Monday, November 9, 2009

Mystery of the universe: apparently they just want to be friends

Breaking from the New York mag anxieties series for a shift – to another kind of anxiety.  Times are tough.
Here’s a common relational riddle:
You meet someone out at a bar or party.  They approach you.  Their approach has that confusing are-they-or-are-they-not-interested tenor.  You play it right on the edge of well-if-they’re-interested-then-I’m-interested-too…
Time passes.  Unclear flirting continues.  Confusion abounds.  Then as the night is coming to an end the person caps it off with a “so, hey, we should grab a drink sometime – here’s my number” and BOOM, you now have something to talk about at brunch the following morning.   
Now naturally you do your due diligence and run a background check on your new soul mate.  And what do your formerly sexy but now full-on death stare eyes find but, they’re in a relationship.  A relationship-relationship.  A there-are-pictures-of-the-happy-couple-with-family-over-the-most-recent-holiday- relationship.
You’re livid – confused – hurt – hating them – wanting them – trying to remember what Katherine Heigel movie this storyline is from…
AND you now have something to complain about at brunch.
Your friends: it’s fiiine, they must have just broken up! Relationships start and end in rapid fire.  They wouldn’t have approached you if they weren’t interested! This is a small town! People in relationships don’t just go picking people up in broad daylight (note: wrong).
And so you throw question to the wind and shoot that vague follow-up text: hey, great meeting the other night. We should get that drink sometime soon.  Let me know what works!
3 mins. later: hey! Great to hear from you – how’s tonight?
Well – you think – this person is either a conniving, cheating, ass or the future co-creator of my daughter named Olivia.  You set odds at 5 to 1 asshole (ed. note: I don’t know how odds works) because you’ve lost most faith in people, but set the drinks anyway because you’re wrong about most other things in life so why not this too.
Let’s cut to it:
They are in a relationship.  They talk openly of it when you meet. It’s not, “but things are rocky” or “but you caught my eye and I just couldn’t stop thinking about you” or “but I cheat on them regularly so if that’s cool with you, let’s do this.”  And – and this is significant – the unclear flirty/sexual undertone remains.  It is as if this person simply want to forge a friendship with someone that feels very much like those exciting beginnings of a relationship except that’s as far is it will ever go.  
Could that be it?  Assuming you’re not crazy and there is in fact that odd sexual tension between you two, could it just be that this person wants someone to grab drinks and flirt with even though they’re in a fully committed relationship?  And if that could be and in fact is then WTF are you supposed to do?
My position – as previously explored – is that a friendship with someone you actually want to be dating is a bad friendship to be in and an even worse friendship to start if you go in knowing the person is taken.  Unless this person could be a business contact or relation for some other reason (they volunteer, you’ve been wanting to volunteer, they help you start volunteering or some like, good-person shit), run for the hills.  And not because people can’t have new friends once they’re in relationships.  Avoid because your first interest in this person was romantic.  That tends not to go away...without strong lectures from several friends and eventually your mother.
Now - if you are the offender, here is my lecture.  You want new friends of the gender you date, fine.  Knock yourself out.  I've never been one to suggest that once you're in a relationship those friendships have to go.  But you better be damn clear about your intentions and non-intentions with these new friends sos not to lead on said new friends.  Somewhere in the conversation that ends with, "so, hey, we should get a drink sometime" should come, "yep, I live in X neighborhood with my girlfriend."  Easy as that.  
Is there really something so wrong with leaving that detail out when you're making a new friend? Wrong? No.  Suspect, weird, confusing, and misleading, yes.  Right and wrong is up to you to decide. 


  1. Loved this post! I've been there, both sides... And when someone has the need to not tell that tiny little detail as you said ("I live XXX with my girlfriend"), most times (i'd say 99,9999%) they just don't wanna say it. It is just not something you forget to tell, not if you're really just looking for friendship.

  2. Perhaps you just need to be a grown up and ask, "So you're single?" when you meet someone.

  3. Oh, this situation is always such bullshit.

    1. If you are a straight male with a girlfriend, don't talk to me.
    2. If you are a straight male with a girlfriend in a *happy relationship, you don't pursue new "friendships" with other women. New is the key word here.
    3. Generally, it's always good to meet new people and make new connections in the city, but let's be honest: don't people have enough "friends"? If he's talking to me because we both work in the same field and want to exchange business cards, that's one thing. But earnestly pursuing a new "friendship" means, to me, that he is fundamentally unhappy with something in his life. He needs me more than I need him, in other words. And if he's not willing to date me, he can just GTFOI.

    (This rant could all be the result of my recent encounter with my ex, who contacted me because he honestly wants to be just friends. Again, my response: GTFOOML. Get the fuck out of my life.)