#911: “People keep asking for my crush’s info, and it pisses me off.”

Hey Cap,

I have a really close friendship with “Nathan”, who I’m also In Love With. We met on Twitter and talk throughout the day most days, and a long-standing online friendship and flirtation turned into a close offline friendship and flirtation and a gradual but big escalation of my feelings. Long story short, despite mutual expressions of attraction and romantic interest things never went anywhere due to what he frames as general fear and ambivalence regarding sex/intimacy/relationships. He’s essentially said that fantasising about romantic scenarios brings him solace instead of torturing him like they do me – anyway my torch still burns painfully bright, I’ve been open with him about this and he’s been understanding, so several times I’ve taken breaks from communication/hanging out to focus on sorting myself out. It’s still an issue but less so than it used to be, and we remain close friends in constant contact and we see each other when we can (we now live in separate cities).

The issue is that Nathan is very, very, very attractive and he has many, many other online admirers, many of whom run in similar Twitter circles. Our friendship/flirting is well-documented publicly on there and a lot of our thirst followers have filled in their own mad libs about our relationship or at least see me as someone safe to talk to who knows him well and regularly try to probe me for (sensitive/creepy) information about him and his availability. This brings up a lot of knee-jerk Bad feelings of sadness, regret, jealousy etc and I would like to find better ways to ward off these kinds of questions entirely. I tend to maybe go all-in with my response describing my history with him which might do the trick in getting them to shut up about it but comes off as highly territorial which is something I don’t want to be. He’s a private person and I want to protect him but I also want to protect my sensitive, foolish heart and set up some kind of flag in conversations that says “Don’t Ask Me About Nathan It’s Creepy And It Hurts”. Any scripts for how to do this? I feel like I’m stuck in a Jane Austen situation.

– Lovelorn Go-Between

Dear Lovelorn:

I don’t think there is necessarily a way to stop these questions before they start. Curious people are gonna be curious, and fans are gonna fan, and the fact that so much of your flirtation is happening real time in public is gonna draw people to it. But I think there is definitely a way to cut down on the toll it all takes on you and to stop rewarding the behavior that pisses you off. One thing that helps me (mostly)(attempt to) keep my cool in online spaces is reminding myself: “Just because a stranger wants to engage directly with me doesn’t mean that I have to engage with them at the time/intensity/length/subject matter of their choosing, or, at all.”

To this end: Try a blanket policy of never answering when people ask you for personal info about “Nathan” or want to discuss the crush with you. Use the “mute” button on repeat offenders if that helps you, which means they can say whatever they want but it won’t intrude on your timeline or your day. Alternately, just let their question hang there and don’t respond to it. Let them imagine what they want.

How this works with randoms:

Twitter Egg: “Haha, you and Nathan! I totally ship it!”

You: *hit mute button* *never answer* *move on with day.*

How this works with otherwise-friendly-people-in-the-same-social-circle-where-you-would-talk-about-books-and-generally-like-them-but-for-this-one-thing:

Online Friend/Acquaintance: “Do you know if Nathan’s seeing anyone?”

You: “That’s a question for Nathan!”

Online Friend/Acquaintance: “I thought y’all were together” + “You know him so well, I thought you’d have insight.” + feelings feelings feelings feelings.

You: “We’re not together. The rest is question for Nathan, directly.”

Online Friend/Acquaintance: Feelings feelings feelings feelings

You: *silence**do not answer**pick up conversation about another topic another day.**use mute button.*

It might take a few tries for them to get the hint. If they do get the hint, great! Go back to discussing non-Nathan stuff that is interesting to you. If they don’t get the hint, deploy the mute button.

In summary, telling people in detail that you don’t want to talk about something and why you don’t want to talk about it ends up using up a lot of energy talking about that thing. It also rewards “fans” with more of the story, when you want to set up dis-incentives to keep prying. Briefly re-direct, set the boundary, and disengage from people who won’t respect the boundary.

Finally, you are neither Nathan’s Feelings-Keeper nor his shield from his fans and admirers. You say he’s a private person, but he has some control about how he carries out his flirtations and he’s choosing to make them public, so, what if we went instead with the thesis that he’s okay with things being this way, and that if he wants you to play some particular role in managing his online relationships, he’ll ask you outright? If people want to ask him annoying/personal/private stuff, he also has a mute button and the ability to say, “Wow, awkward question! Inappropriate!” So please don’t feel guilty about activating the “You should ask Nathan directly!” or “That sounds like a Nathan question!” redirect when things get overwhelming for you.

 

 

79 comments
  1. Wow. It sounds like these people are making it harder for you to get on with your day and life. Seconding the Captain’s advice.

  2. I hope you had a great honeymoon, Captain!

    • JenniferP said:

      Actual honeymoon is gonna be in March, but we did get a few days to ourselves this week and also we ate so much brunch. ❤

      • ashbet said:

        Hooray!! Congratulations — and post-wedding brunches FTW! ❤

        Wishing you both a lifetime of happiness, and extra spoons for riding out the bumps.

      • Congrats on your nuptials and plethora of brunches!

      • Congratulations again! Happy for you both. ❤

  3. Big Pink Box said:

    This jumped out at me:

    “He’s essentially said that fantasising about romantic scenarios brings him solace instead of torturing him like they do me”
    Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but this sounds like he’s refusing to stop doing something that “tortures” you, because it makes him feel good. Is that right? Because that’s not cool. No matter how gorgeous/popular/Twitter famous he is, that’s not cool.

