College Advice: How Not to be “Just a Friend”
I don’t know why guys always see me solely as a “guy’s girl.” It’s really annoying because whenever I find someone who shares my same interests and who I get along with, but happen to be attracted to, it ALWAYS ends with me being “just a friend.” I try to show some feeling; I’m not 100% active about it, because I’m not stupid. I fear making bold moves that could potentially destroy the friendship. I’ve done this before and have completely failed. I’m cautious and know what I’m doing, but whatever things I deploy, whatever I say, whatever I do, I ALWAYS END UP BEING A FRIEND. To be completely objective, I’m not an unattractive person, so I don’t understand why if I bond with people over things AND am not unattractive, why it never works out. What could I be doing wrong?
First off, if I were you, I’d ask my own most trusted friends and exes to be honest with me and tell me what I might be doing wrong. I don’t know you, and there could be stuff I’m not getting from your letter which your friends will be able to point out.
That said, I have a strong hunch. My guess is that the problem lies in the way you begin these relationships. You say in your letter that you “fear making bold moves that could potentially destroy the friendship.” However, you describe your problem as arising when you “find someone who shares [your] interests,” meaning that before you met this person, you didn’t have a friendship. Do you see what I’m getting at? You defined your relationship as a friendship first, with the hopes that it would somehow morph into something more romantic, maybe through “things [you] deploy.” But you get timid because you don’t want to destroy the friendship — which you’ve just created. To me, this seems like a recipe for sending mixed signals. You’re annoyed that guys look at you as a friend rather than a lover, but you’re treating them that way yourself. Can you blame them for getting that idea?
Don’t get me wrong: attraction is attraction, and if you’re attracted to someone you’ll probably notice it even if you’ve set up a platonic relationship. But most of us maintain a handful of platonic relations that are sexually fraught and which under different circumstances might have had their romantic moments, even if they would have been ill-fated or badly-advised. Because this is too much to deal with on a daily basis, we set up mental blocks that allow us to balance our relationships in a functional way. This is a necessary part of monogamy, but it’s also crucial to the support of wider social structures, including the family unit. It’s in our blood. So you want to be very, very careful not to set up these blocks with a guy you’re interested in, because they can be powerful. Romance sometimes springs out of friendship, but in my experience, it’s rare, and there’s no point in creating obstacles for yourself.
I’m not advising you to shove your tits out and put glitter on your cheekbones whenever you go out (although that would probably do the trick, too, with a certain kind of guy). I’m getting at something much more subtle than that. I’m advising you to flirt. Present yourself as a lover first and a friend afterwards. This means small gestures that accentuate your femininity, flattering clothes that you’re comfortable in, good posture, and most of all, a fearless display of interest in one person above the rest. Look him in the eye. Ask personal questions. Touch him lightly while you talk to him. Be confident but also curious. Show him, wordlessly, that you know you’re desirable and that you’re equally sure that he is, too. Do it tastefully and I guarantee that even if they don’t bite, guys will be flattered by the attention.
Look, the way you’re doing things, you get far enough with these guys to notice that you share interests. They clearly like something about you. You just need to amend your technique so that you can scope out, at the very beginning, whether you also share an interest in each other. It’s surprisingly easy to figure out, actually. You’re still just as likely to be rejected — but at least this way it’ll only take a few minutes to determine if he’s interested, and if he’s not, you can cut your losses and try again with another guy.
You say that you’re “not 100% active about” showing your interest “because [you're] not stupid.” Honestly, from my perspective, it sounds like you don’t need any more friends, and could use some romance. But I won’t tell you that you have nothing to lose, because it’s not true; you stand to lose your pride, and that matters. You could easily get hurt, maybe irreparably. And in the end, I suppose you’re right — trusting another person with your heart is a very stupid thing to do, although it’s also very human and very beautiful.
But you know all this already. You’ve lived a little, and you have taken risks, and you’ve been hurt more than once — you wouldn’t be so frustrated if you hadn’t. But you and I both understand that you have to keep taking those risks if you ever want to feel less alone. If you didn’t sense that, you wouldn’t have written to me. All I’m trying to tell you is that your method of playing it safe isn’t working, and that, counter-intuitively, it’s actually a safer to put yourself out there from the start, and face the possibility of rejection early on, when it’s easier to deal with. If you build a friendship first, the stakes just get higher and higher, and the fall is always harder. Instead, keep your chin up, keep trying, work on your vibe, and do something stupid and rash and lovely, in a careful way. And then pick yourself up and do it again, and again, and again — until it works. I have total confidence in you.
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