By Harris O’Malley
I’m a young woman and I recently began working at a new job. Right from my first day working there, the confident popular co-worker, who is kind of a “bad boy”, (I’m going to call him C to make this quicker) showed interest in me. C was kind to me, flirted with me, always tried to touch me, and just did all the types of things you’d associate with attraction. I didn’t like him back though, if anything I kind of resented him for giving me all this extra attention when all I wanted to do was to be left alone. I can be quite shy and socially-awkward when I’m first meeting new people and am adjusting to a new environment.
However, as I continually showed zero interest in C, he persisted; although his efforts became less and less, it never went away. Later on, C was going through some personal issues, and he became very withdrawn and quiet. Eventually, he snapped out of it, but when he did his feelings for me seem to have disappeared. Also, during this period I had become much more confident and comfortable with my surroundings.
Although he pays some special attention to me now (not much), it is nothing compared to how much he used to. Lately, I’ve been thinking I might have some feelings for C, I miss the way he used to treat me. Does C still like me and is just giving me a taste of my own medicine by playing hard to get? Or has he really just lost interest? Does he not like me anymore because I’ve become less shy?
What should I do?
Hunted Becomes The Hunter
So before I get to your letter HTH, I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here. Because frankly there’re few dating strategies that make me twitch uncontrollably more than “playing hard to get”.
Now there’s some legitimate science behind the strategy; obstacles in the path to fulfillment tend to make us crave it more. And, in fairness, using a little “want this? Can’t have it…” is a useful tool when it comes to flirting. Building rapport then breaking it is a way of building sexual tension and increasing excitement until you’ve both reached the bursting point. However, there quickly comes a point where it goes from a flirty tease to a pointless exercise in trying to maintain an air of artificial scarcity for ultimately bullshit reasons. The infamous “Rules” for example, insisted that being too available — which is to say, wanting to see someone as much as they wanted to see you — would inevitably diminish men’s interest in women. Similarly, men get taught that showing interest in women they want to date or sleep with gives up some vital advantage, because “who cares less, has the power”.
Honestly, the older I get, the less time and patience I have with these sorts of games. While playful teasing and utilizing a push-pull dynamic during flirting can be a powerful and useful technique for building attraction, throwing up artificial barriers only serves to hinder communication and makes people miserable in the process. Folks who play hard to get tend to get very surprised when the people take “not interested” for an answer and move on.
Which brings us back around to your friend C. I don’t think he’s playing hard to get or giving you a taste of your own medicine; I think he — finally — took your lack of interest for an answer and decided to quit hitting on you.
I mean, for weeks you were giving him him negative feedback. You made it clear that you weren’t interested and likely were giving off some serious “knock it the fuck off/touch me again and you pull back a bloody stump” vibes. Even for someone who’s only flirting for fun, there’s inevitably going to come a point where they hear “piss off” and decide to take it seriously.
(There’s a discussion to be had about just how long C was hanging in there and the appropriateness of his behavior in a professional setting, but that’s another column entirely).
And just between you, me and everyone reading this: it’s a little unfair to turn around and say “wait, I don’t want the flirting to stop” after you spent all that time telling him you weren’t interested. I get that you take time to warm up to folks and needed to adjust to a new environment… but he doesn’t know that. He just knows that you haven’t appreciated his flirty behavior and he’s decided to dial it back. Maybe his personal crisis had something to do with it, maybe someone in HR had a very pointed conversation with him, who knows. The point is: if you want him to know that you kinda like the flirting now and want it to start up again… well, you’re gonna have to let him know. Think of it like a stand-offish cat letting its human that maybe it’s ready for some light head scratches; you want him to know that hey, you’re cool with a little flirting now.
How do you do that? Well, while you could signal that you’re cool with it by responding more positively to what flirting he does now… the better option is to simply use your words. You can let him know that you needed to acclimate to your new job and you’re the sort of person who needs to get comfortable before you’re able to handle a lot of attention. You can also let him know that hey, you’re actually ok with a little more flirting now and that you even miss it a little. Then you take a step back and let him decide what his next step is going to be. If it’s a case that he’s lost interest… well this is something that can be chalked up to unfortunate timing. But if he is still interested, then now he knows he has a green light for continuing and he can begin giving you attention in the ways you’re ready to receive.
But none of that can happen unless the two of you actually clear the air. Someone’s gonna have to make the first move here. Might as well be you.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I have been dating my boyfriend for 10 months now. Recently, I have been questioning if I should break up with him or not.
My boyfriend is a year older than me and graduated college last year. I am currently a senior in college and moving onto my second semester. Next year he will be going to vet school and I will move back home to live with my parents to save money so we will have to do long distance for a year minimum. My boyfriend did not go to the same college as me, so our friend groups are completely different.