    • CF6 said:

      You caught that too? I’m glad I’m not the only one who read this thinking he sounded like kind of a jerk. Assuming he knows it tortures her.

    • JenniferP said:

      Right. I didn’t hit that very hard in a probably futile attempt to avoid a “MUST DEFEND CRUSH!” reaction on the part of the LW, but “Nathan is a very private person” = LOL, sure.

    • onyx said:

      This also confuses me. The only un-jerkish, non-manipulative reason I can think of is maybe he is asexual/aromantic? (I am ace and although I found the One For Me and all that happy stuff, I spent most of my life on the “I’d rather fantasize about relationships than actually pursue one, because I’m not that into anyone I know” train.)

      If this IS the case with Nathan, I hope he has explained/expressed feelings along that line. But the fact that he openly flirts with LW makes me feel pretty…gross. I had a few guys who crushed on me hard, and while I flirted back at first (because my asexual brain literally did not compute they were sexually interested in me) once I understood that they were for-real interested, I backed off *immediately*, because it’s really uncool to yank people around.

      So if he knows how LW feels, but is simultaneously flirting and being all “I don’t want a relationship, but I want your emotional attention”, that’s a big red flag imo.

      Just my 2 cents as someone who kind of understand’s Nathan’s position, but also questions his handling of it (through the limited perspective of this letter.)

      • Tina Belcher moaning awkwardly said:

        ” I spent most of my life on the “I’d rather fantasize about relationships than actually pursue one, because I’m not that into anyone I know” train.”

        Oh man, I really don’t want to go off-topic, but that seriously hits home for me. I’d been wondering for a while if I’m ace or aro, but recently I pushed those thoughts away. I’ve been an emotional wreck instead about the fact I’m in my late twenties with an active romantic fantasy life, but never with any real people, and OH NO, THAT MEANS I’M DOOMED, etc, etc. (The summary of that true-story-inspired movie “Christine” that just came out hasn’t helped.)

        So basically, this was a comforting comment to read, and is making me want to ask myself some of those “am I ace/aro” questions that I’ve been avoiding recently. There’s something very nice knowing there’s a community out there that feels the way I do. Isolation sucks.

        Sorry, ending off-topic tangent now! I’m just happy for you, Onyx, that you’ve found the One For You and are in what seems like a comfortable space.

        • A. said:

          I wrote another comment before I saw this one, but I just want to say: oh jesus yes THIS. You are absolutely not alone, this happens to other people, and it’s possible to sort it out and become comfortable and content with who you are, even if you are not what the societal narrative says is normal.

          (I am only recently becoming comfortable with thinking of myself as being ace; it feels true, when I think it, and I find it comforting and grounding to know that there are things I just don’t want, that I’ve never wanted and am never going to want, and I don’t have to try and make it change just because other people don’t understand it, and I don’t have to feel like a wreck forever or keep wishing I wanted different things. But I enjoy romantic narratives, I have (if rarely) experienced attraction, and, as a writer, I have had the very weird experience of falling in love by proxy, knowing what it feels like while also being aware that it’s not happening to the person who is me. It’s just… not a thing I personally want or can do in reality. When presented with the opportunity, in spite of liking the person immensely and even feeling a bit attracted to them, I felt panicky and horrible and cold and wrong and all kinds of this-is-not-an-experience-I-ever-want-to-have, and I spent the subsequent year internally freaking out and asking myself all the uncomfortable aro/ace questions I hadn’t entertained or engaged with before, and it sucked and was unfun and frequently made me wish I felt differently… but I came out the other end of it eventually, and I feel better and more stable for having had that dialogue with myself, and for knowing with more certainty what I do and don’t want. I haven’t really got any answers – everyone’s experience is different – but I hope you get to a place where you’re comfortable having those conversations with yourself, and can be okay and with whatever conclusions they lead you to.)

        • Snowy said:

          Another ace person here, mid-twenties, chiming in to say that I was on that same train until the last year and I know it well! With all the attached insecurities and emotional freak outs. But having found someone now, I am honestly really glad I never gave in to that pressure to just date someone I wasn’t that into. My partner has never implied that being ace or being inexperienced is in any way bad, and it’s pretty great figuring all this stuff out with someone you really care about. So I say go for it, explore any identity you think might fit you, and celebrate yourself! Anyone who’s worth your time will accept those aspects as well 🙂

          Best of luck!

          • Tina Belcher moaning awkwardly said:

            A., Snowy, what you both say really reflects my emotional process throughout all this. I really wish I’d had the backbone to say no to a few guys I’ve half-assedly tried dating. Each time it’s ended with me feeling naggingly like I simultaneously led them on and ignored them. Rationally I know this isn’t true — the last guy in particular I dated I was very open with, since it was then that I was realizing I might identify as aro/ace — but I feel so agonizingly awkward and dishonest each time I try.

            I remember before one date with the last guy I kept telling myself, “Okay, you’re going to kiss him. Just kiss him once. Just do it. It won’t be the end of the world. Fake it til you make it!” Once I went on the actual date? I closed myself up immediately and the very thought of touching him made me want to hurl. No kissing happened that night, or ever.

            So, yeah. No more faking it til I make it. I still would really like to meet someone — and again, it’s empowering to read that some of you guys have — but that’s it. No more saying yes to someone just because I Think I Should To Fulfill Heteronormativity.

