back.

      You were rejected by someone who simply wasn’t sexually attracted to you, which is just part of life. It’s sad, but it’s true. However, your friend was able to reject without needing to fear for his reputation, his career, or his life. The LW, and hordes of girls and women worldwide, risk the prospect of slander, loss of education or employment, and even sexual assault or death continuously for their “Sorry, but no”. Please don’t tell me it isn’t gendered.

      1. Whoops, 4am InsomniComment corrections:


        One day, in a haze of post-coital bliss, Darren will tell his ambulatory vagina girlfriend about how much he despises all of her stupid interests


        Climbing the “ladder” into someone’s vagina“Boyfriend Zone is just like treat-training a puppy

      2. The LW, and hordes of girls and women worldwide, risk the prospect of slander, loss of education or employment, and even sexual assault or death continuously for their “Sorry, but no”. Please don’t tell me it isn’t gendered.

        *applauds wildly*

        1. Offer seconded. Once someone is “this is from Thought Catalog” + 1500 more words I kinda tune out tbh.

    4. We’re talking about A PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT, though. This isn’t just two friends who know each other randomly: it’s someone asking what’s expected of them on a vocationally-oriented degree course where the connections and projects will have a direct effect on the LW’s ability to function and progress in her chosen sector. If you think “friendzoning” has any currency here, even a non-misogynist, gender-neutral version, I don’t know what to say to you.

    5. Oh for Christ’s sweet sake.

      First, this was done in a professional/academic context. It’s utter fucking bullshit that women have to manage the feelings of the men who are their colleagues, classmates, and supervisors. He asked, she said she wasn’t interested, that should have been the end of it.

      Almost everyone here–me included–have experienced rejection and unrequited feelings. I have had crushes on friends who did not share those feelings.

      The difference is, I did NOT think it was okay to keep pushing the issue, try and manipulate/cajole my way into a relationship, or basically dance around him in a circle and pee, marking my fucking territory. I distanced myself for a while to get over it because he should absolutely have a right to a romantic life (and be open about it) without walking on eggshells around me. He is a person and had a right to decide who we wanted to be with and who he didn’t want to be with.

      I’m now dealing with a friend who had feelings for me–a friend who I have no romantic feelings for. I told him this. He kept bringing it up. I distanced myself because I was tired of bracing myself for the next “but wwwhhyyyyy” bomb dropped on me.The dude, who is 14 years older than me and old enough to fucking know better, took to yelling at me for not hanging out with him anymore. He insisted on pushing favors on me I declined and got aggressive when I said no. He was insistent on pushing gifts on me I clearly declined (to the point of leaving a particular thing on my doorstep after I told him TEN TIMES IN TWO HOURS the night before that I didn’t want it). He’s fond of saying that women who have refused him have used him. I’m sure he’s said it about me. (Also, I cannot win. Mention a date and he got pissy and nasty. If I said nothing about that, he’d be all ‘WELL YOU’RE NOT DATING ANYONE, WHY NOT ME?’ Because I don’t feel that way about you, dude, and I’m sick to death of having to repeat myself to an aggressive nag whom I no longer even like as a friend.)

      So. Any compassion for the LW, who was clear in her refusal and shouldn’t have to keep dealing with someone who refuses to take no for an answer? A person who refused to take no for an answer that she has to work with in her academic program? That’s a whole extra layer of shit for her to deal with.

      Also, I think it’s pretty shitty of you to assume that someone saying they aren’t interested then may go on to exploit someone’s feelings. Women get accused of that shit all the time and it’s tiring. How about this: When you say it’s cool to be friends, the other person will take it at face value. They will treat you like a friend. Maybe they don’t know when the statute of limitations ends on when they’re able to talk about their lives. Absolutely, go and take space for yourself. Shrug off any upset from the person who doesn’t share your feelings. Things will be awkward for a while and that’s okay. But pretending to stick around and be cool with things actually made things more toxic. Don’t you see that? You lost a friend because you weren’t fucking straight with him. “Huh, it’s a little weird for me right now. I need to take some space. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to hang out again.” Done and done.

    6. Chelsea Fagan fell in love with her friend: it happens. He didn’t reciprocate her love: it happens.
      And then she tried to make him responsible for managing her feelings, and resented him when he continued to act like her *friend*, and became angry at him because he didn’t love her back. She broke off the friendship and hurt her friend because she wouldn’t be responsible for her own feelings.
      Who in that friendship does she think should have “worked on being more kind”? The friend who was being a friend or she who made it all weird?

      As she paints it, Fagan’s experience isn’t what I think is friendzoning: unless she continued to hang out and be “friends” with him with the hope that he’d come to love her back. If she ended the friendship because she couldn’t manage being “just” friends, she didn’t friendzone him.