As we have been dating, I have noticed my friends have stopped inviting me out. It is partially my fault since I have put my boyfriend first. I have found it extremely difficult to balance my friends with my boyfriend. He is introverted so when we go out, he’s not as social as me and I feel that I have to stay be his side. He is an extremely nice guy and always puts me first. I fear breaking up with him because I am afraid l will not find someone as nice as him. I also fear that I am losing my friends for a relationship that might not even work out. I have tried to breakup with him before, but I broke down and couldn’t do it.
When we first started dating, I hated spending time apart from him and now I don’t mind it. I feel that I am keeping him around more because I am scared of being alone.
However, when I go out with my friends and not him, I have a great time and often think about being with other people. I am very conflicted and do not know what to do. My friends want me to breakup with him because they say they don’t see me anymore. But I don’t want to just listen to their advice, because they are biased, because they do not like how he is not part of our friend group.
Torn and Twisted
So there’s a few issues buried in this.
First is the fact that your friends aren’t crazy about your boyfriend and how that’s affecting how you feel. While it’s good for our partners to fit in with our friends — especially if they’re going to be around for a while — it’s not the most important thing to consider. Your friends not liking someone can be a significant warning sign… but it can also be a false alarm. If they see, for example, that your partner treats you poorly and they’re worried about you, that’s one thing. If they don’t like him because they don’t approve of the guy or think you’d be a better match with someone else… well, that’s a different matter entirely.
And while people often feel like they need all of their social circles to be this large, overlapping Venn Diagram, having friendships and social circles that are strictly your own is actually important to the health, success and longevity of the relationship. One of the biggest mistakes that couples often make is relying solely on one another for their social and emotional needs, which ends up putting an absurd amount of stress on their partners and the relationship as a whole.
Now it’s understandable that your friends are upset that you’ve been spending more time with your partner than with them; they care for you want don’t like feeling like you’re being “taken away” by your new beau. At the same time, however, it’s pretty much a cliche for people to get caught up in the thrill of the new when they’re with a new partner. All that dopamine and oxytocin ricochetting through your brain means that you’re literally drugged by being in their presence; you’re getting high from being around them and you want to keep that good feeling going. Then as the novelty wears off, the hedonic adaptation kicks in and our brains quit producing quite as much dopamine… you start being a little less twitterpated and remembering that oh yeah, it’s been a bit since you’ve hung out with the squad, huh?
In an ideal world, we don’t get SO caught up that we neglect our friends… but when you’re young, it’s hard to keep a level head when you’re dealing with that New Relationship smell.
Next is the question of whether you would ever find someone else as great as him and honestly? Yes. Yes you would. If you were to break up with him, you would unquestionably meet someone new and awesome. Not because your boyfriend isn’t great or treats you like a queen — I’m sure he does — but because he’s not the only guy out there. To quote Tim Minchin:
Your love is one in a million
(One in a million)
You couldn’t buy it at any price
(Can’t buy love)
But of the nine-point-nine-nine-nine-hundred-thousand other possible loves
Statistically, some of them would be equally nice
Letting a fear of being alone keep you in a relationship is a mistake; it’s better to be alone because you’re alone than it is to be alone because you’re with the wrong person. And while breaking up with him — if that’s what you decide to do — would suck, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. As I’m always telling my male readers: as amazing as this person is, there will be others out there who are just as amazing.
But to be perfectly frank, it doesn’t really sound like breaking up is in the cards or something that actually needs to happen. Your biggest conflict here — such as it is — is that he’s going on to grad school and you’ve still got at least half a semester to go in your undergrad program. That’s not exactly an insurmountable problem. Yeah, you would have to do the long-distance thing… but it’s not like this is the 1910s and Johnny is going off to the wars. It’ll take some work, sure… but all relationships do. Plus, there’s the fact that, while it may seem like forever right now, a year is really not that long in the scheme of things, especially when that time apart doesn’t also mean that you’re going to be completely incommunicado. You’re in a position where it’s not an incredible trial to stay in contact or see one another at regularly scheduled intervals, and having a distinct end date — one year — makes it that much easier to grit your teeth and power through it.
It sounds to me like the decision to break up is more based on “well, what if we can’t see each other every day?” rather than any real internal or external conflict that would make staying together untenable.
While I’m personally not crazy about LDRs, there’s really no reason why one wouldn’t work for you, especially one that’s relatively short term. If you care for each other and you’re willing to put in the effort to get past the difficulties that come with long-distance relationships, I don’t see any reason not to keep things going.
And honestly… if you do decide to break up for the time you’re going to be apart, there’s no reason you can’t circle back around to one another and get back together when you’re able to live in the same city again. If you’re right for one another now, there’s no reason the two of you wouldn’t be right for each other a year from now.
Ultimately, it’s up to you and whether you decide this relationship is worth the effort it’ll take.
Previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished here under permission.
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