I wrote this specifically for guys dating gals because I’ve noticed a pattern among some men and I think this can help. However, my advice is in no way strictly related to men and all types of folks may find it useful so switch the pronouns around as it fits you and run with it till your hearts content.
Here is the scenario I often see. There is a girl you like and she likes you back. The two of you talk regularly, flirt with one another and then one day you realize that she doesn’t feel the same way. She either started dating someone else, didn’t make time for you like you wanted, or any other number of reasons that made you realize she wasn’t interested. This was incredibly frustrating to you and as you rummaged through your thoughts you start to wonder why she led you on for so long. Maybe you even messaged her to say as much and vent your frustrations. The whole situation stung of rebuke.
If this has happened to you then I have some bad news, you’re probably exhibiting what is referred to as toxic behavior. It was toxic because there’s a good chance that only you were romantically interested. You made the assumption that she was smitten by romance, but you either didn’t ask specifically or, if you did, failed to heed her response. Then when she acted contrary to your wishes you made her deal with your emotions.
Chances are you’ll deny these assertions which is perfectly natural. It’s the default response when we are confronted with uncomfortable information. I want you to know that I’m here to help you, not berate you. Unless you want to repeat this cycle for the rest of your life and push friends and lovers away, then you should read on as I take you through a better way to guide your thoughts and actions.
This kind of change is never easy because it requires brutal honesty about your thoughts and habits. Some of these things are probably even rooted in what you think a relationship is supposed to look like and how it behaves. You’re going to have to dig down deep and do some serious personal work. I promise your life will be easier and happier if you do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve made mistakes in my life and I’ll share those so you can learn from them. This article is for me as much as it is you. The insights I have gained can help you and add depth to your relationships. Along the way, we’ll flush out behaviors and attitudes that are making your life and others miserable. Let’s jump right in with our first tip.
Tip 1: Don’t assume someone likes you because you like them.
Sounds simple doesn’t it but I bet you don’t come out as clean on this one as you think. Thanks to our upbringing, guys in America generally grow up to think that if they like someone then that person must also like them. Women don’t generally do this.
One way in which this plays out is when you see a woman younger than you and say “man if I were 10 years younger. . .” An important joke I keep on the ready is “If you were ten years younger you’d what? Get rejected as a younger man as opposed to a forty year old?” It’s not a way to berate but to help me manage my thoughts and be aware of my assumptions.
There is this idea that the only thing standing in your way is something situational, otherwise you’d be all over women and them all over you. It doesn’t occur to a good number of men that the person you are ogling has their own agency and in fact, is probably not interested in you.
I don’t say this to be mean but think about it; how many women do you see every day with whom you would seriously want to be in a relationship? Unless you’re terribly lonely, the answer is a significantly smaller percentage than 100%. Sure there are those that you find attractive but we’re talking about next level stuff here and not merely the hormonal driven whims of an aimless libido.
Well, guess what? Statistically, most women don’t want to be with you either. That’s just how the numbers break. Think about dating for a moment. Every date isn’t going to be with the person you want to spend the rest of your life with (and if it is then please seek help or stop dating and focus on being happy while single). So the fact that you think you have a chance with more women than you do is a delusion.
My opinion is that most guys, myself included, grow up with this delusion. We can blame whatever we wish, music, movies, pornography, adults that we learn our cues from, but it doesn’t really matter. The key is we have to stop assuming as much and start to see things differently. We are actively disregarding women’s desires and personal agency because we think our desire determines theirs. That’s not how reality works.
Here’s a story of mine to illustrate why this is important. I had a friend I was very keen on dating and I thought she was interested in dating me. I would say things I thought were flirtatious and that were skirting the edge of outright saying I like you. I was afraid of asking straight out so I slinked around the issue. I see now that my friend could have easily, and did, respond to me without knowing my intentions. In my mind, because I was flirting (poorly) she had to be flirting back. After all, I got goosebumps when she spoke to me. So one day I kissed her on the neck after a hug.
I know now that it was a total bullshit move. She didn’t respond as I thought she would so I asked her what she did when uncomfortable and she told me she froze up. I said “it seems like you’re frozen now, would it be fair to say that my advances make you uncomfortable?” Surprise! Of course I was making her uncomfortable.
Then I did what I should have done all along.
Tip 2: Find out if someone likes you.
So let’s say you’ve been “flirting” with someone for awhile now and you think they are returning your interest, but how do you find out if they like you? Ask them, silly.
Sorry but there is no other way. Don’t assume it. Stop taking the smile as a gesture, don’t take someone touching you as a gesture of romance, or frequent conversations or anything other than them saying they want to date you. It’s true that those signs could mean they are interested in you romantically but it could also mean you are close friends. To know for sure you’ll have to ask.
That’s what I did, albeit after the fact, with my friend. It turns out she wasn’t interested in me in that way and me not asking first was a mistake that made the relationship a little awkward for a bit after that. We came out of it after a few days but I could have ruined a friendship and nothing is worth that.
The benefit of asking if someone likes you is that then you know the truth. You won’t have to worry if that long hug is about friendship or romance anymore. Now you know and that is extremely useful information.