  29. First commenter said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” This expression has its place, undoubtedly, but man, is it overused. Think about it. You can’t do with your cake exactly what and only what you are supposed to do with cake? Sure you can, or there’s no call for the existence of cake. Yes, you can want something and enjoy it. Knowing your mind, speaking it, and respecting others straightforwardly help immensely with that.

    1. Sorry, never mind. I’m just dumb. I get it: you can’t keep a cake and eat it up both. So the point was you can’t draw the line at being friends, but then have one-on-one fun times with an interested member of the attractive sex. Which many people have been refuting. Sorry!

  30. Hello everyone!!

    Thank you for your responses! I love to read different points of view.

    I’d like to make it very clear that in no way do I condone the behavior of the man in LW’s question. Absolutely not. I know how awkward and stressful it feels to be the recipient of unwanted advances. I shared the article above to put into perspective the other side of the coin, that is all.

    Also, I stand by my assessment when I say that quite a few people haven’t been friend zoned. If that is not then case then there wouldn’t be people who identify as love shy and/or INCEL. Please, let’s not open a can of worms and go back and forth debating the correctness and the misuse of the term INCEL. Not all 7 billion people on earth can possibly share the same experiences, no matter how common those experiences might be for the majority. The only point I want to make is that there are people in this world that have been continuously considered as a friend by the objects of their affection. Perhaps love shy and/or INCEL people are not as commonplace and that is why the term friend zone is hard to be accepted and understood by many.

    It is perfectly fine to be friend zoned, as well as it is perfectly fine to do the friend zoning! The main point of the article I posted above was for both sides of the coin to be gracious to one another when it comes to these situations. THAT is main point I took away for that piece and THAT’s the reason why I shared it.

    I’d like to address this part:
    “But it was brutal. Having to see him every day, to know that I was not the person he wanted to be with, that a million other girls who may not even treat him well were able to see that part of his life which I felt had been made for me — it was incredibly painful. It wore on me and, because he seemed not to realize how much it hurt me when he would go on and on about dating someone else when he knew the conversation we had already had about dating ourselves, I began to resent him. I realized that, fair or not, I would not be able to remain close with him if I wanted to have my mental health and some semblance of self-respect.”

    IDK how many of you have loved someone who stopped loving you. Can you imagine yourself listening to the person you love go one about someone else he/she loves? The author of the article I posted shared her feelings with her friend. He countered with an “I only see you as a friend”. If that is not the definition of friend zoning then I know not what else it could be. As far as the author’s friend goes, intelligence would tell him that he is not responsible for the author’s feelings and that he should not feel obligated to her in any way, but wisdom should have told him that it is cruel for him to talk to a woman whom he knows has feelings for him about other girls. Why take it that far? Why question the author’s feelings and her decision to walk out of the friendship? Why would the author’s friend be hurt by her walking away instead of letting her go to help her heal?

    We cannot minimize and disregard the feelings and experiences of the author of the piece I posted. We cannot minimize and disregard the feelings and experiences of LW.

    To LW – I am very concerned by the way you ended your question. I refuse to believe that you have gotten to where you are today (whatever/wherever that may be) in spite of yourself. I refuse to believe you lack talent. You are where you are today because of who you are. Not because of your looks, but because of who you are, because of the decisions you’ve made, because of all the hard work and effort you’ve put in. Believe that, LW.

    I understand that you do not owe this man anything, he’s not entitled to you. I understand that he is the only one in this situation with the obligation to handle his emotions in a responsible manner. However, LW, this man does not owe you “working on more projects together” with you, either, no matter how helpful his working together with you may be. This man doesn’t owe his friendship while suppressing the feelings he has for you. He should be walking away, but since he does not seem to be doing so, I encourage you to walk away, LW. The working relationship you two could have possibly had has been tainted by his feelings for you. It’s unfair, it is not your fault, it sucks, but it is what it is. I wish you all the best of everything, LW, and all the happiness you can stand!

    1. Have you talked to anyone about your crush? It might be helpful, if you haven’t already. You’re filtering everything through your very clouded lens, and you’re seeing thinga in the letter that just aren’t there.

      You’re spouting misogynist tropes like “friend zoning” (which, again, is classifying someone as “not lover material” on first sight, not rejecting unwanted advances) and “InCel”, a favourite of the likes of Elliot Rodger. Nobody owes anyone else sex or romance, nobody gets to unanimously decide on the partner of their choice, and nobody can force celibacy on anybody else. Are you really saying that you would never, ever reject any sexual or romantic proposition? From anyone? Think carefully about that one.

      The LW has every right to be upset, and you don’t know what everyone here has experienced WRT harassment and boundary pushing, but I guarantee you that most people here would be happy to help you find resources in your area, should you need to talk your feelings out with someone impartial.

      1. First, an edit:

        You’re spouting misogynist tropes like “friend zoning” (which, again, is something that male ~forever alone~ types claim is the act of classifying someone as “not lover material” on first sight, not rejecting unwanted advances)

        Second order of business, you asked:

        “IDK how many of you have loved someone who stopped loving you”.

