#1105: “Why can’t my friend just say no?”

Dear Captain,

(Resend with better subject heading)

I haven’t seen anyone write in with a similar story, so sorry if this is a repeat.


I’m having problems with a female friend that I previously had romantic feelings for. I told Friend about said feelings in late December of last year, and spent up to last week trying to get a “yes or no” on the question of reciprocated feelings, or interest to pursue things later (Friend made it clear she does not want to pursue romantic relationships until after university – we are both in Gr. 12 currently). After lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses, the answer was determined to be no, as of last week. I feel somewhat hurt that she didn’t tell me sooner, so that I could stop further romantic advances and save us both a lot of time and embarrassment.

Long version with additional context:

I’ve generally had trouble understanding my own emotions, to the point where someone had to point out to me that I probably had feelings for Friend. As a result, I spend a good month making sure that was the case, and then another week or so to work up to nerve to tell Friend about these feelings. The telling occurred just before Christmas Break.

Shortly after the break, Friend responds saying she doesn’t know if she feels similarly towards me. I understand this, because of earlier stated emotional issues.

My thinking was that she was afraid to say no because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so I assured her that that would not be the case. (Sure, it might sting a little, but once the band-aid is ripped off it feels better.)

In an attempt to sway Friend’s response one way or the other, I gave her a poem for Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t so much a love poem as a “hey I might be a potential romantic option” type of thing (I had composed the poem before any potential feelings for Friend had arisen, so it’s not I like I went out of my way to write a poem for someone who may or may not be interested in receiving it). If the reception to the poem was good, then yay! If not, well at least Friend will still be just that – a friend.

Still no change in response.

Fast forward to last week. After a long-ish talk and more reassurance that it doesn’t matter to me what the answer is, as long as Friend is honest about it, Friend finally said she didn’t see me as a potential partner.

(It’s worth mentioning that my romantic interest in Friend had diminished greatly by this point, due to other difficulties in my life)

On to the FEELINGS!

I’m not upset she said no. I’m upset she said “maybe” when she meant “no”. If she knew the whole time, and I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest, why couldn’t she just say so?

In the past I had issues with boundaries (mine and other people’s), so it’s kind of a big deal to me that I respect people’s boundaries as best I can. It feels like to me, by not saying no earlier, that she didn’t tell me about a boundary she had, and I crossed that boundary multiple times. It hurts me to know how uncomfortable she must have been during my advances. And oh god the poem. It’s a mistake to give someone a Valentine’s poem if you don’t know how they’ll feel about it, and an even bigger one when you know they probably won’t appreciate it.

I tried to have a conversation with Friend about FEELINGS, but ultimately it was a monologue. It was a pretty short monologue, as I didn’t want a FEELINGSBOMB to go off. Friend’s response was along the lines of “conversations with a high emotional content make me uncomfortable so I just shut down and hope the problem goes away on its own.”

The conversation did not help things.

This letter is getting very long, so on to the point:

How can I communicate FEELINGS without it getting out of hand? How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation? Am I getting too worked up over this?

— Hurt, Confused, and Overthinking Everything. [Male pronouns]

Hi, Hurt,

You sent this question to me twice in just a couple of days, which gives me some perspective into how your friend might be experiencing your multiple declarations of interest. (Note to all: Please don’t send me the same letter multiple times in a row, I don’t like it).

I think this is a good learning opportunity for you if you’ll let it be.

Because (despite your new subject line, which I left in the post) your friend can say no and did say no. And it looks like she gave you zero positive indications of being interested in you.

You’re upset with her that she didn’t say no right away, like she somehow put you in an embarrassing situation, like the fact that you kept wasting feelings and poems on her is somehow…her fault? If that’s what you think, you are telling me (and yourself, and your friend) a lie. The lie is that if she’d said no right away you would have been fine with it, but it’s only because she took her time and actually thought about it (you yourself said it took you about a month to figure out how you really felt about her, why is she also not allowed to take some time to figure it out?) that you feel embarrassed and upset. The lie is that she was somehow dishonest with you by not giving you an immediate answer. And now you’d like her to admit some responsibility for your upset feelings, feelings that she never asked for?

Bro, no.

For the future:

  • No answer = no.
  • “I don’t know how I feel” = no.
  • “I don’t want to date anyone right now/until after university” = no.
  • “Maybe” that is not followed up with an unprompted “Yes!” = no.
  • After lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses” = so, that’s a no, then. Also, women don’t forget when our friends ask us out. She didn’t need any reminders.
  • You would have known if the answer was anything but “no.” She would have brought it up to you, she would have said things like “Yay!” and “Yes!” or “I changed my mind, let’s date!” or “I love this poem, thank you!”

Rejection sucks no matter how and when it comes. You didn’t do anything wrong by developing feelings for your friend or telling her about them, and it’s okay to be sad that this didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. It’s also okay to wish she’s said something sooner and feel embarrassed that you didn’t get the hint. Just, the decisions you made after that – to keep bringing it up, to give her a poem, especially in the face of avoidance from her – are your decisions, and yours alone.

Anyway, you definitely have your answer now. She very clearly would like to stop having any conversations with you about your romantic feelings. So, what are you going to do going forward?

Because the script you’re asking me for, the one where you try to make her apologize to you and admit some responsibility for your feelings, isn’t coming. You’re trying to get me to help you put her on the hook for saying no in a way that wasn’t exactly to your liking or your preferred timing, and I’m super not here for it.

My suggestion is: Take your feelings about this girl and tell them to a therapist, your diary, or a fellow dude friend. Write songs about it (that you don’t play for her). Write poems about it (that you don’t give her). If you need some space from hanging out with her so much, take that space, but without being a broody moody jerk to her about it – no pouting, no sighing, no passive-aggressive “fine…I guess” when she talks to you. If she’s a friend, treat her like a friend.

You will be a better and happier person if you can become a man who can develop coping skills to soothe his own hurt feelings and handle rejection without blaming or punishing the other person. You will be better at all of this going forward if you can learn to look for people who match your level of enthusiasm and communication, instead of trying to mine apathy or avoidance for the answer you want to hear. That’s your work right now, not wringing one more awkward conversation from a girl who has already told you how things are.


Comments closed as of 5/16. 












355 thoughts on “#1105: “Why can’t my friend just say no?”

  1. I had to learn this too. It’s a shame that many of us young men are taught the “clear vocal no” is the only kind of no that counts.

    That is not an excuse – we need to learn! But it’s sadly common, and hopefully, this young fellow can listen to the captain and learn here while he’s at a point where he’s being an irritant rather than something more damaging, which of course is what many women rightfully fear when not vocally saying the type of know this guy (and me once upon a time) expected.

    Truthfully, I myself was not good at saying no, either (i wonder if many young men are told that saying “no” is cowardly? I was taught this…). But, hopefully LW listens, because these habits can and must be corrected!

    I wish LW luck in his growth. He of course could have not written in at all.

    1. “It’s a shame that many of us young men are taught the “clear vocal no” is the only kind of no that counts.”

      YES. This girl gave LW many shades of “no”, but not the one he’s been trained to accept. LW, it will do you so much good to treat anything that isn’t “yes!!!” as “no”. She may need time to sort through her feelings, she may have not thought of you like that and needs to figure out if she wants to or not, or she may have had any number of experiences you are not aware of that taught her that an outright “No” won’t be met with acceptance but with resistance and anger.

      Women already hear enough times that they are responsible for everybody’s feelings and need to manage them all before they think about themselves. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality, and until it’s not you need to learn how to hear a soft “no” and move forward.

      You say that boundaries have been an issue in the past, and you’re writing to a blogger and a community that value boundaries – this is a good thing for you to have done. Maybe not the way you did it, but it’s the right idea. So now, let us tell you unequivocally that if any future romantic or sexual interest of yours does not explicitly say yes, treat it as a no and begin whatever process you go through to move on. That is the boundary. That is the limit. The absence of a “YES” is a “no”.

    2. There are plenty of studies on hard vs soft noes. Turns out that boys and men understand them just fine in all contexts except wanting romance from girls and women.

      So if this had been a job interview, or an audition, or a night out with the boys, the LW would’ve known that “maybe” meant “no”.

      1. I mean, I’ve seen those (myth of male bumbler and so on as well), so I should be clear that we need to be taught that specifically with regard to women or romantic partners. Because I think a lot of us aren’t as successful at translating from other contexts, and thus need to be taught as much specifically.

        But yes, perhaps understand is the wrong word – we need not to fall for the wishful magical thinking of not accepting a soft no.

        It doesn’t really change my point we need to learn this and teach this to other young men.

        1. I’ll add that I’m of course viewing it personally and was trying to relate to the LW directly (if you doubt my honesty, and that of all men, in saying so, that’s fair enough)

        2. “Understand” is the wrong word.

          This is a context in which boys and men have to stop pretending that words spoken by girls and women don’t retain the meanings they had when spoken by boys and men.

          1. Well there is this. But I also think there’s still a lot of social training that happens wherein men and women are taught to view each other as separate species whose words and actions require careful decoding. Sometimes people aren’t intentionally awful, but they truly do need to unlearn some bad information.

          2. Replying to thatjillgirl:

            I agree. I (female) was raised to believe I was *supposed* to be coy, never show interest first, hem and haw when a man showed interest in me, etc. And I heard what they taught the boys, that women are always coy, that they lose respect for men that don’t chase them but are just about guaranteed to fall in love with someone who keeps asking. (Yeah, I got the full firehose of toxic.) It doesn’t sound like LW got as much as I did, but it’s hard to fully avoid it.

            But! I think it’s important in this case that LW isn’t an adult yet. He’s still learning, and he reached out to exactly the right place for the information he needed.

          3. Oh, this! I gather it’s not such a thing anymore (in some circles), but it was rife when I was growing up.
            I’ve heard tell of much older men having a moment of “oh, shit” when they’ve thought about it. Which sounds like some sort of apologist rubbish, which I am not into at all … but it would have been better for *everyone* if “enthusiastic yes” was accepted as the only acceptable answer to anything.

          4. God, yes, the “separate species” thing is PERNICIOUS. I first got it from Orson Scott Card. Blah.

      2. Not only that, but many of them–hell most of them–also employ those soft nos when they are rejecting someone.

        1. Yes. Such as “I’ll have to let you know” followed by disappearing for days.

      3. I suspect a lot of boys and men understand soft noes just fine even in the context of “romance.” They just don’t believe them or feel entitled to keep pushing until the soft no changes to a yes. (Because of course they assume it will change to a yes. It comes as quite a surprise when they find that their continued pushing removed any doubt and turned any maybes into NOs.)

          1. In reflecting on my own experience as a male person, I think I saw it a little differently. It’s not that I didn’t think of female people as subjects in their own right. Rather, I had the erroneous belief that romantic interest was something that could be persuaded or cajoled into existence. Pop culture taught me that a soft no, in the context of romance, actually meant “maybe” or “you’re just not trying hard enough.” Now that I see how bizarre that viewpoint is, I see its insidious presence everywhere. It’s bizarre how often romance is portrayed as some kind of contest, instead of a process whereby two people discern interest in one another, and where the outcome of that is respected regardless of gender.

          2. This is ridiculous

            Not everything is about entitlement. As a girl I didn’t always get the soft no as a real no growing up. It felt like an actual maybe. We arent always told to treat the soft no as a maybe

            Granted I didn’t go making ridiculous demands of apologies or whatever whenever the rejection sunk in, but I think some posters are getting so deep in anger, that they’re seeing entitlement and deliberate dehumanization where there isn’t. Sometimes people get their hopes up romantically and common sense goes out the window

            I promise I never felt entitled to any dude or saw them as something beneath me. I just didn’t know

            I do think though it’s very important for dudes to learn that you can’t and shouldn’t try to persuade or keep chasing once you’ve been rejected. I hate arguing with dudes who think that women owe explanations or valid reasons. And I hate trying to explain to someone who thinks “well sometimes they can be persuaded” because then there’s no way a no is respected

          3. We live in a culture that dehumanizes girls and women, and belittles our right to say no. We live in a culture where a man or boy’s no is the final word and a girl or woman’s no is negotiable. Where we are scolded for not giving someone a chance. Where if we’re blunt and direct we are being mean (so if the guy flips out what did we expect and besides what an arrogant bitch). Where if we give a soft no we are being unclear and a tease (even though we are expected to do the emotional labor to intuit what people really mean when they say things to US).

          4. Most if not all of us grow up being taught that you need at least some level of persistence to get around in life.
            Even being in romantic relationships as an adult, more often than not I’ve been turned down whenever I’ve tried to initiate something romantic or sexual. But when bringing the subject up for discussion, I’ve been told that her immediate “no” really meant “Oh, I’ll think about it. Ask me again in half an hour…”, and that if I wanted something to happen more often i should just ask about it more often. She wouldn’t ask, because she thought that if I didn’t ask I wasn’t interested.
            I don’t have a lot of experience, and I haven’t had a lot of relationships. But I’ve seen at least two of those fall apart because (partly) I did seriously take her no as a no. And I wouldn’t, and still won’t, change myself in that regard.

            So yes I agree there’s a lot of unlearning or relearning to be done. By everyone involved.

          5. @FlyingKal:
            I believe that at least one woman told you that you should have persisted.

            I only know two men who have said “She told me that if I’d pushed, we’d have been an item.”

            But I was the “she” in question, and that’s not what I said.

          6. @ B – are you trans? If you are, then no harm no foul, but if you’re not — please don’t use my existence as a gotcha as to why sexism doesn’t apply to men feeling entitled to women’s advances,time, and energy

        1. I’m sure of that. Generally a soft no is present quite often in everyday life and if those guys honestly did not see it, they would have issues in friendships, in work, in school… they will have issues all the time with day-to-day functioning, imo.

          It took me forever to figure out that most men (exceptions always exist of course) do understand a soft no and can respect it… but simply choose not to, if they Really Want Something, feel entitled to it and feel that the no was soft enough that plausible deniability can be used to keep pushing. And 1 in 10 times, it’s when it’s romantic and a woman is involved.
          I no longer think it’s naivete and I’m sure sometimes I judge some genuinely clueless guys too harshly because of this. But I can’t unsee it 😦

          1. * 9 in 10 times, it happens when it’s a romantic relationship and a woman is involved – of course that it what I wanted to say! not 1 in 10

          2. For me, I DID have issues in friendships/work/school because of it (my parents had no boundaries with me), so, for this kid, it’s possible (I’m just choosing to be charitable), but surely, for most, they’re ignoring what is plainly clear because of what they want.

    3. I think part of this is that men in the US are actively taught that women’s soft ‘no’s in a romantic context don’t count and should be ignored. There’s this cultural myth that women ‘play hard to get’ and have to be ‘chased’. It sounds super 1950s when you say it outright like that, but it’s definitely not dead. Just look at action movie heroes interacting with the designated Hot Lady of the film, or every romcom ever, or pickup artists’ advice, or how frat boys pick up girls (if they’re not saying no it’s totally a yes right?), and so on and so forth. It’s just not named as bluntly anymore.

      Guys need to tell other guys that this is bullshit. Women have been saying it for ages, and we get ignored or dismissed as paranoid man-haters. You (collective you, men as a whole, anyone who learns enough to understand this) need to call it out when you see messages (from the media, from your friends, from anywhere really) that even suggest it’s OK to disregard a soft ‘no’. You need to name it and tell other men that it’s not cool; you don’t just need to learn, you need to teach each other what you’ve learned. Maybe you’ll listen to each other where you don’t listen to us.

      1. And all the romantic comedies that say to find love you have to chase your romantic interest through all sorts of ridiculous obstacles, including disinterest on the chasees part. LW sounds young and inexperienced, in a culture that frames the way romance goes very unrealistically. If I was to have a heart-to heart with LW, I would say: Keep it simple. Don’t wallow in emotions to the extent that you think about asking someone out for two months. Just do it, in the right time and respectful place (I.e. not asking out a barista at work, or the like). Even if they say yes, you don’t know what will happen in the long run, so just stay in the moment. If the person says anything, anything else than an unequivocal ‘Yes! Where & When,’ It is a no. Don’t worry about why, don’t blame the person for rejecting you, just try to be gracious and move on. Overthinking is not your friend, and the person who rejected you doesn’t owe you an explanation. Reading through the hallows of Captain Akward’s archives might be a great help in learning about boundaries, and maybe check out Paging Dr. Nerd Love too.

    4. Yeah, I hope this guy can actually learn this now, while he’s still young. There’s hope yet, since he was self-aware enough to read CA and write in.

    5. I read a piece on the aziz ansari thing, and one line that really resonated with me (I’m a woman who likes guys), was the author said ‘so often when a man hears ‘no’ and processes it as ‘encountering resistance’. I have lived tgat dozens of times with men: where anything other than ‘h… effing no get the eff away from me!’ Was processed as a maybe if I keep trying. Good lord if I had a nickel for every time I had to repeat myself and then no matter how nicely I said it I was either unclear bc I wasn’t yelling, or I was mean bc I said it too ‘firmly’. Some guys can handle rejection so many just refuse. I hope as LW grows into adulthood he learns that women don’t dig guys who refuse to take no for an answer. He’s young and crushed and so hoping this is just awkward rookie mistake. It wouldn’t be fair to hold him to 35yr okd make standards though it’s wirth pointing out tgat if he were a much older male his behavior would be considered extra creepin’. It does speak well for him that he is attempting to educate himself!

      1. This discussion has been making me ruminate on an incident at the bar several months ago with my friends, when some dude started chatting with me and I thought I might as well talk to him for a minute, although I wasn’t really attracted to him, because I’ve been trying to expand my social horizons and get more comfortable getting back into the dating world, and then he was like, “Let’s go back to your place.”

        This, before asking my name.

        So I rebuff that, and he persists in pestering me more and more insistently, eventually refusing to stop following me through the place until I let him kiss me, and then actually attempting to do so while I leaned further and further away from him. I told him repeatedly I wasn’t interested in him which got the response of:

        “Buuuuuut whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy???”

        Tipsy me is a ranty bitch, so I sat there on that barstool and told him that although I had considered giving him a chance when he first approached me, the fact that he kept pushing and pushing and not taking no for an answer was a huge red flag. He had no clue what I was even talking about. I’m not sure if he was really drunk or just really oblivious.

        There is definitely an ever-shifting and microscopically fine line between “you must mean maybe” and either “you’re being too mean about this” or “you have to explain all of your reasons for saying no and I, the man, will arbitrate whether they are sufficient”.

  2. I may be more sympathetic than the average commenter is likely to be here, so it’s good to be (right now at least) first to comment. I had a very similar experience OP, with the first person I expressed feelings for. I wasn’t used to having feelings and neither of us was good at communicating and it predictably became awkward before I divined that the answer was probably “no” and that I couldn’t “help” her decide yes in any way, and that if she actually meant less, she’d probably let me know. (She didn’t). I just wish I had been faster to understand what was happening and make it smoother for both of us, but I wasn’t.

    I know you’re hurt and maybe a little angry, but a) don’t let yourself be so ashamed that you lose all the progress you made, in finding your feelings and speaking up about them. That was brave of you, and even though some of your thoughts are still muddled, it sounds like you didn’t cross the line in a way that actually hurt her. b) You are still learning, so take it easy on yourself and keep learning. The captain has wise words here and is right about respecting the No and not making this Her Problem.

    1. I appreciate your sympathetic take. I hear a lot of vulnerability in your comment that makes me reframe a lot of my immediate reaction to this letter writer. Dealing with the first attempt at feelings is almost always awkward and embarrassing and I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge that.

    2. Yeah, the LW is young, and I remember being similarly awful at relationships and feelings communication when I was that age. It takes time to learn.

      LW, the Captain is right that this is a great learning opportunity if you let it be one. It’s not a pleasant experience to realize that you missed signals and were perhaps annoying. But it has happened, as it happens to many of us. The key takeaway here is that when it comes to romance, if you don’t get a clear yes, you should treat it as a no. People don’t forget that you asked them out. If they change their mind or become available or decide that they return your feelings after giving it some thought or whatever, they will definitely let you know, because you have now made it clear that you welcome them doing so. So if they choose not to make a move after you’ve already made one, remember that they are indeed making an intentional choice. They are fully aware that they have free leave to become romantically involved with you, and they are not taking steps to do so. Therefore, they are not interested, or at the very least, not interested in a way that would make a relationship happen. And yeah, it would be nice if everyone just immediately came right out and said in no uncertain terms that they definitely aren’t interested, but there is a whole host of reasons why people don’t always choose to do that. You’ve gotta just learn to accept the soft no.

      Should you find yourself in a similar situation in the future (you confess feelings, the other person says that they aren’t sure how they feel), I suggest a simple script of “Alright, let me know if you’re ever interested,” and then just letting it be unless and until they do. It’s a nice, simple reaction that leaves the door open but still gracefully accepts that they might not choose to come in.

    3. Yeah I sympathized too. Maybe this is an overly generous read, but I suppose it’s also possible that she wasn’t 100% sure at first, and she said “maybe” to buy herself time to figure it out. (I, a cis-hetero woman, have done something similar before, but with less direct communication and more panic-and-ghosting than was necessary or kind.)

      Young men absorb all kinds of conflicting information about heterosexual social interactions, and at 18 I don’t know that I expect ANYONE of any gender to have good communications skills on lock. I certainly didn’t. I think a lot of these comments are overly harsh considering OP’s age – he seems sensible enough, so a course-correction will probably help a LOT. As will heading off to uni and (hopefully) having relationships of all kinds – platonic and non-platonic – with women.

      1. I have to agree–the late teens/very early twenties, while not exactly being children anymore, are still very, *very* young, and given how our society is, this sort of thing is a trap a lot of people do fall into around that age.

  3. Yeah, no, you’re angry because she’s not having the right feelings at the right time and that is not OK. And it is DEFINITELY not OK to be angry with her because she made you cross her boundaries, what? It hurts YOU to think that you crossed HER boundaries? Mate.

    Take some time, take some space, do fun things with other people, and take responsibility for your own feelings. Let her handle hers.

    1. this really reminds me of how my ex bf was acting right after he dumped me a couple of months ago. I respected his decision immediately and ended the relationship, of course. But also of course I was hurt/sad/angry/anxious idkevenreally in the immediate aftermath and he was all like, “why won’t you talk to me?” and sending me tons of messages and stuff. He didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore but he couldn’t handle his emotions around that and wanted me to be magically ok with it so he wouldn’t have to feel bad or whatever. I was so confused and frustrated because I was still processing the life change and rejection and he was acting like he wanted to see me even though I knew he actually didn’t, it was just because he was fishing for some specific reaction.

      Regardless of gender, it’s an important thing to remember that people are gonna feel how they’re gonna feel about stuff and pressuring someone for a reaction you want bc it will help you feel better is crappy for the other person.

      1. Ouch.
        “I’m breaking up with you, now coddle me and don’t feel sad about it, because that makes me feel bad.”
        Hello? Breakup. Your sads = not the ex’s problem.

        1. or it’s “I don’t want you anymore but need assurance that you I could have you back”

  4. Dude she said no. It’s just soft no, a polite no, a subtle no, a message for you to read between the lines. The “maybe” she told you had a big dot dot dot after it. “maybe…if you were a completely different person”, “maybe…if this was an alternate reality”, “maybe…if I got amnesia”, and so forth.

    You might not like that this is how people choose to subtlety reject people, but tough cookies. Both men and women give soft no’s (speaking from personal bisexual experience here). But especially women, because women are a) socialized to soften the blow and b) are sadly way too often killed when they say straight up no (I wish I was exaggerating). It’s now your responsibility to learn to read subtle rejections (because they are everywhere and not just in romantic context). And you need to break through your delusions that it’s somehow the responsibility of this and all future crushes to explain why they rejected you. You can’t demand people to explain why they won’t date you, especially when you don’t want to hear their explanations (which might be along the lines of “oh jesus gross”)

    And finally, you need to learn what the phrase “I created an environment she could be honest” actually means. What you created was an environment where she felt hounded, bludgeoned with your constant asking and pressure, and your metaphorical breath down her neck hounding her like a starving wolf who only subsidized on a diet of “say yes”.

    So I hope you learn to a) better understand people and b) chill, like a lot. Maybe next time you won’t intimidate your crush away.

    1. And finally, you need to learn what the phrase “I created an environment she could be honest” actually means. What you created was an environment where she felt hounded, bludgeoned with your constant asking and pressure, and your metaphorical breath down her neck hounding her like a starving wolf who only subsidized on a diet of “say yes”.

      Amazing framing yes yes!

      1. Another way to phrase it: just saying “it’s okay to be honest with me” is not sufficient to create an environment where it is actually okay, because people can’t automatically know if you are lying when you say that, let alone if you are deluding yourself.

        1. Yeah, the last person who told me it was OK to be honest with them did NOT like it when I was. I was very polite, too.

      2. This is a great point. LW, your intent was to give her an environment in which she could be honest, but the actual environment you created was one in which she was afraid you’d be angry and make it A Thing if she said no.

        And lo, you are writing to ask how you can go talk to her to show her how she was wrong. You’re angry. You’re making it A Thing. So … don’t be that guy.

        You will want to learn to understand and accept soft noes from women, both because it is the respectful, decent thing to do, and because women have every reason to steer clear of men who don’t hear no when they want yes.

    2. My personal bisexual experience has been that women take direct, unequivocal “I’m not interested, thanks”-type Nos muuuuuuchhhh better than men do. Men frequently want to argue about it. I’ve never had a woman do that.

      1. Same! As a bisexual woman, dating women is just so much more relaxing for me than dating men. Women mostly listen the first time I say something, and approach interactions as a mutual conversation rather than a debate they can win if they just push hard enough. And I’ve never had a woman get mad at me for rejecting her–be disappointed sure, but not yell or argue or insult me or expect me to manage their emotions over it, etc. It’s so much more pleasant that most of my dating lately has skewed towards women, lately.

      2. Hmm I guess I should have been a bit more clear. “In my bisexual experience” (which is now my official catch phrase) I have gotten “oh I am really busy now. I don’t know” reponses from both men and women.

