DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Been a fan for a while, starting to adjust to things going okay for the first time in a while.
Finally got a starting job in my field after years of trying, and wouldn’t you know it, the woman sitting next to me is a classmate from college I thought had a crush on me at the time.
Now I wasn’t super interested before, but I’ve gotten to know her a bit better and I’m curious (when I don’t feel a strong urge to push fast and hard). She has shown some indications she still finds me interesting (she shares lots of personal details with me, and not really with others, she’s checked out some of my stuff without realizing she didn’t ask to look at it, etc.). We can chat for 20-30 minutes at a time just about random stuff without really watching the time.
I’m trying my best to not be anxious and and just push for something before she realizes it’s me she’s chatting with. I also have bad brain weasels that say I’m being a creep and being too forward. So it’s sort of damned if I do, damned of I don’t, brain-wise.
I know your normal advice is just to approach her like I would a friend and show how I’m interesting. I know I’m interesting and have friends who like spending time with me. My problem is I don’t know how to be fun and playful while anxious, let alone being any about of flirty. I just feel constantly like I’m about to cross the line and get called in for a talk about workplace behavior. I’m pretty sure she would say something to me first, but it doesn’t help.
I know I need to balance interest with friendliness, but I don’t know how. I see myself being a creep, or dropping my interest on her and it being a total surprise.
Hope this mess makes sense.
Butterflies All Tied Up
DEAR BUTTERFLIES ALL TIED UP: I think you’re overthinking things, BATU.
Let’s deal with the last part first: someone being surprised that you’re interested in them isn’t creepy or manipulative. We talk a lot about Nice Guy behavior and why that’s bad, but it’s bad because the Nice Guy isn’t being nice because that’s just who he is. He’s being “nice”, because he thinks that’s how he can weasel his way into her heart and/or her pants. He’s being friends with her under false pretenses, using “friendship” as his way of getting and staying close to her. That’s why it hurts her when she finds out – not because finding out someone’s attracted to you is bad, but because the person she thought was her friend was only acting like her friend to get what he wanted from her.
Similarly, suddenly learning that someone is into you isn’t inherently creepy. It may be a surprise and unexpected and take a few minutes to process, but that’s hardly the same as creeping someone out. It gets creepy when they realize that all the friendly stuff he was doing was to manipulate her or to further the agenda of “collect friend tokens, trade in for sex”.
Since that doesn’t seem to be what you’re doing, and your friend seems to be a reasonably intelligent and perceptive woman, I think we can safely assume that even if you were to drop a “I’d like to date you” bomb, she’s not going to recoil like you offered her a piping hot cup of e. coli.
By that same token, hanging out and talking, being a little flirty, even asking someone out on a date isn’t out of line. As with most things in life, it’s all about how you respond that makes a difference. If your friend acts uncomfortable or asks you to stop when you flirt with them and you back off? Not creepy; you’re respecting her wishes. If you ask her out, she turns you down and you take it in stride? Again: this isn’t creepy. Now, if you keep flirting with her, even when she clearly doesn’t like it or you keep asking her out or get pissy at her for turning you down… yeah, that would be creepy and likely get you hauled into HR. But acting like a grown-ass adult who can take “no” without melting down? That’s not creepy at all.
(Now that being said: even if the flirting is reciprocated and welcomed, it can cross the line into inappropriate work behavior… so my advice here would be to keep it to things you wouldn’t be afraid to say in front of your boss.)
I suspect that your anxiousness is coming from the fact that, well… you like her. You like her, you’re interested in her and you’re worried that you’re going to f--k it up. Which, y’know, is not an unreasonable worry. But while it may seem scary, I can promise you that the worst that’s likely to happen is that she says no, it’s awkward for a day or two and then you both power through it and get back to normal. Even if she does say no, it’s not going to destroy you. It won’t be fun – being turned down is very rarely fun – but it won’t be as bad as you’re making it out to be.
Here’s the thing though: anxiety and fear don’t get better when we try to avoid them. In fact, trying to push them away or avoid the things that trigger them only serve to intensify the fear and make it all-encompassing. It’s generally better to confront it head on and realize that it’s not as bad as your brain weasels were making it out to be. The more you get used to tackling those anxieties or worries, the more you learn about yourself. This is handy, because then you learn where your weak points are, where your triggers are, and you start being better able to recognize what’s making you anxious.
The more you understand the specific triggers and behaviors, the more you can look around and say “ok, see, this is clearly not the problem; look, she’s done X, Y and Z! It’s $TRIGGER that’s making me feel anxious.” And using that emotional language – you feel anxious, not you are anxious – reminds you that this is just a feeling, not truth. While you can’t reason anxieties away, you can, at least, talk yourself down from the ledge with reason and calm yourself down enough so that the moment will pass.
And if it helps: yeah, everything you describe certainly seems like she enjoys your company and likes spending time with you. So I don’t think you need to tie yourself in knots over this. I think your anxiety is much more about your fears, rather than your intuition picking up on something your conscious brain is missing.
My suggestion? Assume the best and invite her out on a date. Tell her “there’s this $COOL_THING happening this weekend that I’m going to, and I think you’d really enjoy it. If you’re down, I’d love to take you.” Or even “hey, I’m really enjoying hanging out with you at work, but you know? I like you, and I’d like to take you out on a date.”
How she responds will tell you everything that you need to know. If she says yes, then congratulations, you got your answer. If she can’t make it that weekend, but proposes an alternative time or activity? Yahtzee! If she can’t but doesn’t propose another time or just says “thank you but no”? Well… it stings, sure, but now you have your answer. And while it may not be the answer you were hoping for, at least now the worst will have happened, and it wasn’t so bad after all. And hey, while you may not have gotten a date, at least the anxiety should ease up.
And as a bonus: being brave with her, now, will make it that much easier for you to be brave in the future, with someone who is into you and everything you have to offer.
But I bet she’s going to say yes. The only way to know what it’ll be is to ask.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com