        As RodeoBob pointed out, LW did not love Mike, their “romance existed purely in his fantasies. However, reading your initial comment, your friend didn’t love you either! He wanted to be your friend, but you noped out because you couldn’t handle your feelings. It’s kinda scary how much you’re white-knighting for, and identifying with, someone who won’t take ” No” for an answer, and violates LW’s boundaries.

        I think the PUA/InCel/Ladder Theory subreddits (or fora) are creating a detrimental feedback loop for you.

    2. You don’t understand what friendzoning is.

      It’s not being told “I see you only as a friend.” It’s not falling in love with a friend their not loving you back. It’s not crushing and unrequited love.

      Friendzoning is when a man* pretends to be “just friends” with a woman from whom he wants more than friendship, in hopes that he will be able to make the friendship turn into a romantic relationship. When the relationship does not become romantic, he *blames* her for “friendzoning” him, as if she owes him more than friendship, as if because of he was friends with her, he is entitled to a romantic relationship.

      The friendzone is not where people are when they are truly friends. That area is called “friendship.” The friendzone is where you find frustrated men who believe they are entitled to sex from a woman because he’s been friends with her.

      The woman author who walked away from her friendship because she wanted more was not friendzoned. If she had insisted that he *owed* her a romantic relationship because of all the effort she’d invested in their friendship, she would have been friendzoning.

      *yes, women can do it to men, and it can happen same-sex, but it’s almost always men feeling entitled to women.

    3. Just no.

      I have had sex with more people than are my friends.

      That’s because friendship is important.

      Someone who gets to be my friend is someone who is my heart and liver, is someone whose kids I’d put through college, is someone my friends will love too.

      To imply that because someone won’t do you they think and feel you to be less runs counter to any life I’d want to live.

      To imply that friendship is second best doesn’t describe my, or my friends’ lives at all.

      1. Exactly! Friendship isn’t a consolation prize. I’ve met several women on dating sites, and ended up with some great friends, women ID take a bullet for. My wife was my girlfriend before I realised what a great friend she is too, and vi would certainly not have been disappointed to “only” be friends with her!

        I lost
        my best friend of fourteen years in 2004. She broke me. It took eight years to be able to say her name, and it’s only this year that I’ve been able to talk about fun times we had, or to be able listen to songs we’d both loved, without bawling. I know it did the same to her, but I couldn’t ever see her again after what she did. That hurt me far more than losing a girlfriend would have.

        1. I’m so sorry that your deepest friendship ended, and ended hurtfully.

          Nonetheless, I think it’s a good thing that you can now remember some of the good parts without as much agony.

          Jedi hugs if you want them

    4. Also, I stand by my assessment when I say that quite a few people [ in this comment section ] haven’t been friend zoned.

      Just because we don’t agree with you don’t mean we don’t understand you.

      Please, let’s not open a can of worms and go back and forth debating the correctness and the misuse of the term INCEL.

      You’re the first person in the thread to use the term ‘incel’, so no, I don’t think you get to use it in an ambiguous, undefined way to bolster your argument, then ask that we never speak of it again.

      The only point I want to make is that there are people in this world that have been continuously considered as a friend by the objects of their affection.

      We can agree there are people who are unsuccessful romantically, and that their failures do seem to form a pattern.

      Where we disagree are about the underlying causes of that pattern.

      How does the joke go? “What’s the one thing all your ex’s have in common? You.”

      I think if a dozen women of differing ages, backgrounds, and experiences all react to one guy in the same way, it’s not “society” or “friend-zoning” that’s the issue. It’s that guy. That guy needs to change how he thinks about women and how he approaches women; he’s the one that needs to change, not everyone else.

      Claiming it’s something else, that it’s “friendzoning” or “social conditioning” or that “girls don’t like nice guys” all shifts the focus away from the person responsible, from the things that not only need to change, but that are things the person can change.

      IDK how many of you have loved someone who stopped loving you.

      FULL STOP!

      In the article you shared, in the original letter, and in stories of unrequited love, it is not a case of “someone who stopped [ romantically ] loving you”, because those people never [ romantically ] loved their creepers in the first place! This is the point in the story where we move from “what actually happened” to “what we wished were happening”. When the narrative in our heads diverges from reality, that’s trouble.

      1. Also, I would lay money on the large majority of the commenters having experienced heartbreak in it’s many forms. Just because they didn’t come out of it with the same view on friendzoning etc. doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I understand, on an emotional level, the feeling of “nobody else could have been through this horrible thing that I was” but it probably isn’t true. People can have very similar experiences and still take very different things away.

      2. *googles “incel”*

        oh dear.

        So, people not having the sex they would like to be having? So… almost every non-asexual person on the planet at some point in their lives, except I guess those who find lasting true love in their teens or those who have taken a conscious vow of chastity?