            You guys are swell. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

        • Socchan said:

          You may also want to look into Akoiromantic/Akoisexual; also prefixed as Lith*, this is attraction that the person who feels it doesn’t want to be returned. It’s not a well known identity, but it popped into my head when LW talked about how Nathan “found solace in fantasy” as a possibility, and I thought you might want to know about it, as well.

          * I don’t know much about this prefix (I need to look it up), but apparently it can be appropriative? Which suggests there’s a race and/or culture for whom it isn’t appropriative, but darned if I know which.

          • Ducky said:

            Sounds like “Buddy’s Blues.”

            I’ve got those god-why-don’t-you-love-me-oh-you-do-I’ll-see-you-later blues,
            That long-as-you-ignore-me-you’re-the-only-thing-that-matters feelin’…

          • I think the possible issue with Lith* is that “Stone Butch” is a thing within butch/femme, a subculture with its own history.

        • Simon said:

          Demiromantic here. I identified as ace until I met my now-spouse. This person was the first person I ever experienced actual attraction to. And I was right about 30 when I met them, so I’d had a long time to think of myself as Ace.

        • SimonGris said:

          Demiromantic here (or graysexual, depending on how you want to phrase it). I identified as ace all through my 20s, then met my spouse, the only person to whom I have ever experienced attraction. I adore my spouse and am very much in love with them, and enjoy our physical relationship, but if something were to happen to them, I would be content to go back to being ace. It is very content-specific to this person/

      • Light37 said:

        Yeah, that is not cool on his part. As a fellow person on the ace spectrum, I feel like he’s being sketchy here. When someone tells you they’re interested in a romantic relationship, continuing to flirt with them after declining their attentions is unwise and unkind.

      • A. said:

        Yeah. I have been in a similar situation – friend I became very close with very quickly, a lot of flirting-which-I-did-not-quite-understand-as-flirting, followed by a declaration of love that sent me scuttling Gollum-like back into my corner hissing NOT FOR USSSSS, PRECIOUSSSSS! (Rather unfortunately, it was the thing that made me realize I’m on the ace spectrum, rather than just shy/ambivalent/afraid – I wish for both our sakes that I’d figured that out about myself before, instead of letting them kiss me and feeling immediately and overwhelmingly badwrong and having that be the lightbulb moment.) I’m still friends with this person, but you know how I managed that? By telling Friend exactly what I did and did not feel capable of at the time, encouraging Friend to look elsewhere for the things I could not provide because I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever feel differently, and letting Friend know that while I would like to continue to know them, I would respect whatever boundaries they felt they needed in order to deal with all the messy feelings, even if it meant not talking to me for a while (or ever again). And I made sure I was not giving off any signals that might be construed, or even misconstrued, as potentially still being interested in more than friendship. Friend began seeing someone else, and we are less close than we were, but we still care about each other, and we’ve moved that care into a sphere that doesn’t make either of us feel sad and icky, and it’s okay.

        It’s unfair and deeply unkind to keep someone else’s feelings on a leash you can yank if the fancy ever strikes you – if you don’t want the kind of love they are offering at the moment they are offering it, you have to be willing to let it go, and accept that they might then go and give it to somebody who does want it. I can also understand Nathan’s position – I enjoyed Friend’s attentions, I enjoyed the emotional connection, I even sort of enjoyed the idea that they might like me and find me attractive – but I also realized, the minute it was clear that Friend wanted something I was absolutely not prepared to give to anyone, that our relationship couldn’t go on the way it had gone on before, and that I could not string them along back into the status quo just because it felt nice. Tl;dr I agree that Nathan does not seem to be handling the situation with much empathy, and I hope LW can, per the Captain’s advice, begin being less Nathan’s emotional caretaker and more their own.

      • the815 said:

        This is the part that leapt out at me: **things never went anywhere due to what he frames as general fear and ambivalence regarding sex/intimacy/relationships.**

        I don’t know that he’s a jerk, per se, I thought he was just feeding her a line to let her down easy. Kinda like when words say, “I’m just way too busy with school to date right now” and then their actions say…they’re All In on a relationship with someone else a week after saying that.

        People lie like that to be kind, but it makes me kinda sad that she takes that line as absolute gospel. And yeah, “I don’t want a relationship, but I want all your emotional attention” is kinda jerky…

    • Ellie said:

      I disagree.

      He sounds like an attention seeking arse… but it sounds like he’s just a flirty person and the LW has to decide to take it or leave it. He seems like he’s fine with her taking breaks from the friendship and isn’t harassing or imposing upon her.

      Just because she dislikes his personality doesn’t mean he has to change it. She as an adult gets to walk away from something that she doesn’t enjoy.

      • Twitchy said:

        Yeah, it sounds like he’s been pretty upfront.

      • Helen Damnation said:

        I’m coming down on this side too. All parties here know what’s up. Nathan has stated his wants and needs and boundaries, and LW can manage their own.

        • Yeah that’s where I’m kind of landing too. It’s be kind of insulting for Nathan to cease their usual interactions/his flirty personality because he, in a superior and martyr-like way, “doesn’t want to lead them on”…. that seems somewhat dramatic and almost forcing the issue to me. If he’s been upfront, and LW has been upfront, and he doesn’t impose on LW when they need space, then I think the responsibility is on LW to manage their own feelings and how much flirting they can handle without it breaking their heart.

