DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I would very much like some advice. I’m almost certain this is something you’ve likely covered before, but I can’t recall it, and I’m at a horrible impasse.
You see, one of my best friends has a crush on me. And despite my best efforts, I can’t discourage him.
We originally met in college, about five or six years ago. He asked me out then (via text message…), and I turned him down (in person) for a variety of reasons that I won’t go in to. Primarily that he didn’t have the guts to ask me in person. He wasn’t happy at first, but we resolved things and stayed friends, eventually. Now, several years on, he’s started expressing an interest again. He got me flowers on Valentine’s (While repeatedly and determinedly saying he didn’t believe in Valentine’s as a tradition, while handing them to me). He bought me a particular video game for Christmas when I’d just passingly mentioned to him I was planning to buy one. He’s started inviting me over to meet his friends. He attempted to cook for me (The less said about that, the better.) He makes the kind of evasive romantic overtures via social media and text message that I thought were solely the domain of 14 year old girls. We’re both 22.
He hasn’t directly asked me out yet, but I can sense it’s coming, and I don’t know what to do. These gifts are making me feel horrible, when I know what they’re winding up to. I could just shut him down in the most inescapable manner, but if he made a few changes to his lifestyle, I would be entirely happy to date him. I realize that sounds awful, let me explain.
I have my own apartment, and have done since I was 19. I have a full-time job, and pay my own bills. My friend, on the other hand, lives with his mother. He got his very first job recently, working part time at a store. He has no intention of getting a full-time job, because he doesn’t need to. He does no chores around the house, and his mother does all his laundry and cooks all his meals. She takes care of his cats for him. In short, he hasn’t grown up or taken any independence at all. As his friend, that doesn’t bother me. As his girlfriend, it would drive me crazy.
So, what should I do? Should I shut him down completely and lose a friend? Should I take a chance and try and gently suggest why I won’t date him? Every time he buys me something, I feel like the worst tortured charlatan, but the one time I tried to give it back, he wouldn’t let me. What do you think?
Friend Zone Betty
DEAR FRIEND ZONE BETTY: I’m not gonna lie: I’m questioning whether he’s starting to have feelings AGAIN, or whether he’s just gotten up the nerve to start making half-hearted attempts at signaling his interest in the passive-aggressive hope that you’ll do all the hard work for him. If that’s the case, you don’t have a friend, you’ve got a dude with an agenda.
But hey, let’s give the poor dude the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s what you do:
You sit him down and explain to him – gently, but firmly – that he’s making you uncomfortable. Let him know that his buying you presents and doing so much for you my seem sweet, and you appreciate the sentiment behind it, but it actually puts you in a very awkward position and it’s inconsiderate of him to do so. You need to tell him – in detail, and without letting him try to argue or rules-lawyer his way out of it – why you’re not interested in dating him. And if he’s not willing to dial things back a lot, you just can’t be friends with him.
Remember: you don’t need to justify your not being interested. “I don’t want to date you” is really all you need. Once you start to excuse or justify why you aren’t interested in him romantically, then what ends up happening is that he will start trying to argue the validity of that or how things could change. At that point, the conversation will end up taking much longer, become more uncomfortable and likely end with you having to end the friendship entirely.
And I presume that’s not something you necessarily want. It sounds to me like you’d like to keep the friendship, and that’s only possible if he knocks it the hell off and accepts your “no, thanks”.
Now in all likelihood he will protest. Vehemently. He will probably tell you that he’s doing all these things for you because you’re his friend and there really is no emotional blackmail to it no really swear to God.
He may also start making changes to his lifestyle if he thinks that doing so will give him a chance at winning you over. If and when he does, don’t make the mistake of immediately exploring a relationship with him. It’s going to take years for him to make permanent changes to his lifestyle. If he’s making surface changes in order to please you, it won’t be long until he relapses.
It’s not impossible that your sitting him down and smacking him with a clue-by-four will be the kick in the ass that he needs to get his life in order. If not… well, he still needs to hear it from you. While he doesn’t have malicious intent, he IS pushing against your boundaries and that’s not cool. Laying down the law, letting him know that these are the boundaries of your friendship is important. And if he continues to ignore those, then enforcing your boundaries and cutting him off will teach him an important lesson — and protect you in the process.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org