        No one gets 100% of what they want on the exact timescale they want it. Especially not in matters of love and sex! Not getting what you want doesn’t make you special or oppressed, it is a *normal part of the human condition.* If it persists a long time and makes you very unhappy, it’s wise to investigate what changes YOU can make. Because it’s not something the rest of the world – which also loves and pines and hurts and gets rejected– has done to you.

      3. “I think if a dozen women of differing ages, backgrounds, and experiences all react to one guy in the same way, it’s not “society” or “friend-zoning” that’s the issue. It’s that guy. That guy needs to change how he thinks about women and how he approaches women; he’s the one that needs to change, not everyone else. ”

        Some people also are just…unlucky, especially if they’re looking for a serious relationship rather than a casual fling (no judgement on either option; just the latter tends to be harder to find). Sometimes it seems like all the really awesome people are already paired up, or your awesomeness doesn’t mesh in a sexy way. But in this case one should be frustrated with fate or the universe or whatever impersonal force fits your worldview, not with the people who don’t happen to want to get in your pants.

    5. IDK how many of you have loved someone who stopped loving you. Can you imagine yourself listening to the person you love go one about someone else he/she loves?

      I was dumped by my first and last serious significant other and romantic love interest while we were in a poly relationship, so for the last month of our relationship while he fell out of love with me, I got to listen to him talk about his NRE with his new girlfriend. I think it’s safe to say I have [expletive deleted] been there.

      And I still think it’s on me to deal with my pantsfeelings about friends I want to sleep with without making them the responsibility of those friends.

      You say “We cannot minimize and disregard the feelings and experiences of the author of the piece I posted,” but you’re making it seem like that means that the LW should concern herself with the feelings of her pushy classmate, because anything else is minimizing and disregarding them. NO. That is INCORRECT. The pushy classmate’s pantsfeelings are real, and I’m sure it sucks to be him, but it is NOT minimizing or disregarding to say that they are his business and not LW’s.

      If pushy classmate doesn’t want to hear about the LW’s personal life if it doesn’t involve declarations of love about him, he can pull back and act like an [expletive deleted] professional. She isn’t asking him for professional contact or professional favors, she’s worried about working with other men in professional contexts. I’m hoping those other dudes can act more like adult humans than this guy is, but given how common the experience she’s talking about is, I think “shields up” and “get mentor support” is warranted.

      I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with the love shy/INCEL/some people haven’t been friendzoned thing, or the “Have you considered that being in the friend zone sucks?” thing. We all know that unrequited love sucks, even if only from other people’s descriptions or watching the last few seasons of Babylon 5 or whatever. We get it. We just don’t think that the answer to “Unrequited love sucks” is “therefore, the object of someone’s affections needs to do lots of extra work.” Women especially have been expected to do that extra work for a long time now, it’s unfair, it’s professionally limiting, and we need to draw the line and expect the crushing dudes(usually) of the world to put on their adulting pants and start handling it themselves.

      1. We just don’t think that the answer to “Unrequited love sucks” is “therefore, the object of someone’s affections needs to do lots of extra work

        You’ve just hit on my problem with the whole “InCel” thing. The implications of their core complaint are just creepy as Hell. They don’t think it’s fair that they (usually men) can’t “get sex” from whoever they want (usually women). I once saw one (on Dr Nerdlove maybe?) insist that women should be made to go on at least two dates with a man, instead if rejecting his proposition.

        In the wake of the Elliot Rodgers massacre the PUA/MRA/InCel were flooding online comment sections claiming that sex was a human right, and that women were to blame because they hadn’t thrown themselves at his feet. Phrases like “this is just the tip of the iceberg” and “this could’ve been avoided” essentially implied that anyone refusing sex, to people like Rodgers, were the cause of his fatal tantrum.

        It’s all just so entitled and skeevy.

        1. Yes. And just because women do it too and/or women feel unrequited love, too, doesn’t make it any less of a gendered phenomenon or any less wrong.

        2. “Phrases like “this is just the tip of the iceberg” and “this could’ve been avoided” essentially implied that anyone refusing sex, to people like Rodgers, were the cause of his fatal tantrum.”

          It is the exact opposite. By what he did, he proved that all the women who did not have sex with him made the right decision.

          In what world does a man going on a murder spree mean that the woman who turned him down did anything WRONG?

          If more women had, in the past, rejected mass murderers, there would be fewer mass murderers today. (Assuming that part of it is genetic. But social attitudes also get transmitted by the parents, so it probably doesn’t even matter.) I applaud the common sense of the women who contribute to a safer world by not having, or even risking to have children with entitled, violent dudes.

