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
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.