        1. Oh sure, I’m not saying women don’t give other women soft nos. Just that women seem to me to be better at handling *direct* nos, when they’re given.

      3. Exactly. So many men have argued with me and attempted to rationalize why I should give them a chance. Recently at age 46 after rejecting a guy his friend who I thought was mine, and who is in his 60s, told me to give the guy a chance. Why should I? Him: well you might like him. He likes you. Me: I don’t want to. Him: why not? Me: not interested. I refused to engage in a discussions of why but after a couple min just said why don’t you go out with him? Every time he said anything and he stoppped but was a douche in telling me ‘you’re really hard on men’ why??? I never responded and now avoid him. But why do we owe men ‘a chance’ Or ‘a conversation’? Bc we’ve been told by jerks. We don’t have to talk to a guy at a bar just bc he exists and his sad boner is lonely. If men would just realize this they’d probably meet more women bc they’d move on faster.

        1. A friend in high school told a boy (and I quote): “You don’t send me”. She was sure that would be blunt enough to stop his attempts to date her and make out with her.

          It wasn’t.

          1. About every 6 months a strange number starts texting mine – It’s a dude who has the wrong number and thinks my number is one of his friends-with-benefits or whatever. He will text late at night for days, offering to come over and do explicit things. I tried explaining that it was the wrong number a long time ago, but he didn’t want to hear it. “Okay, whose number is this? I bet you are cute, baby!”

            So every time he texts, I just write back “No.”

            It usually takes a week before it sinks in.

            And there he is 6 months later.

            This is someone I have never met or interacted with except to say “You have the wrong number, stop texting” and “No.”

          2. “You up, babygirl? You up? You want me to stop by?”


            “Hey free tonight babygirl?”


            Etc. etc. etc.

            HE DOESN’T KNOW I’M A WOMAN.

          3. And yes I know I could block it, but, it’s always hilarious to me when it starts up again. Free comedy! And some poor lady isn’t having to deal with him for a couple of nights!

      4. I’ve had a woman argue about a break up. It was surprising, because she generally *was* great about communication. I didn’t have to repeat boundaries. I could easily bring up relationship issues.

        But when I realized that I had to break up, she was of the mindset that we “process” everything and I broke my personal rule of never discussing the reason for a break up with the person I’m breaking up with. She didn’t understand my reasons, and when she did she got angry and debated them, and then she accused me of being dishonest for not telling her that I had misgivings until I was actually breaking up. (The issues were unchangeable, so discussing them earlier wouldn’t have helped. I needed to decide what I could live with.)

        So, women are a mixed bag too. My ex gf and I both really wanted to stay friends, but her behaviour during the break up really hurt me and, for a while, really hurt our chances of friendship. In the end, I decided to give her leeway for being in a moment of intense pain and move on. I know she would be the type to say that I should bring it up and discuss if I still had issues afterwards, but sometimes you just can’t talk out a difference that you both fundamentally have different opinions on. It’s better for me to just decide to forgive her for that hurt, and remember not to discuss reasons for rejection with anybody in the future.

    3. I swear sometime I’m going to go back through every top 10 US song for the last 40 years and highlight the ones that are totally creepy if you take them literally. And much as I love Duran Duran, ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ is totally on that list.

      I’ll call it the ‘Every Breath’ list.

      Yeah, we’ve been normalizing ‘no means try harder’ for a long time. OP, google ‘enthusiastic consent’ and spend some time on consent sites. They’ll help you see the cultural programming that lead you astray.

      1. Oof, you’d be making that list for a long time. You’d probably fossilise before you finished. And that’d be without adding in film and books!

        OP, I get a feeling you’re a good person and I agree with Jules the Third that cultural conditioning is what has lead to you behave this way. And given you’re still young, it’s a great time to work at undoing it, at spotting times where it influences your mindset in ways that are bad for other people, and choosing to behave differently. I second Jules’s suggestion to google enthusiastic consent. There are some really great resources at your fingertips to help you navigate this change.

      2. There’s a cover of “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Reel Big Fish that opens with an intentionally awkward monologue lampshading the “sex = predation and therefore sex = murder” trope in the song. It always makes me cringe/laugh.

      3. There’s a song on one of my fave playlists that’s like “even if you run to the ends of the earth I will find you”. I refer to it affectionately as The Stalker Song. I like the song, I just have to not pay that much attention to the lyrics.

        1. There’s an old Phil Collins song I’ve always loved because it has such a cheerful sound to it, but oh good heavens, the lyrics. The refrain contains, “You can run, and you can hide, but I’m not leaving unless you come with me.”

          Even worse, if you listen to the verses, you realize he’s saying this to an ex.

          That song and so many like it frame the problem lyrics in some way to create emotional resonance, which this song did. The positive reading is that he’s talking about being emotionally present and standing by to apologize and take any heat for wrongs he has done. In just the right situation, with just the right level of trust between the two people in question, maybe it’s possible that one time in a billion the attitude in the lyrics might not be a toxic mess? Maybe. But really, nope, the whole song screams, “Restraining order and some jail time until you get a freaking grip.”

        2. Frighteningly, and annoyingly, most so-called “love” songs are this. (This is me, I just can’t log in at the mo.)

        3. I only realized last YEAR that the fellow in “Here Comes My Baby” never actually dated the object of the song. I mean, it’s one thing to have trouble processing your ex moving on after a break-up when you can’t, but this dude is writing and recording a SONG about how much it sucks that “his” baby has free will…

      4. for a few years I’ve (only semi-jokingly) said 90% of song lyrics are about Badly Performed Human Mating Rituals, but I can recommend seeking out the 10%. I made a playlist of songs that 1. I like, & 2. have zero mention of human mating rituals (sex, dating, crushes, breakups, all of it). I have 27 songs on war and protest and pretty lights and utter nonsense. it was surprisingly empowering for this asexual.

        so, maybe after the “Every Breath” list, you could make another list to heal your soul.

  5. “spent up to last week trying to get a “yes or no” on the question of reciprocated feelings, or interest to pursue things later”

    LW, as someone who was the friend in this scenario, I’m willing to bet that your friend started flinching every time she saw you. She was afraid-justifiably-that you’d keep bringing this up and nagging her. She was always looking over her shoulder. She probably couldn’t relax around you. I couldn’t around a friend who wouldn’t stop bugging me about dating him–and once he realized that my no’s were serious, switched to yelling at me that I didn’t call or text him enough. I no longer consider him a friend.

    “After lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses, the answer was determined to be no, as of last week.”

    LW, if she was interested, if she reciprocated your feelings, you would have gotten an enthusiastic YES. It’s best to assume that if the answer is anything other than YES that the person probably isn’t feeling it and to move on.

    You started *out* spending a week nagging her about this. And then continued to bug her about it. And then wanted to scold her for not saying no in the way you wanted and in the time frame you deemed appropriate. Yeah, she’s gonna shut down because there is literally nothing she can say or do to make you feel better. You’re being terribly unfair to her.

    “How can I communicate FEELINGS without it getting out of hand?”

    Don’t communicate FEELINGS to her. What you’re doing is taking out your disappointment that she’s not into you. Stop this. She cannot change her feelings. She did communicate them. She knows very well how you feel by now-your interest, your disappointment (your assurances not withstanding) and your hurt.

    “How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation?”

    DON’T DO THIS. She’s ‘shutting down’ because YOU WILL NOT LEAVE THIS ALONE. You have gone from nagging her for an answer (when you got one) to hectoring her over your hurt feelings. If you keep this up, you will lose her as a friend. I’d say what you’re doing is hurtful.

    “Am I getting too worked up over this?”

    I am not going to tell you that your feelings are wrong, but I do think you need to stop focusing on this woman and how she “wronged” you by not giving you the no the way you wanted in the time frame you found acceptable. Talk to a therapist or a friend about it, and know that you are far from being the only person who has unrequited feelings. Leave your friend alone.

    1. I was also the friend in this scenario, right about at the same age that the LW and his object of affection are — and I can confirm that I became really uncomfortable and nervous, and was always watching out for the inevitable encounter with the “can’t take a no” guy, and eventually we stopped being friends–in fact, in my case, “can’t take a no” guy wound up stalking me for a few years into college. That’s not to say that’s where the LW will wind up, but I think that the LW needs to talk to someone other than this person about his feelings and look for a healthy way to move past them. Learning to handle rejection and learning to understand a “soft no” for what it is is valuable information. Learn from this, LW, and you’ll become a better adult for it.

    2. Ugh my typo-I meant “You sarted out spending up until last week” not “You started out spending a week”

    3. Yes. LW, you don’t need to explain to her that what she did hurt you. She knows that. It sounds like she avoided telling you for as long as she could. She did that because *she knew you would be hurt*. Most likely, she wanted to avoid hurting you because 1) most people do not enjoy inflicting pain on others, and 2) she was afraid you’d react the way you have. She was afraid you would punish her. This fear was well-founded, because that is what you are doing.

      You write that you’re not angry, but you also say that you have trouble understanding your feelings. I get that. If feelings don’t make sense to you, try looking at your behavior. You are acting like a person who is angry and resentful. Here’s the thing: it’s natural to feel hurt and a little angry *as long* as you don’t make those feelings someone else’s problem. We don’t have much control over how we feel, but we can certainly control how we act. Act like someone who’s not angry. That means backing off graciously and dropping it forever. If you have a hard time doing that, it means you’re angry. Intellectualized anger is still anger. You are not in a talking-about-feelings relationship with this person, so do not attempt to talk about your feelings with this person. This is hard, but it’s exellent practice for maintaining healthy boundaries in the future.

    4. spent up to last week trying to get a “yes or no” on the question of reciprocated feelings, or interest to pursue things later

      This is not how you treat a friend or a partner, Hurt. You don’t regard them as malfunctioning and wayward tools because they’re not spitting out tokens or free passes for future-tense nookie fast enough for your liking. Would you ever badger a male friend like this? Would you yourself put up with this, where your thoughts and needs are disregarded because the person opposite you thinks his priorities and ambitions are the only ones worth exploring and nurturing?

      The way you describe this is like she’s being uncooperative in her supporting role in the movie of your life. It’s super entitled and super dehumanizing, to have someone who calls himself your friend hold that friendship hostage while he decides whether you’re going to be worth anything to him if he doesn’t get definitive sexual and romantic access to you soon. I don’t see tenderness, kindness, or love for your friend here. I see tetchiness, impatience, a lack of generosity, and a disrespect for her feelings and her desires. You don’t seem to like her; you seem like you want to win, and she is a combatant beating you at your own game, “humiliating” you, slighting you. You’ve pit yourself against her. You may very well have ruined this relationship, having demonstrated to her what you’re like when you don’t get your way and are not open to compromise. I’d be mourning that, and not your temporarily wounded ego.

  6. Man, passive rejection does suck. It sucks because you end up spending months allowing yourself to feel those feelings because you think there’s a chance, and you send them messages and make plans with them feeling sure that you can convince them to fall off the fence onto the side of “yes,” and then you find out after those months that it was all for nothing, they’re dating someone else, and now they don’t even want to be friends because you were too eager to date them and made them uncomfortable.

    CA’s advice is spot on, if you make a move on someone and their response is anything other than an enthusiastic “yes, I’d love to go out with you!” they probably don’t want to date you and you should let it go. Don’t hang onto a “maybe” hoping it’ll eventually turn into a “yes,” let it go and find someone who really wants to date you as much as you want to date them.

    And someone will inevitably chime in with “hey now, when I first asked my [wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend] out, they were hesitant too, but they eventually came around and wanted to date me” or “I was hesitant at first but gave them a shot and fell in love weeks later! It can happen!” That’s awesome, and I don’t want to imply in any way that real-life relationships that started out with some hesitation or waffling aren’t valid or okay, they are, they should be treated as the exception to the rule. I don’t like it when people hear stories like that and take it as permission to keep pursuing and pining after someone who isn’t into them.

    As for your feelings, Letter Writer, CA is also correct, you can’t hound someone demanding they take responsibility for your feelings. If they apologize, awesome, but demanding it will only make her more uncomfortable and make you look like a jerk. From her perspective, if I rejected someone and then tried to help them sort out their hurt feelings, I may inadvertently send the message that I do have some tender feelings for him, and he might harbor this expectation that we’ll eventually become lovers, and as long as I so much as smell that on him, I’m keeping him at arm’s length. We’re not even talking friend-zone, we’re talking “guy I’m friends with on Facebook but actively avoid at parties.”

    1. Yeeeah, that last paragraph–I was in LW’s position at 18, and looking back at the shitstorm that resulted, I really wish I’d taken the “I don’t like coffee” as the “no” it was and licked my wounds.

      Also, seconding the whole “please don’t use anecdotes of persistence that worked as permission to keep doing this.” Taking the no is the graceful part.

        1. Well, when the “I don’t like coffee” didn’t take (thanks to being 18 and not recognizing that soft “no”), I still figured I had a chance, but instead of going forth and making my feelings clear, I sat on it for months and emotionally invested a lot in my crush. When he turned me down (kindly), tried to assuage my hurt feelings and keep our friendship going, it gave me false hope because at the time I figured, “he still thinks I’m special” even if subconsciously, and probably even more subconsciously, also thought that I might have a chance.

          The following year he got a girlfriend, and I was devastated. I handled that pain in very selfish and toxic ways that I’m still ashamed of, 16-17 years later, and hurt him and our mutual friend group. I had to get help, and things didn’t get better for me for a while. So that’s where I’m coming from–I wish, in retrospect, that I’d taken that soft no for what it was and lowered my expectations accordingly so that I wouldn’t have caused so much harm back then.

    2. Yeah, in those (quite rare) cases when an “I’m not sure” turns into a “yes!” this usually happens in *spite* of awkwardness, not *because* of it. In other words, the person who is the object of the feelings manages, by some miracle, to look past and move past the awkwardness generated by the person with the feelings find some feelings of his/her own. But the thing is, that awkwardness did create a barrier that had to be overcome. So whether these things eventually work out or not, it’s a good idea to remember that minimizing awkwardness is a very good idea. Coming out and admitting those feelings was a lovely thing, LW. But once you got your “maybe,” you needed to treat that as a “no” and move on. Good luck to you!

      1. Or, in the case of the rare unicorn relationship where “I’m not sure” becomes “yes”, it can be because there *was* no awkwardness – the person who made a move took “I’m not sure” as “no” and BACKED THE FUCK OFF. That lets the other person be comfortable and allow things to develop (or not. Always expect that it won’t go any further, explore other options, and enjoy whatever friendship you’ve got there instead of waiting to see if things change, or you’re not actually backing the fuck off – you’re lurking, which shows more than you think and is Not Cool).

        Source: am unicorn. 😛 My now-husband backed the fuck off when I didn’t immediately say yes.

        1. Hi, fellow unicorn! 😀 I also backed off when I asked my now-boyfriend if he wanted us to officially become partners and his answer was “not sure, need time”. I gave him that space and time to decide and didn’t bring it up again. And when he decided, *he* explicitly told me he would like to be partners.

          I can attest there was no awkwardness there, if a bit of emotional fumbling (feelings are hard). Since I was open with my feelings and respectful of his, he got both the info and the space he needed to make a decision in his own time.

          TL;DR: unicorns need respect and space and backing the fuck off in order to thrive. If someone changes their mind, they will let you know in their own time.

        2. I was a “not sure” when I first started seeing my now-husband. His patience and respect and absolute lack of pressure gave me the space I needed to turn that not sure into a resounding YES!

          1. Patience and lack of pressure can work magic, if one truly understands what they are. The romance I’ve been in for the past decade or more, that has played out like someone was composing a great epic love story for all time, would never have happened were it not for those.

            Some key points:

            We were both up front about our staggering attraction for each other from the start. This wasn’t a case of me not thinking of him in that light and eventually being worn down into considering it from sheer exhaustion. It was a case of both of us being stunned by the power of it and willing to say so, but there was that small problem with the speed in which I move into relationships: Not fast, on an epic scale — when I’m in “girl on a mission” mode, there is no turning me aside. Good luck even trying to get my attention. It took a level of attraction that literally physically staggered us both for me to even notice.

            Patience and lack of pressure from him meant I never faced the slightest consequence for any, “no”, not even a disappointed look. And good heavens, there were a lot of no’s — three years of what he later called “courting”, during which I was up for enthusiastic flirting, but rarely let him so much as touch me (I’m really not kidding about “girl on a mission mode” — mountains being leveled would be nothing). Every ‘no’ got met with a smile and a cheerful assurance that just being able to talk to me was more than enough. When I was ready for more, that same response was always there to any hesitation on my part — the cheerful assurance that it didn’t matter, because my presence was delight enough.

            I think great epic love stories for the ages probably only happen when the people involved not only have the great epic emotions, but the behavior to match. “I have the great and powerful and mighty feelings of love, so I will give her a month and then sulk at her a lot,” — there’s a reason that’s not how the stories go.

        3. Another unicorn. At around the same time, my now-wife and a close friend were both interested in me, and I wasn’t really ready to date anyone, and the one I ended up with was the one who accepted that, tried not to make it weird, and didn’t put pressure or the job of handling her feelings on me. It’s more complicated than that, of course, because I was actually into my now-wife and wasn’t feeling it so much for my friend, and no one gets a “yes” as their reward for accepting a “no” – but my friend constantly making hints, giving me inappropriate presents and generally making things really uncomfortable for me turned my feelings of “not now, but who knows in the future” into “not in a million years,” while my now-wife’s considerate behaviour was one of the things that made me feel comfortable enough to go for it when I was ready.

          LW, maybe her attempts to put you off were trying to kindly let you down with a soft no or maybe she just needed some time to think about it. We can’t know for sure which it was. A lot of the advice is focused on learning to pay attention to soft nos and look for enthusiasm rather than pushing for the answer you want, and that’s really important, but I think it’d also be a good idea for you to work on how to handle and accept a maybe.

          If she wanted room to think about her choice, you repeatedly bringing it up and trying to sway her decision wasn’t giving her that room – you were making her spend a lot of her emotional energy for the subject on handling your feelings about the maybe and fending off your continued advances, that didn’t give her much chance to pay attention to how she felt about things outside of your awareness of how you felt about them. If someone needs to think about their answer, let them put their thinking time towards their own feelings rather than asking them to focus on yours by trying to push the question or making declarations.

          It sounds like you care about being someone who can take a “no” well, since you emphasized that you would to her. So another thing I’d suggest working on is how to be someone who people can trust to take their answers well in general, and demonstrating that. One way you can do that is by accepting that there are lots of different kinds of answers, and that people express them in different ways. “Maybe, I need to think about it” is an answer, and like I said above, you can work on accepting that answer gracefully. And if you really respect that answer, then you need to be prepared to accept that the way that ends is with “I thought about it and the answer is no” – even though it’s disappointing, you need to accept that just as well as you’d want to accept an immediate no.

          Another thing you can do to be someone who people can trust to take their answers well, is by trusting that if the answer is “yes” they’ll let you know – if you keep asking them and reminding them of your feelings and trying to brush obstacles out of the way, you’re showing that you’ll push for the answer you want instead of letting them have the chance to give a clear yes if they’re feeling it, and to not give a yes if that’s not what they really want. Respecting their lack of enthusiasm, their avoidance, their soft no’s, will show that you’re a person who they can give more forceful no’s to safely and that you’re okay with hearing them. Even if you could push them into a yes by making it hard for them to not say yes, give them room to give a real yes that comes from the heart, because that’s the only kind of yes worth having.

      2. THIS – from someone who was propositioned by a dude and said “no” (I was in a monogamous relationship at the time). He backed off and didn’t bring it up again. Not only did his restraint super-impress me, but the more he left me alone with my feelings, the more I realised I liked him too, in a sexy way! Two years later, I finally propositioned him back 🙂

        1. One thing that “nice guys” have been throwing fits over all my life is my history of friendships with bad boys — what on earth is Little Miss Unattainable doing with them? (Followed by much “nice guy” foaming at the mouths and angst. Like that’s ever attractive.)

          It’s quite simple, really: The bad boys in question were all treating me as absolutely hands-off. With vehemence. And a willingness to intimidate/smack around any guy who didn’t show me appropriate deference.

          Sometimes at the very beginning, a bad boy would simply come right out with a statement of interest with some specificity about what he had in mind, which would get him a cheerful, “No, but would you like to meet a friend of mine who might be more your speed?” And that would be the end of it — never again would the bad boy in question bring it up. They all knew if I changed my mind, *I* would say so.

          So we have this collection of odd scenes like me going to the opera with a notorious bad boy in leather. And various people having meltdowns about how many kinds of wrong that is. And in another case of Aspergers as a strength, I’ve never understood why — riding a motorcycle does not preclude a wide and varied musical tastes, so what gives? Yes I know that man is all kinds of trouble — that’s why I went with him to the opera, not to his bedroom. Sheesh.

    3. From her perspective, if I rejected someone and then tried to help them sort out their hurt feelings, I may inadvertently send the message that I do have some tender feelings for him, and he might harbor this expectation that we’ll eventually become lovers
      This. I had to learn to act cool-to-cold after turning someone down because toooo many times if I continued with my usual open, no-worries-we’re-still-friends they took that as encouragement. Because anything other than a screaming NOOO! can be taken as a maybe/yes, a lot of women feign negative feelings to ward off hopeful persistence.

      1. This reminds me of a thing I was reading musing on a possible…let’s call it contributing factor to the “friendzone” thing. Because when women are friends with other women, it’s a relationship that includes mutual emotional support as well as just hanging out doing fun stuff. Male friendships with other men, on the other hand, tend to be more just hanging out and doing stuff, without that emotional support element. Most men get the bulk of, if not all of, their emotional support from their romantic partner alone.

        So when a woman is friends with a man, to her, that includes the emotional labor part of friendship, because that’s what friendship *is* in her eyes. But because he’s primed to see “emotional support” and “romantic partner” as inherently linked concepts, he takes this woman’s non-romantic friendship and assumes it must be romantic interest, because to him the only relationship that provides emotional connection is a romantic one. To her, she’s acting like a friend; to him, she’s acting like a girlfriend. Thus, the accusations of leading him on and baaahh’ing about the friendzone when he tries to act on what is, to him, a perceived budding romantic relationship and she goes “wait what?”.

        Women learn that any amount of emotional labor given to a man is *going* to get interpreted as romantic interest and will just fuel the fire. Safer to cut yourself off emotionally even from guys you’d like to still be friends with, in that case, just to make sure they don’t take it the wrong way.

        1. Yeah, when I read this it was like “oh, THAT’S what’s been happening my whole life…”

        2. TOTALLY THIS. See also: the guy who has no close male friends, but a raft of female “FWB.”

        3. Yeah, this is one of the reasons I’ve backed waaaaaay off from a guy, because apparently having friendly conversations with him = I have romantic interest, and it was weird to get a whole “I’ve been leading you on” speech when I wasn’t into him in that way.

    4. Yep; it’s not that an Eventual Yes can’t happen, but I’m going to make a very safe bet that in those scenarios, the proposing dater wasn’t constantly pestering the proposed datee with FEELINGS, nagging, hound dog eyes, poems, passive aggressive social media postings, demands for long talks/apologies, and all the other stuff guys do when they want to actually feel feelings but can’t see that the person they’re focused on is not, in fact, a horcrux to hold their LURVE.

      It’s one thing to express how you feel, give the other person room to think, and gracefully accept the answer given. It’s another to keep scratching and whining at the door like a bored dog who wants in, than out, than in, than out and won’t let you sit down for more than thirty seconds.

    5. Yup.

      While the Eventual Yes can happen, I’m willing to make a very safe bet that when it did, the Potential Dater made a short declaration to the Potential Datee, and then backed off if requested. They most likely did not whine, nag, make puppy dog eyes, demand hours of FEELINGS discussion, write and forcibly hand over poetry, passive-aggressive posture all over social media or decide that Datee held full responsibility for the relationship.

      The former route shows maturity, respect, and openness. The latter announces that Potential Dater is treating you like a personal horcrux for their Lurve and not like a human being.

    6. I think, too, that a lot of those Eventual Yesses weren’t Maybes That Turned Into Nos because the people in question asked, and when the answer wasn’t a right away YES!!! they stopped asking and continued to be friends. Just like No isn’t the start of a negotiation, Maybe isn’t an indication there’s a way to force a shift to yes.

      Maybe is over there sitting on the fence between “yes” and “no”, and the gentlest nudge is going to push her right over onto the “no” side. Let alone repeated asking, etc.

      (And I say this as someone who has trouble with Maybe answers, too. I’m a work in process.)

    7. I like this response, particularly the caveat about people who may respond about times when they pushed/were pushed and it worked out.

      My husband and I were friends first and then he made it clear that he had feelings for me. I didn’t reciprocate and he STOPPED. No weirdness, no sad-panda-ing. We got to know each other and became closer friends. Believe me, I did NOT forget that he had asked me out. One day I realized I’d developed feelings too, and *I* made that clear. I know that if I hadn’t, he would have valued my friendship and respected my previous no.

      This is not to say that everyone can or should do this, or that if you do this the person you like will magically realize they like you too! BUT if he had reacted differently (complained about being “friend zoned”, treated me like a sex-vending machine, became passive aggressive) I would have dropped him as a friend as well and we would definitely not be married!!!

  7. You need to learn to listen. Pretending she didn’t say it right is grade A bullshit.

  8. When it comes to dating, LW, take anything that is not a firm, clear “yes” as a no. You will be much better off for it.

    1. I used to teach a sexual assault program in college & one of the most important lines from that program was: “The absence of a no is not a yes.” (Which can be applied to pretty much every yes/no situation).

    2. If a man wants a yes – any yes – he’s seeking compliance from an object.

      Men who see women as human beings with their own interests and desires want enthusiastic equal participation.

      He is not seeing her as a person, but as an object for him to win, she’s not the opponent, she’s the ball.

  9. I think it’s good that LW’s learning about the “soft no” now, vs. later. It won’t exactly take the sting out of rejection, but the sooner he knows, the sooner he can at least bounce back .

