Ask Jono: Being Led On
First I will start by saying I LOVE your columns. They are funny and insightful, which is a good combo.
Now for my situation. I am 17 years old and work part-time at a fast food restaurant. I developed a crush with my 21-year-old co-worker and we were always flirting the friendly way. I then decided to invited him to a party with me for innocent "let me get know this guy out of work" reasons b/c I am very picky when it comes to finding a bf. I did not expect anything to happen (b/c we were merely friends), but that was not the case. At the party the only song we danced to happened to be a slow song... and he held me rather closely... and he held my hand after the dance... and for the rest of the night. Not only that, he kissed my cheek 3 times, which is a BIG deal in our culture—his and mine. We also talked about our past relationships (out of nowhere), he highly complimented my appearance (the "wow you look amazing" way), he told me why & when he started liking me (I did not ask him), he let me borrow his jacket (again I did not ask), when we sat down he always had his arm around me (for no apparent reason), and he said we should go out again. My head was spinning b/c this was too much for my pace in one day, especially b/c I was expecting NOTHING.
After I followed up on the incident, he said that he didn't mean anything by it. I was shocked b/c he did not have to do what he did. He also asked nervously if I told anyone and I said no (it was lie b/c I told my friends whom he doesn't know for advice).
I already made my resolve to forget that guy as a potential bf but it left me wondering, why did he even bother with all that in the first place? I mean seriously, why do guys lead girls on?
Okay, something is fishy here. Something does not add up. If this were a math problem, it would equal an irrational number of scrod. I'm not quite sure what to make of this guy's behavior, but let me assure you that it wasn't just a big deal in your culture, it was universal human dating language for "We should have numerous adorable babies, immediately." Unless his culture is Moon Alien, I think he realizes that's how he came across (and I also think he took the mild flirting and the party invitation as a sign that that's what you wanted). So I'm not entirely sure what was going on with this guy, but I don't believe that just "leading you on" entirely explains it, and I'm going to have to take some shots in the dark. Here are some possibilities:
He is a sleazeball. This is possible but not guaranteed. Look, I am not the most dashing guy out there, but I have a pretty solid idea of how to hit on a girl if sleaziness is your only motivation. You deploy your most seductive pickup line ("Hey baby, I wish I were your derivative, so I could lie tangent to your curves"), and then, while she's looking confused and you're gesturing desperately at your graphing calculator, her boyfriend punches you in the back of the head, and you go home for the night. What you don't do is get emotionally invested. Talking about past relationships? Telling you why and when he started liking you? Offering you his coat? This is how you hit on someone in a Victorian romance. I guess he might have just been a polite sleazeball, and offering his coat was just code for "please jump my bones now," but in my experience guys like that are usually more forward.
He is a crazeball. Well, he's probably not literally crazy, but he could just be one of those narcissistic types who enjoys the positive feelings of being liked but never makes any actual commitments. This would be the kind of person who incessantly leads other people on, but I'm not sure that's likely; those types of people are definitely charming, but they don't share a lot of sincere emotional stuff (which it seems like your guy did).
He changed his mind. Last time I brought this up, I called it the Groucho Marx effect, which is a name I apparently stole from a scientist. My theory is this: dudes who lead you on are bad, but in a dopey, lazy kind of way, not a malicious, evil wizard kind of way. They pursue you until it becomes clear that you're actually obtainable, and then part of them thinks "well, if she'll actually have me, then she must not be worth it, because goodness knows I'm a mess." This is a pretty common human impulse; it's the same impulse that makes kids want each other's toys, until they actually get them, at which point they stomp on them and demand ice cream. It's irresponsible and juvenile, but we all do it occasionally.
Something else changed his mind. Is it illegal for a 17-year-old to date a 21-year-old where you are? Did he suddenly remember that he has a girlfriend, whom he forgot about somehow? Was this like Cinderella, except that he would turn awful at midnight? I have no idea, but this "my planet needs me" change-of-heart doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.
The best answer I have for you is that he is either an unusually cavalier sleazypants or a bumbling goofball. The age difference and the apparent embarrassment point to the former. If I had to guess, I'd figure he expected you to say "welcome to the interior of my pants; population: you," and called a tactical retreat when it became clear that wasn't going to happen. It is probably best to fill his car with scorpions and move on with your life.