What is life, and why are we living it? LOL, just kidding. You don't have to answer that. Anyway, there's this guy (no, I'm NOT romantically interested in him if that's what you're thinking), who I have known for the past few years. He is a star football player with a ten out of ten coolness factor, and he currently goes to my church. I'm 100% nerd, but I am still pretty social if I do say so myself. I'm generally comfortable with others, and vice versa. Except for this guy.
I genuinely think Rodney is a nice guy who I would love to have as a friend, but the only way he seems capable of communicating with me is to tease me (but not in a mean or flirtatious way). He gets it from his dad, since he acts the same way. Rodney isn't anti-social in general, but I can't help but feel awkward in approaching him. He has trouble relating to me, and I with him. I'm a senior about to graduate, so this is my last shot at really befriending Rodney and getting to know him better.
So Jono, how can I approach Rodney (or any guy) in a way that doesn't make him suspect ulterior romantic motives? I like making new friends, but in this case I don't want the complications of romance.
The Awkward Acquaintance
Sparkler, are you DOUBLE POSITIVE you don't have even a little bit of romantic interest in this guy? I only ask because you said some nice things about him, established that you would love to have him as a friend before it's too late, and then added that you feel unusually awkward in approaching him. If you have my job title—Professional Advice Something Internet Man—this sounds suspiciously like romance. But I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt—not only for this dude, but because befriending any guy without him making him think you want to engage in sextacular mischief can be very difficult.
Here is a completely exhaustive list of every way that you can approach a boy without him thinking you have romantic designs:
- Run him over with your car until he is no longer alive.
- Do not actually approach him ever.
What I'm trying to clarify here is that you can't approach a guy without him assuming, at first, you're romantically interested. If you're really outgoing we think it's because you like us, if you're super-shy we think it's because you like us, if you are completely deadpan and neutral we conclude it's because you're reigning in your emotions because you like us. When the first cavelady approached the first caveman to see if she could borrow a rock, the caveman was secretly thinking "UG MAKE BABY??" because that's what we tend to assume everything is always about. Now, you can dispel this notion, but not in the approach part. That comes next.
The Actual Conversation
The whole goal of this part is to find common ground to talk about—like you said, he has trouble relating to you, and the reason he resorts to Coolguy Teasing Mode is that you and he don't have a frame of reference for your conversations yet. Example: there's a dude I talk to a lot these days who, until recently, was completely incapable of having a regular conversation with me, and I with him. I'd run into him and be like "So, how about, uh, Popular Video Game?" and he'd be like "I play Other Popular Video Game," and we would stare at each other in icy silence. But at some point I learned stuff about his job and his life, and had enough in common with him in non-hobby areas that we talk about that stuff now.
For you, the challenge is to do this in a way that doesn't imply you want to get all up on his business. Such as:
- Don't accidentally do any of those Girl Flirty Things. Don't fawn all over him, compliment him too much, play with your hair, play with his hair, or say "Let me get that for you" and pick something invisible off his shirt, unless it is a huge invisible bug that only you can see. Don't laugh way too much at his jokes and then lean in really close so that, if someone stumbled a bit, you would accidentally make out and then become married. You know the drill.
- Assert your platonicness. I spent 30 minutes trying to come up with some conniving wordplay to let you entrap him in friendship with ancient logicks, and then it finally occurred to me that you should just tell the truth. Say something like "The thing is, I graduate soon, and I just wanted to get to know you a bit and maybe hang out as friends before I leave." This accomplishes two things: it clarifies that you only want to get to know him, and it also reminds him that you're leaving soon (which has the unspoken implication that you're not interested in a relationship).
- Call him unsexy things (within reason). I'm not sure how this works in your circles, but in mine, friendly masculine nouns are almost always reserved for non-flirty situations. Saying "Hey dude, how are bro things, my friend man?" is way safer than saying "Hiiiiiiii!! (Smoochy face, huggy voice.)"
I am not the boy in question (OR AM I?? [NO.]) so I'm not sure how he'll respond to all of this. He may assume "I'm leaving soon so we should become friends" means "I have a brief window in which we should do the no-pants dance." But if you're not interested in him as anything more than a friend anyway, is making exactly the right impression really such a big deal? I think the best way to go about this is just not to worry about it too much. After all, do you deeply concern yourself what the mailman thinks of you, unless you've recently ordered a package from IllegalHumanOrganz.ru? I think that if you just treat this like any normal interaction, you'll be able to find some common ground—church stuff or school stuff or something—and common ground leads to natural-feeling conversations, which leads to friendship. If you guys simply can't hit it off, maybe you're just too incompatible with this guy (in which case, you'll probably wind up as inexplicable Facebook friends a few years after high school anyway).