    1. Yup, this a *really* important skill to learn.

      If you hear at the end of a job interview: “We are looking for someone with experience in [skill you have no experience in]” as you are walked out the door, it doesn’t mean you should call the interviewer every day until you get a Hard No.

      If you call your cousin who lives in Big Tourist Area with her husband and newborn twins to ask if you can crash for the weekend and she says, “We don’t have enough beds”, that doesn’t mean show up at her house with a sleeping bag.

      1. Yeah, it really is. I was brought up with soft “no”s growing up, but as I reported upthread, they can be really hard to detect sometimes. And as a woman, I would love to be able to say “no” directly, but wind up softening it more often than not due to fear of repercussions. It’s really important that we start taking soft “no”s as “no” so that we can operate more smoothly.

    2. Agreed. The point of adolescence is at least supposed to be that we get to learn these lessons while the consequences to ourselves and others are blunted. LW is right on schedule as far as self-and-others stuff.

      LW, I think it’s really normal as an adolescent especially to think that you’re the only one dealing with a maelstrom of HOW DO I EMOTION and HOW DO I PEOPLE and WHAT??? WANT?? HOW DO??. I’m a woman and that pretty well describes me during adolescence – completely sure that OTHER people understood what was happening and I was the only super confused one.

      I also do think that you’re suffering from something I suffered from when I started dating (later in life than you – gay southern kid here). I don’t know a better way to put it then “a conviction that I wouldn’t feel like crap if only things had gone correctly”. I don’t think you would have felt happy to get an early, fast “no” – I think that you wanted a “yes”, you pressed for a “yes”, you did in fact ignore soft “no’s”, and now you’ve learned something about soft no’s. IF your friend was sure of her answer as early as you think she was – and I’m not convinced that she was sure, see above about maelstroms of emotion being a normal trait – then she was probably acting in part to try to protect your feelings. She had good intentions. Honor those intentions and next time you get a soft no from someone, respect that they think they are showing you tact and compassion even if you genuinely would prefer a hard “no”.

      I think the hardest thing about dating is that sometimes the outcomes feel like crap and the only thing you can do is – stop engaging with the situation. Put your energy somewhere else. Learn that you can feel lousy and shitty and rejected (or guilty for rejecting someone) and just – survive it without making it worse.

      Bonus: if you honor and respect soft “no’s” as a graceful emotional aikido that turns aside your intent while trying not to hurt you, sometimes you will get hard “yes’s”, because women are people and some of them will want to kiss you (or, in completely different contexts, hire you for a job or purchase your manuscript or have you as a houseguest in another country or whatever). I’m not saying be defeatist, but if you take a gentle “no” gently and respectfully, you do demonstrate that you are a tactful and respectful person and you also set yourself up to be delighted by the yeses that come.

      1. “a conviction that I wouldn’t feel like crap if only things had gone correctly”

        Ugggghhhh. I also got a late start on navigating the whole dating scene, and I fell for this line of thinking as late as last year!!! Nothing at LW’s level of hounding, but still. Cringe.

        I’m sending you sympathy, LW, and a hope that you will learn and grow quickly. We all need to learn this shit, we’re just at different parts of the curriculum. Here’s hoping you’ll take this as an opportunity to cram some important material.

  10. Definitely let this be a learning opportunity. Don’t let the cringe keep you from taking Captain Awkward’s lessons to heart.

    If it helps, this is completely age-appropriate awkwardness. You’re still learning to see and respect/enforce boundaries because you haven’t had time to gain a lot of experience with it. Just keep at it; it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and one you can be proud of. By the same token, your friend is still learning to understand and articulate what she wants romantically because she hasn’t had much of a chance to learn, either. Cut her a little slack.

    I once wrote a thinly-veiled version of a long-standing crush for an academic competition. When I won, I then got/had to stand up and read it at an assembly THAT THE GUY WAS ATTENDING. He was always extremely gracious, but wow. The cringe from that gave me a visceral understanding of how weird I was being. And it contributed to my NEVER DOING SHIT LIKE THAT AGAIN and made me a better person today. This can work for you, too.

  11. I mean this kindly, as the mom of 3 children, who has had to say sad-but-firm things to them from time to time: You need to grow up. You’re a work in progress, and nobody expects you to be a full grown adult at this point, but… You need to grow up.

    Your feelings, however hard it is to identify them, are your responsibility. Nobody else’s, just yours. Your body is changing (still!), your brain is changing, and your thoughts are going in ten thousand different directions, and it can be hard to figure out what you feel about anything. We understand that. We’ve all been there. But it’s up to YOU to police your actions. You feel what you feel, but you control what your mouth and your hands do. Being a pest is annoying as hell when you’re 3 years old, and it’s worse when you’re 17 or 18 years old. A maybe yes can easily be turned into a hard no when the asker is being a rampant pest about it. My children learned this the hard way. Nothing is yes but an enthusiastic YES!

    Grow up, learn some impulse control, and don’t make your feelings and well being somebody else’s responsibility.

  12. We really need to do better as a society of teaching people that anything that isn’t a clear “yes” is a “no.” A maybe is still a no, a “I have to think about it” is still a no, everything that is not a universally-understood “yes” is a no. If you don’t like the answer that doesn’t make it any less of a no.

    LW, your fixation on “I can handle the answer so long as it’s honest” is a bad tack to take. You need to trust that people are generally going to be honest with you unless someone very specific has given you good reason not to trust them. When you say “I like you, do you like me yes or no, I can handle any answer, just be HONEST,” you are implying (whether you mean to or not) that she might answer you dishonestly–which can only lead you down the nasty, false road of “the answer I don’t like is a lie.” Trust her when she tells you even when you don’t like the answer.

    1. IME, people who act like I owe them a Yes/No answer on their timetable don’t react well when they don’t get the answer they want.

    2. Yeeeeeep. I’ve had people get really mad at me for not being “honest” with them, when the truth was it took me time to figure out how I felt/what I wanted. Having them come back at me with an accusation of dishonesty killed any trust or possibility of closeness between us.

      Maybe your crush knew all along and was giving you a soft no; maybe she didn’t know and was still figuring it out. LW, the respectful and caring thing to do in either case is to back off and let them communicate their feelings in the way that feels comfortable to them.

      1. Yes, this is important! LW, your crush is a person with confusing emotions, and she’s got no more practice sorting through FEEEEEELINGSSS than you do. Understanding that, deep down, is a big part of understanding that women. are. people.

      2. When I read the letter my first guess was that the girl simply wasn’t sure initially, and needed to think about it.

        So LET HER THINK ABOUT IT. Maybe some people are capable of thinking straight while someone breathes down their neck and reminds them how they feel and tries to hurry them, but it certainly makes it more difficult. You gave yourself as much time as you needed. To think, in private. (Not as much time as some other person decided you were allowed, BTW). So give her that same basic courtesy as a minimum.

        If you can’t take waiting, that’s OK, you don’t have to wait. You always have the option to leave, to go away and lick your wounds somewhere else, to stop hoping, and to move on with your life.

        And now that she’s told you, accepting it means not trying to keep talking about it or rehashing it.

      3. Right, maybe she was conflicted! Or maybe she didn’t really think of him that way but wanted to do some soul searching to see if maybe there were some potential feelings to explore, or maybe she wanted to turn down the letter writer in a gentle way that wouldn’t hurt his feelings and that was taking a long time. Maybe both were true at some point.

        1. I can easily imagine that perhapsperhaps she initially had never thought of him that way so needed to take some time to think about it and play with the idea in her mind and see if she started to want to go out with him, and kept giving it more time to see if she started to feel that way, and more time, and still hadn’t begun to feel that way. And also really really really really didn’t want to have a big ‘conversation’ about not dating him.

      4. Oh heavens, so have I, many times. If you want me to think about it, it’s going to take time. If you want an answer NOW, it’s ‘no’.

        I’ve also been accused of lying I don’t know how many times when I give a direct, honest answer. There are periods of my life when I’m in “girl on a mission” mode, and most often I have explicitly ruled out romance for the duration. So when asked during such a time about the prospect of a romantic relationship by a guy whose friendship I valued, I’d give the honest answer — maybe when this (whatever the Big Thing it is that I’m doing) is over — I’m flattered, but I can’t right now.

        I’m still not clear on why they all were sure there had to be another answer. It seemed pretty plain to me and I’d said it right out — you’re great, I’m flattered, can’t now, can’t even think about it now, but down the road when this is done, I will give it real consideration if you still want me to.

        The various arguments usually centered around claiming that either I could be interested enough to decide so now and tell them so, or there was no chance ever and I should just say so. All that gets out of me is a puzzled, “I’m not going to lie for you. I told you what the truth is.”

        Oh, the epic angst several really good guys went through on this one. I think it boiled down to the idea that they were willing to wait in exchange for a promise of what was to come, but I was telling them that I couldn’t weigh matters to that level until my current Big Thing was over — all my powers were focused on one thing. And insisting that no, I have to know NOW, I have to turn aside long enough to weigh that future NOW, well, all that tells me is that YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH.

        Yes, I do know I’m scary when I’m like that. Get used to it; it’s not going away.

    3. We really need to do better as a society of teaching people that anything that isn’t a clear “yes” is a “no.”

      I’m going to push back on this. We already teach soft “noes.”

      We live, however, in a society in which girls and women are demonized and objectified. The former comes up when girls and women bluntly (or merely clearly) refuse boys or men. The latter comes through in the pretense that our less blunt declarations are incomprehensible. They aren’t. They are the same strategies that boys and men use. They wouldn’t pretend we were unclear if we were men.

      1. I think there are even more aspects to it. In addition to learning that a woman’s word and wishes mean less than those of a man, men/boys are socialized to view the answer that they want as being inherently the right answer. They are explicitly taught not to take no for an answer. More so when it’s a woman’s no, of course, but you can also see it in the way certain traits are valorized in men (while often being denegrated in women) in contexts like school and business. They are taught that with hard work and persistence, they can get what they want, and they apply that lesson as much to the woman they want to woo as to the car they want to buy.

        And then there’s the “Nobody tells my son ‘no’ but ME!” factor, as I learned when I made the “mistake” of telling a young boy to stop kicking my goddamn bike (I was waiting to load it on the bus we were all waiting to board), and his father turned around and SCREAMED at me that I had NO RIGHT to tell his son in ANYTHING, how DARE I try to correct HIS SON, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK YOU DON’T SAY NO TO MY SON. (The kid’s mom was there, too, and she kept making this really helpless and apologetic faces at me.)

        He wants a yes. She gave him a soft “no.” Since no one (but daddy) is allowed to tell him no, and a woman’s word can be disregarded anyway, and he knows he can turn a no into a yes if he wants it badly enough and works hard enough, and only the answer he wants is the real answer anyway… how can it be a real no?

        There are so many tangled threads here, it’s all very demoralizing.

      2. Agreed. It’s not that men don’t know how to recognize a soft ‘no’. (Some individuals, men and women, do have difficulty with indirect social cues, but as a group men are no less capable of figuring this out than women, and most men do recognize soft ‘no’s and even use them themselves in a variety of contexts.) It’s that they’ve decided it’s okay for them to refuse to accept it, particularly in the context of a woman rejecting their romantic advances.

      3. It’s an endless Catch-22, because the actual problem is the unwanted message content, not the style of its delivery.

        Soft no = How can I possibly understand what you mean if you don’t spell it out? You need to be clearer!

        Hard no = Oh my God, there’s no need to be such a BITCH about it. You need to be nicer!

        1. Exactly. I’ve had so much of this. Poor LW is young so there is much hope for him but he’s giving her the bad bad double whammy of both refusing to accept the lack of yrs AND getting mad about the no. She knows now she can’t win.

      4. Yes, we teach soft noes, but clearly we aren’t getting through to a large portion of boys/men about the fact that they are still noes when they are in the context of romantic pursuit. Perhaps teaching them soft noes isn’t the problem, but we are still societally telling them it’s OK for them to ignore them in the context of romance–so we’re not teaching them as well as we could. There’s room for improvement.

        1. Again, the issue isn’t understanding . The issue is accepting.

          That is, accepting that women’s words mean the same as men’s, and that women’s desires are as important as men’s.

    4. A yes now would be compliance, not enthusiasm for a relationship,

      Does he want a person or a girlfriend unit?

    5. When you say “I like you, do you like me yes or no, I can handle any answer, just be HONEST,” you are implying (whether you mean to or not) that she might answer you dishonestly–which can only lead you down the nasty, false road of “the answer I don’t like is a lie.”

      It’s similar to the discussion often had around domestic abuse, where “I wouldn’t hit you” is something you only say if, actually, hitting is on the table

      Or, for a less fraught comparison for LW: imagine you’re at a fancy restaurant, and your date announces “You can use a knife and fork around me”. Is your reaction to that statement to feel reassured about your cutlery usage, or to suddenly wonder if this is actually a chopsticks kind of restaurant and you’re embarrassing yourself and your date?

  13. Erg, posting error.

    When I won, I then got/had to read it aloud at an assembly THE GUY WAS ALSO ATTENDING. He was always gracious, but yeesh. The cringe from that gave me a visceral understanding of how weird I was being. And it taught me NEVER TO DO SHIT LIKE THAT AGAIN. It was a worthwhile lesson, though one I wish I hadn’t needed.

  14. Yes is the only yes. There is nothing less romantically attractive about another person then them not being into you, which is hard to see when you are young but is simply the truth.

    You owe it to yourself to find somebody interested in you without having to dig around for months trying to “convince” somebody who isn’t.

  15. LW is doing a really good job of emotional awareness for a high-school senior (this is not meant as an insult; I remember high school and how none of us had our act together emotionally). I could see him either learning from this and going on to be a really solid human, or weaponizing it to be that “sensitive” guy who uses the language of emotional awareness to bully and guilt-trip people (usually women) into doing what he wants. LW, if you’re reading this, you probably feel embarrassed (I would), but this is pretty standard for relationships mistakes one makes in high-school. Sending multiple requests because you’re anxious and you’re not familiar with “soft” nos (that’s when a person doesn’t explicitly say no, but also doesn’t say yes – yes that’s ridiculous and it sucks, but it’s what our culture has deemed polite and acceptable and people sometimes get angry if you give them a more explicit “no”) is mildly crappy, but also well within the threshold of acceptable social mistakes one makes while learning. Learn from this. You have the capability to grow into a lovely, insightful, grounded person who is a lot of fun to be around.

  16. Hi, LW!

    I’m sorry about the misunderstanding with your friend. I also have problems with people who use “maybe” when they mean “yes” or “no”, because for me, “maybe” means “I haven’t decided yet, ask me later”. But there are people out there for whom “maybe” means “I have a definite answer but I’m trying to be polite/spare your feelings”. And sometimes I have to work with those people, or want to be friends with them, or fall in love with them. So, what’s a way-too-literal, doesn’t-get-hints, doesn’t-understand-most-non-verbal-language awkward human to do?

    Mostly, I read Captain Awkward and take notes. I’ll share them with you in case they’re useful:
    A) Build an emergency exit hatch into your questions. For example, instead of “Friend! Do you want to X?” I say “Friend, how do you feel about X?” or “Friend, do you feel like X or would you rather Y*?”. That way, you lower the pressure on your friend to commit immediately to a yes or a no, which they might be afraid will upset you.
    A’) After asking a question, shut your mouth and wait and listen. Give them time to actually answer.

    B1) Anything that isn’t an enthusiastic yes means “no”, including silence, indecision, and changing the topic.
    B2) All nays shall be accepted at face value, without trying to guilt-trip the nay-sayer nor attempting to argue them into yeses.
    (Firstly, for you: you don’t want to force anyone to spend time with you. You want people to enjoy your company for its own sake, to be with you because they want to and choose to. Secondly, for them: when you show that you accept a rejection with good grace, you’re saying “I will respect your boundaries if you decide to share them with me”, and they’ll feel safer around you and be more likely to use clearer noes in the future.)

    C) Invest your time and energy into the people who reciprocate it and make you feel appreciated. Don’t chase after people. Look for the people who seek you out, too. Gradually disengage from the ones that never do: sometimes things don’t work out, and that’s alright.

    If respecting others is important to you, then you have to work on understanding and respecting how other people communicate. It is hard work, and it takes time and effort on your part to adapt to a system that’s so different from your own, but I think you’ll be happier for it.

    As for your friend: at most, I’d say “I’m very sorry I made you uncomfortable” and then drop the matter forever and give her space (see C). Like the Captain said, she already told you she doesn’t want to talk about it (see B2).

    Good luck, and hey, now you know where the problem is, so next time you’ll do better 🙂

    * Where Y is often left pretty open, as in “do something else”.

    1. All of this is great. It would probably be OK to say, ‘Looking back I realize I probably made you uncomfortable. I’m really sorry about that.’ But, it would probably only be appropriate if the incident is still very recent, otherwise he will only make his friend wonder if the subject was going to keep coming up every few weeks or months.

      1. I’m not sure if I agree or not. It sounds like maybe OP has pushed some boundaries here maybe, and the way the letter was framed indicates that he’s still got some learning to do before I’d suggest he go back and try to engage more with this girl. I think it would be better for him to assume she’d prefer not to re-open the subject right now, and give themselves both all the time and space until he doesn’t care what she thinks at all and she seems to be totally over this incident. He can show her it won’t keep coming up by … taking himself away and not bringing it up.

        1. Yeah, speaking from uncomfortable experience, polite distance/keeping to entirely different topics is probably the way to go right now. Anything else might force a closeness that’s just not there right now.

        2. Agreed. The guy I’ve been talking about in this thread used it as a way to wedge himself back into my life, and while I don’t think I got into “scared” territory, it did a great job of turning amicable friendliness toward him into outright dislike.

          1. +1 to all who pointed out that an apology might be very unwelcome at this stage. I said “at most” because I don’t know: in my case, when former friends have apologised for past wrongs without expecting anything from me and then let it drop, it has made me feel better and has helped mend the hurt. But if LW’s friend is actively avoiding him, then yeah, he shouldn’t seek her out so he can force her to hear him apologise. An apology helps only when it’s offered with no expectation that the person you offended has to give you any more of their time or energy, I think.

    2. Might help to reframe that as ‘maybe = “I don’t know yet, I’ll let you know when I figure it out.” ‘ Don’t ask again later, at least not without an explicit ‘check with me tomorrow’.

      I mean, you can check if a friend wants to catch that movie, but don’t ask a girl out a second time. If she wants to go out with you, she’ll come back with an invitation to something. *IF* she comes back with an invite, then you can ask if it’s romantic or just friends.

      1. I like that. It puts the responsibility of clarifying on the asked-one’s shoulders, instead of having the asker try to figure the answer out from unclear signals. *takes notes*

      2. Yes, this. And it’s totally fine to make this entirely explicit, if that helps. Something like “okay, that’s fine. I’m gonna treat that as a no for now and let you figure it out at your own pace. Just let me know if things ever change or there’s anything I can do to help the process.” and then drop the subject forever (unless the person does get back to you).

    3. You know what maybe isn’t? It isn’t enthusiasm! Why are we framing this as “She didn’t say no!” Instead of “she’s not saying yes!?

      Why? Because we center his wants over hers. We live in a cisgenderpatriarchy that preferences cis men in relationships. He needing to say no is centering him.

      If society viewed them is truly equal, We be focusing on unambiguous “yes” from both parties.

      Anything other tha “yes, please let’s do this now.”should mean walk away, unless his feelings and desires are primary.

      1. Uh, yeah? I did say a “maybe” is not a “yes”, see B1. One of the points I was trying to make was to underline that anything that’s not a yes should be treated as a no, just to be safe.

        And as for the angle… Well, I don’t know about other comments, but I wanted to offer advice on how to communicate with people who use “yes”, “no”, and “maybe” in a very different way from the LW’s, since this is a situation that will keep turning up for as long as he lives, and one I’ve had to deal with a lot, from people of all genders. Since I’ve had to actively learn how to interact with people who communicate in ways that are vastly different than mine, I thought it would be useful to explains the tools I use.

        I think the point of a comment section is to offer different perspectives so that the LW might choose what fits best for their situation. I went for the communication angle, other people covered the social justice one, and so on. I’d rather be kind and open to a hurting teenager seeking help than condemn him, personally.

  17. I used to really suck at hearing “no,” and really wish I had changed my ways sooner. It sounds like LW is still really young which is great, because he can learn now and save himself and others a lot of grief. It’s okay to be upset and disappointed, but those feelings are yours to deal with, not your friends.

  18. I wanted to highlight CA’s point about allowing her to take some time to make up her mind. I agree with CA and the other commenters that you should take anything other than an enthusiastic “yes” as a no, but generally speaking, make sure you’re not putting unrealistic emotional expectations on women you want to ask out. There are a lot of assumptions about how women handle emotions, which often boils down to saying that we’re better at having them/understanding them/dealing with others’. A more nuanced approach is to say that women have to (try to) learn these skills due to social expectations around people who present as female; for some of us (me included), it’s still really, really hard. I identify very strongly with the part of your letter where you say you needed a friend to point out that you had feelings for her – I have been there! It still happens to me a lot, with all kinds of feelings (romantic and otherwise). If I were asked out by a friend, it might genuinely take me some time to figure out how I felt about the situation, just like it took you a while to figure out how you felt. (I can tell you that badgering me about it and acting like my failure to have an immediate answer is some kind of moral failing that I was doing *at* the asker-out would not tilt things in his favor.)

    tl;dr: feelings are hard for women, too

  19. LW, it might well be true that you would have behaved fine with an early ‘no’. But in my experience people are often very bad at judging how they will react in advance and often aren’t aware of how they’re actually behaving in the moment. And this seems to be especially true where rejection is concerned. I’ve found there’s very high correlation with dudes telling me they’d be fine with a ‘no’ and them pouting/becoming disrespectful/acting as though you owe them something/acting as though you’re rude for saying ‘no’ afterwards. Some people are fine, but you have no way of knowing that until after the fact. No matter how much you believe(d) it to be true, your friend couldn’t have known in advance that it would be.

    General rule of thumb in these sorts of things: ambiguity = no. It’s on them to correct or clarify if it turns out that’s not the case.

    1. Yeah, I think OP may be miscalculating how great it would have been to get a firm NO and how cool he would have been with it. I think in these circumstances – getting dumped or getting rejected – it’s easy to fall into the trick of thinking that if the other person had just done it IN A BETTER WAY, you wouldn’t feel so lousy. So we fixate on the specific manner that they went about it – in a text, on a birthday, etc. But really, it just sucks to get bad news that wasn’t what you wanted to hear, and it feels crappy. It’s okay to feel bad, OP. Just own those feelings, don’t make them about what she did or didn’t do. Give yourself plenty of time and space.

      1. I’ve seen so many versions of this, most recently on some random Reddit post about infertility in which the OP was adamant that she wasn’t upset about her best friend getting pregnant, but only about the fact that her best friend hadn’t *told* her she was trying to get pregnant. It’s almost like abuser logic: “I recognize that you’ve done nothing wrong, but I’m upset, so I have to find some way of making my feelings your responsibility.”

      2. The whole BETTER WAY thing bothers me to no end, mostly because it’s a sneaky way of punishing someone for doing something that you admit they had every right to do and/or getting them to confort ysou or apologize to you for it. Like, “I recognize that you are free to reject anyone for any reason, but because your rejection made me upset, I have to find *some* way of making my feelings your responsibility. I am therefore going to pick out some innocuous aspect of your rejection to be aggrieved about rather than acknowledging to myself that I’m upset about the rejection itself (because I’m a Good Person and would never be mad about that).”

        1. Huh. This is a really good way to phrase it. It’s frustrating because sometimes people indeed do things in bad ways (e.g. a doctor delivering bad news in a cruelly blunt way, an S.O. breaking up by Google Duplex, etc.) and you can legitimately be upset about that. So the BETTER WAY thinking lends some credibility from sometimes being true. I guess that only makes it more important to be vigilant about weeding it out of your own thinking.

      3. I used to be a terrible practitioner of this, and in my teens dragged some people into really rotten, unfair arguments about whether they’d done wrong by me by doing a Perfectly Valid Thing in some Particular Way that made me Feel Bad. In my early twenties I learned to keep those feelings inside and just seethe quietly. By my mid-twenties I’d realized how absurd the whole thing was. In my late twenties, I had a partner who would do that to me constantly, and finally realized how not just absurd but abusive it could be to hold other people accountable for one’s own feelings.

        I really hope the Captain’s response helps the letter writer get the message faster than I did. And faster than that ex who still hadn’t figured it out by nearly 30.

      4. Totes magotes. I know I’m one of those people. I think I’ll be cool and collected and respectful hearing a no, whereas in reality I’m more likely to cry. God that’s embarrassing, but it’s good to be able to anticipate it for the other person’s sake, so I can avoid putting them on the receiving end! If you’re young and you don’t really know from experience how you’ll react to rejection, it helps to assume you won’t be cool with it.

  20. So, I want to post this here:

    As a woman who is awkward and has NLD, I’d like to point out that I learned not getting a yes is an answer. If someone isn’t sure if they like me that way, that tells me they don’t (right now) like me that way (they’d know otherwise). If they change their mind, they know where to find me. Also, as someone who has been blunt with her no’s (again, awkward as fuck), I learned very quickly that doing so could get ugly for me very, very quickly.

    1. That’s another good point – for every rejectee who is upset that they didn’t get an immediate Hard No, there’s a rejectee who got exactly that and feels like their crush didn’t give them a chance.

      1. And for a small fraction of rejectees who got their immediate hard no, there can be dangerous repercussions to the rejector. Less friend turning into awkward pile of awkward and more friend turning violent or into stalker.

        Someone who has bad emotional self awareness who is willing to write quasi-love poetry to a non-romantically involved friend is someone I’d be afraid of saying no to.

        It’s worth reading schrodinger’s rapist to get a sense of why women often soften their nos.

        1. On that subject you state: “It hurts me to know how uncomfortable she must have been during my advances”
          Why is this about you and not about her?