          1. In what world does a man going on a murder spree mean that the woman who turned him down did anything WRONG?

            Sadly it’s in the world created by whiny entitlepukes. It exists in their minds, and is propagated and perpetuated in their seedy online hovels. In this world of theirs: women are having sex at them, any rejection (by any woman or girl) is the fault of all “females”, and nothing is ever the fault of the man being rejected. If only everyone else would see that sex with the object of their desire is a “human right”. It crops up in the manifestos of numerous spree killers like Elliot Rodger and George Sodini.

            That’s what made me so sick over the Isla Vista murders, every comment section was overflowing with men blaming women for not “giving sex” to Rodger, and warning that other men would do the same if their demands weren’t met. I actually noped myself off the internet almost entirely in the wake of all that. Instead of ‘MRSA’ I had ‘MRAS’, ‘MRA Sickness’ .

            If anyone here visits Dr Nerdlove’s blog and braves the comment section, and you do need bravery, you’ll see that attitude writ large. There are a few commenters who’ve been singing the same whiny, entitled tune for years. They have impossibly high standards, harp on about the “fact” that women are never rejected, but are entirely unwilling to check their own behaviour, or stray too far from the comforting feedback loop of dreckholes like “InCel” fora.

            The DN commentariat generally, however, is packed full of sensible, well read people who are as committed to cutting down toxic nonsense as the Awkward Army is. The Good Doc brooks no shit from entitled Nice Guys™ either, and is well worth a read. He freely admits to being a maladjusted, Ladder Theory quoting, misanthrope in the past, so he can slash through their coded crap like a Level 49 enchanted axe through butter!

          2. In what world does a man going on a murder spree mean that the woman who turned him down did anything WRONG?

            Sadly it’s in the world created by whiny entitlepukes.  It exists in their minds, and is propagated and perpetuated in their seedy online hovels.  In this world of theirs:  women are having sex at them,  any rejection (by any woman or girl) is the fault of all “females”, and nothing is ever the fault of the man being rejected.  If only everyone else would see that sex with the object of their desire is a “human right”.     It crops up in the manifestos of numerous spree killers like Elliot Rodger and George Sodini.

            That’s what made me so sick over the Isla Vista murders, every comment section was overflowing with men blaming women for not “giving sex” to Rodger,  and warning that other men would do the same if their demands weren’t met.  I actually noped myself off the internet almost entirely for weeks, in the wake of all that.  Instead of ‘MRSA’ I had ‘MRAS’, ‘MRA Sickness’ .


        3. Big Pink Box, I so appreciate all your* comments on this thread. Especially bringing up the link between these damaging ideas and language and the ways they have been applied in the world with tragic results, ie Rodgers. It also reminds of the scary series of articles that came out a few years ago about “cut off culture.” The ones that attacked the Captain and other feminist writers for pointing out that ending relationships is unilateral, full stop. [Not linking them but they’re googleable using that term… content note for victim blaming and related horribleness, even skim reading made me shudder.]

          It probably isn’t easy going to the primary sources and figuring out what all this jargon really means, making connections between the violent ideas and how they play out in the world. I know I find it too scary to go there myself. So it’s really helpful when people do make those connections and take the time to explain them and push back in safer online spaces like CA.

          LW, even though most of the comments on here are very supportive and on point, I know that the few which are NOT [and not really talking about the same kind of situation you are unfortunately in] can still have a really powerful impact on making you question or even blame yourself. Sometimes one comment like that can get into your head like a virus, confusing you and twisting things around to make you wonder if maybe you do have some responsibility for managing this guys behavior and even feelings. So just another comment adding to the chorus saying… you don’t.

          *and all the similar comments too, I wish I could give them all a million likes.

          1. Thank you, that means a lot. My mind’s ability to store and cross-reference info, while being completely unable to remember things like what day it is, never fails to amuse and amaze me!

    6. Actually, if you are in an academic or professional setting, you absolutely have to suck it up and work on projects with the person you have feelings for sometimes. He doesn’t owe her friendship–and she never said he did owe her that, so stop being disingenuous.

      Finally, this BS about how no one here has ever been rejected is dismissive and gaslighting on your part. Cut it the fuck out.

      Stop caping for people who pull this shit, it’s not a good look for you.

      1. Yup. It is uncomfotable and unpleasant for me to work with a person whose beliefs about how much scent, either from a cologne bottle or from not bathing, is appropriate. It is is uncomfortable for me to wotk with someone who can’t work unless the thermostat is set to the low sixties/ mid teens. I would not ask someone to leave my workplace because I “couldn’t” suck up and deal, and I would not deserve my paycheck if I did.

        1. Er, I meant “work.” Pardon me.

          This does kind of remind me, now that I think about, of the evangelical roommate who felt deeply oppressed and sincerely traumatized that I would not convert to her religion. I did nothing to indicate that I would be unfaithful to my own religion, but she felt that my practice of that religion without her making every move to stop me was literally the moral equivalent of letting me kill myself with her in the room, and my “stubborness” was like forcing her to watch this.

