DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m worried I may have overstepped my bounds.
I’m not the most socially skilled guy in the world, and while I keep in decent shape, I’m not going to be on the cover of GQ any time soon. The few relationships I’ve had were the result of the woman metaphorically clubbing me over the head and saying “Hey I’m interested, let’s hook up.” One worked well but ended when I had to move cross country for family issues, and the other was a train wreck because I wanted a relationship and she wanted mindless sex 24/7.
Several months ago the gas station around the corner hired a new attendant, which is pretty normal. The manager is a jerk and pretty clueless so they tend to replace employees faster than a jock changes his underwear. Since I’m in and out about twice a day I still try to take the time to get to know the new people, and since I had once worked there I occasionally offer advice or will do small things on the sales floor that need taken care of if I’m not in a hurry — stuff like starting another pot of coffee, restocking the fountain drink cups and lids, or venturing into the cooler to restock sodas if they aren’t readily available are easy enough. They only take a few seconds and don’t require going into “employee only” areas.
This young woman is actually pretty good at the job, and remarkably has managed to stick around for five months, when she’s working and I go in things are usually taken care of or being taken care of. She had a few problems starting that I helped out with like walking her through using the register and such, but the thing that confuses me is from the very start any time she sees me she starts blushing, it took her almost a month to be able to talk to me without tripping over her words which I’ll admit I found a bit amusing though I avoided teasing her about. I’ve seen how she deals with other customers (Go into a gas station between 4-5pm and it’s hard not to see how they deal with other people) and I know that the behavior isn’t normal for all of her customers. We’ve never had a chance to talk for long since I don’t want to get her in trouble but we do have similar interest and I’ve gotten the impression from her and things her co-workers that are friends have told me that she’s a genuinely great person.
Being demisexual I don’t really actively look for relationships and I rarely date but I want to give this a try. Knowing approaching her at work was probably the worst way but lacking any other option I told her I’d like a chance to hang out with her and get to know her outside of work some time and wrote my number down for her last month and asked her to call when she got a chance. A few days later though she got promoted to assistant manager and has been working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week, at the same time we seem to have taken a step back as any time she sees me she her face turns the same color as her hair and she suddenly comments to a co-worker loud enough for me to hear about something in the back area that she needs to do and vanishes. Is there some way to figure out if I over stepped a boundary Doc or do I keep acting like nothing has changed? I really would like to get to know her and see if there is the potential for a relationship, if nothing else I think it would be worthwhile to have her as a good friend.
Just Trying To Help
DEAR JUST TRYING TO HELP: Let’s talk about perception for a moment, because you’re seeing this one way, but I can promise you that just about everyone else is seeing it another.
It’s cool that you’ll help out on occasion, but I gotta be honest with you… it’s a little weird. There’s “helping carry something that’s too heavy for one person” and then there’s “dude is unloading the inventory into the fridge”. Having worked there before makes it a little less weird – ask any former bookstore employees about trying to resist the urge to straighten the shelves at Barnes and Noble – but there comes a point where it starts to seem like you’ve got ulterior motives… especially seeing as you’re already there twice a day.
So now there’s this young woman. You think she’s cute. You’ve tried to be helpful and show her the ropes. Offering advice. Doing stuff around the store. Showing her how to use the register.1 And you’re there twice a day, every day.
You realize that, as far as an outside observer sees, this goes beyond “being a regular” and well into “he’s here because of that one clerk” territory, and that’s gonna weird some people out. Especially someone who’s young, shy and in a front-facing customer service job where she pretty much has to interact with you because she’s out on her ass otherwise.
From her end of things, that makes dealing with a customer with a crush problematic. But to a certain extent, it’s a manageable one. From her perspective, yeah, it’s a little weird when he starts stocking the cooler but it’s possible to basically pretend that he’s not here because he’s into her and that he’s trying to do things for her specifically and she can just pretend not to notice that he’s into her.
Then you hand her your number and tell her to call you some time. Suddenly it’s not as easy to ignore why you’re there, talking to her. Now it’s awkward and maybe even a little creepy from her end of things and she’s trying her best to just avoid the whole matter entirely by disappearing.
You’re right: approaching her at work is pretty much the worst possible way to approach someone, especially when she’s in customer service. It’s a Dating 301 sort of approach, the kind where you’d better be pretty damn good at reading signals because people mistake professional niceness for interest and being nervous and flustered for attracted-but-shy.