          • Lablizard said:

            I agree. He used his words and let the LW know that there is no chance of a relationship other than what they have now. LW has or is coming to terms with that, but needs some advice on fan and friend management. The LW doesn’t feel “led on” and isn’t asking about the LW-Nathan relationship. It isn’t relevant to the letter

      • Sir Robin the Not-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot said:

        I think where people are taking issue is that flirting is a behavior, not a personality trait; it can’t exist without a respondent, and it’s something people can generally choose to do or not do. I don’t think anyone’s calling Nathan eeeeevil, but it’s a bit like if you and your mates went around punching each other on the shoulder as a form of greeting, and then one of them said, “Hey, I’ve developed a bruise on my shoulder from all the punching.” If you cared more about your mate’s bruised shoulder than about not having to think about your own behavior or comfort level for a few seconds in each interaction, you’d try to be aware of what you were doing and stop punching them on the shoulder so the bruise could heal, right? You’d probably not keep shoulder-punching them right in the bruise just because it was your usual greeting for a long time and it made you feel good and it’s not like you’re ripping their arm off or anything. It seems like Nathan is doing the emotional equivalent – continuing to interact with LW in the way that is most comfortable/pleasurable to him, without considering that continuing that behavior might be making it harder for LW to put their feelings at rest – and while he’s certainly not required to do otherwise (LW is responsible for their own feelings, and it sounds like they’re dealing with them pretty admirably all things considered), most people who care about someone else in a friend-deep way will make an effort to curb a behavior they’ve realized is hurtful or painful or otherwise inimical to that person’s emotional well-being. It doesn’t make him objectively wrong, but it does make him seem at least a little bit self-centered and unkind.

        Relationships are a two-way street; everyone’s got to compromise at least a little bit, some of the time, in a functioning relationship of any sort. Assuming both Nathan and LW want to continue being friends (which it seems like both do), saying that Nathan shouldn’t have to compromise at all, and LW should have to do all the compromising, seems a bit unfair to my eyes.

        But, yeah, this isn’t what LW was asking advice for, so I’ll stop there. I think Cap’s suggestions are good ones; particularly the point about LW not being Nathan’s Feelings-Keeper. Especially as they’re not in a relationship, it’s all kinds of Not LW’s Job to field all the questions and accept the little stings and discomforts in order to protect Nathan. LW’s feelings deserve just as much consideration as his do; the combination of mute button + “that is a question for Nathan and not for me” sounds like an excellent strategy. If he’s comfortable conducting his relationships/flirtations in such a public way, he can take his share of the consequences.

      • Yeah, as another aro ace person, this didn’t read as a problem with his behavior at all. He’s been chat about what he wants, and he backs off if she asks to back off. It’s not his job to police all if his behavior to make sure he’s not “leading her on”.

        (I spent most of my twenties avoiding all close relationships for fear of “leading someone on” after some really nasty interactions in my teens with boys I thought were friends, and you know what, fuck that.

        I’m allowed to seek out the level of interaction I want, and if it really is hurting the other person, they are adults too, and can stop just as much as I can.

        Which sounds like LW and her flirtfriend are doing fine with, actually.

    • Nancy Now said:

      I’ve read the comments posted here before replying to your own and I get your anger at him. But I also have a feeling that this was his RealTalk at LW: he’s getting the relationship jollies that he wants from this; this is as far as he goes; it’s not negotiable.

      LW’s feelings and desires are their own, and wanting something more to develop is normal when we feel close. Nor is it even remotely anything LW should direct anger or shame at them-self over. I would say, Celebrate your capacity for love.

      I encountered a former teenage crush online, during a fragile time in my life, and the person was flirting and warm. I nearly made the mistake of moving several hundred miles to be closer, until I saw that they were also flirting with a half-dozen other people online. I read in more depth and found old crush knew just enough about their circle’s lives to make each flirtation very compelling. But that was as far as Crush wanted to go. It was all fantasy. I was the only one who’d taken my special online relationship seriously.

      The other thing I’d done was fill in the gaps of what I didn’t know about Crush, with what I wanted. I imagined all the slow-motion running towards each other that was possible. How could anything IRL even come close? Of course, I came back to Earth with a crash. It took me well over a year (OK, two years) to unwind myself from the spell I’d cast on myself.

    • sorcyress said:

      I dunno, I took it as “when I fantasize about these scenarios, it is torture, when he fantasize, it is solace” without necessarily being a shared fantasy or anything, just a conversation about What Do You Daydream About, Friend?. Like, I don’t think it’s him torturing Lovelorn so much as him not being bothered by his daydreams, where Lovelorn is tortured by theirs.

      • ainomiaka said:

        yeah. I don’t know where the consensus that he is leading her on comes from. As far as I can tell from the letter, they go at the LWs comfort level, but he doesn’t want to date (either the LW in particular or anyone at all, unclear from the info we have).

    • grassideas said:

      This point is obviously tangential to the LW’s question, and I think the Captain was right not to address it head on. But since there are so many comments agreeing that the crush is being cruel here, I wanted to join in with a different perspective. This is not how I read that statement.

      Crushes bring me nothing but joy. I love the warm fuzzy feelings I get in anticipation of getting to see my crush, and the warm fuzzy feelings I get when we are in the same room, and the warm fuzzy feelings I have after I’ve gone back home. I love smiling at my crushes. I love that they brighten my day without really doing anything. I don’t need anything to come of a crush. (For instance, I often tell someone I like them, just because I want them to know they make me happy, but I don’t have an expectation that they will feel the same or that anything would come of it.) Crushes are very happy things for me, especially so if I become friends with my crush.