        2. Also I’ve never had someone get violent because I said no but I’ve gotten a lot of BUUUUUUT WHYYYYYYYYYY type responses. When I was in my early 20s I volunteered in a group with a teenager who decided he wanted to date me despite being like six years younger and I could not possibly have been less interested, but when I told him straight up that it was NEVER going to happen it resulted in him sucking up all my time and energy with BUT WHY and excuses and reasons I totally should give him a chance.

          The only thing that finally stopped him? He found out I’d once dated a woman and it turned out he had a raging case of biphobia and refused to ever speak to me again because I’d “betrayed” him. Which is revolting but it did make him stop freaking bothering me. After MONTHS.

          1. In one of the most surreal experiences of my life, there was me and This Dude, whom I liked in a pantsfeeling kind of way. When I asked him if he’d like to go on a date, he asked me to provide reasons why I thought it was a good idea. He liked me and everything, he just wanted me to rationally justify our potential couplehood (and was baffled when I initially interpreted this as “no, I don’t want to go out with you”). We didn’t go out in the end.

          2. @Whingedrinking: I mean, maybe the “you should give me rational reasons why we should date even though I profess to like you” would kill any pants feelings I had for someone. You reciprocate my feelings but want me to justify our dating? I’ll save myself the trouble thanks!

    2. I remember flatly turning down someone for a date years ago, but instead of backing off, he only got more persistent, in ways that stopped just short of “this is not okay” (this was before the rule of “if I don’t like it, it’s not okay” kicked in). Invites for me to accompany him to places, trying to find ways to hang out with me despite me flatly turning him down, and trying to contact me despite my very clear feelings. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, and I really wish I’d enlisted some help from sympathetic friends to tell him to back off when he wouldn’t listen to me.

      1. I really wish more people understood that doubling down exponentially decreases any attraction that may have initially been present. Even if a person doesn’t fully cross the stalker/illegal line, roaring like a dragon with a bellyache and relentless pursuit is the opposite of sexy or alluring. You’re basically announcing you’re a high-maintenance pain in the butt that refuses to listen or compromise.

        1. Yeah, and the thing is, had they not doubled down, it’s possible that feelings might have cooled to the point where a friendship could have been possible, if both parties wanted it.

          I have some sympathy for LW, because as I said, I’ve been in his shoes before where I’d doubled down when I was around his age (late teens), but it didn’t end well, and I cringe with outright shame when I remember how I acted afterward, to the point of needing help. Having been on the other side with someone who was closer to 30 than 20, though, I pretty much cut him out of my life and didn’t look back, aside from lingering guilt for being “rude.”

        2. Yup.

          In high school I was “that person” who asked someone out in an email that in hindsight was totally creepy, listing off all these things we’d had in common when I’d never even spoken to him, and then when he said he wasn’t looking for a relationship but we could be friends, I took advantage of that by saying “hi” every time we were both online and talking to him when he was definitely not into the conversation. I don’t think I was ever a stalker in the legal sense, but he called he his “personal stalker” in conversation when I wasn’t around, and someone told me about it later. I feel like an ass, sometimes I wish I could apologize but bringing it up would probably make him feel super uncomfortable, so I decided to just be better and give him an appropriate amount of space, even now that we’re connected on social media.

          Sometimes I think, if I’d been more chill and approached him in a better way we could have had something rad for a while, but nope, I broke it, it was broken from the beginning, and I had to eventually let it go.

        3. There was a guy on OKCupid who messaged me during an insanely busy term in grad school and wanted to go out but I legitimately did not have any free time until my term ended in like 4 weeks, and I told him so. He spent four weeks nagging me to go on a date with him and by the time I actually had some free time the last thing on earth I wanted to do was spend it with THAT dude.

          He got super pissed and was like “If you weren’t into me you should have just said no at the beginning!” Well I was into you, fella, until you spent the last month nagging and guilt-tripping me.

  21. Life got a whole lot easier for me once I started treating anything other than an enthusiastic yes with specific plans attached as “no.” If the wishy-washiness later turns into a yes with no prompting from me, awesome, but in the meantime I won’t have wasted my or anyone else’s energy on something that was either a no to begin with or not a high enough priority to ever happen.

  22. There is no magical universal way to say “No, thank you” to romantic/sexual (or even just-friendly/neighborly) overtures that will always be 100% understood and respected, and which will never hurt anyone’s feelings in any way. Believe you me, A LOT of people wish there were.

    There is no magical way to ensure you will only be attractive to people you find attractive, also, and unattractive to people you find unattractive (or downright repellent or scary). Again, a LOT of people wish there was some way to bottle this magic, but, alas, it doesn’t exist.

    So if there’s no right way to say “No, thank you,” it does no good retelling the story with an “if only s/he did it X way, I’d be OK with it,” because it didn’t happen that way, and it is HIGHLY unlikely you’d be any happier if you got the answer you didn’t want in any other way or within any set time frame.

    There’s no guarantee that someone you find attractive, whether instantly or after a month of pondering over it, will likewise find you equally attractive. And there’s every likelihood that one day you will be approached by someone who thinks you’re attractive and you will discover you do not reciprocate his or her or their feelings. A good default option is to be kind and give the other person space if your desires do not align. (I know you probably won’t agree, but I think it’s fortunate for you that you have the opportunity to learn how to handle this tricky situation while you’re still pretty young…some folks never manage to learn it, and they tend to be unhappy interpersonally as a result.)

    Good luck, LW. This too shall pass.

    1. “does no good retelling the story with an “if only s/he did it X way, I’d be OK with it,” because it didn’t happen that way, and it is HIGHLY unlikely you’d be any happier if you got the answer you didn’t want in any other way”

      – I agree with Britpoptart – it seems to me the LW is trying to maintain a sense of control over a situation where he doesn’t actually have the control/ability to have it end up the way he wants. “If only’s” are a way of maintaining this illusion of control, and thereby avoiding feeling the disappointment of unmet desires/dreams.

  23. I’m a woman, and I’ve been both LW and Friend. So because of this, LW, I can say I empathize completely with you, and also that the Captain is 100% right. It is _so hard_, especially in Grade 12, when you’re thrown together unavoidably and everyone around you is FeelingsBombing all over the landscape, to step back and say “this hurts, and I can’t keep pushing.” I remember in Grade 11 actively running away from one of my closest friends (like, literally hiding in the corridors at school) because he was doing what you discuss here. But I also remember pulling the exact same behavior on another of my closest friends in my second year of university. When you hope so much, and see the person _all the time_, it’s so hard not to take an absence of “no” as a “maybe.”

    It doesn’t help that we are surrounded by messages that the only thing that means “no” is a no-contact order. I’m not even talking about the really awful messages from pick up artists or rape apologists, just the standard rom-com messages that “no” means “you haven’t quirkily worn her down enough.” Here’s another way I was messed up in Grade 12, LW: I had absorbed so many of those messages from romantic comedies and romance novels (which were _awful_ back then) that I didn’t understand how to meaningfully consent or withhold consent, and I thought that “being creepily pushy” was supposed to feel romantic. I was probably a few years older than you before I started to understand how screwed up I was about it.

    You have to step away; for your friend’s health and safety, for your friendship, for your own health. It sucks and it hurts and it’s painful, and I feel for you, so much. It might mean you have to end the friendship, because it sucks so much that your friend doesn’t feel the same way about you. And that is also something I feel for you about. It hurts. But it’s unavoidable.

    And here’s a tip that you will never learn from popular media: if you want to find out if a friend likes you, you start exactly how you did: “Friend, I like you romantically. Do you like me romantically? Y/N” And if you get any other answer other than enthusiastic “Yes!” then you have to act as if the answer were no.

    Best of luck, seriously.

  24. LW, your friend probably was worried about hurting your feelings or having you be mad at her. And the thing is, your reaction completely vindicates her concerns because you are mad at her. You’re mad at her to the point of seeking out third party help in lecturing her about how she hurt you and needs to do better.

    You seem to value direct communication, so I’ll be direct: in addition to everything that the Captain and the other commenters are saying about “soft noes”, you also need to learn to adjust to other, less direct communication styles. Sometimes people don’t say exactly what they’re thinking for reasons of tact, discretion, or expediency (among others—this list is not exhaustive). You may personally be fine with hearing outright rejections or criticisms, but most people aren’t, and what’s more, most people don’t like giving them out either. It’s generally not nice to force people to do so.

    More generally, not everything has to be done your way. Running through your letter is the assumption that your friend should have been as willing to discuss her feelings with you as you were willing to discuss yours with her. But the problem with that is that you were looking to increase the intimacy of your relationship with her, while she was trying to figure out how to tell you she didn’t want that, so of course it was easy for you to monologue about your feelings at her and of course she shut down and didn’t reciprocate. These were all signs and you could have taken them as her answer long before you got her to answer on your terms.

    1. Yes, this! This is so well said.

      LW, I get that you are telling yourself: ‘I’m not mad at the no, I’m just mad because ‘ but when you take away all the fluff and leave only facts, this is what happened:

      1. You told her about feelings
      2. She was too worried about your reaction to say ‘no’
      3. You repeated multiple times that it’s okay to say ‘no’
      4. At some point she believed you and said ‘no’
      5. You are super upset and make her know about it so she has to work around your anger and FEELINGS and she shouldapologizeandwhydidshenotjustogmgmgomg

      I know this is hard but I believe that you are a smart and probably a genuine, sensitive guy. You CAN and should cut through the bullshit and see the pattern. She was right to be worried and you are proving it right now.

      1. Thank you! I like both of your comments as well.

        To a certain extent, I get where this LW is coming from. No one likes getting rejected and I’ve certainly been guilty of transferring all my hurt and frustration about a rejection* to some aspect of the rejection (the way it was phrased, the timing, the fact that I wasted time doing X, Y, and Z and it was all for naught, etc.) while pretending that I was totally fine with—and honestly, kind of relieved by—the rejection itself. It’s fine if that’s what you need to do to deal with it (speaking personally I have never gotten over someone without spending some time being angry with them), but it’s not fair to make it the other person’s problem. Recognize what’s going on and deal with your feelings on your own time.

        *Both the romantic and the job application types of rejection, to boot.

  25. But yes, perhaps understand is the wrong word – we need not to fall for the wishful magical thinking of not accepting a soft no.

    Those who accept that women are people, not prizes, are more likely to stop lying to themselves about our answers.

    1. So much this. Women are not NPCs in your video game, nor vending machines or any other type of object.

    2. I don’t want to ignore the gendered difference here, which is real, but I am a woman and still fell into this trap more than once, so just want to add that it can also be a human failing: when you want to hear something, you are biased towards believing there’s hope. It doesn’t take a monstrous rapist to do this, it can also feel like wishful thinking, and in my case, I didn’t want to walk away from something I thought had potential over what might have been a “misunderstanding” (spoilers: it was not a misunderstanding). I just wanted clarity, but I realized in retrospect that I should have done exactly what commenters here are saying – taken anything other than an enthusiastic YES as a no, and let them come back around if there was any misunderstanding to be solved. Also, my desire for clarity shouldn’t have been more important than the other person’s possible discomfort in having to reject me more directly. But this is how we learn sometimes 😦

  26. “(It’s worth mentioning that my romantic interest in Friend had diminished greatly by this point, due to other difficulties in my life)”

    I think it’s worth taking some time to self-reflect why you felt the need to keep pursuing her when 1) your feelings had diminished & 2) you had Other Stuff going on.

    1. Yes that struck me as curious too. If his interest had ‘diminished greatly’, then…What was the point of pushing? Did he just want to ‘win’? Say she did decide to give it a shot, would he have then said, “Actually my interest has diminished greatly, I just didn’t tell you/I just wanted to hear you say yes/something else”?

      That really made me go Hmmmmm.

      1. What strikes me as really possible is that LW is thinking of a relationship as a Magic Thing That Will Fix Things–it’s part of being young and not being an expert on how to make yourself feel okay during tough times, especially in terms of having an emotional support system of people who are available to provide comfort and reassurance. You think, “Well, at least my LOVER will comfort and reassure me–” and all the pressure for fixing things emotionally falls on your love interest.

    2. I see a couple of efforts to save face in this letter: his interest in her had diminished; the poem was written before he realized his feelings for her, so it wasn’t really written for her; his feelings monologue wasn’t actually that long and he stopped it before it became a FEELINGSBOMB (I would love to know his friend’s perspective on that); he totally could have taken no for an answer, if only she hadn’t made him wait for it and go to all that trouble (which also wasn’t that much trouble)…

      My take is that he’s trying to convince himself (and the rest of us) that he genuinely didn’t mind her saying she didn’t have feelings for him and that this is all about her not saying no right away, when he very much minds the rejection aspect of it. I don’t blame him—rejection sucks and he probably doesn’t have much experience dealing with it. For plenty of people (including myself at times), a natural reaction to being denied something you know you don’t have a right to, but really wanted (and truthfully, kind of expected) is to pretend that you’re fine with the denial itself, but not with the way it was phrased, or the process that led to it or some other aspect of the situation that is explicitly not the denial itself.

  27. If she knew the whole time, and I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest, why couldn’t she just say so?

    Friend’s response was along the lines of “conversations with a high emotional content make me uncomfortable so I just shut down and hope the problem goes away on its own.”

    Well, there’s your answer, LW. Creating an open and honest environment is great, but it’s not a magic spell that automatically enables better direct communication, just as being the kind of person you think someone might want to date and treating them the way you think they would want to be treated by a partner doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to reciprocate your feelings. And having now been told that this sort of confrontation will result in your friend freezing up, I’m not sure why you think there’s a way to continue the conversation that won’t result in more of the same, let alone what you’re hoping to gain by it. She knows you’re hurt. She knows you’re disappointed. That’s why she didn’t want to talk about it in the first place. You can either keep pushing, thereby removing any incentive for her to be open and honest in future if it’s just going to result in the same outcome anyway, or you can trust that you got your point across that this was not the best way to handle it from your perspective and leave it up to her to decide what to do with that information.

  28. LW, the reason your friend didn’t tell you “no” right away is because she knew you wouldn’t hear it. She was trying to find a way to say it that you would hear. Seriously–if she had, from the first time you asked, said “no thanks, not interested”, would you have said “Okay, thanks for being so straightforward!” and gone on with your day?

    I know you say you would have. I know you believe you would have. However, what she was afraid would happen was any of the following:

    “But whyyyyyyyyy, friend? Make me a bullet-pointed list of the reasons why so I can understand!”
    “Is there a chance you’ll change your mind in the future? Are we talking days, weeks, months? Give me an estimated date.”
    “What am I doing wrong that you don’t share my feelings? Tell me what will flip the magic Girlfriend switch, and I’ll get right on that.”
    “Let me shower you with evidence of my affection until you have no choice but to like me back! Girls like being given gifts!”

    And now here you are, upset not even because she didn’t say “yes”, but because she didn’t say “no” like *you* feel like she should have.

    To use the old adage, she’s not a vending machine wherein the right combo of buttons pressed will yield you a girlfriend. She’s a person, with her own feelings and her own desires, and if those feelings and desires are not inclined towards you, that’s not her fault. She’s not obliged to explain her reasoning, she’s not obliged to offer you between one and three dates so you can make a case for yourself, and she’s not obliged to act the way you feel someone turning you down should act like.

    I’m sorry. Being in unrequited love sucks, I know. But the operative word here is “unrequited”. She does not have these feelings for you, and she is not required to pretend to have them, or to cater to the feelings you’re having.

    1. I also think it’s legitimately possible that this girl wasn’t sure how she felt, was on the fence, and needed to think about it. I don’t think we can read her mind here. The point is, it doesn’t matter for OP’s purposes: he’s gotten his answer now, and he needs to respect that it’s final (and if for some reason it’s not, that would be 100% on her to instigate and he shouldn’t even think about that option given what he knows now).

      1. Yes to this. I’ve given an “I don’t know how I feel” answer to a declaration of affection because I genuinely didn’t know how I felt! This girl may have been feeling the same, but it doesn’t really change things. (In my cause, I never followed up with the affection-declarer and felt bad about that, but he–to his great credit–never followed up either, and we remained friends. I recently attended his wedding to a wonderful woman who is not me 🙂 )

        1. Yeah, I agree! I think there may very well have been SOME element of real indecision on her part.

          It could have been 80% “I don’t want to date this person and I need to communicate that tactfully” and 20% “I’m scared that if I reject this person I will end up alone forever.”

          Two types of courage are required to reject someone, the courage to face their possible negative reaction and the courage to close the door on all the possible timelines in which you say yes. Feeling anxiety about one task, (having to hurt their feelings), can drain the courage you have left over for the other (changing the future).

          (LW, are you noticing how much WORK is required to field an undesired or little-desired romantic overture?)

          So I agree with Lil Fidget and vanadiumoxide that she might have not actually known how she felt.

          I ALSO agree with Lil Fidget that for LW’s purposes, the course of action is the same either way.

          However, I think it’s really worth noting that LW DISMISSED OUT OF HAND the idea that she was actually deciding, and has dismissed that in favor of a narrative that he finds more blameworthy, the idea that she knew the answer was no but told him “maybe” instead.

          LW, are you reading? You should take note of the fact that you did that! If you feel pretty confident in retrospect that she never wanted to date you, how are you so sure? Is it because, in retrospect, she was actually signaling disinterest in dating you? Because that brings us right back around to the idea that she DID in fact communicate her feelings, you just chose to blame her for them.

          Just take a look at how many flawed logical steps you took to arrive at a narrative where she’s been dishonest and where this is her fault.

          Also, if someone doesn’t want to date you, guess what–they aren’t bound by law to tell you. People’s feelings are private, to be shared when they choose and with whom they choose. Their feelings about jelly and The White Stripes and their ex-boyfriends are private. Their feelings ABOUT YOU are private, too, only to be shared if they choose. This remains true even if you ask what those feelings are. This remains true even if you have very strong feelings of your own.

          Someone isn’t obliged to tell you something simply because you would very much like to know.

          1. And this applies to other (non-dating) situations as well. I don’t know what it says about our society that way too many people expect nosy questions to be answered, or that anything they ask for should be automatically entitled to a yes simply BECAUSE THEY ASKED.

  29. LW, you’re young and it’s OK not to be great at all this stuff yet. What’s not OK is letting your wounded feelings prevent you from learning a lesson that can make you into someone who’s really desirable, both as a dating partner and a friend, if you let it. I can tell you from my own experience that I have deep respect for the male friends who asked me out once, took my “no” gracefully, and never brought it up again. We’re never going to date, but I would heartily endorse them to another woman who was considering it. In contrast, the male friends who didn’t take the “no” well are no longer my friends, and I would advise a woman who asked to avoid them at all costs, so consider which category you want to be in.

    The other thing to consider about trying to turn a “maybe” into a reluctant “yes” is whether you really, truly want to date someone who doesn’t enthusiastically want to date you. It probably feels like the reward of having a girlfriend would be worth it, and it might be for a few days or weeks, but over the long run, being in a relationship with someone whose heart isn’t really in it is no healthier for you than it is for them. When I was around your age, I dated a few people because of the implied social pressure to “give them a chance” (they didn’t badger me into it, I just felt as if I ought to, largely thanks to my mother who had taught me it was rude to reject someone) and honestly, they deserved better than the lukewarm feelings I had about them. You do too, so accept your friend’s “no,” leave her alone, and move on to someone who really wants to be with you.

  30. “I’ve generally had trouble understanding my own emotions, to the point where someone had to point out to me that I probably had feelings for Friend.”
    Well, if you have trouble determining if you have feelings for her, what makes you so sure she finds it easy to determine her feelings?
    She probably didn’t want to ruin the friendship by saying no and possibly hurting your feelings. If she said yes, that would be changing the dynamics between you. She was caught between a rock and a hard place.

    1. This. If LW can accept that it takes him a while to figure his feelings out, why can’t he believe the same about her? Also, I think that a lot of this is just misplaced “I’m hurt that she said no” feelings. LW’s telling himself that all his hurt is just that she said ‘no’ in the wrong way, but there’s no magical way to give a non-hurtful ‘no.’ Once LW accepts that he would have been a bit hurt no matter how that ‘no’ came down the pipe, he’ll be better-positioned to get over it.

  31. “How can I communicate FEELINGS without it getting out of hand?”

    If you’re having strong feelings about Person X, you probably want to share those feelings with a friend, a therapist, or a diary BEFORE you share them with Person X. Try to do a little bit of pre-processing on your feelings. It’s important and useful to share anger, sadness, fear, etc. with the people who trigger those emotions in you, but it’s counter-productive and unfair to just dump those emotions on them without first at least trying to understand what you’re feeling and why. The emotions are primarily your responsibility; Person X is just one of many people who might possibly be willing to help you sort through those emotions. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that because your feelings are *about* Person X, that Person X therefore automatically becomes responsible for handling your feelings. She’s not responsible; they’re your feelings. Make sure you’re doing more than half of the work of resolving your own feelings.

    “How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation?”

    You probably can’t, because Friend made it very clear to you that shutting down is her preferred way of handling conflict. It doesn’t sound like she’s interested in changing that part of herself. You can either accept that she’ll shut down whenever there’s a conflict, or you can stop sharing thoughts with her that might lead to conflict, or you can stop being her friend. Those are really your only options here. Hopefully over time you will make some friends who are better at handling conflict.

    “Am I getting too worked up over this?”

    Probably! Your friend politely deflected your romantic attentions for a few months, and then, when you insisted, gave you a straight answer. That’s pretty normal; nothing strange or awful has happened here. You don’t say that your friend is holding a grudge, or refusing to hang out with you. You don’t say that your friend accepted expensive gifts from you, or tricked you into providing dozens of hours of emotional support, or asked you to switch to a different university for her, or anything like that. You wrote her a poem, presumably because you wanted to, and then she told you she wasn’t interested. It’s OK to be sad for a little while that your crush isn’t romantically interested in you, but, really, this is all normal, and it should not be interfering very much with your ability to sleep, study, or keep up your friendships with other people. For your own sake, try to move on as best you can.

    1. “Hopefully over time you will make some friends who are better at handling conflict.”

      Yes, this is an important point! LW, your friend’s reluctance to talk about this stuff is not something that is your job to fix, especially as it relates to romance. It is simply further confirmation that you two are not a good match for each other. If you can use that knowledge to make the healing process easier, so much the better.

    2. “Hopefully over time you will make some friends who are better at handling conflict.”

      To be fair, this isn’t about handling conflict. If I had someone get angry with me because I (ostensibly) didn’t say no in the way he found acceptable, I’d shut down too. They weren’t arguing over where to see a movie and she wasn’t being passive aggressive about him doing something that angered her. She gave him soft no’s and then had to deal with him getting angry with her for doing so.

  32. I’ve been on both sides of this (our culture is steeped in persistence narratives, so of course I believed them) as a teen and 20-something.

    My sympathies– CA is absolutely 100% right in her response, and you’re lucky (even though I’m sure it doesn’t feel like you are) that you’re learning this now instead of I dunno after being super embarrassing many times over the next half decade or so. I cringe at some of the stuff I did “in the name of love” when I was younger and believed all the harmful romantic tropes. Best of luck in the future! With my husband, it was definitely a case of “Yes!” for both of us, which makes everything so much more wonderful and fun than any of the reluctant relationships I’d pursued or been a part of.

  33. This is a good lesson for you, LW. Next time a girl tells you “maybe” or “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”, take it as a “No” and move on with your life. Don’t send her a poem, don’t hound her for “an answer” for a week, and don’t write to advice columnists asking for ways to force her to listen while you rant about the terrible wrong she done you.

  34. LW, I really agree with all that has been said. It doesn’t really get easier to hear nos (soft or not) with age but we do get better in managing your feelings. The soft no is going to be an integral part of your adult life too. Not long ago I asked someone out who’s in her early 40’s and mind you, I didn’t even get a no. What I got was someone who literally went silent, then started running away from me like I was a leper (even though I never brought it up again — because I knew exactly what was going on). It can be demeaning, and I definitely got upset at being treated so poorly, but hey, I DID NOT bring it up again. It was not going to change her mind.

    And also, I have not recovered from this rejection. But any feelings I have are exclusively mine, and she has no clue I am about to give up on my life because I can’t cope with that rejection despite all the therapy. But again, my problem, and trying to make it someone else’s problem via any means is just dishonest.

    1. What I was just saying is that regardless of how extreme you might feel, it is still your obligation to deal with yourself, not anyone else’s (and particularly not someone who has rejected you).

    2. Jedi hugs to you, Nina! It sounds like you’re going through a lot of pain (and being thoroughly considerate of the other person in doing so), and I hope it does subside on a timescale that feels handleable.

    3. TW: suicide mention

      I hope I’m not overstepping by asking (and all my apologies if I am), but when you say “I am about to give up on my life” does that mean that you’re thinking about killing yourself, or just that I cannot English today? I really hope it’s the second, but I was worried it might be the first 😦 (if that’s the case, please please please, don’t? Please?)

      In any case, I’m sending a lot of jedi hugs your way, if welcome. That sounds like a very painful experience and I’m very sorry you’re going through this. I hope it starts hurting less soon, and that there are other parts of your life that make you feel safe and content.

  35. I’m sorry LW but I don’t think you are upset because she did not say no in the Exact Perfect Way that she was suppose to. I think you are upset because she said no, period.
    But you are also self aware enough to know that going to her and saying ‘I’m upset about your no, comfort me!’ would be taken badly. So instead you invented a different reason to be upset – not the ‘no’ itself but the WAY she said no. And I think you yourself believe in that reason, because it casts you in a better light and her in a bad light.

    I have seen guys – and less often gals – do this A LOT. The ‘no’ must be said by the proper means (sms does not ‘count’, email dose not ‘count) or the ‘no’ must be said very clearly (‘soft no’ does not count ’cause I don’t understand soft noes even tho I do understand them in every other non-romantic interaction in my life) a harsh, blunt ‘no’ does not count (’cause she was mean!) and so on and on and on.
    All those things have one thing in common: the person wanted a yes, got a no, is upset, and wants to discard the ‘no’ and also probably villanize the no-er, but saying ‘she’s bad because she said no!’ would not fly, so they say: ‘she’s bad because she said no the wrong way. I have a very specific way that no must be uttered and I demand an apology’.

