DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a girl and I have this guy friend who I’ve known for about three years now. We’ve always been flirty with each other but it never really amounted to anything; at the end of the day, we were just two nerds who hung out mostly to play video games. Thats probably how it always starts, eh?
Well this year something has happened between us and I have no idea where it came from. Maybe it was his whole “self-improvement plan” where each month he would ask friends for suggestions on his personality and then go about working on them that month. He’s become a much better friend and takes a lot better care of himself now, so maybe that has something to do with it. Regardless, when I came back from summer break (we’re both in college) we started hanging out as usual and suddenly there was an intense chemistry between us. We went from not even hugging to say goodbye to being extremely touchy. I’m not a touchy person at all, but we’d end up pretty snuggly on the couch any time he came over- even with other friends with us.
Everyone jokes about how we’re “such a cute couple” because we playfully fight (which obviously can get pretty physical as well), but then we both start denying it because everyone makes so much fun of us. We’ve always been friends so people think its funny to joke about it because they don’t know anything has changed, thus it gets embarrassing when they hassle us. Plus he is well-known for his “type” because he’s a short guy that goes for all these model-esque women, yet I’m his height. There’s all these other factors to his “type” too that I don’t really fit, one especially being that he doesn’t go for other nerds. And yet today he said “Let’s take a couple picture!” after laying down next to me on the floor, then stroked my hair and did all this other couple-y stuff. (Also, no, there was no good reason for me to lay on the floor. A bunch of us were just bored at a Christmas party, so we laid down on the floor and started doing barrel rolls. College kids.)
I know at this point that I definitely have some feelings for him, but I’m completely confused by him. He’s been on a few dates with another girl recently and I don’t know where that leaves us. Every time I think he’s gonna make a move its actually for someone else. I’m debating whether he goes out with the other girls to make me jealous or if its because they meet his self-professed “type”. I also am a kind of a “tough girl” so I can come across as intimidating, but he knows me better than that and is aware its just sort of a front to keep the jerks and creeps at bay. One thing I’m sure of is that he’s definitely feeling the same chemistry I am. I sat down with him the other day and told him I didn’t want him to be so touchy if he wasn’t planning on asking me on a date any time soon and he apologized, said he noticed it, and promised to work on it. However that only lasted a few days and then it went back to flirting and physical contact. It actually got worse, I’d say.
I don’t want to lose my friend over this but I have a feeling thats where it’s heading if I don’t do something. Its gonna start making me crazy if I have to spend my time with him trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. It’s starting to feel very childish or “high school” I guess, if that makes sense, and I’m not about that. But if I’m as impossible to read as all my friends say I am, I’m worried he’s just scared I’ll turn him down when thats not the case.
I don’t know. I’m done with words. Help is appreciated.
Dazed and confused
DEAR DAZED AND CONFUSED: Ok, this may be the first time I can’t tell if someone has written in with their problems or if I’m trying to provide relationship advice to the cast of an anime rom-com. Because quite frankly, this is such a tsundere (A term from anime and manga, meaning a person who alternates between being irritable – tsuntsun– and affectionate- deredere) relationship plotline that I feel like I should be checking TVTropes for plot spoilers.
But let’s put the character comparisons aside and look at things. You’ve been good friends for a while and now there’s suddenly intense chemistry between the two of you. You’re flirty, you’re touchy-feely and cuddly. You spend all your time together…
Why exactly are you asking me for advice again?
This couldn’t be more obvious. Dude’s into you. You’re into him. Even your friends are screaming at you two to kiss already.
Here’s why your loverboy hasn’t done anything: you put up an intimidating front – even though he knows better – and it’s making him nervous about actually taking things to the next level. “Hey, don’t flirt with me unless you’re going to ask me out” can sound like an invite to make the first move… or it can sound like you’re saying “S… stop getting the wrong idea! Baka!”
Yeah, he may like those model-esque women… but he’s also clearly demonstrating that he likes you too. He’s (presumably) not dating other women to make you jealous, he’s dating other women because… well, what else is the dude supposed to do? He’s worried that you just told him to quit flirting with him because you’re not going to date him, even when you’re sitting there waiting for him to ask you out. The two of you are in shoujo anime relationship limbo right now, both of you aware that you dig each other but neither of you are willing to do anything about it.
Be very glad that I’m not anywhere near you; my tolerance for romantic comedy “can’t spit it out” drama is incredibly low and I would feel obligated to beat you both with a clue-by-four before lock the two of you in a closet until you accepted the obvious and started making out.
At the moment, homeboy’s terrified that you’re not into him. So here’s what you do: ask him out, already. This will solve all your problems: he’ll realize he doesn’t need to be afraid that you’ll turn him down and you’ll finally get all the damn tension out in the open instead of sitting around and wondering what to do do about things.
Honestly, the worst thing that happens is that he says no. In which case… well, it sucks, but you’ve got your answer now and you can move on. At that point, you tell him straight up to quit flirting with you because you like him and his being flirty with you when he doesn’t feel the same way makes you uncomfortable.