      My housemate finds crushes to be torture. They are tied up in anxiety for her and she feels unsafe, like what if she admits to them that she likes them and they do not reciprocate? Or worse, what if they put her down cruelly? She doesn’t want to put her heart on the line, in case she gets hurt. Even when her crushes are gentle about it, a rejection feeds into her low self-esteem, and so crushes don’t bring her happiness; they bring her worry that someone won’t feel the same, feelings of low worth, feelings of being stupid for liking someone.

      It sounded like the LW is more like my housemate, and the crush is more like me. He’s probably being honest; as a commenter up above says, he’s already getting his jollies. He probably cares for her quite a lot as a friend and wants to continue the friendship.

      As sad as it is, the LW needs to find a way to give herself more space from the crush.

      • LW Here said:

        Hey LW here – this is pretty much a spot-on assessment (and yeah that conversation was about our friendship/the romantic ‘intrigue’ that existed for a while). He did phrase at one point that he would possibly have been interested in a romantic or sexual relationship near the beginning of our friendship but now would rather have a close friendship. He doesn’t identify as asexual or aromantic but does live his life in a very asexual/aromantic way. I have some kneejerk feelings of annoyance at him and while it’s not his job to manage my emotions I do wish he’d been kinder when he noticed my feelings getting stronger (there’s no way he couldn’t have, not least because I was up-front about it and took several breaks from communications, one for around six weeks). Another commenter brought up “mentionitis” and I’m totally living up to that stereotype right now so I’ll shut up.

      • I love the two kinds of crushes described by grassideas. I’ve had both kinds, and I’ve consciously tried to avoid the torture crushes and welcome the joyful crushes. Thanks for the great descriptions, I’ve copied them to a file for future reference.

    • I was reading it as the fantasizing being something that happened in private. E.g., LW says to Nathan “But I just keep thinking of how we could be and it makes me so sad, it’s torturous!” and Nathan is all “Really? When I think about it it relaxes me.”

  4. CF6 said:

    And this is why I am such a fan of this advice blog. (Lurker, finally commenting.) I have learned a ton just from the way you help people keep those boundaries without using up precious emotional energy unnecessarily.

    Off topic, hope the wedding was fantastic. 🙂

  5. onyx said:

    LW, I had a similar situation with an “internet famous” friend. Fans of hers and other people in our online social circle occasionally approached me for information about her, including requests for her personal email address. It was creepy and uncool, and also made me feel bad about myself because ours is a creative circle, and these people would say they liked my work. But they were star-struck with my friend, and would probe for information about her and make pleas for her attention through me. So along with feeling creeped out on behalf of my friend, I felt used and manipulated by people who claimed to be both my friends and my fans. I had no idea if they actually liked my work, or saw myself as a real friend or just a stepping stone.

    I took a line similar to the Cap’s advice. Ignored the randos who approached me about my friend, and for the handful of “friends” who would bother me about her I told them privately but firmly: “This is getting creepy and I feel manipulated. You’re asking me to betray Friend’s confidence. I honestly don’t know anymore if you actually consider me a friend or just a would-be informant. So please make that choice yourself, because any friendship we do have will be gone if you ask me again.” And blockity-block anyone who isn’t mature enough to quietly back off. You don’t need to address your history with Nathan or the relationship status between you two. Stick to general, perfectly reasonable reasons of “I am uncomfortable with this and you need to stop, because you’re being really uncool.”

  6. I literally have no idea what this question means. I didn’t know it was possible to meet people on twitter or follow other people’s romances and I have never heard of a “thirst follower.” No advice and feeling kind of old. However 20 years ago when I would get into tangled relationship stuff on irc chat, my irl friends would suggest spending less time online. Worked for me, don’t know if it would work in this always connected time. Have you considered deleting the twitter app? Just to take a breather?

    • This sounds reasonable to me. As a teenager I lived through a couple years’ worth of romantic/friendship action online, mostly through old-fashioned internet forums and MSN Messenger (also a little of IRC). That action would usually develop into intense behaviour/feelings quite quickly. I think that online presences and relationships can contribute towards us forming unhealthy attachments. This is because we lack natural space away from that person (in terms of physical proximity but also in the form of time away from them, without knowing *of* them) to protect us.

      So, as well as generally staying away from Unrequited Crushes Who Don’t Love Us Back (I’ve had my share too), no matter how much we may value the friendship, I think reducing time on Twitter is very sound advice.

      All the best to the LW!

      • S said:

        I also think that online relationships can ramp up pretty quickly. They come with a built in endorphin booster, notifications. Every time you see that You’ve Got Mail or that little blur/red/green light on your phone you get a little rush. Little blinks of approval! Is it your crush? Is it someone else? So much excitement in such a small thing!

        Combine that with the feelings of flirting and you have a very addictive combo that can really entrench early attachments very quickly.

        Now I will disagree in that I don’t think this is intrinsically unhealthy. If you can see the pattern you can break it, and some of these friendships have turned out to be my summer of my best friends. It sounds like the lw has done their best to break this pattern as well.

