DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Recently (about a year ago) I was in a 10 year committed relationship, or so I thought. Turns out he was manipulative, using my depression, weight, childhood traumas (victim of sexual assault), and my low self esteem against me to keep me with him. I had eventually figured out how unhappy I truly was with him and how practically our entire relationship he had multiple partners. I left him and found a sense of stability again. I joined a gym, so I could really start focusing on me. I’ve always been a self sacrificing person and always helping others before myself. I finally started thinking about myself and doing what I need for myself and I found a sense of freedom and saw my own worth. Gaining confidence I moved into my own place with my dog, and have been feeling so much better about myself and really being myself again.
Right now there’s a guy I really like. I know when I’m around him I sound like a giggly idiot and a bit socially awkward. He is an intelligent man. He knows I have a thing for him, but I have no idea if he likes me back in that way. He loves making me laugh and whenever we’re around each other we don’t stop talking the entire time. Even on evenings when he’s given me a ride home we will talk for even longer. I’ve seen him look at me and look away as soon as I look back. He always wants to be next to me and leans in whenever he interacts with me. We always have eye contact whenever we talk and have really started to get to know each other more. I feel like there’s something there, but it could all be that he just loves my company as a friend.
For now I’m doing my best not to develop romantic feelings for him because we are friends. I want to respect his friendship, his boundaries, and above all his feelings. I’m not sure what to do. I would love to have something more with him, but I don’t want to ruin what we have now. What should I do?
DEAR TWICE SHY: First of all, TS: congratulations for getting out of that toxic relationship and taking the time to heal and build yourself back up. That’s huge, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
But at the same time… you should acknowledge what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come. Right now it sounds to me like you haven’t quite accepted that someone could think you’re awesome and desirable because you were stuck in a relationship with a toxic and abusive shitbag. This is entirely understandable; relationships leave their mark on us and abusive ones can leave some pretty nasty scars. But there comes a point where you have to not let the ghosts of shitty boyfriends past continue to haunt you to the point that you’re second guessing yourself on a good thing.
This is kind of amusing, TS, because you have the exact opposite problem that Petite Morte does. While PM seems to be leaping into relationships with both feet and not bothering to look, you’re taking the opposite tact and just… not being willing to see the glaringly obvious. It sounds to me like this guy of yours is crazy for you. It’s equally clear that you’re crazy for him.
The problem here is that you’re treating your interest and attraction to him like it’s somehow an inconvenience or that your liking him impinges on his boundaries. Except… that’s not quite how boundaries work? It’d be one thing if he had a partner and the heat between the two of you was coming dangerously close to crossing a line. It would likewise be an issue if he had made it clear that he’d rather you didn’t flirt with him but you can’t stop being so giggly and touchy-feely with him. But none of that’s the case. You two hang out, you have an amazing time and apparently are dealing with the kind of mutual attraction so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Well, now one of you needs to make the first move and it might as well be you. Ask him out on a date — not to “hang out some time” or “get together” but an unambiguous and definitive date. Your being into him doesn’t mean that things need to — or even will — get weird. Let him know that it’s totally cool if he’s not interested or doesn’t want to risk things, because you’re cool with being friends too. Your being into him doesn’t mean you can’t be friends; it just means he’s an awesome guy and you’re understandably attracted to him. If you don’t make it a big deal, it won’t be a big deal. If he says “no” and things get a little awkward, then just power through the awkward. The risk of a couple vaguely uncomfortable moments before the two of you laugh at the absurdity of it is a small price to pay for the chance of starting something awesome with a really good guy you’re crazy for.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: If you don’t mind, I’m going to skip the usual backstory, pharmacological history, and psychological self analysis, and get to the marrow of my question. When, exactly, did our society degrade to the point that it’s considered acceptable or normal for someone to simply break off all communication with someone, without so much as a “by your leave”?
It’s happened to me quite a few times in the recent past, and quite frankly it mystifies and offends me. It was bad enough when a woman would give me the “You’re a really sweet guy” speech, but this is even worse. (I assume that there are males who behave this way, too, but I only date women.)
Angry About This Maltreatment
DEAR ANGRY ABOUT THIS MISTREATMENT: Um… it’s always been the case that people could just stop talking to you, AATM. It’s part of the whole “having free will” thing. Nobody is obligated to talk to you if they don’t want to, nor are they required to ask your permission to stop, give you a reason or otherwise explain themselves if they don’t feel the need. It’s often polite or kind to say “hey, thanks but no thanks,” but folks have the right to be rude if they want to be.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t frequently suck, that it can’t be confusing or frustrating or depressing. But that’s on them.
Most of the time, that is. Because there’re plenty of times when folks will ghost because having that conversation is going to be a bigger issue… such as when, say, someone is radiating anger issues and is giving indications that saying “hey we didn’t work, peace out, cub scout” is going to trigger a scene. It sounds like you’re a step beyond wanting or preferring a conversation about it not working and getting to the point of feeling like you’re owed one and that ain’t how it works, chief. It kind of sucks if someone decides to vanish on you, but that’s their call. The only thing you can really do is make your peace with it, make your own closure and accept that this is a thing that people do, for a multitude of reasons.
And in the meantime, if you want to quit having people ghost on you like this, then the best thing you can do is start looking into some anger management counseling. ‘cuz if I can feel this radiating off you from an email? Then the people you’re dating can definitely feel it, and that’s gonna send them running like all of hell and half of Hoboken is after them.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)