But I’m willing to wager a not insignificant amount of money that he’s going to say “yes”.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Way back in the dark ages (late 90’s) when my husband and I first started seeing each other we sat down and had a conversation about monogamy. We agreed (18-year old me and 22-year-old him) that if ever there came a time when one of us wanted to pursue a secondary relationship that we had the freedom to ask for permission for such a dalliance. That all seemed fair and equitable and incredibly distant and academic to my younger self. Honestly, that agreement still seems reasonable to me on an intellectual level.
But here’s the thing, we’ve been been married for 16 years, we have two children, and for every single one of the last 18 years (the two we weren’t married for and the 16 we have been) the idea of being non-monogamous has really never come up. Until now. Six weeks ago, after an admittedly long dry spell spurred by poorly treated depression on my part, he came to me with a question. He’d met a lovely young woman he had feelings for and wanted to pursue a relationship with.
Now, philosophically I have no issue with polyamory. And, after all, I did agree that this was a permissible question and potentiality way back in the way back. That said, I won’t lie when I say I was upset. But after I’d taken some time to process I gave him the go-ahead. What I didn’t anticipate, and couldn’t have really, is that the poorly controlled depression I mentioned above was actually entirely untreated bipolar disorder. As he was gaily off wooing this new woman I was sitting at home going absolutely bats
t insane. At this point we’re all on the same page, mostly. He continues to see his new lady friend with the caveat that they are taking things very slowly out or respect for my mental health. Meanwhile, I am getting on new meds and getting my butt into therapy.
However, in the interim, and also depending on which pole I’m at, I am either one hundred percent okay with his secondary relationship or absolutely devastated by it. I’m hopeful that once my meds start actually working I’ll be in a better place to know what my actual opinions are. I guess my questions are these: since I was cool with this all prior to losing my mind will I go back to being cool with it? Is my husband being a jerk to keep dating his other partner while I am having a major depressive episode? Am I fooling myself thinking I can be okay with this? I really can’t sort out which feelings are real and which ones are my mood disorder messing with me. With the caveat that you have no clue what’s going on in my own twisted psyche, does this sound like a fair and ethical scenario or am I actually getting the short end on things? I know how it feels right now, but seeing as I’m deeply depressed I don’t really trust my own judgement.
DEAR BIPOLARAMORY: So a couple things first.
The fact that you made this arrangement 18 years ago doesn’t mean that you’re now soul-bound to it. You and he have done a whole lotta living, growing and changing in the intervening years. The circumstances under which you made that arrangement back in the day are not the same as the ones that stand now. So it’s not inherently unfair to you to say “ya know, I’ve got some issues with this,” and re-open negotiations if you feel that you’re not necessarily ok with it these days.
The other thing is that you don’t want to overlook how you feel.
If you’re in a place, funky brain chemistry and all, where there’re regular times when it is ripping your heart to shreds, it is totally fine to pump the brakes on things. The fact that the origins of said heart-shredding comes from a chemical imbalance doesn’t make it any less heart-shred-y. Just as with depression, just because you know what the root cause is doesn’t mean you magically stop feeling it or you’re able to somehow power through it by sheer force of will and come out not feeling horrible on the other side. Those feelings are real. They still hurt and dismissing them because you know that it’s a depressive episode doesn’t make them go away or invalid.
Plus, let’s not discount the possibility that the times when you’re fine with it could be coming from a manic episode.
Of course, opening that particular can o’ worms is a great way to completely paralyze yourself and leave you continually asking yourself what is reality anyway.
Opening up and maintaining an open relationship isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone, and one of the keys to making it work is the understanding that both of you have the right to call the question. Relationships are a continual negotiation and when circumstances change, then the terms of the relationship should change with them. If one person is miserable and the other is having the time of their lives, that’s inherently not fair to the miserable person. The point of an open relationship is that everyone is ok and on board; if opening things up is going to end up doing more harm than good, then you shouldn’t open the relationship.
If you’re unsure about how you feel or whether those feelings are being influenced by wonky brain chemistry, then the best thing you can do is temporarily close things while you wait for the medication to do it’s thing (and acknowledging that it could take a while to find meds and dosages that work for you). And honestly, I’d say if you’re going to close it up while you’re getting your disorder under control, then close it up all the way. Which means your hubby calling things quits (for now) with the new girlfriend. Yes, it’s a shame that he doesn’t get to explore things further with her the way he’d want to but a) you need his love and support right now and b) there’s no point in frustrating him with what he can’t have or setting things up where oops he slipped and broke your arrangement.
Close things for now, get yourself in a better place and re-examine how you feel. If you legitimately are ok with it, you can reopen it again and everyone can pick up again later. And just in case you haven’t already, I suggest you both do your due diligence with regards to polyamory. Check out The Ethical Slut, Opening Up and More Than Two to help you both talk about what you want and how you’re going to make things work.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)