    But in the end, no i just a no. Even if it’s a soft no – like the one your Friend gave you. It was soft but it was very clear, please don’t lie to yourself that it was not. If you asked another dude to borrow you money and got this answer, you would understand the ‘no’. I’m sure.
    People who like you will act like they like you. A girl that is into you will let you know in a way that you can’t miss. A girl who was not sure but then decided ‘yes!’ will also let you know in a way that you can’t miss. Anything other is a no and you pushing and prodding is not somehow her fault.

    Sorry if I’m to harsh on you, LW. I get that rejection really sucks! And I do feel for you. But I thing you are doing yourself a disservice by this line of thinking and if you get used to it it will also hamper your future dating prospects.

    1. “I don’t think you are upset because she did not say no in the Exact Perfect Way that she was suppose to. I think you are upset because she said no, period.”

      Yup Rejection sucks, and it would have sucked however you got it.

  36. Dear LW,

    I hope you attend carefully to the Captain’s brilliant advice.

    Here’s one more approach for when you next have a crush on someone: ask her out on a date. Don’t ask her if she might share your feelings. Don’t nag her for months. Don’t send her poems. Instead, use your words and ask her on a date. (The word “date” must be part of the invitation.)

    Think of it this way, if you’d asked for a date way back in December, she’d have refused (albeit gently), and this would be done.

    A friendship will likely recover well from a single request to date. It probably won’t recover from repeated nagging about feelings.

    So in future, with other people, try something like this:

    “Nice Person, I’d like to go to Activity as a date with you. Would you like to go on a date with me to Activity?”

    I understand that approaching obliquely via FEELINGS seems safer for you . As the situation with your friend makes clear, though, it’s not safer for you. It’s harder on the other person too.

    1. I would just like to add that the friendship will recover well from a single request to date IF the person drops the subject entirely after the request denial (if the answer is no), and gives space for both to grieve.

        1. And IF the rejected party still feels like being friends… Which is not so obvious. I am still grieving after a bad rejection, and I really liked my friend as a friend before developing feelings, but sadly now I cannot see her that way anymore.

          1. Yeah, you are right. No one has the obligation to continue any friendship after a rejection, if they don’t feel like it.

            I tend to be ok if I develop feelings for someone I knew wasn’t going to reciprocate, and the friendship is more important, but if not, I really need space and most often than not, the friendship is gone forever.

      1. Yup–still on friendly terms with someone who confessed his feelings and then gave me space without any grief. I may not return his affections (nor am I obligated to), but it was refreshing to see someone take a polite rejection in stride like that.

    2. Well worded! Also, you don’t have to know how you feel about the girl before you ask her out. Just do it and decide while on the date. A date is not a promise of feelings it’s just a date.

        1. It helped me take the plunge when online dating a few years ago, at least when messaging people I was interested in. I figured the rejection would be a lot easier to get over if I got it over with and just asked instead of waiting and waiting and waiting.

    3. Seconding this! In addition to getting you a “no” more quickly if the person is totally not into you that way, asking for a date also allows someone who isn’t sure whether they are into you that way or not to explore that possibility with you without a BIG EMOTIONAL COMMITMENT. Don’t press for the answer to “Are you in love with me?” before you have found out the answer to “Do you want to go on a date with me?”

    4. I think this is really spot-on. There’s a tendency in pop culture (and even in The Canon of literature and film!) to talk up the virtues of the Grand Gesture, to assume that a Declaration of Feelings is somehow more meaningful and better than something like “dating.” But there’s a great reason that the date was invented, namely: the stakes are so much lower. I said below that I would not want to be a partner to someone who’s lukewarm about me, and that feeling stands, but there’s nothing wrong with the world of casually dating people who you think MIGHT be interesting to you later on, either. The dating apps of the world exist to match just such maybe-partners together.

      But yes, when you’re talking about someone who’s already in your daily sphere, it can feel somehow silly or shallow to express your feelings for them by asking them on something as flimsy as “a date.” It may feel borderline gross to you (as it certainly did to me when I was younger, especially, but even to a certain extent now, when the idea of dating as some kind of audition for intimacy makes me want to run for the hills). However, I absolutely encourage you to consider Mrs. Morely’s advice on this, for a few reasons:

      1. You say you wanted to create an environment where she could be honest, but by asking if she wants to go on a date with you, you open the door just a crack, instead of banging it down with a deluge of FEELINGS. This creates a space where she can feel SAFE, which is more important than barefaced honesty in a situation that is fraught at the best of times (romance is scary and hard because it’s intimate; it’s vulnerable to put yourself out there and risk rejection; it’s scary to be the one rejecting someone, especially a friend. Everyone is in a heightened state! It’s normal, but still an adrenaline rush.)

      2. It’s a very clear “shortcut phrase” that tells her that you want more from your current relationship, but again, doesn’t overwhelm her. Sometimes it can be very easy to feel like the vastness of our feelings requires a surplus of words (or even poems! or songs! PERHAPS A CANDYGRAM??), but as so many people have already discussed, it can be quite something to be on the receiving end of that, especially from a friend who was previously not remotely this demonstrative (you say you’re not much for understanding even your own feelings. I am often the same! Imagine my friends’ surprise if I, normally stoic, were to suddenly shower them with lovewords? It’s not inherently bad, but it would freak them out a bit, and rightfully so!)

      3. It lowers the stakes for you, too. If you ask for a date and she says no, that is still painful, don’t get me wrong. But it allows you to save a bit of face. It’s not, “HERE IS MY WHOLE HEART, PLEASE ADVISE.” To offer someone a whole heart without having perhaps offered the amuse bouche of A Single Date or the appetizer of Several Dates and Maybe a Mutually Enjoyable Goodnight Kiss is a bit like pouring time and resources into dumping an entire crawfish boil for 20 at someone’s feet without being sure they’re hungry, willing, and not actually allergic to shellfish. It’s awkward for them, but also here you are, having poured hours of time and many dollars into buying crawfish, only to be left with awkward silence and a big mess of shellfish that are beginning to smell. You don’t want to clean that up; save yourself the headache of that fallout and make sure you’re offering smaller bites first to get a sense of your audience’s appetite.

      Tl;dr, there’s a reason society has created smaller, lower-stakes terminology and options for handling potentially Big Feelings. It’s a bit weird to dip a toe in the water when you’re 100% sure you’d like to go for a proper swim, but in this case the water needs to be a willing participant. Make sure the lake isn’t frozen first.

      [This has been multiple metaphor hour with Kate.]

    5. +1 – came here to say this. Asking someone out on a specific date has a deadline built in, and it has the benefit of lowering the stakes.

      You still need to be able to hear a soft no, though. A response like “I don’t like Activity” or “I’m busy” should be read as a no unless it is immediately followed by an alternate suggestion.

  37. Hi LW, I’m so glad you wrote in here. I think the captain summed up really well everything about this particular situation with this gal.

    As a woman who has been on the receiving end of male friend(s) realizing they have feelings for me and had it go in both directions, here are some things that worked (for next time):

    -Male friend saying, “Hey, I think you’re really cool and I’d like to take you out on a date sometime.” **Was fine when I said no and I was able to change my mind later. It would have been fine if I didn’t.

    -Male friend texted me: “I’ve really appreciated our growing friendship lately and I’d like to take it in a different direction. Stop me right here if you’re not interested.”
    When I said I was, he said, “Great! Then may I take you out on a date?”


    Next time you think you MIGHT like a girl as more than a friend, ask her out on a date! You don’t need to know how you feel about her to go out with her. You can decide while going out with her.

    Bonus items that come with this route:
    -It’s easier to avoid FEELINGSBOMBs because you’re there to have a good time.
    -Asking a girl out on a date is a lot less scary then confessing your in love with someone.
    -Asking a girl on a date is a lot less pressure for her then asking her if she loves you back.
    -Hearing; “No I don’t want to go on a date with you.” is a lot easier than hearing “No I don’t love you.”
    -Dates can be really fun.
    -If it doesn’t work out you might have a new friend.
    -If you guys like each other you might have a girlfriend!
    -Unrequited love is less common because you hang out with the real person.

    1. Mrs. Morley above me summarizes what I’m trying to say here now. As does the thread on her post.

  38. LW, I hope it helps soften the blow and the embarrassment to hear how many of us have made the same mistake you did. (Decades later, the thought of some of my cringe-worthy performances makes me want to crawl in a hole.)
    So although you messed up, you messed up in a very human, very understandable way. You’re not a horrible weirdo and none of your experience is unique. You are a member of a very large tribe, that is, humanity.

    Our culture is sh!tty about teaching boys and girls how to interact. Many – most? – people embarrass the hell out of themselves around your age. You’re right on schedule.
    The difference is, you were smart enough to ask someone (the Cap) who gave you good solid advice and helped you understand where you went wrong and how to do it right next time. Learn from the Cap and the Awkward Army, and you’ll be so much better off in your future relationships. You are lucky you’re getting this lesson so early in life. Most of use stumble around a lot longer before we figure this out.

  39. Oh, LW. I 100% agree with CA’s advice, but I have been in a very similar situation (although I never asked her the same question twice, the idea was that she’d tell me what she wanted to in her own time), so here’s my 2 cents: even if Friend hadn’t made it crystal clear that she does not want to date (which, you know this as well as I do, means does not want to date YOU)… It could help to remind yourself that it still would never had worked out, because you tend to be somewhat anxious/insisting when you don’t get answers that you don’t deem clear enough, and she gets anxious in front of deep emotional conversations. You still need to learn to respect other people’s answer (and recognize a no when you don’t see a yes) but this way of framing it helped me a lot to recover, and I hope it can be of comfort to you too. Rejection does suck, especially after thinking for a long time that that maybe could be a yes.

  40. I actually do believe the LW when he says he’d prefer a hard “no” to a vague lack of response.

    I think the problem with soft nos is that they don’t fit into a pre-formed narrative. Usually we have ideas of how things are supposed to go–if she says Yes, then do a victory dance and proceed to Relationship. If she says No, then go hide in a cave and lick wounds. But if she doesn’t answer, then ???? And yes, part of this is gendered and about our society’s romantic narratives, but…

    When we actually teach people how to handle their emotions in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, one of the Big Overarching Skills, that’s SUPER HARD for people to get a handle on, is “ambiguity tolerance”. Being hit with something that doesn’t fall into an easy frame of reference, especially a social situation that doesn’t instantly suggest an appropriate coping (and pain tolerance) technique, means the person is hit with a state of stress and discomfort, and THEN has to put a lot of extra thought and energy, while distracted by stress and discomfort, into WHICH coping strategy to use. Which is, in fact, a Hard Fucking Thing to do.

    A lot of the answer is to strengthen coping skills generally–to lessen the threshold that says, “I’m feeling an emotion, here’s my plan for coping with it” so that you consciously recognize emotions and cope more often. Get more used to creating rituals for soothing your discomfort with the universe’s uncertainty. Strengthen your relationships with supportive people so you get comfort and reassurance from them more often. Make it so you don’t have a clear-cut “I got rejected” narrative to tell people about their problems and get reassurance. Be kind with yourself before you’ve reached rock bottom instead of after.

    Possible things to look into: Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, or a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skills workbook (which many people I’ve seen find useful even if they don’t have the specific disorder in question).

    1. I also believe that LW would prefer a hard “no”, and as a matter of fact, I am like that too, I prefer brutal honesty to vagueness… But all the advice here still applies. I’ve had to learn that other people sometimes cannot or won’t give me hard, clear-cut answers, and I have to just deal with it because that’s my problem, as much as it sucks. LW has to learn that, too. One thing that I do, and LW should probably do as well, is choosing not to date people who are uncomfortable with brutal honesty and deep emotional conversations. However, LW’s conversational preferences, as well as Friend’s motivations, are not really overly relevant to the advice here, I think.

      1. Feminist BI-tch, I feel the same – I prefer hard no’s. However, I don’t believe that’s the same for the LW. I think he likes the idea of them but not the reality. I saw this because he GOT a hard no – and look how he’s responding. Not “oh got it, thanks for letting me know” but wanting to further engage in the type of highly emotional conversations Friend said she is uncomfortable with and shuts down when they happen. She shuts down! That means someone’s coping techniques have been overwhelmed and they can’t function further. And he wants to put her in that situation again?

        No. I don’t believe he can accept a hard no, even if he thinks he wants one.

  41. Also, give yourself the incredible gift of stopping wondering why she did what she did, what she was thinking etc. Take a deep breath, accept that sometimes you won’t know exactly what goes on in the mind and feelings of someone else (yes, even if you’re sure close) and move on to other, hopefully more pleasant, thoughts.

  42. Hey, LW, rejection is hard. I get the vibe from your letter that you’re very concerned with finding the “right” way to do things socially, and this is why you’re so upset at your friend for doing things that you thought were socially “wrong.” And I’m really, really sorry to have to tell you this, but that’s not how it works. There are lots of different social and communication styles out there, and no matter how adept you get at them there will be times when wires get crossed. There will also be times when someone doesn’t match your preferred communication style and that becomes a source of frustration, even on an ongoing basis (for example, there are certain people I *have* to interact with in order to do my job, but who I find profoundly annoying because they don’t communicate in the way I like). This is simply how things are. You can’t game it.

    That doesn’t mean it’s hopeless, dear LW, or that it’s not worth trying. You just have to understand that recovering from embarrassment and awkwardness is another important social skill. Other commenters here have given you some great general rules for handling this kind of situation more gracefully in the future — switching from a default yes to a default no is a big one that I recommend you implement ASAP. But since you’re already working on learning boundaries and emotional management, you should add “coping with embarrassment” to that effort.

    You sound like you’ve got some good tools at your disposal, so I recommend you use those. Writing a letter to the person that you never send is one that works really well for me (I usually destroy the letter in some cathartic way afterward, like burning it or ripping it into tiny pieces or something). Journaling. Finding a totally unrelated person to vent to, like a therapist or relative who lives far away or some other third party who’s not involved in the situation. It’s OK to feel whatever you feel, including anger, as long as you don’t make those feelings her fault. So use this as an opportunity to practice dealing with your emotions appropriately. It’ll never be perfect, but it’ll get better/easier over time.

    1. I meant “as long as you don’t make those feelings her problem.” There will be times when a situation is the other person’s fault, but that still doesn’t mean your feelings are their problem to deal with. You have to cope with your feelings.

  43. You spent SIX MONTHS harassing her and you’re still not satisfied with how she’s dealing with your unwanted feelings?

    Bro. Pal. My friend. This is so many kinds of not okay.

    1. A poem and some conversations? Am I missing anything? I am not saying LW couldn’t have made other choices but uh, harassing?

      1. I could maybe see some but it doesn’t seem to me to be a whole six months of it. And not to imply that conversations can’t be harassment. Just this seemed a little harsh to me, idk.

        1. If someone hounded me for half a year while I was obviously trying to ignore the situation out of existence (never worked, but I am forever optimistic), I would feel very harassed. I would be tense every time I saw them, and I would prolong the “hard no” for as long as possible, waiting for them to stop. LW, you got your answer bc your friend realized that you were never going to stop hounding the shit out of her, so she sucked it up and told you directly. She’s been suffering just as much as you are, you just can’t see it though your own pain.
          You have done some real damage to your friendship, and weirdly, the only thing you can do to bring her closer to you is to back way the hell off.

          1. Hm. Perhaps I am putting too much of my own past situation into my interpretation, in that I have said a genuine “maybe” to someone, and later had a clarifying discussion. I think there are dissimilarities in my and LW’s situation that I didn’t think of at first. Thank you for the reply!

  44. I feel like people like the LW are the same people that demand “closure” because their significant other didn’t break up with them in an approved manner.

  45. I think it is good that you’re having this experience now. You can understand what it looks like when someone cares about you enough to not want to hurt you, but doesn’t want to actually date you. So now you can learn from this, and not repeat the poetry and all that other stuff. You can also tell your friends!

    You know as much as the movie/book”He’s just not that into you” contained a lot of sexist bullshit, it also contains a good message. People who want to date you will be excited to date you. They will not give you maybes and awkward silences and other weird shit. They will not just want to be friends, they will not only call you to hook up.

    If someone likes you they will say yes, they will show up, they will return your calls, they will text you, they will be excited! And you deserve someone who is excited to be with you! Not someone who has to be nagged or reminded or whatever.

    They will not be trying to find barriers to your meeting, they will propose alternatives. “I can’t do Thursday… is there another day we could go out?”

    Yes, there are a million possible but unlikely reasons that someone who actually likes you would not follow the above rules. Maybe they are painfully shy, maybe they are really really really busy, maybe maybe maybe. But here’s the thing, the risk of going down this path again, pining uselessly after someone who never actually liked you is actually WORSE than missing out on a long shot with one person. There are so many other people, some of whom will be smart enough to jump at the chance to date you.

    Hopefully, now that you have experienced this first hand, you can avoid experiencing it again. And seriously, TELL YOUR FRIENDS.

  46. In situations like this: the ball is in the other person’s court. Just because they didn’t volley it back to you, just because they kind of watched it fly by and it gave a few sad bounces and now it’s rolled to a stop on their side of the court, they know it’s there. If they wanted to play, they’d chase it down, pick it up, and serve it back to you. You don’t need to cross over to their side of the court, retrieve it, and try serving again.

    (And yes, like many here, I’ve been either party to this, both regarding romantic interest and friendships. Picturing the above analogy helped a bit.)

    1. I like this. It’s a metaphor we often use without thinking, but it’s an apt one here.

  47. No. I don’t believe you. I don’t think you would have taken no for an answer.

    This is what makes me think so:

    1. You think you created an environment where she could have been honest, but you didn’t, and are making up explanations in your mind. Here’s what I mean:

    If you actually had created such an environment where SHE (not you!) ACTUALLY FELT she COULD be safely honest, then she truly didn’t know the answer. Just like you didn’t for a while. You say you would have understood, having experienced indecision yourself. But you obviously DIDN’T accept this as an acceptable state for her to be in, as evidenced by your deciding that she knew her answer was ‘no’ all along (“I understand this, because of earlier stated emotional issues. My thinking was that she was afraid to say no because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings”) and therefore you had crossed her boundary by continuing to ask her for an answer. So either you didn’t believe you created an environment where she could be honest, or you weren’t actually ok with her being indecisive, hence your constant pressure.

    2. You still aren’t taking no for an answer.

    When she told you she was uncomfortable with your monologue that had “a high emotional content”, you conclude that this conversation “did not help things” instead of concluding that “she seems uncomfortable with this entire interaction and so I will stop it now and give her space forever”. There are no more “things” to “help” – at least none that have anything to do with her. Now is the time for you to get help without her participation or knowledge.

    You aren’t entitled to her explanation of why she took longer to give you an answer than you would have wanted her to. It could be any reason and the answer doesn’t matter because the outcome is the same: you must change your behavior before you continue on this scary path.

    She isn’t the person for you to get these answers from. She is the LAST person to get these from. Actually; she isn’t even on the list. If you were the last two people on earth, you still shouldn’t ask her. Because based on what you described, you actually created a pretty crappy environment for her (I would have felt completely uncomfortable around you). You continuing to ask her to justify why she feels the way she feels (which you simultaneously claiming to be okay with her feeling however she feels, which isn’t true because your demonstrated behavior is that there is only one way you’ll accept her feelings and that’s if they support your desired outcome) is extremely UNSAFE behavior that creates an environment where it is UNSAFE for her to be honest.

    Just think about it for a minute – you hounded her till she was ‘honest’. That neither gives her space to figure out her feelings, nor makes it safe to say no. For example, it doesn’t matter that you had already written the Valentines poem pre-feelings; the fact that you’d already come out with feelings around Christmas changes the nature of a gift during a traditionally romantic holiday. But the fact that you’re justifying it by saying you wrote the poem before you had feelings and so it was ok to give, instead of looking at how SHE would have received it now that she knew your feelings, makes me uncomfortable and I ask that you please start looking at how other people perceive things and not at all the ways you could explain things away.

    You have already dropped a FEELINGSBOMB, as evidenced by her statement that she isn’t comfortable with your monologue that had a high emotional content (to her! Don’t try to convince her you didn’t intend to, or you kept it short, because what matters about boundaries is your actions’ effect on others, not your intent).

    Please just stop now. This is her boundary. She has told you no. By discussing further, you’re continuing a pattern of behavior: first hounding her till she gave you a ‘hard’ no instead of multiple ‘soft’ no’s; then you’d be forcing her into another situation with ‘high emotional content’ that she has already told you she isn’t comfortable with.

    She doesn’t have to issue you a statement clearing you as “the good guy who wouldn’t have continued asking me if he had only known”. She shouldn’t. You should do the deep soul searching and skills-building to stop trying to convince people to do what you want them to do.

    It’s not appropriate for you to force her to admit her answer was ‘no’ all along. One, you don’t know that to be true. Two, holy shit just stop it. If she didn’t feel comfortable saying no to you to begin with, then your job is not to browbeat her (with what you call “reassurances”) into coming out with it. Your job is to err on the side of maintaining your distance from her. Should you text her to let her know everything is ok? NO. Should you [do a thing that results I. any kind of contact with her or anyone she knows] in order to [have positive intended effect on her]? NO. Just, no. The answer is always no. But what if [this great idea]? Still no. You’ve made yourself markedly unsafe. The best thing you can do right now is fade away.

    All this brings me to this recommendation. Please find a way to manage your fixations and your anxiety. Please find a way to be okay with not knowing things. Please find a way to practice just sitting and breathing when you have these desires and thoughts. Please talk to a counselor sooner rather than later if you can’t.

  48. When someone approaches me in a romantic context and I say “maybe”, or words to that effect, sometimes I legitimately do mean “maybe”, but if the person keeps pushing that turns the “maybe” into a “no” for me.

    1. Regardless of whether they mean maybe or no, I’d say the best strategy is to *behave* like the answer was no. They can tell you if it turns into a yes.

      1. This is so true. Because, even temporarily, the answer is no. Someone who is still thinking it over isn’t going to be your girlfriend, so the answer is always no until she says that it’s yes.

        1. Guesty, that’s pretty brilliantly said. Maybe = no. Not necessarily “never no” but DEFINITELY “right now no”.

      2. Maybe is kind of like a ‘no, but I can conceive of at least the possibility of feeling differently in the future’. Which can either be simply a timid, polite ‘no’, or a simple statement of uncertainty about the future.

        So treat it like ‘No, not currently, but now that I know you’re interested I’ll be sure to let you know if my feelings change’.

        And if time keeps passing and they don’t approach you, at some point it’s going to make you happier to move on and look for someone else.

        It’s also all a lot easier on both of you if you take things one step at a time and don’t make or ask for general statements of feelings _before_ you have a relationship. I.e., start with finding out if you are both interested in one date (e.g., going out for lunch or to a movie, but where the word ‘date’ has explicitly been mentioned). Then if you are both interested in a second date. Etc.

        1. I’d go one step further and say that someone who says “Maybe” is saying, “I’m willing to pass on this. I understand I may lose my chance and I’m okay with that.” I think it’s dangerous to the health of the ASKER to think that “maybe” might mean, “wait for me!” Don’t let yourself be kept on the hook by a maybe-person. Go out with the intention of finding someone who gives you an enthusiastic Yes.

  49. LW, other commenters have brought up excellent points about women & girls being on some level afraid of hard clear “no”s, and of soft “no”s being socially taught but also taught to ignore in women. But also, saying a clear “no” simply takes practice, and a lot of people, especially girls, don’t get that practice. Through grade 12 kids & teens are literally not “allowed” to issue hard, clear “no”s to any adult they interact with, and if you couple that with parents/family who don’t tolerate kids giving clear hard “no”s and friends who abide by the “soft no’s at all times” girl culture, it is shockingly easy to simply never get an opportunity to practice the hard “no.” When you haven’t had practice, it feels as unnatural as suddenly bursting into a classical aria.

    So my point is, there is a possibility that her difficulty saying a clear “no” (and she did say she has trouble talking about these emotional things, yes?) has nothing to do with you or being cruel to you. You might take CA’s very good advice to heart and avoid pushing your feelings on someone in the future, and that future someone may also have trouble with a hard clear “no.” And it won’t because you’re a boundary-crushing monster.

    Don’t dwell on this situation (if you can help it); grade 12 about messing up, regrouping, and doing better next time. Actually… most of life is about that but especially grade 12 is. It sounds like Friend is extremely ready to move on, so take that gift and move on *with your dignity intact* and do better next time. The urge to drive this into the ground and get her to answer for or “admit” the unsatisfactory way she said “no” is exactly the urge to avoid nurturing in yourself. It leads to shitty self-sabotaging (and boundary-crossing) habits. Because it 100% won’t be the last time someone turns you down, dumps you, or takes issue with something you do, in a way that is absolutely not the way you feel it should have been done. We’ve all experienced that, it sucks but it’s life.

    One more thing– you definitely want to date someone who feels “yes!” about you. Dating someone who feels a slow begrudging “maybe” about you sucks. “Yes” sounds like enthusiasm, warm reception, smiles, making plans to see you, calling (or whatevering) you back (not begrudgingly), and participating in flirting. Maybe there’s a few days or weeks of mystery and confusion, but not months of putting you off. “Yes” sounds like finding reasons to date, not giving reasons not to date. That’s why quibbling about whether it was a proper no or a “maybe someday” is irrelevant; you only want to date a yes.

  50. Oh Captain, you were so kind and gentle and explain to this dude, hoping he just needed teaching on these matters of the heart. It was truly beautiful to read!

  51. LW wrote,

    In an attempt to sway Friend’s response one way or the other, I…

    and to me that sounds entirely incompatible with something else LW wrote,

    I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest…

    LW, you cannot both create an environment where she is free to give you an honest answer and attempt to sway her response “one way or another.” Sometime the honest answer at this time is “I don’t know” or “maybe”, and by pressuring her to turn that into a “yes” or a “no” you are not giving her room to be honest with you or even with herself!

