Auntie SparkNotes: I Don't Like Him Back, But I Like the Attention
I've been through 26 pages of your advice archives, but I'm just not sure if any of it is going to help me. The problem is, I have someone on my hook. He likes me, and I don't like him back. I should just tell him straight up that I don't like him like that, and never will. But... I don't want to!
I don't understand what my problem is. I don't want him, but I don't want him to leave me alone! I don't think it's because our moms are besties; I'm pretty independent and never let people influence me. I don't think I'm afraid of losing a friendship; I actually feel really uncomfortable just being around him. I think that maybe I just like the attention. Which is terrible, and awful, and bad.
Which brings me back to growing a pair and telling him that I don't like him like that, and never will.
But even if I can bring myself to do that, he's on the other side of the country right now! He's only home for a few weeks at a time every several months, and I'm pretty sure this is the kind of thing that needs to be done in person, but the only contact I have with him right now is occasionally texting.
I think I know what I need to do, Auntie. But I just don't know how to do it! I think I'm a terrible person!
Well... okay, Sparkler, you're half right. Because keeping alive the hopes of some poor lovestruck sap just for the boost to your ego is, indeed, terrible and awful and bad.
But the fact that you've realized this, all on your own, is amazing, and fabulous, and deserving of the standing ovation which I am giving you right this minute. Do you realize that some people spend their entire lives stringing along their admirers like this, clinging like remoras to any source of attention? And many of them never even gain the self-awareness to recognize what they're doing—let alone to see what a jerk move it is. The fact that you have, and you want to stop, is a thing that warms the cockles of Auntie's small, gray, stony heart.
MMMM. WARM COCKLES.
And then there's this: I'm not totally sure that your behavior is the disgusting show of attention-grubbing cowardice you think it is. Even if this guy's crush is obvious to the point of absurdity, the one thing he apparently hasn't done is expressed it directly—which puts you in the uncomfy position of having to either a) continue this charade in which he keeps pining away while you keep pretending obliviousness, or b) preemptively reject an offer he hasn't actually made, an embarrassing proposition for everyone. And if your only means of putting a stop to his attentions is an out-of-the-blue smackdown, it's no surprise that you've opted for the path of least resistance.
But things being what they are, and since you're obviously feeling bad about it, the time has come to step into the breach.
The good news: this is, in fact, the kind of thing best not done in person. When you're delivering bad news—and for this guy, the news that his crush isn't just unrequited but obvious will be very bad news, indeed—there's something to be said for letting the other person process it in private. There's nothing you can do about how he'll feel, but you can do him the kindness of not making him feel it in front of you.
Which is why your next step is to send him a text or an email, and tell him that:
a) you don't want to make things awkward, and
b) you may be way off base, in which case he should ignore this message and pretend you never sent it, but
c) you've gotten the impression that he might have more-than-friendly feelings for you, in which case
d) you like him a lot and think he's great, but you don't feel that way about him and really just want to be friends.
What's great about this: you not only save everyone the awkwardness of a confrontation, but you give him the bonus gift of being able to deny the whole thing, if he wants. Either way, you'll likely never discuss the message; it'll be as though it never happened! Except that the next time you see him, as if by magic, he'll no longer be harboring the hopeless thoughts of romance that make him an agony to be around.
And all it takes is a little nerve on your part—along with the continued recognition that whatever validation you got from his attentions isn't worth the squicky feeling you get from encouraging them. You've already got the latter; just work up the former, and you'll be good to go.
Have you ever found yourself stringing someone along 'cause you liked the attention? (I totally have. GUILTY.) Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Click for the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.