Here’s how that info works in real life. A couple years later, I had another friend (honestly I don’t just date my friends) whom I liked and thought she perhaps liked me. So having learned from my last experience and before I made any move I simply asked her if she had any interest in a relationship beyond friendship. As it turns out she didn’t, I was projecting my interest and desire onto someone else (again).
While it wasn’t exactly the news I wanted to hear, in a lot of ways it was still good news. It meant that her affection towards me was a product of her meaningful interest and friendship. The closeness we shared I no longer had to fret over. It was about a wonderful friendship. More than that, it let us open up to one another and express our mutual love without worrying about it being misconstrued as romantic. To this day we still tell each other I love you and that is a wonderful thing to share with a friend.
Keep this next point in mind, asking doesn’t have to be stressful. Did you notice how I asked her? I didn’t straight up ask her out because that would have put her on the spot even more. I simply inquired about her interest in such a thing. If she replied that she was interested then I could have asked her out.
My conversation starter actually went something like this, “you and I are really close and that’s something I cherish. I was curious if any of that closeness came from an interest to be something other than friends. If it doesn’t, that is perfectly okay because while I could be interested in dating what is far more important to me is our friendship. I never want to do anything to mess that up.”
Here’s why I think this works. You establish that you feel close to her and that closeness is important to you. It lets her know that she doesn’t have to pull away or distance herself from being close to you. You are establishing that no one is to blame for that closeness because there is nothing wrong with it. Last, it lays the groundwork for any possible interest outside of friendship as being a mutual decision. Basically, it lets her know you are responsible for your emotions so she doesn’t have to be and that you value and respect her feelings on the matter (i.e. you’re not going to be a dick about it). It’s a low stress option for both people.
If you think there is another way around this, there isn’t. This is it, you have to ask. Perhaps you’ll find it stressful and maybe you won’t. I find that this alleviates most of the trepidation I have about asking. It’s far less stressful than directly asking someone out (for both people) and it honors the connection you have established so far.
If the other person says yes then I hope everything works out for the two of you. From here on though, I’m going to discuss what to do if the answer is no.
Tip 3: Believe the answer and proceed accordingly.
This step is about boundaries clear and simple. If someone tells you they are not interested, or gives you any type of instruction and you keep acting (i.e. pushing) in a contrary way then you don’t really deserve to be their friend.
This is toxic behavior and it stems from your inability to be responsible for your emotions. Our emotions are always going to want to run roughshod over logic, we evolved that way so we could procreate, eat, and survive despite the odds. It’s our job now to slow that process down and introduce responsibility into our actions; something for which our ancestors Homo habilis probably had less of a need. Congratulations, you’re evolved.
When it came to my friend I never let myself doubt what she told me. I would keep returning to our conversation in my mind to guide my thoughts and actions. You should do the same.
If the person you’re interested in has said there is nothing romantic in the cards then believe them. It doesn’t matter that you want romance. The situation has been resolved. Put it out of your mind and focus on the friendship.
Don’t tell them that you will always want to date them because that creates tension in the friendship and you really don’t know how you will feel down the road. Just let them know that if anything changes to tell you and it can be discussed further at that time. This will let them know they can be open and honest with you. In the meantime, assume that nothing has changed. After all, you’ve done your part, you have your answer, now focus on being an amazing friend and keep your romantic thoughts unmoored so you can float freely to the next person who sparks your interest.
That is what the conversation is about after all. You want to ascertain who shares your romantic interest so you can date them if applicable and find someone else if not.
Tip 4: Other connections are valuable, sometimes more so.
Realize that friendships are vitally important in your life and don’t think of a friendship versus a relationship. It’s true you may not be dating the person you asked and that can feel like a loss at first but don’t minimize what you still have with this person.
Try to never use the words, “just friends” because a friendship should never be “just” anything. If someone asks if you are dating say “no, we are friends.” Your friendship can last much longer than your relationship would have because she wants to be your friend. Value this connection because it will make your life richer not poorer.
This should hopefully minimize any anger you feel but if it doesn’t here’s the next useful tip.
Tip 5: Don’t blame the other person.
Let’s be honest, life doesn’t always go the way we want it, but you need to own your shit and keep your cool.
This is the point where guys usually blame the other person for leading them on, which is generally just the result of a guy not adhering to any of the actions above.
It’s not the other person’s fault that they don’t want to date so don’t keep returning to them with conversations about how upset you are. Remember, everyone is an individual and while you harbored romantic feelings, they did not. It’s not always pleasant but it is unavoidable; we all have our own desires.
Trust me, I’ve been there. There was a girl in high school I liked and dated very briefly. After this experience I wanted to date again and I asked her several times more. Each time she said no, but I just knew we were meant to be together, though in retrospect I have no idea why. I used all the signs of friendship as indicators of her romantic interest in me. Even her discussing interest in other guys didn’t detour me. I was smitten and delusional. As such, I ignored very clear signs right before my eyes.