    If you want someone to feel safe being honest with you, you must give them time, trust, and acceptance. Give them time for them to figure out what their honest answer is, communicate your trust in their honesty, and make it clear you will accept that their answer is the answer.

    1. Exactly. I think that it’s possible that she did just want some time to make up her mind. She wanted the same space to think it through that he had for a month.

      1. What Guesty said. Just as you needed some time and help to figure out your feelings, she may need some time to examine hers. And note, people who are unsure of their feelings are probably NOT going to be able to give you a pat answer with a time frame, e.g. “I’m not sure if I want to date you, but I will tell you in exactly one week.” Especially if she was not expecting to hear that you had feelings for her at all. When I have been surprised by someone’s feelings for me, my inner thoughts were a lot of “Uhhhhhh, what? Really? Are they even being serious, or are they joking with me? Huh. Romance with [friend]? *Squints at person* I’ve just…never thought of it like that before… Ummm… Nah. Wait, maybe? Yes? …Nah, they’re like a sibling to me. Wait, I don’t know…” etc.

        To put myself on your side of the situation: I have noticed a pattern in myself, in which when I feel overwhelmed emotionally, it’s easy to forget that other people have big, messy, complicated feelings too. If I see what looks like a “mixed signal” from someone else, I sometimes think, “Wait, they must have a definite answer but are withholding it because I’m doing something wrong OMG WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?” …when really it’s quite likely that they just changed their mind or can’t decide. Actually, this has happened in non-romantic social situations, e.g. “Why does my boss keep giving me different instructions on this project every time we meet? Am I not understanding something fundamental about what we are doing?” …when in hindsight he was probably just forgetting what he had suggested the last time, or changed his mind, or something.

        Of course, it’s also very likely that, as others have suggested, she was giving you a soft but definite no in the first place. Just wanted to give my perspective on how, as appealing as it might seem, we can’t expect humans to behave like computers that have an immediate and definite output for every social input.

  52. Sometimes the reason really is “I’m too busy with grad school/basic training/taking care of my disabled grandmother.” If you get that sort of soft no, it’s okay to say, once, something like “If that changes and you want to date me, you can call/text/email/send smoke signals.” Once, and then drop it.

    Don’t be “Yeah, I get it. So, call me when that’s over” (even if you avoid putting your foot in your mouth by saying something like “call me if you flunk out” or “when your grandmother dies”). That goes double for anything like “OK, I’ll wait for you. How long is that likely to take?”

    If, the next time something like this happens, you say “OK, let me know if you change your mind,” don’t hang around waiting for her. Go, live your life. Do other things, meet other people–even if you don’t wind up dating any of them, you’ll have a better time doing that than you would just waiting around to somehow inherit the (not actually a thing) title of Boyfriend, as if you were the Prince of Wales waiting for his mother to die.

    Also, to repeat what other people have said: she knows that you’re disappointed and unhappy. If your goal was to tell her how you felt, mission accomplished. If your goal is to have someone listen to you talk about your feelings until you’re feeling better, she’s not the person whose job that is. That’s for your parents or brother or cousin, or a therapist, or any of your friends to whom you haven’t declared your love.

  53. Frankly, the expectation of a direct ‘no’ is so incredibly privileged. There’s a reason that many women default to a soft no when rejecting a guy’s romantic advances!

    I think a lot of guys are unaware of how *dangerous* it can be for women to give a clear-cut, outright rejection when a guy expresses romantic interest. Some guys take it fine. Others get, quite literally, murderous. Many fall somewhere in the middle, where maybe they’re not physically hurting you, but they’re sighing and moaning and taking up a massive amount of of time/attention that you actually kind of need for your own life, or spreading rumors that isolate you from getting support from your social circle, or giving you the cold shoulder when you need to work with them at work/school, or holding a grudge against you for ‘not giving them a chance’ or ‘being a bitch’ or whatever other label they put on their mad-about-being-rejected feelings. And there’s no reliable way for us to tell who’s going to be cool, who’s going to be a pain, and who’s going to be outright dangerous at a glance. Even guys who say they’ll be good about it are wrong about their own reactions often enough that it’s not a reliable sign of anything.

    LW, you don’t actually have a right to a direct answer. Your friend told you ‘no’ many times, and you didn’t listen because she didn’t communicate it in the exact way that you wanted her to. What’s more, on top of not listening, you doubled down and kept increasing the pressure on her to do what you wanted. That’s awful behavior, both in a friend and in a potential SO. You need to learn to listen better–especially to the nonverbal cues that make up a huge part of communication. And I think you owe your friend an apology for your behavior.

    1. “And I think you owe your friend an apology for your behavior”

      While that’s true, I’m not at all sure she’d appreciate one… Sounds like it might just put her on the spot once again.

      If you do sincerely think she’d like an apology (notice I didn’t say ‘if you’d like to apologise’) I would keep it super short (like, one sentence), and then change the subject and not ask for forgiveness or for any response from her.

      1. This might depend on if they’re still friends! If she’s been avoiding him, he definitely shouldn’t try to force contact on her, even to apologize. (You can acknowledge that you were wrong and owe an apology while also recognizing that it’s not a good time to give one and you’ll have to live with feeling bad about it until/unless the situation changes.) But if they still see each other regularly in a social context, a quick “Hey, I realized I was being really pushy about this, I’m sorry for that, I won’t do it again” could go a long way towards LW owning his behavior and resolving any lingering tension.

      2. And here’s a sample short apology: Friend, I’m sorry I’ve been a douche for the past several months. I was wrong to try to hound you into a romance.

        Note the lack of explanation (let alone excuses). Note that this formulation names what LW did.

    2. This! Dangerous. We often try to learn to anticipate if someone might ask is out so we can head them off to save their feelings so we don’t bear the brunt of the awkward bombs. Wish men did half as much work worrying about how creepy and wrong that is.

    3. Yes, it is privileged, and not only in a “cis man privilege” way, but also in a “neurotypical – the only thing between you and giving me a straight answer is your will to do so” way. I know people who would panick in that situation. I know people who would NOT be able to give you a straight answer even if they thought it, and that wouldn’t have anything at all to do with you. When someone tells you they don’t feel comfortable to a point they’re not able to handle that conversation, just believe them.

    4. This is me, basically. I’ve been giving soft no’s since my teenage years and before I was mature enough to stand up for myself I got pushed into relationships I didn’t actually want because 1. I couldn’t say no (yes, upbringing and society had something to do with that) and 2. my ‘friends’ pressured me into it. Yes I was a spineless jellyfish as a 15 year old.

      So my first ‘relationship’ was with a boy who had been a friend, who I was never actually attracted to but dated because ‘that’s what girls do’ and ended doing a lot of things I never wanted to do. And when I finally broke up with him six months later? HE TURNED INTO A RAGE MONSTER who got in my face and SCREAMED what a fucking bitch I was.

      The last ‘relationship’ I had was again, with a male friend I got along really well with who suggested we try dating, so we did, and I wasn’t feeling it and told him we’d be better off as friends and he said ‘okay’ then proceeded to stalk me. Like, within legal definitions, stalk me. He showed up in the middle of the night, one night, and said flatly ‘we’re getting married. I don’t care how long it takes, you just don’t understand that we’re meant to be together. It’s okay, I’ll wait.’

      And that was the last time I dated a man because what followed was years, YEARS of one sided love letters, FEELINGSDUMPS, and blame that I was fucking his life up, and why didn’t I just realize that we were supposed to be together forever? The kicker? He only believed me in saying that we were through when MY FATHER got involved and told him to never contact me again (he did. wanting to be friends)

      So yeah, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this LW. You sound like a typical twenty-something male who has a lot of unlearning to do.

      1. Holy sh!t, what a nightmare. I hope you’ve been able to heal and feel safe again.

  54. It’s telling that the LW assumes that his friend knew the whole time and that her ‘maybe’ wasn’t genuine. Considering that he, himself, took a while to decide how he felt, it’s unfair to assume that what she did was willfully malicious or inconsiderate. He can change this narrative from “My friend knew the answer was no but dragged this out to hurt me” to “she took some time to think it over but ultimately decided against it.”

    Assuming that everything but a yes is a no is a great start. He can give himself the clarity he wants by having that stance. Until she decides yes, it’s always a no.

  55. I sent this link to a guy friend who responded that he wished someone had explained it to him like this when he was younger. He made a lot of girls really uncomfortable before he figured out that his feelings were not their problem.

  56. Oh LW. I sympathize.

    I met a really cute guy and we had a great date last week!

    And then I sent him an e-mail asking him out again and. . . he never responded. And then he wasn’t at the class where we originally met this week.

    And a part of me is like, “well, maybe he didn’t get my e-mail, so should I try texting?”

    But I’ve been dating a while. And I know that even if he didn’t get my e-mail, if he wants to go out again, he can always ask me out. And I know that despite my thinking he was really cute and the date was really fun, maybe he didn’t think that. Or maybe he did think that but then he got abducted by aliens and so doesn’t have time to date me, and that’s okay.

    But it’s so hard when you don’t have an answer! I would stop thinking about him if I just knew that the answer was no. And like I said, I am in my thirties and have been doing the dating thing for a lot longer than you have, LW. So I understand the frustration and. . . obsession that comes from not having an answer. Part of growing up and dating is learning to ignore the part of yourself that says “well, e-mail didn’t work, so try texting!”, and instead to develop instincts that say “no answer IS an answer, let’s go read a book/run around the block/do something else distracting and never never contact them.”

    So I want to say it’s okay that you find it confusing and frustrating when you don’t get an answer–it can feel pretty terrible! But part of maturing growing up is learning that the safest and best thing to do, in order to not cross boundaries like you did, is to assume the answer is no and move forward.

    I’m so glad that you’re reading Captain Awkward, LW! Keep on reading and learning, and honestly all of this does get easier, even if it’s never completely easy.

    1. Yes, I agree, I do actually sympathize that the “go find the enthusiastic Yes!” advice assumes that we’re all coming from a place of dating abundance, where there are lots of great people out there just waiting for the chance to go out with us. That’s probably statistically true, but I think we can acknowledge that it doesn’t FEEL that way when you’re single and awkward and you don’t find a lot of people you click with. It’s really hard to let a “maybe” person go when you don’t think you’ll find someone else. But, it’s still the right thing to do.

  57. LW,

    I would like to add some encouragement to the great advice you have been receiving. Good luck using everyone’s responses to turn this into an incredible growth experience that will help you learn to behave in a way you will be confident and proud of.

    There has not been much emphasis on an aspect of your letter that merits further attention. It is important to be ruthlessly honest with yourself first, in order to successfully communicate with others. Over-explaining and justifying are red flags.

    Here are examples. “I’ve generally had trouble understanding my own emotions….making sure that was the case…” Only you know if this is true; did you know exactly how you felt and indirectly express it to your friend (i.e. hit him or her over the head with it) until he or she finally restated the obvious back to you? If so, why did you not take responsibility for your own feelings?

    “(I had composed the poem before… receiving it.)” Earlier you conceded you were attempting to sway her. That rings true. Then you let yourself off the hook by qualifying the significance of the poem. If you needed to sway her, you knew she had not responded favorably. It does not help you, to then pretend to yourself that your poem should not have be taken as pressure on her because you didn’t “know” you had feelings when you wrote it. Hunh? You write POEMS to people who you are just testing the waters with, and have no particular feelings one way or the other about?

    Personally, the day I turned the corner was the day I looked in the mirror and and acknowledged I knew exactly what I was doing, even if I was inexperienced and weak, and that I needed to take responsibility for my behavior and learn to do better, not keep justifying and excusing it. Painful shame. Yet, that was the day I set myself free, a benefit to others in my orbit as well. I wish the same for you.

    (Thank you, Captain Awkward, from an admiring former lurker!)

  58. LW, I feel you on the embarrassment and anger at having held out hope so long, and given your friend chances to be honest with you, only to feel that you never had a chance. Other people have pointed out that you made mistakes and put too much responsibility on her. I will say that your friend also made mistakes and put too much responsibility on you. Here is my advice, and I’m giving it for your sake:

    Forgive her. Forgive her for being very bad at handling any kind of conflict or potential conflict. Forgive her being socially awkward. Forgive her for avoiding directly answering the question and hoping it would go away.

    Accepting that sometimes people aren’t who you want them to be and letting that go without anger is going to save you mountains of grief later in life. It’s also going to help you accept yourself when you screw up. Your ability to say, “Damn, I wish she had told me directly, but life goes on,” is going to match, almost precisely, with your ability to say, “Ugh, I wish I hadn’t written her that poem, but life goes on.”

    1. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say LW’s friend did anything wrong here. First of all, we don’t know what she was thinking–she could very well have been thinking it over, and let him know when she came to a decision. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that, even if she took longer than LW would like, and even if the eventual answer wasn’t what LW had hoped for.

      Second, I want to push back on the idea that an indirect ‘no’ is inferior to a direct ‘no’. It’s not just social awkwardness that teaches women to avoid saying ‘no’ to a guy asking her out–it’s often a safety mechanism. We all know someone (or know someone who knows someone, or read a news story about, or had a personal experience) where a guy asked a girl out, she said no, and he reacted in a way that did her harm. Maybe he physically attacked her. Maybe he spread nasty rumors about her and it did serious damage to her social life. Maybe he stalked her. Maybe he harassed her with repeated requests and pressure. Maybe he got mad that she rejected him and yelled insults at her. Maybe they were coworkers or partners on a class project, and he reacted in a way that damaged her work performance or grade. Lots and lots of men take their upsetness at rejection out in some way on the woman who rejected them! Even good guys, even guys who would never hit anyone, even guys who are really stable and nice and positive in other aspects of their life. There’s really no way to know at a glance which men are going to do this and which aren’t.

      So women are taught to modulate our responses–to tone it down and keep it indirect (in the hope he gets the hint and backs off without us having to risk triggering that anger), to offer excuses like being too busy or already having a boyfriend (so it doesn’t feel as much like a rejection), to hold off on answering (so if he reacts badly, at least we’re done with that project), etc. I feel really strongly that it’s NOT bad social skills for women to do this. On the contrary–I think using social skills to moderate risk is actually a smart survival mechanism. Valuing only super-direct communication in such a societal context is really unreasonable.

      1. THIS^^^^^

        And to be honest, I’ve seen some folks either dismiss this teenage girl as ‘bad at conflict’ or ‘passive’ or somehow wrong, and it’s bullshit. I’ve also seen a few people try to act like this gendered buuuutt. . . and I’m done with this.

        In every other situation, we are expected to understand soft no’s. Guys have given me soft no’s all the fucking time and I was expected to know them and recognize them. Remember the book “He’s Just Not That Into You”? It may as well be called “Ladies, Recognize This Soft No.” Well, if we’re expected to do that the guys can be expected to do that. It would be really refreshing if folks would knock it off with this bullshit double-standard and the giant effort to minimize boundary violations.

        1. It would be really refreshing if folks would knock it off with this bullshit double-standard and the giant effort to minimize boundary violations.

          Hell yeah.

        2. I cannot believe I never put the two together, but this?

          Remember the book “He’s Just Not That Into You”? It may as well be called “Ladies, Recognize This Soft No.”

          This clicked in a way it never had before. We’re taught from such a young age that persistence is the key to romantic relationships, but why are we not taught “Hey, you don’t really want to be with/around somebody who doesn’t want you the same way”?

      2. While I recognize your point, I am pushing back on a different idea–that a woman’s reaction always somehow has to be perfect and correct. I think that it’s infantilizing to assume a woman can’t answer a direct question given in as safe a manner as possible. I honestly think the friend screwed up. I think that the friend herself admitted that she can’t deal with conflict in any way except shutting down. That’s a flaw.

        Women are human, and therefore have flaws, and we can admit that without giving ground on the principle. The letter writer was too pushy, should recognize that a girl (or boy!) who gives him excuses for months is not going to give him the enthusiastic relationship he wants, and it’s nobody’s fault but his own that he made big romantic gestures that didn’t work out. That’s true even if the woman he talked to didn’t handle the situation well.

        1. Yes! It 100% would have been cooler if she’d said, fairly soon after the initial declaration, “Hey I thought about it and I’m not interested in you that way.” I’d love to live in a world where that feels more possible for women and isn’t punished (sometimes with death and violence).

          The fact that she didn’t isn’t a reason for a big “But here are my feelings that you caused and didn’t respond to correctly” discussion now.

        2. No one is saying that a woman’s reaction always somehow is perfect and correct. In fact, it’s fine for it to be awkward. Her being either uncomfortable in giving a direct answer (given the blowback women and girls get for being direct) or for being genuinely unsure of her feelings (because that is ALSO a possibility) was not “putting responsibility” on the LW.

          “I think that the friend herself admitted that she can’t deal with conflict in any way except shutting down. That’s a flaw.”

          You know, as someone who has been in the friend’s shoes, I can tell you from hard experience that when someone goes off on you for saying no/saying no in a way they didn’t deem good enough, I ‘shut down’ because engaging was hopeless. And I didn’t have the energy. She may have said this to get him to stop. Also, what was she supposed to say?

          Finally, you said this direct question was given in as safe a manner as possible. Assuming it was, you’re ignoring the retaliation we encounter when we ARE direct (even with ‘nice’ guys). If she was giving a soft no, this likely informed it. It’s unfair of you to hand-wave that away like it’s not a big deal and she’s somehow flawed for reacting the way she did. If she WAS ambivalent, then she was being genuine and you’re still not being particularly fair to her.

          1. I have also been in the friend’s shoes. And if you look down the page at Fiona P Potter’s posts, she notes that she is frequently in the shoes of the LW with a lot of male friends who delay or evade any response to her direct questions. Avoidance responses happen from both men and women–and while I believe and want to emphasize that women rightly often have physical fear doing the rejecting, problematic conflict avoidance is sometimes a personality trait in men and women.

            I believe you about the violence, and I have experienced scary responses from people after rejecting them. At the same time, the friend herself said, “conversations with a high emotional content make me uncomfortable so I just shut down and hope the problem goes away on its own.” Shutting down and hoping a problem goes away on its own is a flaw. And that’s okay! People are flawed, and I think acknowledging that women are flawed while still maintaining standards for boundaries and enthusiastic consent is important in both this case and in a larger sense. A lot of people are pointing out what the LW did wrong. I want to point out that you can feel that the person you are dealing with did some things wrong and still be obliged to do the right thing yourself.

          2. Yes, she said this. Maybe she does shut down in all conflict situations and it’s a flaw. Or maybe she didn’t want to deal with a guy haranguing her over the way she said no/the assumption that she was lying about her ambivalence the entire time. Maybe she was saying this so he’d leave her alone because she realized there was nothing she could do or say to make him feel better, and she was already pushed to give a definite answer and then accused of lying the whole time (when she may have honestly been ambivalent).

            “Avoidance responses happen from both men and women–and while I believe and want to emphasize that women rightly often have physical fear doing the rejecting, problematic conflict avoidance is sometimes a personality trait in men and women.”

            First, the fact that some girls and women also do this DOES NOT diminish the reality of sexism and misogyny that inform these situations This doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it’s not okay to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s not okay to engage in that.

            Second, you’re taking the LW at his word that she was being dishonest in her ambivalence. She very well might not have been. She might have been thinking it over and decided that she didn’t really feel that way. How is that fair to her?

        3. Ok, so, I’m not just saying that indirect communication is okay because Friend is a woman. Indirect communication is a valid communication style, period; all sorts of people use it, it’s in no way inferior to direct communication, there are a lot of social situations where softening one’s words is expected and preferable to being bluntly direct. Communicating through tone, context, and other social cues is not a ‘flaw’.

          Shutting down in emotional conversations is indeed a less-than-ideal thing, and I suspect Friend will need to work on that themselves at some point. But I don’t think that has a strong bearing on this discussion. There’s a lot of ground between ‘directly saying exactly what you mean’ and ‘completely and totally shutting down’, and based on LW’s account, I don’t think Friend was actually doing the latter. I think Friend was effectively communicating that they didn’t want to have this conversation and wanted to drop the entire topic–if they weren’t, LW wouldn’t have felt the need to push to make it come up again, because it would have had potential to come up on its own. Contextually, that’s a pretty clear ‘no, we’re not going to date’ signal. There was communication here; LW chose to ignore it because it’s not the style of communication that LW wanted.

          1. Yes, ‘shutting down the conversation’ sounds in this particular case like very _clear_ communication, not a lack of it. It’s not even that indirect.

  59. LW: whoaaa there slow down. First, I’m sorry you got rejected. I’ve bern there and at that age I think rejections are the most painful. At least for me. So right now your letter is screaming nooooooo to the rejection. I don’t think it’s fair or helpful for you to say your friend always meant no and was dishonest bc you don’t know tgat. It is possible but you don’t know and getting mad about it isn’t fair. There are lots of reasons people communicate the way they do: trying to let you down easy, feeling too sorry to crush your feelings, caught off guard and Judy not knowing what to say. Or it’s the truth! And she didn’t know in that moment. You had a dream. She doesn’t share it. It sucks big time. Pls spend time away from this as much as you can and keep busy with other stuff while your brain calms down and processes. I can tell you from experience tgat trying to keep her explaining and talking as to why she doesn’t want you is going to make her dislike you a lot. Guys did this to be heck they still occasionally do it. Why doesn’t matter. When doesn’t matter. That’s just a way to keep the conversation going and get her to comfort and reassure you and it’s not fair to her. It’s akso not fair to you bc she will squirm and generally do anything to make it stop. Or get upset and cut off contact. But it won’t get you what you want. I’m so sorry bc I know it’s painful to have an unreturned crush. It’s possibly one of the most painful things in teenage yrs. hang in there and keep writing poetry!!! I hope one day you can remember this without the painful thoughts.

  60. Just a note from your friendly non-binary person:

    A lot of these comments have gone kinda spiraling down a “men are like this” and “women are like that” zone.

    Yes- gender roles exist. Toxic masculinity and gender based expectations are real. Well, not “real”, they are socially constructed- but they have real implications. However, it is also important to acknowledge that these roles aren’t static, people are more than a role assigned to them and are also much more than just fitting under a gender binary or man and woman.

    I am sure lots of folks here know this- but sometimes, seeing comment after comment about “men vs women’s expectations” it became important to me to add-in.

    1. YES THANK YOU. I half wanted to reply to some comments with a “men and boys and people of all genders use soft noes a lot, including in a romantic context, y’know, it’s not only women who have good reason to be afraid of how others will react when issuing a rejection” and half didn’t dare, because I don’t want to invisibilise other people’s experiences nor get hit with an “Only women experience violence in romantic situations and only women are pressured to soothe others’ feelings” spiel.

      So, thank you for stating this. You said it wonderfully.

    2. You are quite right about how none of these things are universals, though there can be trends.

      As a side note, though, “socially constructed” doesn’t mean “not real”. The following is a completely non-exhaustive list of things that are social constructs: the rules for NHL ice hockey, the length of a kilometre, the US-Canada border, advanced degrees, Buddhism, money, every language ever used, and Tuesday. You can choose to disregard any of those if you like, but the consequences for you might range from being lost to being arrested to no one being able to understand purple monkey dishwasher.

    3. Thank you thank you thank you. As a straight woman, who recognises herself vividly in the LW’s story as the “man”, I’ve been feeling so weird and sad reading the comments.

      1. I also think this might be one of those times where, if OP had been a woman, the comments might have been a little more sympathetic. There were a lot of comments that made it sound like OP doesn’t recognize that women are people, and I totally understand the gendered frustration we’re all dealing with in this era, but I have absolutely been OP (and am not male) and have had a pretty similar emotional journey in getting rejected. This all seems pretty human, high school stuff to me.

        1. Lil Fidget, though, it does matter that the LW is a male. Gendered dynamics can’t be separated from the social contexts of patriarchy and oppression. People all experience rejection and most people need help and experience learning how to handle it.

          However, hetero people who present as male are also taught different lessons about their entitlements and relationships to those who present as not male. Educating a male about rejection must include this context, as well as their responsibilities to manage their particular situation – plus educate other male-presenting folks on their responsibilities to dismantle and contest it.

      2. FellowShip, you took the words right out of my mouth.

        What’s also made me feel extra-weird is that I recognize myself vividly in the LW’s story as the “man,” and I remember how long it took me to recognize “soft noes” in _every_ area of my life, not just romance. And I had trouble learning to give them, and not just because I was a deeply awkward young person. Soft noes aren’t the norm, even for women, in my cultural, ethnic, and (to some extent) class background. And in fact, in my experience (and, anecdotally, the experience of many with a similar background to mine), this “softness” in manner serves as one of many gatekeeping functions vis-à-vis being accepted in the majority culture.

        So I feel uneasy reading comments that insist that wanting a hard no is an incredibly privileged expectation, and almost certainly a gendered expectation. My experience was that wanting a hard no was very much intertwined with my lack of privilege. I wish posters would leave a little room in their statements regarding gender and privilege for possibility that problematic behavior cannot always be ascribed to a single determining factor.

    4. Socially constructed things are indeed real. Like, gender is real (no matter what the gender anarchists think, they can only speak for their own lived experience, not anybody else’s), despite being a social construct. If gender was not real, then gender dysphoria would not exist.

      I wish we had better vocabulary to describe this stuff, though. “Not inherent,” maybe? “Not unavoidable or inevitable” ?

  61. i am completely baffled that this guy couldn’t find anything relevant about soft noes or managing yr own feelings in the archive. i love the captain & i love the commentariat here & i find it literally painful when we end up w/ letters that are steeped in this kind of male entitlement & part of me wishes those lw’s could just be directed to a catch-all resource on hearing soft noes, instead.

    1. Yeah. I guess this LW missed Letter #1009, who is basically him plus a dozen years. I suppose he didn’t really identify with the guy declaring himself a “creep”, but the insistence on hearing a clear yes or no before moving on should have resonated.

  62. As a rule, LW, it’s ok to demand clear y/n answers in some situations. Dinner parties,* wedding RSVPs, and events where you might need to make reservations beforehand or otherwise plan logistics. However, if there are no logistics to be planned, just assume that it’s a ‘no’ and move on with your day.

