Nearly 2 years ago I joined a MMORPG community for the first time. Through a series of events, I met a guy who has become one of my best friends. We are bizarrely similar at times and he’s really been there for me. It started out just online but we now have each other’s numbers and text A LOT throughout the day. He has never had a girlfriend and I was raised in a religious, sheltered household and have never had a boyfriend either. (For context, I still am religious and I would NEVER be intimate before marriage and would never marry outside my religion. I admit I’m not doing everything right spiritually but this is not “just my parents’ religion” to me. My only close friend is also of this religion and I feel I cannot talk about this with her because I’m sure she would encourage stopping all contact.)
He’s been there for me so much and really understands me. But I think he’s in love with me…and it’s not mutual. I care about him as a friend but I don’t feel that way about him and some of his comments are starting to make me concerned. In the year since we started texting, he has told me about a ton of dreams about me (including one where he was my date at that friend’s wedding and after I caught the bouquet, we were at the altar – he described this dream as being especially vivid). He has asked me, very embarrassed, to not casually mention if I’m getting in the shower because it “gets him excited”. He’s also mentioned that he’s going to start saving up money to come visit me, which my parents are EXTREMELY not okay with. They have mostly hesitantly accepted the friendship but are very wary and my mom is really worried about it turning into something more. I’ve hidden behind my parents not wanting him to visit but the truth is that I don’t want to meet him. I’m good being texting buddies. But when he mentioned this plan and I said “I don’t know how my parents would feel about that” he responded “what, me saving some money?”. (He once also mentioned he believes he “accidentally found” my address somehow. I was afraid to ask how and did not ask him what he thought it was to confirm or anything. My parents don’t know this. I was very clear that he cannot send me anything.) His family teases him and calls me his girlfriend, and while he tells me he denies it, I worry hearing that from them isn’t helping.
We are both overweight and have incredibly low self-esteem. I don’t know how to clearly tell him I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship because this kind of attention is brand new to me. While I’ve tried to head some of it off, I feel like every text I send him is leading him on and making this worse. I know him well enough that I know it would break him if I cut this off and I don’t really want the friendship to end either. I’m afraid there’s no way I can be painfully clear that I don’t want more and not ruin everything.
(As a freaky side note, there’s another weird side to this: he has a lot in common with my dad. Not really personality-wise – though they’re both pretty big know-it-alls – but they have the same first name, birthdays 2 days apart, and middle names different by just 1 letter. I still call this friend by his (female) character name from the game because of this. Just in case you were wondering if the situation could get even weirder…)
Please help me,
I just don’t feel that way
Hi there, “I Just Don’t Feel That Way”,
I’ve been thinking about your letter for a few days now and this is what’s happening:
Your friend is trying to groom you into being his girlfriend by making his fantasy about that so big and airtight and real that you can’t say no to it. After all, his family is in on it with their jokes! Even his DREAMS are in on it! His fantasy is that he’ll show up at your house and you’ll be so swept away in his romantic gesture and how meant to be it all is that you’ll just, like, be his girlfriend.
But he’s not asking you if you want to participate in any of it.
He’s telling you he “gets excited” when you take showers and that he ferreted out where you live even though you never told him and he plans to visit even though you never invited him (and have in fact told him not to) but you are so worried about losing him as a friend or hurting his feelings that you don’t feel like you can say “EW! Nope!” And what he’s counting on in his fantasy is that when he shows up you’ll be too surprised/overwhelmed/embarrassed/afraid of hurting his feelings to tell him “no” then.
That’s a situation he’s manufacturing and taking advantage of, and I don’t like it. I know he is young and inexperienced and he is having big feelings that he doesn’t quite know what to do with, so I have some sympathy for his crush, but I have little patience for the damaging way he’s going about this. I’ve definitely acted in the same smothering, oblivious way toward people I had a crush on when I was too chicken to risk rejection, and I am mortified when I think about it now. It’s not okay to cast someone as the star in all your future plans without their consent. It’s not okay to make your hopes about that person more important than that person’s actual feelings or consent. What he’s doing is not okay and he needs to stop it.
I wouldn’t worry too much about his resemblance to your dad. I think it’s the other side of the coin of your friend telling you his dreams about you, where he is casting around for cosmic reasons that this is all a yes, at the same time you are looking for reasons that aren’t specifically hurtful to him to justify your no. Good news: You don’t have to justify it! You don’t feel that way, and that’s a good enough reason to not participate in this fantasy anymore.
Girls are not socialized to be direct with boys and say stuff like:
- “I don’t like that.”
- “Why are you telling me this.”
- “Ick, please don’t say things like that to me.”
- “Idk why you keep telling me dreams about me being your girlfriend, but I’d like you to stop – I don’t want to know that stuff.”
- “Why are you planning a visit here? I haven’t invited you.”
- “My parents would not be cool with you visiting, but that’s beside the point: I haven’t invited you, and I don’t want you to visit.”
- “I’d rather just stay texting buddies.”
- “I like you as a friend, and the stuff you’re saying about ‘getting excited’ when I take a shower or planning a visit when I haven’t invited you is making it weird between us. Please stop.”
- “I feel like you fantasize about me being your girlfriend. I don’t like that, I don’t have that same fantasy, and I want you to stop.”
- “If you want me to be your girlfriend, why don’t you just ask me, so I can say no and we can go back to being friends. This dream stuff and threatening to visit is kinda freaking me out.”
- “I don’t feel that way about you.”
And boys are not socialized to hear that stuff and take it seriously when girls say it. Look at what this guy is already doing to push boundaries – looking up where you live, making plans to visit you, and making light of it when you tell him you don’t want him to. Look at what you feel like you have to do – how much emotional labor you have to take on trying to strategize to deal with his feelings that you never asked for!
