Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

When Is It Time To Let Somebody Go?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So about a year ago I met this girl, we’ll call her K. K was the new girl at work and we had a “will they/won’t thing” for bit. We did go out for a bit but it didn’t work out. The problem was we kinda went back into a “will they/won’t they routine.”

It was a frustrating experience, sometimes she acted like she wanted to try dating again other times she acted like she didn’t really want to do anything with me. Eventually the dance ended when we out for a Valentine’s dinner (neither of us has ever had a date for Valentine’s Day so we decide to be each other), and at the end of it she told me she had feelings for a different guy. Our relationship really hasn’t been the same since, because whenever she’s around me she sometimes still acts like she’s interested in me.

The only that I can think of that explains her behavior is that she misses the attention I used to give her but doesn’t want anything more than that. Which comes to my question should I drop her from my life?

She’s not a bad person but the constant back and forth just hurts me to be honest. Like I know we are never going to be thing, I really don’t want to be a thing with her after all this. The whole experience has left me feeling confused.

Any advice you could give me would be nice.


Round and Round

DEAR ROUND AND ROUND: This is the sort of letter that gets frustrating to answer because of the lack of detail. It’s a little difficult to give much insight as to what happened when there’s so little to work from or base a judgement or best guess on.

That having been said, I have a fair amount of experience with folks dealing with “will they/won’t they” relationships… and the truth is that a lot of times it was never a “will they/won’t they”, it was a “does someone not recognize this relationship for what it is?” The whole idea of a couple with simmering sexual tension that just keep dancing around the possibility of getting together or getting THIIIIIS close before something intercedes is great for television or serial fiction, but in real life, it very rarely plays out that way. More often than not, one of two things are happening. The first is that one person is misunderstanding or misjudging the interest of the other — usually mistaking friendship, even a flirty friendship for sexual or romantic interest. The other is that there was interest, at first, but it never actually went anywhere. Sometimes that’s because nobody ever made their move and asked the other out. Other times, there were some dates that went nowhere because of some x-factor; the physical chemistry wasn’t there, the timing or the circumstances weren’t right or they just weren’t compatible. Sometimes both parties will agree that yup, this didn’t work. Other times, one or the other will still be interested, while the other just isn’t feeling it; not in the way that the first person does, in any case. So you end up in a situation that feels fairly cut and dry to one person, but seems frustratingly opaque or contradictory to the other.

And that difference in perception can cause problems for the relationship itself because our beliefs are the the filter through which we see the world. If someone believes that they’ve got they’re doing this will they/won’t they dance of mutual interest that never quite gels properly, it can feel as though their crush is being maddeningly inconsistent. Meanwhile, for the person who isn’t interested in a non-platonic relationship, it gets profoundly irritating when their friend keeps trying to put them in the Relationship Zone.

Now, is that what happened with you RaR? I can’t say; I’m not there to observe like Richard Attenborough, and you don’t give much information or detail. So you’re going to have to look back at everything, as clearly and unbiased as you possibly can. This is always difficult because, frankly, it’s hard to separate our desire for a particular outcome from what’s actually going on. There’s that desire to see things in a particular way because that helps give us hope that things will work out the way we want. But try to be as rational as you can and look at possible explanations besides her teasing you and demanding your attention?

Was she being flirty to a level she isn’t with other people? Was she making a point of making sexual or romantic overtures, or was she spending time with you and being emotionally effusive? Were the times that she didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with you truly random, or did they correspond with times when you were trying to get her to start dating you again?

You say that she’s acting flirty with you again, even though she’s seeing somebody. Again: is this flirting that she does only with you, or is she like this with all her friends? Is it possible she’s treating you like a friend?

Is it possible that she’s keeping you around for the attention? Well, yes, it’s certainly possible; there’re folks out there who like to keep folks around because they like the feeling of knowing this person’s into them and they like having that sort of power over them. However, there’re far fewer of those than people would have you believe. Now, if your crush is always signalling just enough interest to keep you coming back when you start pulling away, then that might be an indicator that she’s one of them. But again: this falls into the question of “is she tempting you with the possibility of getting together, or is she trying to be a friend?”

And I can’t answer that. Only you can.

But to a certain extent, all of that is of lesser importance, because there’s another factor at play here: how do you feel? Whether this is a case of misreading things or you’re correct and she is jerking you around ultimately doesn’t matter if having her in your life is causing you pain. That’s the more important question that needs answering.

Is being friends with her or just having a platonic relationship with her upsetting to you? Is having her in your life causing you more pain and frustration than joy and companionship? Then yeah, you’re well within your rights to decide you don’t want to have a relationship with her — platonic or otherwise. While friendship isn’t the consolation prize for romance, you also don’t have to be friends with someone who turned you down, especially if that friendship makes you miserable. You’re allowed to prioritize taking care of your emotions. You can say “hey, you’re a great person and I like you, but the relationship we have isn’t going to work for me. I wish you all the best, but I’m gonna have to step away.”

I do think it would be good to see if the problem you’re having are expectations that’re coloring your interpretation of your relationship with her. If it really is the case that you’re seeing teasing and flirting where there’s only friendliness on her end, then recalibrating your expectations might solve the problem and the two of you can get back to being friends.

But if being friends with her is causing you pain, then you have every right to take care of yourself and make the decision to end your association with her.

You’re the only one who can make that call, RaR. Just be sure you’re making the right one for you.

Good luck.

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