    * – I swear to god, if a certain someone RSVPs ‘yes’ to one more sit-down dinner and then cancels 1 hour before she is off the invite list.

    1. Heck, even in those scenarios people can avoid giving a clear answer – you treat that as no, you can stop inviting them for future events, etc! In short: people have the right to behave as they see fit, yes, even to be assholes. It’s not fair, but they do. You have the right to change the way you behave towards them (only invite them when you need no confirmation / stop hanging out with them / only hang when they organise everything / etc). I can say I am a lot happier since I stopped expecting my chronically indecisive friends to make plans beforehand without changing them 100 times, and decided to only hang when I was comfortable with this dynamic.

    2. Even then, the plan is clear; full steam ahead without them. It’s rude to not respond to a Y/N rsvp sure, but it’s not confusing. If I’m sitting down to my wedding dinner with the invitees who got back to me on time, I’m not wondering if it’s too late for the others and pondering if I should call them up with a persuasive speech. People’s lack of enthusiasm mean they lack enthusiasm. It’s not a riddle.

  63. LW:

    Underneath everything, I can see a certain amount of wondering why your friend didn’t provide you with a blunt “no” the first time you asked, but instead gave you a “soft no”, by saying she wasn’t sure about her feelings toward you.

    First off, there’s a famous quote by Margaret Attwood, that “men are afraid women will laugh at them, while women are afraid men will kill them”. This is probably the core of the argument, in a lot of ways. Women are taught, in many, many ways, from a very young age, that if we say the wrong thing to the wrong man, we will be dead. We are taught we have to take care of men’s feelings, because if a man feels insulted by us, they can decide to kill us.

    So, with that context in mind, consider the wider culture we’re all soaking in. In the past few months, we’ve had the following examples of what will happen if a female person says “no”:

    * A girl who was killed when her ex-boyfriend brought a gun to school and started shooting has been indirectly blamed for all the deaths involved – because she shouldn’t have upset him so much.
    * A woman whose ex-boyfriend from many years ago was discovered to be the Golden State killer had her identity dug up and plastered all over the newspapers, along with being ascribed indirect blame for the murders committed by that ex – she was described as the woman who “inspired” the murders.
    * A man drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians because he felt entitled to a “yes” answer from women, and felt that was an appropriate way of expressing his anger about not getting one. The response from certain mainstream pundits was to start seriously considering a proposition which suggested effective sexual slavery for all girls and women, in order to prevent further such incidents. Because women saying “no” is clearly powerful enough to trigger mass murder.

    Now, these are just a few incidents I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure if you stop and think about it, you’ll be able to come up with a few more yourself. But the point is, this is what our culture is telling women and girls about our right to say “no”: if we do, we deserve the bad things that happen afterwards; we deserve to be blamed for what a grown adult chooses to do after we’ve told them “no”; and even if we do say “no”, the wider society may well decide it’s better if our “no” is comprehensively overridden. So we’re understandably a bit cautious about the word.

    For future reference, as the Captain said, anything other than an enthusiastic “yes please” is a no.

    1. This! I remember shouting this at a guy I thought I was friends with. He thought we were something more and got angry with me when I explicitly told him, in no uncertain terms, that I was not interested in anything other than platonic friendship from now until forever. He said I led him on by being nice to him and occasionally hanging out. Nope. First night I met him I remember telling him that I was not interested in dating, that I was really focused on just enjoying life – traveling, writing, hanging with friends. Apparently he took that to mean “If I hang around long enough I can wear her down” and then tried to make me the bad guy for not doing just that.

      Now, I am known in my friend group as the direct one. Nearly all of the men I’ve met have referred to me as “bitch”. My husband (NOT the guy above!) told me once “you’re not a bitch. You can be bitchy, but we all can. You’re honest. You want what you want and you don’t mince words. A lot of guys can’t handle that. It’s too strong. I like strong. I like direct. I know that I can push back and you’re going to stand your ground when you need to.” Yeah… we’ve been married for 15 years this summer. 🙂 He’s a good guy.

  64. I was the friend in this situation at a similar age. I will add to the chorus of people saying “leave it alone unless/until you get an enthusiastic yes” – also please do not try to convince her/yourself/your friends that you don’t really care by trash talking her and being generally shitty. If it’s painful to be friends with her after this, well that sucks but it’s okay and you can be honest about that. Don’t go all “haha whatever I don’t even like her” as a way to minimise/cover your hurt or make it seem like she made a mistake. The ex-friend of mine never learnt and kept negging and being generally shitty.

    In contrast I had a different friend a little later, similar situation with not recognising soft nos.. but he did eventually learn, move on, and became a cool friend. Given you’ve reached out for advice about this, LW, I have faith you’ll be more like this second guy.

    1. Yeah, been there. Back in college my best girlfriend was dating this guy, and one of his friends decided he wanted to go out with me. I was not the least bit interssted, and my friend’s “give him a chance” exhortations didn’t make me feel any differently. Well, when I turned him down I got a nasty response about how I “had my head up my ass”. Needless to say, I felt like I’d dodged a bullet NOT starting a relationship with this bozo.

  65. Hi LW,

    Famous Captain advice: consume media created by women.

    I want to give a shout out to podcasts specifically, because I listen to them am embarrassing amount.

    1) Dear Prudence is an advice show hosted by a recently out trans man, and the guest hosts are usually female and/or queer. Because the show is specifically about relating to other human beings in every context possible but from a societally different pov, it might be helpful for you.

    2) Just Google best woman led podcasts and look for things that work with your interests. Movies? Comedy? Underwater basket weaving?

    3) Tell your female friends (other than the one from your letter, give her ALL the space) “Hey, do you have any podcast recommendations for me? I’m really looking to branch out, so stuff you wouldn’t expect me to listen to is fine.”

    This is also great because, in my experience, nerd dudes love giving recommendations, but never ask for recommendations and are often lukewarm on them when they receive them. You could brighten a friend’s day, because it is a nice feeling to be treated like an expert for once! Once you start really dating, asking for a recommendation and then following up it are great things to do. (But you have to do it in a genuine way, can’t be all like “Yeah, Raptor, I loved Unqualified!” when you in fact did not care for it.)

  66. LW, I think the Captain is spot-on with this advice: “Look for people who match your level of enthusiasm.” While I’m sure there are a lot of people chastising you for the way you handled this, what always strikes me with these kinds of stories (and trust me, I’ve heard them a lot, from men much older and more experienced than you are, so, you’re not alone? But you have the benefit of being steered in a better direction at a younger age, so that’s a huge blessing!) is this: Why on earth would you declare feelings, then just…wait, seemingly indefinitely, for “an answer”? Why don’t you think you’re worth someone’s enthusiasm? Why do you suppose you think you have to talk someone into being romantic with you? I assure you, when someone is as interested in you as you are in them, there is no equivocation. There might still be awkwardness! But actions bear out the truth–even an emotionally constipated young woman who hates all talk of feelings (I am…familiar with her) will go out of her way to hang out with you, listen to your stories, share herself with you, call you back, answer your texts, smile when she sees you–if she’s really into you. If you’re trying to read Subtle Lady Tea Leaves all the time when you’re with someone, that someone isn’t very excited about you! You deserve someone who’s excited about you!

    I don’t have to know you to know that. We all deserve a partner who is thrilled to be with us, especially at the very beginning of a relationship when things are naturally exciting and fun. But beware: it’s only “natural” if neither party is forcing it! My hope for you is that you take the Captain’s advice to heart, and the next time you’re interested in dating someone, their response to you is wholehearted. Honestly, if someone had not yet said “yes, let’s do this!” and was wavering in maybe-land for more than a few days after I asked them out, I don’t know that I’d accept a yes if it came later. That’s my personal threshold, anyway; if you have to talk yourself into me, I am most decidedly Not For You. There are all sorts of things about you that are interesting and fun and irresistible—to someone. I’m sorry it isn’t this friend, this time, but learn from this experience, and keep on keeping on. The fact that you wrote in shows your good faith, so I have lots of hope for you that you’ll find someone (perhaps many someones!) who are looking for someone just like you. When you find them, there will be no need to wonder how they feel about you, I promise.

    1. So much this! If your reply to ‘do you want to come to my party?’ isn’t HELL YEAH, I don’t particularly care if you come. If your reply to ‘do you want to be in be in my romantic life?’ isn’t HOLY SMOKES GOSH YES. Then….I’m going to park that concept as an unexploded firework and not go near it again*. Because I deserve a sky of fireworks, I’m going to be too bored to hang around a non response and raise it again. And again. If the firework comes to life by itself later on….ok, I’ll see it! You can’t miss that kind of sign. I don’t need to hang around RIGHT THERE like a bad smell getting bored and frustrated. I can just forget about that and move on, because you only need to light a fuse ONCE.
      *speaking figuratively guys, dont wander off and leave unexploded fireworks to their fate!

    2. “Why don’t you think you’re worth someone’s enthusiasm? Why do you suppose you think you have to talk someone into being romantic with you?”

      Could it be that quite a lot of boys/men are still socialized into the notion that we’re only as attractive as what we do (with the possible expectation of “tall, dark and handsome”), and not who we are? I don’t know, I’m still in that position.

  67. I always feel weird when questions like this come up because of the gender dynamic. Because I recognise myself in this narrative, just as I do in the parallel “I’ve been friendzoned” narrative, in the “why do they string me along emotionally while seeking sexual fulfilment elsewhere” narrative, in the “this is called a friendship so why does it not feel like a friendship” narrative and in the “why do they say they’re not ready to date but then when someone else comes along they suddenly are” narrative and even in the “I’m involuntarily celibate” narrative (to an extent – please take this with a grain of salt).

    Thing is though, I’m a straight woman. Those narratives I listed above have fairly universally accepted (within our sphere here) critiques that are based on male privilege, blindness to hints and the unfair expectation on women to do the emotional labour in any relationship. I agree with those critiques as strongly as I agree with the Captain’s advice to this young lovelorn, clumsy fellow – to swallow the embarrassment, to learn to look for those hints, to let this woman go… These are lessons which I have also had to learn, am still learning, went to therapy for etc

    It just makes me feel weird because although I agree that the young lady in question does not owe the LW an apology, I have mixed feelings about whether she owed him a clearer “no”. I guess, actually, that I automatically think that she did owe him a clearer “no” – but the Captain’s response is making me wonder if I still have something to learn here too.

    I’ve been in so many (well, four) confusing relationships with men who feel like more than friends, men who opened up to me emotionally, men who travelled across international borders to visit me, men who planned futures with me, men who held hands while watching the fireworks with me, men who couldn’t give me straight answers, men who ultimately weren’t interested in a relationship with me but enjoyed all the cuddly-comfort-liminal bits. Because of that, I’ve made many awkward and confused advances that weren’t rejected so much as sidestepped and have done weird things akin to “Here’s this poem I didn’t write for you but it’s Valentines day so here you go anyway no big deal”.

    I’ve also, as a result of those weird, long, heartbreaking, soul-crushing, self-confidence-pulverising relationships, been the recipient of many gender-based critiques that were never directed at me “He was emotionally using you!”, “He was leading you on!”, “Typical man that he can’t commit!”. Obviously nobody can say to me “So typical that a man can’t take a hint” because I’m not a man and don’t fit that stereotype.

    The truth is that all of those men could have given me a clear “no” at some point and up until now I have considered it an unkindness that they didn’t. It’s not that I think they were obliged to tell me outright that they weren’t interested, nor that their inability to be direct absolves me from all the awkward situations I created, but it would have been a very kind thing to do.

    I guess what I’m driving at is that I don’t understand the difference between my story and that of the LW here. And if there is no difference in the story, why is there a difference in the response? And more importantly: what have I still got to learn?

    1. “I don’t understand the difference between my story and that of the LW here.”

      Did you straight-up tell them you wanted to have a romantic relationship with them, push when they said they weren’t sure, and then blame them for not phrasing the ‘no’ better? (seriously, you’re sorta unclear) Then there’s no difference. If not, then the difference is… well, whatever is different.

      “And if there is no difference in the story, why is there a difference in the response?”
      Depends on who you asked, possibly, or what parts of the story they knew?

      “And more importantly: what have I still got to learn?”
      Don’t assume affection means romantic interest? Don’t engage in relationships where you provide a disproportionate amount of un-returned emotional support in exchange for the hope of some good dick later on down the road? Accept cuddles and affection as being awesome (if you like that sort of thing) but if you see it as just an extended bit of twat-teasing, don’t engage in it (I mean, unless that’s what you’re into)?

      I dunno, that’s my best take on it.

      1. Ooh, P.S. “And if there is no difference in the story, why is there a difference in the response?”
        Possibly the people you’re talking to aren’t really giving you an objective take on your situation and are just listening to you vent and going “Mn-mh. Yup. Wow, that sucks. Mm-hm. Bummer.” because they’re just letting you vent about something and think you want sympathy.

    2. Hi, I have been a woman who waits around for a yes that is never coming. I have also encountered the male friend who displays a lot of confusing boyfriend behaviors and who expects and enjoys a lot of girlfriend behavior without actually wanting me to be his girlfriend, and it is confusing and painful.

      And yet, your story IS different from the Letter Writer’s, because the friend in this case isn’t and wasn’t treating him like a boyfriend placeholder. She didn’t do any of the confusing shit like crossing oceans and holding hands and using the dude for an ego boost.

      1. And yet, your story IS different from the Letter Writer’s, because the friend in this case isn’t and wasn’t treating him like a boyfriend placeholder. She didn’t do any of the confusing shit like crossing oceans and holding hands and using the dude for an ego boost.

        Quoted for truth!

        @Fiona “P” Potter I was composing this big long comment in reply to your but the Captain said it better. If LW’s friend had done all that confusing boyfriend-lite stuff your “friends” have done, he would definitely have mentioned it in his letter to explain why he ignored her many soft nos.

        what have I still got to learn?

        Maybe that it’s hard for someone to string you along if you already stopped taking their calls? That you deserve someone who is excited about dating you and can communicate that clearly? That no straight answer is a straight answer? (It means run the fuck away)

        I’m suspicious that on some level you believe you aren’t “allowed” to reject anyone who seems to like you okay because what if he’s your only hope?! Get picky! Reject away! If a dude doesn’t immediately answer Yes! when you ask if he wants to date you, you are absolutely allowed to tell him to back the fuck up and stop acting like he wants to be your boyfriend. And then to kick him to the curb when he acts like you imagined him acting like boyfriend-lite: all the emotional support/validation/ego-boost with none of that exhausting reciprocation!

        The truth is that all of those men could have given me a clear “no” at some point and up until now I have considered it an unkindness that they didn’t.

        I don’t doubt that that sucked. It sounds like these guys threw your self-esteem in a woodchipper and then set the pieces on fire. But would it really have sucked *less* to have some guy kinda sorta almost act like your boyfriend but also clearly tell you that he’s never going to date you?

    3. I think everybody has to learn not to settle for less than a response of giddy delight, for a response of a full on ‘I want the same thing you want’ in both word and deed. I DO think men are more inclined to fall victim to the ‘well I have to persuade her and make her love me’ narrative we so often see in pop culture. So men are more likely to feel they have to persevere when a woman is giving NO romantic indications at all. The thing where a person IMPLIES half romantic feelings with either words/deeds, but evades commitment/directness with the other hand should also not be persevered with…but that’s simply to avoid wasting your own time, not because you were trying to pester a romance from a completely platonic/professional/acquaintance standpoint.

    4. Taking my comment with a grain of salt because I don’t know you or the LW…

      The fundamental difference to me is that LW’s friend did not slyly pretend to be dating them and then deny that any relationship had ever existed. She (? they?) didn’t do the romantic gestures and act in the romantic-partner ways that you’re describing, and she didn’t then lie when forced to say that she was or wasn’t dating the LW.

      men who couldn’t give me straight answers, men who ultimately weren’t interested in a relationship with me but enjoyed all the cuddly-comfort-liminal bits <- This to me sounds like you were in a situation where men have essentially tricked you by creating a paradigm where you were giving them the things that they wanted but they didn't feel obligated to give you anything back. So within that situation, doing stuff like sending Valentine's poems to men who are basically acting like you're dating isn't weird or mean or forward, it's acting like you're in the situation that most people would in fact assume you're in. I mean, the things you describe sound pretty straightforwardly to me like the things that someone would say to me if we were dating (or, each one on their own could be a deep friendship, but together they sound like romantic relationships) and I would be very confused if they then also acted like we weren't dating. And particularly if they only acted like we were dating to get things from me (sex, affection, money, happy fantasies, praise) and then skipped out when asked to be a reciprocal and basically decent person, they would be a cruel asshole and basically everyone would agree with me when I said that.

      But the LW's friend, as far as I can tell, reacted with soft/passive refusals and being deeply uncomfortable with the LW's feelings-professions, possibly out of a sense of fear, because there is an imbalance with gender and fear. So I'd say that LW's friend is fundamentally different because she is not lying–she may have meant 'maybe' in the most strict sense of 'yes or no but I don't know which yet', she may have meant it as an unambiguous but kind 'no', but she hasn't actually conducted a "weird, long, heartbreaking, soul-crushing, self-confidence-pulverising relationship“–the heartbreak simply comes from the LW having feelings for her and her not. (I don’t think that her saying she just avoids all emotional conversations to be a good sign but I’m not really willing to say or think that she acted badly by finding it incredibly awkward to reject the LW.)

    5. It’s interesting, because reading your comment and the LW’s letter I myself see two very different situations.

      Yours: you dated men who very interested in all the romance-sex-getting-emotional-support elements of the relationship, ’cause it’s cool to have that. But were not okay with putting in the commitment, because that is a cost. I may be missing huge pieces here, but it seems like a pretty standard, tho awful scenario of a guy who wants a girlfriend placeholder, that does all the gf stuff, but does not have to ‘sacrifice’ too much for her. All the honey, no effort. But those guys made you believe, on presuppose, that there was a chance, i order to keep getting the honey.

      LWs: his Friend was not interested in dating him, she did say ‘maybe’ but did not suck out any of the ‘boyfriend’ resources from him, but rather tried to not go back to the awkward conversation. She was not interested, did not pretend to be interested in any meaningful way. Did not go on ‘dates’ with him, did not use him for sex or emotional labor or.. anything relationship-related, really. There was no honey for her and no attempts, besides the ‘maybe’, to convince him he should keep investing in her.

      So I guess my answer to your question: ‘“I don’t understand the difference between my story and that of the LW here.’ is that the difference is.. well, everything? Those are two completely different situations. I don’t see how they overlap? Besides her once saying a ‘maybe’, probably in an attempt to kick that rock down the road and hoping it will just kinda fizzle out without a FeelingsTalk or a confrontation.

    6. The gender dynamic comes up when it’s a man harassing a woman like this not because only men do this, but because it plays into larger social narratives of how heterosexual romance works. We all know that stalking is bad, but how many rom-coms have you seen where the woman clearly isn’t interested (and might even tell him outright to buzz off and leave her alone), the man ignores that and keeps escalating his pursuit of her, and they’re together at the end and it’s considered a successful/happy ending? That’s, like, the classic rom-com trope. And it doesn’t show up nearly as much with the genders swapped. If women act like that in movies, they’re usually portrayed as a nag, a needy bitch, a potential ball-and-chain, that kind of thing–it’s not romantic, it’s not sweet, it’s clearly a negative behavior.

      Of course this doesn’t mean that only men are capable of acting like that. But it does mean that when men pull this shit, it plays into a larger cultural narrative in a different way than when non-men do the same thing. It’s framed as ‘normal’ and even potentially ‘romantic’ in a way that it isn’t when, say, a woman does it. The cultural context makes a difference, even if their actions are otherwise similar. That impacts the feedback it gets.

      Also, in your specific case, I don’t think your actions were analogous to OP’s! Going off of the behavior you describe, it sounds like the guys you’ve not-dated didn’t just fail to give you a direct ‘no’–they also didn’t give you an indirect ‘no’. They engaged intimately with you, and behaved in ways that are romantically coded–if anything, they were giving you an indirect ‘yes’. OP’s friend wasn’t doing those things. That’s a huge difference in context, and context is a huge part of social interaction.

    7. Here’s my gender take. Because of the insane pressure on women to handle situations just right, we often push back by coming up with reasons why they were “right” to do exactly what they did. But almost no one handles social situations perfectly, even if we could agree on one set of perfect standards for social situations, which we can’t. It would have been kinder for the female friend to give the LW a clear no, and it would have been kinder for your male friends to give you a clear no.

      The LW’s female friend and your male friends could have been more honest, more direct, more kind, and more brave. But they are frail humans and sometimes screw up. The LW made some fairly big mistakes, and would be making more of one to push for some kind of apology/feelings session. As for your female friends, well, part of being a friend is indulging you and throwing shade at the people who hurt you–and not mentioning any mistakes you might have made, which you probably did, because you’re also human.

  68. Ugh. As soon as I read “I told Friend about said feelings in late December of last year, and spent up to last week trying to get a ‘yes or no’ on the question of reciprocated feelings,” I knew where this was headed. Five months is more than enough time to figure out that she’s not interested. You don’t need to push her into yelling at you, blocking you, and telling all her friends about what a creep you are. Just back off when you don’t get a yes.

  69. LW, I am a woman, and old enough to be your mother. So I’m going to give you some motherly advice here, although possibly with more swearing than your actual mother might use. (But I don’t know her, of course, so maybe not!)

    This whole “I can accept an honest answer as long as it comes in the exact way that I want to hear it” thing, is bullshit. Nobody owes you an answer in any specific words, body language, or other way of expression. CA and others have pointed out all the different ways she said no, so I won’t repeat them here. It was kind of her to want to spare your feelings – which you even pointed out yourself – but it didn’t get her very far, did it? All it got her was more of your feelings, and more of your feelings, and more and more and more of them – and now that she has given you the clear “no” you apparently needed, you want her to apologize to you for hurting your feelings? Come on, LW, you can do better than that.

    The thing is, this is a super common strategy that lots of men* use to avoid the actual discussion at hand. In your case, the main point is that she doesn’t want to go out with you, not your feelings about her not wanting to go out with you. In the case of my ex husband, the issue at hand was household chores – he hated the word “chores” and therefore wouldn’t do them because every time I said the word it turned into a twenty minute argument about what I should call them. By which point, we were both angry, and he still hadn’t changed the fucking cat litter. Do you get why that’s the same as what you did? Someone tells you/ asks you something you don’t want to hear, and instead of dealing with the thing you don’t want to hear, you turn it into a whole sideshow about something unrelated. And the main thing, the thing that started the discussion in the first place, never gets dealt with.

    So this is a habit/strategy/behaviour that is not unique to you, and it’s one that will likely follow you your whole life if you don’t take steps to shut it down now. And it will damage your relationships with women. I won’t say this was the only reason I split up with my ex, but it’s certainly not unrelated. You need to be able to deal with hearing things you don’t want to hear, and you need to be able to identify and address the main point of a conversation without making it about your feelings. These are life skills. The good news is that you’re young, so you have lots of time to start working on them! And further good news is that you wrote to a female advice columnist to ask for help. You’re probably in the exact same situation reading these comments as you were with your friend – I bet none of this is what you wanted to hear, and I imagine it’s hard not to be a bit defensive about it. But I hope you can see this for the great opportunity that it is, and take it as a starting point to do better. Good luck.

    *mostly men IME, but I’m sure there are women who do it too.

    1. Also a woman old enough to be LW’s mother – maybe even grandmother. I second what JMegan said, and would like to add: Not only did your friend not owe you an answer in whatever format you prefer, believe it or not, she didn’t actually *owe* you any answer at all! Granted, iit would be unkind or rude to give no answer, but she still didn’t owe you anything. Please remember that she’s a human being with feelings, thoughts, and priorities of her own, not a vending machine that owes you the response you want if you can just find exactly the right input.

  70. So, as a person who also tends to take what people say literally and used to have trouble understanding soft ‘no’s, here’s a framing that I use to make it a little easier to recognize a soft ‘no’ for what it is: my personal rule is that I don’t WANT to date someone who doesn’t enthusiastically want to date me.

    Think about it: Why would I want to go on a date with someone who I’m really into but who only feels “meh” about me? That doesn’t sound like fun at all. Sounds kind of soul-crushing, actually.

    So, for example, if I ask someone on a date and they say, “I’m not sure,” that means they’re not as interested in me as I am in them (because if they were, their answer would be “Yes!”). Or if I ask someone to do X thing with me and they say they’re not interested in X, or they’re busy that day, or whatever – and don’t propose any alternative activity – that tells me they’re not very invested in hanging out with me. I have better things to do with my time than spend it with people who aren’t that into me.

    This means that even if I interpret what someone is saying 100% literally, I’ll take a soft ‘no’ as a sign that dating wouldn’t be fun for either of us anyway.

    1. Yeah, and for those people (like me!) who sometimes take a bit to figure out if we’re interested in someone, it puts the responsibility on us to say so if we decide we DO want to hang out! I sometimes hear pushback from women against telling men not to ask women out multiple times if she’s been ambiguous, because there’s a cultural expectation that women will be coy, etc. But like…if someone asks me out, I say “meh”, and then the guy decides “oh, guess she’s not that into me” and moves on? If I then later realize I did like him, or decide I’d like to go on a date etc. it is and *should* be up to me to make that unambiguously clear, IMO.

      it’s hard because I have heard from women who say things like “well I’d never have ended up with the love of my life if he hadn’t pushed past my vague responses to keep asking!” and like…ok, that may be true but it’s not a reason NOT to tell guys to respect women’s soft no!

  71. Hi LW. You say you have trouble identifying your feelings, so I’m going to tell you what I read off your letter in the hopes it’ll help you in future.


    “someone had to point out to me that I probably had feelings for Friend. As a result, I spend a good month making sure that was the case, and then another week or so to work up to nerve to tell Friend about these feelings.”

