Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Friday, February 10, 2006

When geometry bedevils

A reader writes, in search of advice on those classic romantic dilemmas: friendship and triangles. The email was a bit long, so I’ll try to summarize:
Friend likes Guy. Reader meets Guy through Friend. Now Reader likes Guy. Reader tells Friend, promises to do nothing about it. Friend freaks out, tries to end Reader-Guy relations. Reader backs off, Guy pursues friendship. Reader and Friend barely speak, Reader and Guy speak more often than Friend and Guy. What to do?!!
Well, dahling, it’s a pickle, fo’ sho’. You can’t change your friend’s neuroses, you don’t really want to submit to her every wish ... and you can’t make the guy like you. In fact, I would go so far as to say you can’t — or shouldn’t — push him for more than what he’s giving you. I hear from, er, my sources (coughs delicately and fans self briefly) ... that such things rarely go well.

More than anything, that’s probably driving most of your frustration in this situation — what feels like an almost total lack of control. So what can you change or control? As you noted, you briefly tried to change your behavior — to something that wasn’t you, wasn’t very natural. You felt like a fraud, and the guy just got puzzled looks on his face more often, then kept on calling you, “friendly-like.” (Does Anna Broadway believe men ever want friendship? Hmph!) No luck there.

You might think he wants more — might hope he does — but he just seems to be the passive type. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to scare him off by turning aggressive female — becoming a woman who knows what she wants!! ... Well, at least I never did. Because what is always the thing you fear most, in a fix like this? It’s losing the guy! And it seems like any sort of honesty is bound to send him charging off the playground as if he’s just discovered cooties thanks to you ... unless he figures out he likes you first (but they rarely do that).

So, really, it’s by your own choice you stay trapped with the guy. You don’t like the fragility of the relationship, but partial truth seems to be the only way you can have any kind of contact with him. Even if you sometimes feel a bit led on by his pursuit of you — oops, friendship with you. Love isn’t like law; you can’t present him with a list of his relational indiscretions and find him guilty of liking you. Then where’s all that mystery? That thrill of pursuit we secretly long to experience? As much as we may dislike it, things tend to work better when we cede some control to the man. But there’s a difference between doing that in an unhealthy way, and one that liberates. You can’t force any admissions from him, and badgering for his intent is quite unlikely to succeed. But you can make an admission of your own.

Telling him you have more than friendly feelings is horribly galling for one’s pride — no question there. (In fact, to diminish some of the shame, I recommend finding roundabout but otherwise clear ways of couching it. It helps if you’ve somehow established a code word or phrase for liking [say, “nuts,” for instance] that you can simply use to describe your own sad state. Or if you’ve bigger balls than mine, just simply say, “I like you. You should know that.”) But however you do it, tell him.

He may not acknowledge his role in your feelings — say, in wielding good genes to his own advantage — but he now is responsible for what his actions are doing to you. To keep on calling, when he knows you like him, is either cruelly selfish (and proof to you both that he’s been using you all along) ... or an indication he’s willing to mix your friendship with romance. Either way, you’re free, things are out in the open, and you can be honest not just in the way you act, but what you say or don’t say to him.

Personally, I’ve seen such talks go two ways. When (now-former) Roommate did this, the guy at first just said he saw many admirable things about her, but didn’t want more than friendship. But he kept seeking her out to do stuff. Eventually it became clear he did, in fact, like her. Now they’re dating.

When I came clean, things were a little messier, and didn’t turn out exactly as I hoped. But ultimately I think I’m more healed of deeper issues than I would have been any other way. Sometimes it takes further pain for the larger problem to be resolved. Think about if you’ve ever broken a bone, for instance. That probably hurt pretty bad, right? The only thing you wanted was probably to have the pain end. But depending on how the break occurred, it might require surgery — new pain on top of old. In the short term (and especially if you’re too young to know what surgery does), this seems like the worst thing possible. But actually it’s the best.

Let me put it another way. Last night I had an epiphany about a painful season nearly seven years ago. I’d had a difficult year in which my friendships disappointed, things with the Winner went quite well then suddenly tanked, and my much-beloved younger-brother roommate decided to move after one year together. At the end of this, I headed up north to Berkeley for a summer that only compounded my pain and confusion — I fell once again, that crush tanked even sooner, and things with God got bad. When I headed home at the end of summer, I just wanted things to get better. Instead they got worse. So bad, in fact, it made the woes of ’99 look pretty mild.

Not until last night did I finally start to realize how essential that was. I believed in a God who didn’t really exist as I thought He did — but I needed to learn the difference. That took the destruction of the badly skewed picture I’d made. And I had a tendency to escape pain — by numbing the grief of this broken world through pining and dancing and shopping. So of course my crisis couldn’t just end with Berkeley — if it had, it would have been simply meaningless loss that taught me nothing and made no difference in my sinful way of living. But God was actively working on me, so He didn’t step in to stop things. Instead He let the pain continue — even increase — until it began to smelt away some of my sin and immaturity.

To see that now, how could I presume that things working out with some boy would truly be in my best interest? It comes down to a question of your commitments and what you trust in — if you want friendship more than honesty, if you trust your wisdom more than God’s. Either way, the best way you can fix things with your friend is to work on what you’ve not been willing to fix with the guy. Once you do what it’s in your power to change, I think you’ll start to see this mess resolve a little.