        But I do think the lw should try to move on. It’s time. They should think about what they want from a relationship and pursue finding a partner for that outside of their online circles. Perhaps even focus on offline activities in this pursuit and join a meet up or go dancing or whatever r it is they might like. They deserve the romantic partnership they want to have. (and you can have that and online flirting too!)

        • MuddieMae said:

          They also lack some of the endorphin killers of IRL interaction. Even when people are trying to be very real, it’s still filtered to an extent – no one’s burping or farting, you can’t tell they move or smell in a way that is just unsexy to you, and so on.

          • S said:

            Yes totally. You never have that awkward 20 minute search for a movie to watch together, or to decide where to eat. It’s all in this fantasy where it’s never laundry day and you always have 5 minutes to think of something clever to say. I’ve seen SO many online entanglements escalate so quickly, and not a lot of them survive.

    • Nancy Now said:

      It’s likely “thirsty” in a newer use I see online.

    • twitter culture crash course said:

      Let’s pretend you’re LW. You’re on there and you’ll follow somebody you don’t know just because they post and share lots of jokes you think are funny. From there you’ll follow somebody whose jokes they share a lot. Sometimes you might start to reply with jokes of your own. They might think you’re funny, too, and now you’re following each other.

      Now you’re both funny and having fun and other people are following you both because you’re both funny; and all the while you and this other person are developing a friendship and starting to talk via private messages or publicly tweeting each other. Your followers are really excited because they think you’re a cute couple, you’re both so cute and funny, and they want you to date for real.

      LW calls these “thirst followers,” because they’re thirsty for the 411 on your relationship. Are you dating yet? Have you met in person? Do you text? Do you sext? How do you REALLY feel? Is there a secret relationship? “Thirst followers” is here a complicated term; LW doesn’t really have a problem with them, but they can also get kind of invasive in their excitement. It’s easy when you’re online to forget to process that you’re speaking to a human being. LW just wants easy scripts for deterring these invasive questions: they don’t want to hurt and upset the Questioners, and they don’t want to lose these followers, but it also makes them feel sad and weird to have to give press conferences about someone they have a crush on.

      Spending less time online seems like an easy answer, but it’s not in this case because LW’s whole social circle is centered around using Twitter and making posts and replying to each other. Twitter humor is a form of creating content and receiving immediate validation and feedback. It’s really fun and interesting and, clearly, important to LW. And, honestly, it’s a little addictive being popular online, just like it’s addictive being popular at school.

      • Thank you, twitter culture crash course, that was a very helpful explanation. (I suspected “thirst follower” was a weird autocorrect.) I use twitter but mainly to follow news or humor and have never actually tweeted. It still astounds me that people use social media to “meet” people that they don’t know in real life but it’s kind of ridiculous since I’ve “met” plenty of people on chat, email lists and even the old bulletin boards. CA’s advice for online boundary setting is good. I disagree a little that less time online is not a good idea. To me, having one’s “whole social circle” online, i.e. Only online and not in the real world, tends to be unhealthy in the long run. That, to me, looks like more of a problem than how to respond to a bunch of onlookers. But, LW didn’t ask about that so maybe I am reading too much of my own experience into it.

        • h said:

          Theoretically, I’d agree that having only online friends is “unhealthy in the long run,” but I am in that situation right now, because I work full time and go to school full time, and all my IRL friends work full time and/or have moved away. I think you’re picturing someone by themself every night crouching over their phone in a dark room; I go out in the world and socialize like a normal person and see daylight and em getting an education. I just also have a main circle of friends on a particular website. It’s where we all hang out, much like when I was in high school I was friends with all the band kids who hung out in the band room. Just because a bunch of my friends all live across the country (and in some cases, the world) doesn’t make them facsimiles of friends. Some of them I also know in person; others I’ve never met and probably never will; others still used to be IRL friends and now live in Australia; friends are friends.

          My point is, advising someone to just go online less isn’t, like, a thing. It’s a solution to a problem LW doesn’t have. It’s like telling someone who is upset that their favorite TV show character has been killed off, “Just watch less TV. If you had more interests outside TV, this would upset you less.” Like, sure, you’re probably right, but that’s not the issue.

          • Nanani said:

            So much this.
            Online friends vs “real” friends isn’t a meaningful distinction for a lot of people.

          • Very true and I’m a case in point. Most of my closest friends are people I met years ago online. I’ve got good friends who were originally people I met on dating sites years ago and who it turned out weren’t romantically right for me and vice versa so we became friends. I’ve met loads of people via forums and message boards including a bloke who became such a good friend that he invited me to his tiny close friends and family only wedding and one guy I met, then we fell hard for each other and dated for a year, amongst others. Those forums are quite a large chunk of my social life, although I see people in person too but the dynamics are so different. If someone said it would be socially healthier for me to get offline, I would have to disagree.

        • Allya said:

          I also had a period of about six months where the vast majority of my socializing was online, because i didn’t have a job or uni, so I had neither casual opportunity nor financial means to regularly hang out with people irl (my irl friends I also interacted with online because we’re all kind of far flung). Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t that great for my mental health but on the other hand, without the support of those people I doubt I would have had the strength to pull myself out of that place. I’m not still close to everyone from those days, but I’m still good friends with some of them.

          Online relationships are weird and I think they definitely need to be balanced with rl relationships too, but they’re not inherently unhealthy. It’s not bad advice to say that maybe the LW should consider throwing their energy into something other than their online presence for a while, since it’s making their feelings for their crush all the more raw, but I don’t think it’s fair to suggest the online nature of their social life is a problem in itself.