    On thing I think you probably felt at this point, which may have contributed to the mistakes you made, was socially validated. From your phrasing, I’m assuming that the person who pointed out your feelings pointed them out in a friendly way rather than saying, ‘You have a crush on her? How ridiculous!’ If someone points out you have romantic feelings for someone and treats that as a reasonable way to feel, people generally feel more confident that their romantic feelings might lead to a relationship.

    Next, I want to compare two things you said one right after the other:

    “My thinking was that she was afraid to say no because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so I assured her that that would not be the case. (Sure, it might sting a little, but once the band-aid is ripped off it feels better.)”


    “In an attempt to sway Friend’s response one way or the other, I gave her a poem for Valentine’s Day.”

    Okay, if your thinking really was that she wanted to say no but feared to hurt your feelings, you wouldn’t have felt that a poem was a realistic approach to make. From your description, your thinking was that she feared to say no, but your actions suggest you thought or felt she was considering saying yes. I suspect that what you were really feeling was that it was probably no, but you weren’t ready to accept that.

    Of course, a girl can feel interested AND unwilling to hurt someone’s feelings by saying no, but in this case, you should have listened to your initial thoughts. If she was afraid to say no, giving her a Valentine of any kind was just going to make it harder for you. Whatever the content of the poem, the day was a romantic one, so there’s no way she wouldn’t read it as a romantic approach. And you yourself admit you were attempting to ‘sway her feelings’.

    So I think at this point, what you were feeling was a combination of hope and impatience. You weren’t sure, but you thought you had a shot, and you weren’t comfortable waiting to find out. And that’s ok! Nobody feels comfortable waiting to hear if someone wants your heart or not. You were anxious, and you wanted to be put out of your misery. But I’m afraid that’s one of those discomforts we have to learn to tolerate if we’re gonna have a good adulthood.

    “(It’s worth mentioning that my romantic interest in Friend had diminished greatly by this point, due to other difficulties in my life)

    I’m not upset she said no. I’m upset she said “maybe” when she meant “no”.

    Okay, if your romantic interest was diminished but you’re upset she didn’t turn you down unequivocally sooner, then there’s definitely a word for what you’re feeling. That word is ’embarrassed.’

    And again, that’s ok! It is embarrassing to be turned down; rejection makes us feel bad about ourselves, and the fact that you made efforts to sway her feelings during the wait time makes it more embarrassing still. And that’s uncomfortable. And it’s normal to feel uncomfortable. Embarrassment is an unpleasant emotion.

    So when you say:

    “It hurts me to know how uncomfortable she must have been during my advances.”

    … I think ‘hurts me’ is the wrong way to put it to yourself. She didn’t do anything to you by finding it hard to know what to say to you. You put yourself out there and it didn’t pan out, so you’re feeling humiliated and possibly ashamed. These are ok things to feel! But they’re yours to deal with. Go do something nice for somebody unconnected with this situation; that’s the fastest way to start feeling good about yourself again. You made a mistake, so go do some good stuff to put between the mistake and you.

    But instead, you’re on this:

    “How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation?”

    And at this point, I fear what you’re feeling is resentment.

    Now, resentment is an easy thing to feel in a situation like this. It’s a way of taking the sense of wrongdoing that goes with embarrassment and shoving it back at the other person. If you can tell yourself she wronged you by allowing you to go on for so long, then you don’t have to feel bad for going on, right?

    But the thing is, she is not going to want you to shove those bad feelings on her. It’s very hard to feel apologetic or sympathetic to someone who says they feel hurt by you when they’re clearly feeling resentful. That just makes her feel resentful back, and less willing to know you in the future.

    Look, hon, you’ve got a bunch of uncomfortable feelings going on. A lot of people in this thread have been on the receiving end of guys who had similar uncomfortable feelings and handled them badly, which is probably why a lot of what’s being said to you is quite sharp. But the thing is, the stuff you’ve been feeling – hopeful, then anxious, then embarrassed – is all a perfectly normal and ok way to feel. Whether or not you’re a good guy is about how you handle these feelings, not about whether you feel them in the first place.

    So in this situation, a mensch does the following:

    1. Concludes that being honest about your interest in someone is a good thing to do – after all, you’re not still dangling around this girl wondering what to say to her, right?

    2. Realises that asking once is enough, that anything other than a definite ‘yes’ should be taken as a ‘no’, and learns from the mistake.

    3. Fills his life with good stuff so that next time he’s in a state of romantic tension – because yeah, that will happen again, it just goes with the territory – he can put his focus onto the other things he cares about, and is better able to hang in there and resist the temptation to pressure the girl for an answer.

    4. Backs off this girl, accepts that she doesn’t want to have an emotional conversation, and treats her nicely in the future without any pressure for either romance or a big feelings talk.

    5. Licks his wounds, builds up his confidence, works on his emotional skills, keeps on truckin.

    1. +1,000. This is a really great response and I hope the LW finds it as useful as I do. You’ve named the feelings, explained the story, and given concrete advice for how to “manage feelings” and “process emotions” (phrases I have heard so much of, but had so little concrete understanding of how to achieve). Well done!

      1. Yes! Another +1000!

        This was so, so useful to me. Not because I’m in the LW’s same shoes but this breakdown/analysis can be applied to so many other emotional situations.

        I’m always appreciative of the Captain’s and the Commentariat’s advice.

    2. Ice and Indigo, I’m saving your response. Beautifully, eloquently and clearly written. Thank you. I also hope LW reads this and saves it.

    3. another +1000!
      This is very helpful! I wish someone had told me this many many years ago.

  72. I agree with Captain’s advice wholeheartedly. However, I also think societal culture has trained LW, and people like him, to think that there is still “hope” if there isn’t a firm “no,” even though there wasn’t or isn’t in the first place. Also, I have noticed in many societies and cultures there is this expectation that if you want to be happy or fulfilled, you have to be in a relationship or be married. This has caused a lot of feelings of rejection, shame, and pain for people like me–and I think for LW as well. However, I have observed in my own life and that of those around me, that you can be perfectly happy and yes, fulfilled, being single. My aunt was single for her entire life, and when she died there were many people who attended her funeral, a testament to the difference and to her service for others around her. She didn’t feel sorry for herself, nor was she an unhappy person. There are also guys I know who are also single, but they lead perfectly happy and fulfilled lives.

  73. “(Note to all: Please don’t send me the same letter multiple times in a row, I don’t like it).”

    Captain, can I just tell you how much I appreciate this part of your response? It’s been rattling around in my head since I read it. It’s such an unambiguous, unapologetic statement. It’s perfect. It’s not often that we get to see women expressing their preferences and setting their boundaries in such clear, direct, authoritative terms. Thank you for modeling this for us.

  74. I don’t think this is territory you’ve strayed into because it sounds like Friend was able to keep deflecting and shutting it down. But I think you also need to be aware that a yes which has been coerced in any way [including emotional manipulation or emotional abuse or harrassment] is also not actually a yes.

    That sometimes people will say yes because they can no longer deal with the kind of abuse/pressure/emotional labour that is being put on them when they resist. Saying yes in those circumstances at least makes that stop even if it just switches the harm into another form. I had a bf when I was about 18 that thought it was fine to ignore soft nos sometimes for hours with him asking every 30 seconds until I couldn’t take it anymore and said yes to just make it stop. Asking him to stop asking didn’t work. As far as he was concerned the fact that I had uttered the word ok in the end meant he was now in the clear despite such a long time of hearing the opposite. This is not what consent looks like.

    Please look for actual consent. An actual enthusiastic yes. A yes which has not been pressured or forced, a yes which is not given because the negative consequences of saying no are worse. That includes from the sheer energy expenditure of having to defend or respond with your position.

    People can only enthusiastically consent when they are given a choice free of coercion, pressure or manipulation. If someone is not able to say no and have it respected [a hard or soft no], then the fact that they may have said the word yes to something in the end becomes meaningless.

  75. LW, we have all been there. This has been a painful and important lesson that the majority of humanity, male and female, has to learn. It SUCKS. Please follow the advice the Captain gave. If you look back and feel embarrassed, try to treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness. Hindsight is 20/20.

    When you feel ready for this, my 7th grade math teacher gave the class this random piece of advice that has served me well: When you have a crush on someone or date a person and it ends, make a list of what you liked about that person and what you didn’t like. The more times this happens the better you become at discerning what you do and don’t like. Each time you learn more about yourself.

  76. My read was a little different, so here goes. (I didn’t read the comments.)
    LW, you seem to approach feelings pretty…logically – someone told you that you might have feelings for her, so you thought about it for some time and then determined what to do. If someone asked you out, I imagine you might react like that, too – say “huh, I don’t know yet, I’ll tell you when I figure it out”. And then think about it for some time, and determine what to do.

    Your friend doesn’t seem to work like that. Lots of people don’t. I think your friend knew she didn’t want to date you right away, and her “I don’t know” was a soft “no”. Which you didn’t understand because your “I don’t know” would have been a straightforward “I don’t know yet”.

    Lots of people, especially women, say “I’m not sure” or use other softening language when they mean “no”. This may be different from how you think and communicate, but it’s important to respect that and try to understand them anyway.

    My suggestion is: the next time you ask for something and they say “I don’t know”, take it as a no. If they think about it, and say yes later, that’s great! But people really aren’t going to forget that you asked them out, so asking them again (or subtly reminding them like with the poem) just makes it awkward and stressful if they meant “no”.

  77. Hi,

    You’re both still learning how to interact with others in a dating way – so possibly you should cut both of you some slack. (You get to be a bit embarrassed about pushing too much – but you also get to learn from it – which is part of the whole purpose of a negative emotion like embarrassment. She will have learnt either that her soft “no” wasn’t understood and/or that being unsure/indecisive can sometimes end up with someone she *might* have wanted to date to behave in ways that means she definitely doesn’t want to date them).

    But, since you say that part of what is hurtful to you is that she didn’t say a clear “no” more directly – please consider what your behaviour from here on out might lead her to learn. If you decide to follow the Captains advice – ie accept her “no” and maybe (at very most, if you’re still having semi-normal friendly communication with her) say “sorry for making stuff weird, I’ll shut up about it now”, then one thing she may learn is that “saying a direct ‘no’ made stuff better – the chasing stopped and (maybe) she got her friend back. If you follow your inclination of telling her off for not saying a direct ‘no’ initially, then one thing she may learn is that “saying ‘no’ directly doesn’t help – the chasing continues, just in a different form”.

    Some young woman you may want to date in the future is possibly having a very similar experience to this right now with a different young man. So consider thinking about what you want that young woman to be learning about what happens when a direct “no” is said, and behave in a similar manner with this young woman.

  78. I was definitely taught (and learned from bitter, painful experience) that a definite “no” to a man’s romantic interest was risky and dangerous. I am not saying that you would respond that way, LW. I just think that it is easy for some folks to forget that a woman’s hard “no” is sometimes met with violence. Sometimes, a “maybe” and a slow fade out can seem like a safer option to a woman faced with a persistent suitor.

    1. I am not saying that a soft no is better, I am just remembering my own experiences with boys and men who would not accept my no. Many men chose to retaliate with verbal abuse or by spreading rumors. More than a few men chose to attack my physically.

      I know that you didn’t behave violently, LW. Not accusing you at all. I just think that looking at this from your friend’s point of view might help. Having someone violate her boundaries like that sounds unpleasant and would make a lot if folks really nervous. Also, expecting someone to apologize because your feelings are hurt by their “no” is not so good. I am glad you are seeking help, though you didn’t get the exact answer you were looking for. The Cap’n gave you some valuable advice that will help in your future forays into romance.

    2. That’s true; I’ve had “no” and “maybe” met with hostility ranging from passive aggression to downright frightening stalker behavior. If he’s persistent and doesn’t take hints, she’s probably afraid that he’s one of those guys, especially given that he’s making this about her hurting his feelings. That’s why so many guys receive no answer at all.

  79. If she knew the whole time, and I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest, why couldn’t she just say so?

    LW, by now I think you’ve heard plenty about how you did not in fact create an environment where it was safe for Friend to be honest, so I’m not going to beat that one into the ground. What I want to tell you is that it’s literally impossible to *make* someone feel safe. You can (and should!) try your best, but you can’t *make* someone feel safe anymore than you can make someone feel happy. Neither you nor I nor anybody else has that much power over other people’s state of mind.

    The reason I want you to know that is because I got the idea from your letter that you think if you had just some how asked “correctly” and done just the right things you could have made friend give you that hard no you were looking for earlier. That’s just not how people work. Even if you had respected Friend’s many soft nos, she still might never have felt comfortable giving you a hard no. You shouldn’t feel like you failed somehow just because you couldn’t overcome the way your friend (and everybody else who was assumed to be a girl when they were born) was trained from birth to do everything she possibly can to avoid bluntly telling a guy No.

    I have some doubts that an immediate hard no would actually have made you happier than Friend’s attempt to let you save face by giving you repeated soft nos, but if extremely direct communication is what you want from a romantic partner, you can absolutely 100% hold out for that. You can do that even with someone whose first answer to “Do you want to go out on a date with me?” is “Maybe? I need time to think about it.” Here’s how: you ask them out and then you leave the ball in their court and refuse to take any hints. If you want direct communication from your partner, don’t pursue people who haven’t directly said “Yes! I would love to go on a date with you!” Assume a no unless you get a very clear and direct Yes!, like many others have said.

    After lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses, the answer was determined to be no, as of last week.

    LW, I know that you’ve gotten the same societal bullshit we all have about how pursuing (read: relentlessly hounding) women is romantic or something, and I know wishful thinking is a thing, but I’m still a little unsettled that you never thought about whether you would ever in a million years do “lots of avoiding the question and deflecting responses” if someone you were excited about asked you out. That’s a really clear no, and even if it wasn’t, would you really want to date someone so utterly unenthusiastic about you?

    Rejection sucks, but learning how to deal with it will be really, really useful later in life. Job-searching, for example, involves a freaking *ton* of rejection. It can be pretty awful. But if you can respond to a rejection for a job with a cheerful “Thanks for letting me know!” then you have a chance of ever working for that company in the future. If you hound them for the exact reasons they rejected you and argue with them about how they didn’t reject you “right”, then you will never ever work there. Even after getting a job you’ll still deal with all kinds of rejection: raises, promotions, getting onto interesting projects, funding/publication/tenure/etc if you go into academia, totally platonic friendship, making new friends, spending time with old friends. Not to be a total downer, but everybody deals with a lot of rejection throughout their lives and the sooner you learn that other people aren’t responsible for your feelings, the happier you’ll be.

  80. Apart from all the great stuff the Captain and all the others have said, there is something else in the LW that reminds me of me and that I am just recently starting to understand. Working on yourself, LW, is a great thing. You are learning to feel your own feelings, to understand them and to communicate them. That is way beyond where I was when I was your age. I applaud you for that and encourage you to continue on that journey. It will pay out!

    But sometimes, in celebration of developing those skills, we develop expectations and a certain entitlement to other peoples’ processes with these things. We expect, because we have worked so hard on ourselves, that other people are where we are, and that they answer in such a way that it reflects the progress we have made for ourselves. This expectation is unconscious, I think, but very counterproductive, and it needs to be made conscious for us to be able to navigate situations in which we don’t get the answers we were hoping for.

    You were brave and communicated your feelings, and you expected your friend to be at the same spot where you were. You were expecting a mirror of yourself. Someone created in your image. Even though you say you considered that your friend might have similar problems understanding her own feelings, your understanding of this didn’t go far enough. You didn’t take it seriously. You didn’t extend the knowledge you acquired of yourself to her because you expected her to be aware of her own lack of awareness: You were expecting, if she wasn’t as far as you on her process of understanding her feelings, that she still be far enough to understand her own lack of understanding to communicate it to you in a way you deemed clear enough and corresponding to your level of emotional understanding. That is just an impossible expectation. Most people who don’t understand something are not aware of their lack of understanding and are even less capable of verbalizing that lack of understanding! If you were to take truly seriously that she herself might be struggling with her own feelings, you should have used that as a perfect reason to leave her alone, let her sort it out, and expect nothing further from her because you know that feeling, understanding and expressing feelings is no trivial matter.

    You were more concerned with resolving your own situation with your feelings by achieving a relationship than you were with the fact that feelings are difficult for everyone. This happens when you are overwhelmed with your own feelings. You project a lot on other people, specially that they are responsible for your feelings being less overwhelming.

    This danger of projecting means that it’s a good rule to respect people’s answer to you, no matter which shape the answer takes. Communication is often about learning to read what people give you and deal with it for yourself, just like other people learn to read what you give them. You dont go around shoving your own standards onto other people for you to consider the exchange successful. The way people express themselves is outside of your control, and a person with good boundaries will know that. Your growth is great but it cannot turn into a standard with which you measure other people. All you can do is try to start a dialogue if something needs clarification. But a dialogue will always imply a huge level of respect for how the other person expresses themselves, which, like I explained here, you were not having when you implied her own very way of communicating was due to a moral flaw of hers.

  81. Dear LW,

    Please think of it like this. Imagine if someone you liked offered you a pie – they know you like pie, they know you like this particular flavor of pie but unfortunately, you’ve just eaten and you’re not sure if you want pie.

    You say ‘maybe later’ or ‘let me think about it’.

    They then follow you around, repeatedly pushing the pie in your face, telling you how great the pie is, asking why don’t you want the pie, are you ready for the pie yet, etc. At this point, you’re going to have 1 of 2 reactions.

    1) Snap that you don’t want the pie, STOP IT, you might’ve wanted it if they weren’t being so INSISTENT about it, LEAVE ME ALONE.
    2) Take the damn pie to shut them up, eat it or throw it away sneakily, resent them for having acted like that.

    If it’s the latter, maybe you make the other person happy – but you’re going to be miserable and possibly in pain from making yourself eat the pie. You’re also going to be angry with them either way.

    If someone is thinking over a decision (and I’m assuming here that she was thinking about it, not just giving you a soft no which is also possible but I’m sure other people have covered), pestering about them it repeatedly is the best way to make them decide against you because they have been aggravated.

    And in this case, we’re talking not just about pie but your heart. There is a lot more at stake for her than a tummy ache if this goes wrong and from the sounds of it, she’s already suffering for having said no.

    You messed up in trying to force pie onto her. Don’t blame her for saying no in the end, don’t blame her for having wanted to consider her options and then decided no. Just apologize, let it drop and don’t ever mention pie again. If she wants any, she’ll tell you.

    1. Good analogy.

      I can relate to this because, as someone who has to feel safe with and friendly toward someone (in addition to being attracted to them) before dating them, I feel put on the spot when someone I have never considered dating asks me out or flirts with me and yet does not pay attention to soft NOs or discomfort or distancing body language. That causes me a lot of anxiety, to the point where I may get skittish and decide I am too uncomfortable around that person to get to know them better. This is a side effect of my particular flavor of mental illness and my “how to even sexual attraction?” wiring, it causes me more problems than anyone else, but it’s definitely a thing that happens. I’m also pretty comfortable by myself, even if I also like being partnered, so when I am single, I am often not in the mood to consider not being single. Again, making me uncomfortable and then persisting past the point where I’m eager to remove myself from the interaction is going to result in a fixed, permanent NO.

      As above, expressing interest is like pie. It’s not an inherently bad thing. I like it when my interest in someone is reciprocated or when someone I consider safe and attractive indicates that mutual interest exists, and I like pie, but I am not always in a place where I have the spoons or energy or willingness to hear about someone else’s interest in me OR to eat pie. I may even wish I was less skittish romantically / socially, or that I could eat more types of and larger servings of pie, but wishing doesn’t make something that isn’t going to happen suddenly more likely to happen.

      1. Are you me? Skittish is the word. Unless they push too hard and then it’s bolt.

    2. This reminds me: it’s kinda scary that one of the most widely read and beloved books ever – Green Eggs & Ham – delivers its intended and more obvious message of ‘try it, you might like it’ by way of boundary stomping, however fun the boundary stomping is. My college wanted to find a common cultural baseline among the students and a survey showed that Green Eggs & Ham was the only book every student had read and remembered.
      We learn the message early.

  82. I appreciate the discussion about this, from both men and women. My take is that the Captain’s answer was good and I agree with everything she said, but I’ve never seen a letter here that received so much admonishing. It felt slightly unbalanced.

    1. I have had a hard time hearing “no” and have let wishful thinking lead me into many embarrassing situations. My life got better when I stopped doing this. The Letter Writer’s life will get better when he stops doing this. Unlike me at his age, someone is telling him directly (a thing he wanted) not to behave like this, so hopefully he will nip it in the bud.

      If you’re wondering “why the admonishment,” it’s pretty simple: When men can’t soothe their own feelings, and when men refuse to read “soft no” from women, when men are angry about rejection and want an excuse to make women responsible, we end up here. Or worse. The fear – If I’m too direct, will I lose my friend? Will he hurt me? – is something women and girls have to live with all the time. Returning some of that awkwardness to sender isn’t pretty, but it is necessary sometimes. I think the Letter Writer was just oblivious and trying to do the right thing, but there is an obliviousness that can still harm people.

  83. Wow, there’s a lot of dismissal here in the comments about the gendered nature of these interactions, and how a culture of misogyny a) encourages men and boys to not take no for an answer or keep nagging and wearing a woman or girl into a yes and b) how societal expectations for girls and women push us to give soft no’s. Hell, men and boys give soft no’s and that’s okay, we’re supposed to figure it out. A woman or girl does it and she’s being dishonest and terrible and should soothe the guy’s feelings. And if we’re direct, we can face retaliation (and then we’re rude.)

    We can’t win. And it’s not okay that some folks in the comment section here are ignoring that.

      1. The dismissal I’m seeing here around this is really fucking gross. “Women have been like the LW” does not fucking erase how gendered this shit is and the misogynist thinking behind it.

    1. I don’t think anyone is ignoring how gender plays into interactions like this. What I’ve read other commenters saying is that they are not straight cisgender men, and yet when they were the LW’s age they made _exactly_ the same mistakes as he did. If their lived experiences tell them that the OP’s wrongs can arise from some factor other than male privilege, then yeah — they’re going to posit that there may be another dimension to what’s going on in his situation.

      And also, I want to push back in more direct terms on the idea that girls and women learn soft noes as a matter of course, and/or that there are universal societal expectations for girls and women. There are not. For example, black women and girls do not face the same level of expectation to be indirect in their manner when dealing with boys and men. (I could go on about the stereotyped roles black women and girls get slotted into, by both black and non-black folks, but I won’t. That information can be found by consuming media created by black people.)

      So when I read statements like “Societal expectations for girls and women push us to give soft no’s,” my shoulders go up around my ears. Given my experiences, it reads like “Societal expectations for girls and women [who look like me] push us to give soft no’s.”

  84. I’ve generally had trouble understanding my own emotions, to the point where someone had to point out to me that I probably had feelings for Friend.

    Feelings can be really confusing. It’s great that you recognize that you have trouble understanding your own emotions. I would continue to work on that, for yourself, not for any potential relationship in the future.

    Shortly after the break, Friend responds saying she doesn’t know if she feels similarly towards me. I understand this, because of earlier stated emotional issues.

    Do you though? You spent a month thinking about whether or not you should tell Friend about your feelings, but you don’t seem to be extending the same courtesy to her that you gave yourself – the courtesy of not being sure and wanting to think about it.

    My thinking was that she was afraid to say no because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so I assured her that that would not be the case. (Sure, it might sting a little, but once the band-aid is ripped off it feels better.)

    Again, you’re unsure of your emotions, but you seem pretty positive that you know what your Friend was feeling.

    In an attempt to sway Friend’s response one way or the other, I gave her a poem for Valentine’s Day.


    Still no change in response.

    Fast forward to last week. After a long-ish talk and more reassurance that it doesn’t matter to me what the answer is, as long as Friend is honest about it, Friend finally said she didn’t see me as a potential partner.

    (It’s worth mentioning that my romantic interest in Friend had diminished greatly by this point, due to other difficulties in my life)

    So….it’s okay if your feelings changed but not Friend’s?

    On to the FEELINGS!

    I’m not upset she said no. I’m upset she said “maybe” when she meant “no”. If she knew the whole time, and I (hopefully) created an environment where we could both be honest, why couldn’t she just say so?

    I think you are upset that she said no, and you’re also assuming (again) that she knew the whole time and chose to hide it from you.

    In the past I had issues with boundaries (mine and other people’s), so it’s kind of a big deal to me that I respect people’s boundaries as best I can. It feels like to me, by not saying no earlier, that she didn’t tell me about a boundary she had, and I crossed that boundary multiple times. It hurts me to know how uncomfortable she must have been during my advances.

    That’s great that you want to respect other people’s boundaries. That’s something you should continue to work on improving. But here, you’re inventing a boundary for your friend and then blaming her? for not telling you? So you crossed it?

    I tried to have a conversation with Friend about FEELINGS, but ultimately it was a monologue. It was a pretty short monologue, as I didn’t want a FEELINGSBOMB to go off. Friend’s response was along the lines of “conversations with a high emotional content make me uncomfortable so I just shut down and hope the problem goes away on its own.”

    I think you did FEELINGSBOMB her. Friend has told you she didn’t feel the way about you that you did about her and that she didn’t want to have this conversation. That seems pretty clear.

    The conversation did not help things.

    This letter is getting very long, so on to the point:

    How can I communicate FEELINGS without it getting out of hand? How can I explain that what Friend did was hurtful without her just shutting down in the middle of the explanation? Am I getting too worked up over this?

    Please don’t FEELINGSEXPLAIN to Friend that what she did was hurtful because she didn’t respond using exactly the parameters that you wanted her to. It’s okay to be upset about getting rejected. It’s not okay to hound the person who rejected you with repeated demands for them to hear you out about how if they had only responded THIS way, you wouldn’t be mad, why did they do that?

    It looks to me like you are being really generous with yourself when it comes to figuring out your feelings (good!) and not very generous to your Friend (not good).

    Next time you want to ask someone if they’d like to consider you as a romantic partner, ask. Then actually listen to and respect their response. Anything other than a clear and enthusiastic YES means that you need to back off and let that person figure it out. No poems, no FEELINGSBOMBS, no demands for an answer delivered in the one and only specific way that makes it okay for you.

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