We can do better than this, I think. Boys’ fantasies are not more important than girls’ desires. Boy feelings are not more important than girl feelings. You don’t have to take care of them at the expense of your own.
It’s also okay to flirt with someone who is flirting with you while you even figure out how you feel. Even if you enjoyed his attention or were curious about it for five minutes before deciding to shut it down, that doesn’t make you equally responsible for what he’s doing or to blame if he’s hurt when you don’t want to continue. A lot of people and religious traditions try to make boys’ actions and feelings the responsibility of girls to carry, like y’all tempted him or something, and that is not okay to do. Anyone who tries to tell you this is your fault somehow (even if that’s you) is wrong.
I wish I could confidently tell you that this probably ends happily, where you tell the dude to cool it and he stops immediately and you go back to being cool friends like you were all this time. The first time you tell him no, get ready for a ROYAL SULK. Get ready for him to be suddenly short with you and sort of punish you with how and when he responds. Get ready for him to try to pretend that he never felt that way about you, get ready for him to say mean stuff about how you “led him on,” or get ready for him to say a lot of mean stuff about himself to the point where you end up reassuring him that it’s all okay and you’re not mad (even though it isn’t okay and you kind of are). Get ready for weirdness, is what I’m saying. That weirdness isn’t your fault and it also isn’t a reason to not say what you need to say.
I’m older than you and I’ve lived inside the internet for a very long time, so I’ve had A LOT (alotalotalotalotalot) of the “Male internet friend who is 99% awesome but who still keeps trying to insert sexual or romantic stuff into conversations on the regular” interactions. Before achieving my full Captain Awkward form, I experimented with lots of ways of defusing this stuff. As an awkward dork who had no idea how to flirt, I was very forgiving of fellow awkward dorks trying out their flirtation training wheels and sometimes let stuff go on for way too long before I said anything. Sometimes I liked the reminders that people found me attractive, sometimes I threw out innuendo with the best of them. But over time it just got really awkward and old, especially when people kept doing it even though I wasn’t reciprocating.
One thing I tried for a while was to completely ignore it – like, I’d respond to everything else the person said, but totally ignore the “You’re getting in the shower? That makes me excited!” comments (a classic since 1998, apparently, like, did you know that people can just clean themselves without it being sexual in any way). Sadly, this almost never worked. How I saw what I was doing: “Friend, I am going to pretend you never said that embarrassing thing and give you the face-saving plausible deniability to walk it back.” How my Friend(s) saw this: “She was cool with me mentioning my boner! Go for bonertalk. I repeat, boners are a go!”
I also tried total sincerity: “Friend, I’m not down with the sexy chat. When you make comments like that, it skeeves me out, please stop!”
This was a mixed bag. I’d say 50% of the time the person would be like “Hey, sorry, no worries” and then keep things G or PG, because they actually wanted to be my friend and really were just sport-flirting.
The other 50% got real icky, I’m not gonna lie. “Bitch.” “Y so full of yourself.” “Yeah like I’d do that with you.” “Don’t flatter yourself.” “I was only kidding.” “You’re no fun at all.” “You take yourself too seriously.” “Slut.” “Get a sense of humor.”
Now I recognize this for what it was (pathetic wounded pride lashing out), but at the time it really hurt my feelings to have someone go from acting like my friend to acting like I was inviting or making up gross behavior they were doing. I mean, it would probably still hurt my feelings if someone I trusted behaved that way, but I’d figure out the “LOL, sad!” part quicker. People who reacted this way are not my friends anymore.
Almost worse than the insults or the gaslighting about what had been happening was: “Why do no women like me like that/Am I doomed to be alone/what’s wrong with meeeeeeeeee?” Like, now I have to pity someone and comfort someone for the gross line-stepping thing they chose to do. Great. If your friend feels embarrassed or hurt because of rejection, that’s a normal thing for him to feel, but that doesn’t make it your problem or your responsibility.
The other response to watch out for: “Well, if you felt that way, why didn’t you say something before?” aka “Why did you let me embarrass myself?” aka “Let’s look for the ways that my weird wishful thinking boundary crossing behavior might be your fault.” Treat this like the horsepoop it is and say “I thought if I ignored it, it would stop” or “I did say something but you didn’t listen to me” or even better “I am saying something now, so, you’re going to stop it, right?” which is the most important part.
Your friend might surprise you (and all of us) by being gentle and kind and cool about it. If he’s not cool, that’s about him, and not about you. If someone who will project a whole relationship that you don’t want onto you blames you for puncturing his bubble with your actual thoughts and feelings, that’s not because you did anything wrong.
In your shoes, I’d be getting ready to say something like “Hey, we need to talk. When you tell me dreams about being your girlfriend, or talk about how ‘excited’ you are, or make plans to visit me even though I’ve never invited you, or keep telling me about how your family jokes about us being a couple, it makes me really uncomfortable. I like being your friend, I like being friends who play video games and text occasionally. That’s all I’m interested in, and I need the other stuff to stop.”
He’ll react however he does. You might need to repeat that you want the other stuff to stop.
If he reacts badly, and especially if he doesn’t stop, the friendship might be over, or at least on a long break. You might need to block him from being able to text you or contact you through the game. You might need to tell your parents that he found your address and was making uncomfortable and scary plans to come see you, so that they can help keep you safe.
And I’m so sorry if that’s the case, but I need you to know that even if things get really weird and sad and uncomfortable, you are allowed to say no to boys. You don’t have to take care of their feelings about you, you don’t have to be quiet about your feelings in order to make them feel okay. Friendship doesn’t mean enduring behaviors that make you uncomfortable, and if this friendship breaks, you weren’t the one who broke it.