          • Allya said:

            Wait I want to clarify that when I say online relationships are weird I just mean in the sense that all relationships are weird and online ones can seem harder to understand from the outside than irl ones. I value my online friends immensely.

        • LW Here said:

          Hey, LW here – thanks a million for the response and for everyone’s comments, they’ve been very helpful. I’m honestly quite peeved at Nathan for *not* rejecting me (the thing about how he fantasises about romantic scenarios was just part of a regular conversation we had, not a Big One) when I was being transparent about my feelings for him and laying them on the table but getting vague deferrals with continued flirting – sexualised (not graphically so) in private and ‘cute’ in public. I think he’s a great guy in so many senses but I don’t feel like he took care of me as a friend in that respect and I hate the term “led on” but… I feel “led on”. I won’t psychoanalyse him because he’s been upfront about having romantic and pantsfeelings for me, just not wanting to do anything about them. I’m taking a bit of space (while stopping in occasionally for brief conversations) which is helpful.

          Regarding the online/offline relationships thing, I’ll clarify that most of my social circle is and has historically been offline, there’s only a few people on Twitter that I communicate regularly with and Nathan is one of them – we’re good “offline” friends too and when we are in the same place we hang out in the meatspace when we can. This year however I’ve moved to a tiny town where I don’t have many if any friends so most of my socialising is now done online or by phone. My personal policy for online flirtations and friendships is that they need to metastasise into the offline realm for me to label them a “relationship” I’m part of, and I tend to see the endgame of online friendships being ‘meeting for coffee’ or something similar, I know it’s different for a lot of people.

      • winter said:

        I know thirst followers as people who start following a person because that person is attractive.

        • S said:

          Yeah Winter, that would follow the slang usage of the word thirst that I am most familiar with. Thirsty’s slang usage generally describes people who are overeager for something. The most common use I know of Thirsty is “So horny it makes them stupid.” (So guys who follow and donate money to female twitch streamers because, so thirsty.) Which certainly applies here as it sounds like Nathan has a lot of ladies wanting to know if he is available. It could also just be a desire for his attention, or even re tweets and more generic social media fame, but generally these are not people interested in erudite discussions of current events.

    • Deleting twitter would, for most hardcore twitter users, be a pretty serious overreaction to a minor issue of some of your follows’ impoliteness.

      I’m probably about your age, incidentally, and I met my bf on twitter (and have experienced my fair share of thirst followers).

    • Nanani said:

      You sound a lot like various authorities responding to people facing serious online harassment with “just use the internet less/not at all”.
      It’s… not helpful.

      • Yup. Especially for people who need to be on social media for their work or to promote their work or, or, or.

  7. tawg said:

    Since you’re on twitter, you can also make a few vague tweets along the lines of “Please don’t ask me for other people’s personal information. If you can ask me, you can ask the person directly” etc. Letting people know that you’re a dead-end will hopefully dissuade the questions you’re looking to avoid.

    • Tree said:

      I agree with this — but be prepared to know that a lot of people will either not see that/those specific tweets or presume that of course you must be referring to some *other* situation and not *this* situation. Especially if you’re vague.

      • Inspector Spacetime said:

        I agree with Tree. Vague!posting comes off as pretty unnecessarily aggressive and dramatic from people who are not involved in the situation, and the people who it is referring to never think it means them. It would be better to just tell people on a case-by-case basis as needed.

    • Devorah Havazelet said:

      She could also put it in her twitter “bio” or description area. Or use a pinned tweet.

  8. Dana said:

    It’s so true that you can’t control others’ behavior. But you can refuse to participate.

  9. Devorah Havazelet said:

    I feel that the LW needs to realize that despite her crush, this person Does Not Want to Date Her.

    You asked, he said he didn’t want anything more. That’s his right. So as far as your torch, LW? You gotta work on dousing that.

    Half the problem in these interactions is your outsized emotions about another person over whom you have no claim.

    • I think it’s pretty clear that LW already knows Nathan doesn’t want to date them. It also reads to me as if they have got pretty far in terms of dousing that torch (use of the past tense in “things never went anywhere” + the bits about working on themselves and it being less of an issue now).

      LW can’t just switch off their feelings and your comment comes across a bit harsh to me.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      LW hasn’t assumed they have a claim on Nathan. We are not robots and cannot hit a switch and shut off our feelings, but LW has taken the no and accepted it. That doesn’t make it hurt less.

      LW IS working on dousing the torch and makes no indication that they are pushing for anything at all.

  10. Tree said:

    Ignoring is totally a useful and not often used tactic that I need to remind myself to use more often, rather than getting in stressful, useless, political arguments on Facebook with distant friends or complete strangers.

    Sometimes you just need to walk away from the situation, and that’s a totally valid thing to do.

  11. Healy said:

    LW, I hear you with the romantic feelings that you don’t want to act upon but are still there. Bonus points to you for communicating and taking your breaks and trying hard to keep that consensual all around.
    With regard to people who want that information, I agree with the captain that giving out Nathan’s information should be up to Nathan. “But you’re so close!” “Yes, and I really respect his privacy.”
    I would suggest only telling your side of thing to people whom you trust to be actually invested in you and your life, rather than using you as a handy portal to happy Nathan times.

