DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Bear with me, I’ve got a complicated problem.
During my freshman year of college, I was in a one month long relationship with an… I’ll just go with intellectual. We broke up on the grounds of race (I was the forbidden white girlfriend) but we had gotten along perfectly well beforehand. I’m a junior now and we had discussed getting back together over the summer, but decided against it on the grounds that he wanted to pursue a relationship with another girl and he felt like he would regret it if he didn’t try.
Last night we chatted on Facebook and this morning I received a message from him that confuses me and quite frankly pisses me off.
He says he misses me and wants to be open to dating again. But he makes it clear that he’s not asking me out. I don’t know what he wants and I’m starting to think that his attempted relationship with the other girl never got off the ground and now he’s running back to where he might have a chance.
He always had a problem that our past relationship jumped from us being casual friends (we were in the same club) to dating. He seems to think that relationships should start by creeping in through the friend zone, when it usually doesn’t work out in your favor if you go that route. I’m not interested in being second banana to anyone and I really hate being jerked around like this. He’s really nice and smart otherwise, but his over-analyzing and attempts to sound righteous and poetic in his message just leaves me feeling confused and manipulated instead of persuading me to his side.
Help a nerd girl out? I don’t know what to do now. I suppose I would like to keep him as a friend but I don’t know how to reject this proposal gently.
That Chick with the Confusing Ex
DEAR THAT CHICK WITH THE CONFUSING EX: Hoo boy.
Ok so right from the jump, I think this guy’s got some issues with how relationships work. The fact that you knew each other casually before you started dating is… actually incredibly common. In fact, most people meet their partners either through mutual friends or shared activities, and often the connection is one that was developed over time.
I hope that when he says that they should start “by creeping in through the Friend Zone”, he means “starting of as friends before realizing things have developed further”, rather than “trying to hang in there until you wear her down and convince her to date you”. After all, The Friend Zone doesn’t actually exist; there are just people who don’t want to f--k or date you. If he’s bothered that he didn’t have to win you over against your better judgement or somehow seduce you into liking him when you didn’t… honestly that sounds more like he feels like it was too easy or that your relationship didn’t somehow validate his sexy sexy skills or something. Which ain’t a great place to start from.
Unfortunately I feel like this may well be what he thinks, judging by his behavior. The Facebook message sounds very… well, passive aggressive, at best, and weirdly manipulative at worst. He’s signaling to you that he might be open to dating you again buuuuuuuut he wants it clear that he isn’t asking you out. So… presumably you’re supposed to leap at this chance to have him back now that he’s dangled the possibility in front of you. The way you describe it sounds as though he intends this to be the invitation for you to now come clean about how much you want him back and want to try again, rather than his actually coming out and saying “I want you back”.
If that’s the case, then I don’t see any reason why you should go back to him. If he can’t be honest and up front about what he actually wants and instead delivers this Schrodinger’s Request, where he’s both asking to take you back and not, then why should you do the work for him? If he genuinely wants you back, then he should actually cowboy up and say it, instead of playing weird games. Especially if those games carry the underlying message of “…and validate my desirability in the process”.
Which brings up the next question. In fact, this is one of my standard questions for “should you get back with your ex?“: why now? Like you said, the timing seems a bit sus. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that things didn’t work out with the woman he wanted to pursue and circled back to you. Seeing as how this came on the heels of talking about the possibility of getting back together, I think you’d be justified in thinking that he thought you were still hanging on the line, waiting for him to come back around. If that’s the case, then that says a lot about how he thinks about you, and about how you feel about him.
Now I want to be fair: it’s entirely possible that he started trying to pursue this other woman, realized he’d rather be with you and came back to see if you were still interested too. But if that’s the case, then he should say so, not this weird passive-aggressive “I’m not SAYING I want to get back with you, just that I’d be open to it” bulls--t.
So if you actually want to know what he thinks, I’d say call him out on it. Ask him to explain just what he’s asking from you. If he repeats his line of “I’m not asking you back, just saying that…” then tell him “That doesn’t mean anything to me. What do you want?” until he actually explains himself. Refuse to buy in until he’s actually using his words and not this half-assed approach. This includes the other times he’s this wishy-washy and unwilling to commit to saying what he wants or needs. Don’t reward his not-quite-willing-to-commit approach by doing the work for him, make it clear that if he wants something from you – as a friend or as a potential partner – then he has to say it straight up, with no hemming or hawing or attempts at plausibly denying what he said if you aren’t into it.
If he can’t or won’t, then that’s ultimately a him problem, not a you problem, and you’re justified in moving on.
This, incidentally, includes turning him down. I don’t think you need to turn him down gracefully, I think you need to turn him down bluntly.
I think you need to tell him “look, you said X, now you’re saying Y, you won’t say Z and it feels like I’m your second choice after things didn’t work out with the other woman. That’s not good enough for me and I don’t want to date you if you’re going to act like this or treat me like your consolation prize. So if you want me back, you’re going to need to be clear that YOU want ME back, not this weird ‘baffle-them-with-your-bulls--t’ approach that you keep using.”
Tell him that and then leave it in his court. You don’t need an answer right away, and honestly, you probably shouldn’t trust what he says in that moment. Tell him to figure out what he wants and then get back to you, then end the conversation until he’s ready to state it flat out. And if he tries to do the whole flowery language and over-analysis, then call him out on it again and tell him, again, that you won’t be treated like that.
If he tries a third time without a flat, no-qualifications yes or no? Then the subject’s closed for good, and he can take it as a lesson to actually say what he means instead of dressing it up in obfuscating florid prose.
I don’t entirely buy into the idea of “you teach people how to treat you”, but making it clear that you’re not cool with his unwillingness to be direct and up front will, at the very least, teach him that a relationship (romantic or platonic) with you is going to require a change in how he communicates. And his response to that will help you decide whether or not you want to bother keeping him in your life at all.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org