          To her, her feelings were solely and purely unselfish. To me, they were toxic. (Literally. There was an incident where she tried, unsuccessfully, to poison my pet to bring me to the One True Deity.) I paid rent. She did not; her god demanded that helping the poor come first, and although I respect that commitment, I could not afford to move, so I did not.

          In her mind, I have no doubt, she was the victim. I forced her to put pour boric acid into the litter box with my hurtful stubborness. She probably had more fun things to do than loud, sobbing, on-her-painful-knees prayer outside my door while I tried to sleep. I prioritized a dumb animal over a human being that was trying to save my SOUL. The thing is, even if she had not tried to weaponize her feelz, there comes a point where a grown person must take responsibility for per own emotions and self care. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, even if the person next to you is throwing a tantrum because you are not letting him breathe into your lungs like that one panel with Logan and Ororo he always fantasized about.

          FYI, cat is fine now. So, eventually, was ex-roommate.

          1. So glad the cat is fine!

            May I fantasize that ex-roommate was fine only after a long stay in the hospital?

          2. Run out of nest, @bigdoglittlecat, but the poor thing was sentenced to live with herself for the rest of her LIFE, can you imagine? Also, I have taken classes in her religion in junior high and high school. Even if she is right about the name of god, I imagine when they meet, there will be a long, gentle explanation…

          3. Holy crap,how was poisoning the poor cat supposed to help convert you?! (So glad it recovered!)

          4. Yuck. To be inside her head!
            You can tell a lot about a person from the kind of god(s) they worship.
            If their version of god is judgmental and vindictive, and they’re happy in their beliefs, they are not nice people. Good people might worship a nasty god, but they won’t be happy about it, because their innate humanity will reject that they’ve been taught.

            For her sake, as well as the people around her, i hope she was able to come to a more rational view of the universe.

    7. Not everyone defines “love” both so narrowly (it hs to be sexual/romantic) and possessively as you seem to. I told a friend, many years ago, that I was sexually attracted to her, and she turned me down gently. And then we got to be even closer friends, as close in many important ways as I am with my beloved partners..She died a year and a half ago, and I realized last night that in some ways my life is still unbalanced for lack of that connection.

      “I like you, but I’m not physically attracted to you” is not an insult, or a violation of what I am entitled to expect. If a person’s reaction to that is “thanks, but I don’t think we can be friends because my desire would get in the way, take care of yourself” that’s not something the other person did to them. It’s something they did to themself, and to the person who just lost a friend: One morning, A and B are friends. Then A tries to redefine the relationship, and tells B “I want you to be my girlfriend, and if not I don’t want to talk to you about anything interesting or important.” It’s not B who has changed the terms of that relationship.

    8. You’re making a lot of unwarranted assumptions about the members of the Awkward Army who are pushing back on your earlier comment. To paraphrase the great Toby Ziegler, we’re listening to you, we’re understanding you, and we’re disagreeing with you.

      The truth is that the piece you quoted in your first comment was incredibly creeptastic. The amount of entitlement the author was openly voicing is appalling. The part about the romantic/sexual part of her friend’s life being made especially for her is just gross. And she wanted to remain “friends” with him, but only in a way where he never, ever talked about dates he went on or any other aspect of his love life? That is not friendship. That is her wanting to still enjoy his company in a setting that lets her remain in denial.

      If she found it difficult to still be close with him after he turned her down, if she found it painful to hear about parts of his life, that was on her. It was her responsibility to pull back and tell him she needed some space to get over him before they could go back to how things were. Managing her feelings of rejection was her job, not his. Things ended badly because she tried to make it his job without asking or even telling him.

      And yes, I have been rejected by someone who used to love me. It’s painful and it sucks. That’s not what happened in the LW’s case and it’s not what happened in the essay you quoted. I’m not at all certain why you brought that essay up, since it has no bearing on the actual letter. I have also had a good friend tell me that he wasn’t interested in me romantically. It hurt. We stayed friends.

      I had to look up INCEL. I find the mindset behind the existence of the term revolting. To claim “involuntarily celibate” as an identity implies that the universe somehow owes you sex, and that the lack of people of the appropriate gender(s) willing to touch your genitals is somehow an injury. Does it suck to be single when you want to be partnered? Sometimes, yes. But that shouldn’t be a grievance against people of the right gender(s).

      1. Yes, it really is revolting.
        Perhaps there are some people who are really so ugly that no one would ever want to have sex with them because of that …

        But I think most male “INCELs” have the problem that women are, in fact, attracted to nice men. That is the whole problem. Women are attracted to genuinely nice men who treat us with respect.

        Men who think that women are machines where you put in “niceness” until sex comes out, are not really nice. They are horrible. Women notice that they are creepy and stay away.

        Of course, not all men who have girlfriends are nice. Not all womens’ creepiness detectors are fully functioning, and some women do end up with assholes.