So when I finally felt the reality I was drowning in I talked about it stupidly by saying, “I’ve had enough, I’m not playing games anymore,” and “she just wants to string as many guys along as she can.” If I was being honest, what I should have been saying was “she made it clear she isn’t interested in me and I need to accept that and focus on the friendship” but I was young and dumb and that didn’t happen. I was mad at her when everything was actually my fault. I didn’t believe her answers and I didn’t want to be responsible for my emotions.
So your first task is to quit blaming the other person and see where you went wrong. You may be young or you may not be, but you don’t have to be dumb. I assure you that if you were pursuing someone and it isn’t working out that you have responsibility to bear. Finding out what that is can be vitally important.
This isn’t a time for a pity party, none of this, “girls just don’t like me” or “she friend-zoned me” bullshit. You put yourself in the romantic zone not her, the conversation just set you straight and that’s a good thing. Also, if she didn’t like you on a friend level then you wouldn’t be spending time together. So stop the woe-is-me trash talking and realize that the reason you want to disparage her is because you aren’t taking responsibility for your actions and unrealistic expectations.
Also, don’t go thinking that if you try harder you can make her fall in love with you. This isn’t a fairytale movie where the supposed hero crosses every personal boundary of his love interest and then she falls in love with him anyway. That dude is not a hero. He is emotionally unhinged. You’re not going to be like him.
You are going to be the person who looks for signs where you may have gone wrong. You’re going to look for times where you let your thoughts go off the rails so you can be more responsible next time. You are going to be a better version of you.
Tip 6: Don’t make your emotions their problem.
Nope, seriously dude, don’t do it.
Everything I’ve talked about so far should help you to see the role you play but if you just can’t see your way clear of your emotions and you are still upset then there’s one last vital piece of advice. Keep your bullshit to yourself.
Don’t make your problem someone else’s. It’s a dick move for you to stalk, berate, swear at, threaten, or employ your friends in any way because you can’t handle your shit. I know you’re thinking that if she can’t make you happy then you’re going to make her miserable. You think you have to get even. It’s a typical control freak move because you can’t handle the outcome.
The thing is, you’re not getting even because you are likely the one who was leading yourself on. What is really happening is that you were keeping your feelings for this person hidden because you were too afraid to ask and now that you have your answer you’re making her responsible for your emotions a second time.
Chances are that as a guy you have never felt as if you are in danger from someone who wanted to date you. It’s a horrible thing to make someone fear for their safety and it’s something that we are generally lucky to avoid. Don’t be someone else’s horror story. Not only will they be glad they aren’t dating you, but it will wreck any chance at friendship.
You need to be careful about what you tell yourself during these times because an uncentered mind clings to anything that fits a narrative and those lies become a reality. That’s why conspiracy theories have such a grip. They make people feel like they have an understanding of things when the truth challenges their personal beliefs. You’ll believe nearly anything about someone else if it means you don’t have to face who you are or what you believe.
So be forgiving as much as you can and talk about your former romantic interest kindly and without blame. This will help you realize their autonomy and their importance. It will also help you connect with other people down the line because everyone listens to the words someone uses to talk about an ex or a former interest. If you speak kindly of them people will think kindly of you.
None of these things are necessarily easy and they will take some serious effort on your part but trust me when I say it is worth the effort. You will be better for it.
Tip 7: What if you did blow up, what now?
This is a hard one and I think it depends on a number of factors. If there is still an open dialogue happening then that makes it easier. Take responsibility for your actions and apologize. By responsibility I mean you don’t blame them. You just own what you did, say there was no excuse for it and that you are sorry. If you bring up mitigating circumstances then you are still blaming anyone but you. So own it. Maybe the friendship can heal in time and maybe it can’t.
If there isn’t a dialogue then it falls into one of two camps. If the two of you just stopped talking then it seems reasonable to reach out and try to apologize. Only reach out once. If they don’t want to hear it, or ignore you, then you burnt your bridge. It sucks but move on and let them live their life. Don’t keep trying to apologize over and over. You have no right to their time or mental space and you will just be harassing them. If you insist on having your apology heard then you are just as unstable now as when you did the damage. It shows you haven’t learned a thing. You have to control your emotions here as well.
The second non-dialogue situation is if the person has made efforts to prevent you from contacting them such as if they have blocked you in email, messaging, social media, gaming accounts, and so on and so forth. Sometimes this will come as a direct request and someone will ask or tell you never to contact them again.
When these things happen then you’re done. Leave them alone. Any contact, even to apologize, is harassment. Period. Congratulations, you were so toxic that they don’t want anything to do with you. You are someone’s monster. If you’re not okay with this (and you shouldn’t be) then you need to take the time to do some serious emotional work and perhaps even seek professional help in the form of a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Remember, the strongest people ask for help because they know it will involve saying they are wrong and that they will have to make changes in their thoughts and actions. Weak people refuse help because it is easier to destroy relationships than take responsibility. Be strong and build a better, more compassionate you.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with asking a friend if they want to date, but there can be plenty to go wrong if you don’t ask and if you can’t handle yourself after asking. Be honest, be kind, be compassionate and be a friend. May your life be good and your connections to others run deep.