  12. S said:

    I have some close friends in an online community. My closest pal is quite popular. But with any group comes occasional conflict. She prefers to just avoid and ignore people if they upset her. This has lead to many situations where people are like uhhhh what? And I got into a bad habit of answering, in part out of a desire to help bewildered sad acquaintances.

    But ultimately I realized it was her business. So now I just reply that I am not the friend whisperer or her anger translator or her social secretary.

  13. Felicia said:

    Personally I’d let Nathan go. No sense waiting for someone who may never come around. I had a friend ironically with the same name with a commitment fear and another friend dated him and ultimately got left because of said commitment fear. Doesn’t mean that will happen here but ultimately this guy knows how available you are and people tend to take you for granted and have no motivation for change if they think you’re gonna always be there. I’d try opening myself to dating others and see if he comes around when he realizes you might not be available

    • I’m guessing you and I read the letter differently, because the way I see it LW has already let him go in that sense.

  14. AutumnFire said:

    I have to admit my first reaction was to suggest that the LW troll these questioners with way-over-the-top absurd replies, but the Captain’s advice is much better. Still, I’d love to see “Oh yes, Nathan has been chosen to command the 2nd manned flight to Saturn since the dozen of other ones to Mars have gone so well!” “Nathan got tired of being his normal skin color and died himself plaid. I told him paisley was a better look for him.”

    But seriously, follow the Captain’s advice!

  15. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, I’m going to focus on something that your letter didn’t ask about. I think you’re not really getting the space you need to get over him and move on. It’s great that your such good friends but I think this whole thing is just messing with you. Taking breaks and coming back doesn’t seem to do it.

    I wonder how it would feel to completely distance yourself from Nathan? I don’t mean a short break but a long one both in meat space and online until your mind/feelings reset? What if you muted him on Twitter? What if you blocked his calls, texts, and emails? What if you blocked him on FB if he’s on FB? What if you associated with people who don’t know him or who never talk about him?

    It might suck at first–you’re very close–but I wonder if, after a long time passes and you don’t have to think of him or be reminded of him, that you’d be free of this Raging Unrequited Love Monster in your head that is fucking things up for you. It sucks to have unrequited feelings. It also sucks to have people ask you about the person you’re into who is not into you. Maybe if you hit the reset button and held it down for a while, it would help.

    I say this because your feelings are tied up in this. This isn’t a matter of “So-and-so is a good friend of mine and other people keep asking me about them, I’m not their PR rep FFS.” You still have feelings for Nathan. All of these interactions are feeding the Unrequited Love Monster. Starve it.

    • KarenM said:

      “All of these interactions are feeding the Unrequited Love Monster. Starve it.” This.
      I have been in the place where my crush was also my close and most fun friend. And then he said he was dating another woman, but that he and I would always be friends.
      LW, this is different from your situation, because your Nathan has said he isn’t into IRL dating, just fantasy, so it seems like there is still a chance for you, while my Nathan was just choosing to date someone else, not me. But it’s similar in that it was an intense, flirty friendship, and we were very close; I talked to him on the phone and via text pretty much every day. He made me laugh and really seemed to care about me, too. My relationship with him seemed like one of the more important ones I had. I truly thought that our long friendship was in the process of developing into a romance.
      In the end, I had to just distance myself from him and not interact directly; being friends while he was dating (and now living with) someone else was too painful, as I couldn’t stop hoping that he would break up with her. I still had a fantasy that there was a chance for me.
      I unfollowed him so his posts don’t show up in my feeds, though we are still “friends” on social media; I stopped responding to texts and answering calls. After most of a year I’m pretty much over missing his daily, entertaining presence in my life, but I really missed him for a long time. This blog’s advice about grieving lost relationships was a major help.

  16. The Awe Ritual said:

    Late to the party here, but I’ve found a humorous title to the relationship a great help. The Cap is my “mermaid.” On a face level, we’re ferociously compatible and mates for life and frequently go off to make brainbabies, but below the waist, we’re just different species and not equipped to handle each others’ affections. So we just love each other and maaaaaaybe check up on great poly blogs a little more often than you’d expect people who don’t expect to be in a poly relationship any time soon to do…

  17. Megsammor said:

    It does sound a bit like LW (with all due respect because Lord knows we’ve all been there) might be turning this in to a bit of mentionitis. It sounds like a problem that’s not a problem, except that she’s now being pushed to mention having mentionitis. I mean, what’s more fun than someone pointing out just how obvious it is that you and your crush should be together? But talking about, and having people talk about, how they talk about, you and your crush, sounds like it’s time to take a hard look at the situation and think about finding someone who is available and willing.

  18. Modern Culture said:

    Congratulations on your wedding, Captain, and much happiness.

    I’m also if the opinion that Nathan is being cruel to flirt with someone he knows Cares in a Big Way. Not cool at all!

  19. Dear LW,
    Do please follow the Captain’s advice.

    Especially, don’t go into your relationship with Nathan, but continue to say “you’ll have to ask Nathan [subject change]”

    The only retort from folks I haven’t seen covered is “but you always used to tell people” – to which you can respond “I used to, but I don’t now. Please discuss with Nathan.”

    For your own peace of mind, remember that when someone refuses you with a reason, don’t think too much about the reason, the important information is the refusal.

    I bring this up because Nathan may at some point have a real-time romantic or sexual relationship with someone. This relationship won’t be a betrayal of you, LW, it will be Nathan’s life moving in that direction.

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