        But women noticing a dude’s entitled attitude and staying away? Is evolution working as it should.

        1. Men who think that women are machines where you put in “niceness” until sex comes out, are not really nice. They are horrible. Women notice that they are creepy and stay away.

          That’ll preach!

        2. Yes, there is a world of difference between a nice man and a Nice Man(TM).

          My theory is that men don’t recognise creeps as creeps because even if they don’t like the guy, they don’t feel endangered by him. Even if he’s an equal opportunity boundary-violator, to guys he’s annoying, not a potential threat.

          After a man at my work was fired, every single woman expressed relief and all the guys were surprised: they were shocked that every woman called him a creep, that every woman was glad he was gone. We had to explain that even though he hadn’t actively creeped on us, we all knew a creep when we met one. And it wasn’t just that we didn’t like him: no one liked our boss, but no one thought he was a creep.
          The guys didn’t like the creep either and thought that we were just being, fanciful?, until one woman revealed that in fact he had tried to molest her on a business trip.

          Then they believed us and we had some very interesting talks about being creeped on and how women have a very different experience from men.

          1. This drives me really bonkers.

            I have, on more than one occasion, ended up screaming “YOU DON’T THINK HE’S CREEPY BECAUSE HE’S NOT TRYING TO FUCK YOU!” at some misguided male friend who just couldn’t understand why everyone was creeped out by someone. Uh, maybe because the dude in question isn’t trying to fuck YOU, so he’s not creeping on you? Really, try having a tiny shred of empathy every once in a while.

        3. Perhaps there are some people who are really so ugly that no one would ever want to have sex with them because of that …

          I think usually the ugliness of people who “can’t get laid” is of personality and not so much physical appearance. If a person who is interested in having sex with me treats me like I’m a sex dispenser rather than a human being, I’m going to find that person revolting even if that person is dazzlingly physically good-looking.

          I noticed this a long time ago. There was a guy I went to middle and high school with (well over twenty years ago) who a large percentage of my classmates thought was SOOOO handsome, but he was a world-class jerk. (He was a bully, from engaging in name-calling to physically violent to people he thought he could hit without facing any consequences. He lived in my neighborhood so I rode the school bus with him and encountered him outside school fairly regularly.) I seriously questioned the perceptions of my classmates (like, seriously, did y’all roll a 1 on Perception, here?), because I found him utterly hideous because he was such an asshole.

      2. It was her responsibility to pull back and tell him she needed some space to get over him before they could go back to how things were.

        This! It is okay to ask a friend to give a certain topic of conversation a rest when they’re with you, whether that’s because you find it painful to hear about their love-life woes when you have a crush on them or because you’re totally sick of hearing about their big project at work or because their hobby grosses you out or any other reason. I think it would be kind of insensitive to complain about your dating situation to the person you just rejected, but different people have different ideas about how long to wait so if you need more time you’ve got to use your words.

        It’s also okay to talk to your friends about stuff that’s going on in your life. If you’re interested in being friends with someone who rejected you romantically you shouldn’t be surprised that they treat you like a *friend* and talk about what’s going on in their life.

        Oh my fucking fuck totally agreed about INCEL. The entire concept depends on the idea that women are not people and have no right to decide who they have sex with. And then these people act surprised that women stay the fuck away from them.

    9. there are people in this world that have been continuously considered as a friend by the objects of their affection

      I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus: I think this is a pretty ordinary experience. It sucks, but it’s on the person who feels disappointed to process those feelings. Until you open Schroedinger’s boyfriendBox and ask, you may dream; after that, the reality is that the other person isn’t in love with you and can’t see themselves falling in love with you. If you like them, if you are their friend, you’ll accept that and feel happy if they find someone they DO love. Even if it stings a bit at first. After all, there are no guarantees whatsoever that you would have clicked if you’d dated. Some people can be very dear to you and you still don’t want to live with their particular quirks.

      As for why someone would be hurt if a friend walks away because they don’t want to have sex with them… yeah. I have no idea why that would be. I mean, it’s not as if they could have assumed that that person was a friend or anything.

      However, LW, this man does not owe you “working on more projects together” with you, either, no matter how helpful his working together with you may be.

      This is a very gendered assumption: that the LW would want to work with this guy because she gets an advantage from it. If groups are chosen by the lecturer, then he DOES owe her professionalism. If he cannot control his feelings, HE needs to walk away.

    10. ” However, LW, this man does not owe you “working on more projects together” with you, either, no matter how helpful his working together with you may be. ”

      In a professional context, this may not be up to either of them. The professor or the boss may decide that these people are working on x project either alone or with others, and they must work together professionally or lose grades/jobs.

      That is the specific context for this letter. It is not a ‘my friend is rejecting me’ situation. It is ‘my colleague seemed to accept my rejection and then stealth-dated me.’