Honestly, JTTH, this isn’t going anywhere good. She’s not into you and I don’t think she was in the first place. I think you misread things and got in deeper than you should have and now it’s all awkward as hell. Really, the best thing you can do right now is give her lots of space and not seek her out when you stop by the convenience store.
And seriously, unless they ask you for help? Stop doing unpaid labor there. That’s not helping you.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve just finished university (or ‘college’ as the yanks call it) and find myself in a bit of a relationship quandary with one of the first people I met after moving in. After lots of awkwardness and taking responsibility for unintentional creepiness on my part, she and I settled into a great friendship and shared a good deal of personal stuff with each other.
After I came on too strong by asking to kiss her without going on a date first, I instinctively gave her a few weeks of space. The next time we saw each other she seemed much more into me than before but I just assumed she was more secure after I had accepted her boundaries with no attempt at Nice Guy guilt trips or manipulation.
Since then we’ve had a good deal of distance put between us by final year essays and now the hunt for jobs (that she’s struggling with more than me) in our respective home towns. Her work difficulties have made me, for reasons I’m wary of thinking about, more attracted to her than ever.
I’ve mentioned I’m heading over near her for a comic con and asked if she wanted to go together or find some inexpensive fun to act as some respite. She seemed hesitant but said she’d let me know when we could meet up if her business eases off anytime soon.
With the backstory out of the way, riddle me these questions three: is this new attraction of mine based on some savior complex? Would trying to support her come off like taking advantage of her struggles to try and be close with her? If not and if things go well, is it ever worth asking someone out again after they’ve rejected you?
Awaiting a witty and insightful response,
Second Times the Charm
DEAR SECOND TIME’S THE CHARM: As a general rule, there’s nothing inherently wrong with asking somebody out after they’ve turned you down once – presuming that circumstances have changed. If they were seeing someone, or they weren’t interested before but now they’re getting a little flirty or you’re both in different places than you were before… that’s all cool. Pestering someone who’s made their wishes clear before? That ain’t cool.
Now as for your friend and crush… well, you’ve got some serious self-examining to do, STTC. You’re the one who just told me that your interest in her went up watching her struggle for work. Why is that? Are you seeing this as an opportunity to “save” her by being the RomCom cinnamon roll who shows up, slams the books shut and says “Alright, you need a break” and taking her out for a montage? Because I’ll warn you now: that doesn’t work unless you already have a pretty deep level of intimacy together. That’s the sort of grand romantic gesture that works in movies but not so much in real life.
Now as it is, it sounds like you’re getting the brush-off; she’s got some legitimate reasons why she can’t do anything, but “I’ll let you know if things ease up” is a pretty standard soft “no”. Most of the time when someone really wants to see you, either they’ll make time or they’ll suggest a specific alternate time.
But for argument’s sake, we’ll presume that she is down to meet up when you’re in town. So let’s game this out a little: you’re in town, she’s got a little free time to see you. What, exactly, do you expect to happen when you go up there? Are you seeing this as “quick lunch, a mutual vent session over the bulls
t of trying to find work, and going your separate ways”? Or are you holding out hope that this is going to start off as grabbing a drink somewhere, then maybe oh-look-at-the-time-you-hungry-I-could-eat-lets-get-dinner, then maybe another drink and a long walk as the stars come out and you’re sharing various intimacies about your life and then standing in front of her building or her car and going “So…”?
Going into this hoping that you can turn a friendly meet-up into Schrödinger’s Date isn’t something you do to a friend – especially a friend who’s struggling with life at the moment. It adds a layer of stress and confusion to an already stressful situation and makes her wonder whether she can rely on you as a friend or if you’re always going to be looking for an “in”. That means that now she can’t trust you the way she could before, can’t open up to you the way she could before or generally look to you for emotional support. That’s a pretty shitty thing to do to someone under a lot of stress.
The difference between being a genuine friend and a Nice GuyTM (as opposed to a good guy) is one of having an agenda. I mean, there’s “Hey, you’ve been having a rough time of it, let’s go blow off some steam and do something fun to take your mind off your troubles” and then there’s “I want to be the person to make her feel better so she’s grateful and realizes what a wonderful guy I am and starts to fall for me.” And if you’re seeing her stress as being your “in” with her, then the best thing you can do is just leave things alone.
She doesn’t need a Nice GuyTM right now. She needs a friend.
Be her friend. See where things are when the year is over and she’s not stressed out over work.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)