    11. Hell yes I’ve loved someone who stopped loving me. It was incredibly painful. So I divorced him and did everything I could think of to do to move on with my life in a healthy way. I bought self-help books about breakups and divorce, I moved to a different town and transferred to a different school, I changed my major and my hair color. Somewhere along the way I stumbled on the idea of loving myself, in the sense of love as a verb, and treating myself the way I would want a relationship partner to treat me. It’s been helpful.

      I’ve been on both sides of the unrequited crush thing, too. It honestly sucks either way, but it’s nobody’s fault. The shit just happens. It’s up to everyone involved to manage their own feelings and behave like adults.

    12. Why on earth did you choose this letter to air your feelings about the validity of friendzoning, if “we can’t minimize and disregard the feelings and experiences of [the] LW?”

      The LW’s coworker acted inappropriately, and so he loses any sympathy that a reasonable person might have for his unrequited crush. We are here to validate the LW’s feelings of discomfort and advise her on how to proceed/ handle this boundary-violating creep. The last thing the LW needs is someone telling her to “give him another chance,” “be gracious,” etc. But you decide it’s a good idea to “won’t somebody think of the INCELs?”

      Seriously. Explain this to me, yulizabeth.

    13. You…clearly have some issues around the idea that attraction has to be a two-way street to become a relationship, and I feel like you should probably work on that, because right now, you are sounding kind of gross.

  31. Also: “Why question the author’s feelings and her decision to walk out of the friendship? Why would the author’s friend be hurt by her walking away instead of letting her go to help her heal?”

    JFC, who cares? She wants to distance herself, she should and her friend can and should just deal. But this has zero to do with the LW, who agreed to hang out with the guy in question after some time had passed. AFTER she told him she was not interested and figured he knew this. She was not going on and on about boyfriends or her love life. She assumed they were going out as friends, nothing more. Why on Earth are you conflating these two things?

    He didn’t walk away with her urging him not to. I really feel like you’re using this article you’ve mentioned and your own experience to talk over, drown out, belittle, and erase the LW. And that’s bullshit.

  32. The thing about labeling oneself “incel” is that they may as well be admitting that they’re incapable of relating to another person in any meaningful way. It’s like, if you genuinely cannot understand that sex is a relationship between mutually agreeable people, and not a “thing” that you’re “supposed” to be able to “get”, or that there is no such thing as a “cheat code” that will unlock the sex function of all potential partners, then it’s a good thing other people have the good sense to stay away. A person who sees you as a “thing” to be acquired or gamed is right smack in the uncanny valley. They LOOK human…but they’re not. Evolution at work indeed.

    And if someone’s about to be all, “Oh, so I’m not human now, just because nobody will have sex with me?” Humanity is defined by its social attributes too, particularly the quality of being able to empathize and relate to other humans. (And a recurring element in the dictionary definition of the word “humanity” focuses on being kind, sympathetic, and respectful to other people–and animals too, for that matter–recognizing that other people are like you.) So if you can’t or won’t do that…

    1. Eh, I gotta disagree here. Saying they’re not human lets them off the hook.

    2. Uncanny valley is perfect.
      I’m not saying that the creeps aren’t human, but they cause the same something’s-not-right-here reaction.

  33. This thread has clarified something for me about why I find the concept of “friendzoning” so very offensive and insulting.

    As others have said, guys who use that word seem to assume they start out, by default, in a woman’s Sexing Zone. There, they think, they remain, until she tells them “I don’t have physical attraction for you, but I value your friendship” or similar, at which point she has demoted them to her Friend Zone.

    And that’s bad enough, this entitled and unwarranted assumption that every man defaults to your gonna-be-lover until you’re horrible enough to exile him to your friendzone. But worse–as others upthread have noted–it posits friendship as lower status, valueless, something to avoid.

    Which is ridiculous. Friendship is amazing. It is one of the most important things. I just had that underscored yet again by a weekend at a roller derby tournament with teammates who take hard hits for each others’ sake every time we go out on the track. Off the track, they celebrate each other’s triumphs and support each other through pain. One of our teammates who was expected to play in the tournament was in a terrible car accident two days before the event; the outpouring of love and support from everyone in the league has been amazing.

    That’s friendship. That’s what these PUA types consider valueless, because sex isn’t involved. Hell with them.

    Thing is – and this is where my personal lightbulb moment is – people don’t start out in my Sexing Zone or my Friend Zone. They start out in my Total Frickin’ Stranger Zone. People gotta earn entrance into the Friend Zone, because the Friend Zone is where extremely important and trustworthy people live. Someone who treats friendship like a demotion or a consolation prize is spitting on the very idea of trust and respect, and I will regard them accordingly.

    So, basically, my response to “You friendzoned me!” is “You wish.

    1. I love this comment with one zillion hearts! I’d quote my favorite part, except I can’t narrow a single favorite bit.

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