The problem is taken from the Observer this time.
I had feelings for a guy I was friends with at university, but it never developed into a relationship. I wasn’t sure how he felt about me, but I couldn’t seem to let go of it either. It’s more than a year since I graduated and I went abroad for some time. I had pretty much given up on the idea of anything happening between us, but then we chatted a bit on the internet and he said it would be good to see me when I got back. He invited me back to our old university city for the weekend, but when we were there he spent all his time with various old friends and didn’t seem to want to see me at all. I feel upset and rather embarrassed, but what worries me is that I so misread the signals for all these years. I’ve never been in a relationship, and seeing how I managed to misconstrue our friendship for so long really worries me. How am I ever meant to know if a man actually does like me or not?
There is something striking about the way you introduce the subject. You say you had feelings for a guy you were friends with but it never developed into a relationship. It sounds as though you don’t consider friendship to be a relationship. I know you mean that it didn’t become physical, but unconsciously it sounds as though you slightly discount the friendship. Also ‘had feelings for’ is fairly ambivalent. You don’t say you were in love with him or passionate about him and he remains ‘a guy’, rather than a wonderful guy or a kind guy or whatever. You don’t describe him or the friendship such that, even from the first line, it sounds very much as though you’re not sure how you feel for him though you focus on your uncertainty about his feelings for you. This immediately seems the wrong way round, as though you have been buffeted by fate and are held hostage by his ambivalence. It sounds as though what’s holding you back is your own ambivalence about him. If you had been certain of your feelings you might have been able to ask him about his or you might have made a physical advance.
You say you weren’t sure how he felt but that you couldn’t let go of it. However, you went abroad rather than staying near him. Perhaps there is a part of you that likes the idea of keeping a fantasy alive at a distance but is too afraid to jump into the reality. Of course, it’s possible that you feel unworthy of him, feel sure he doesn’t really like you yet you continue to think of him and feel rejected at the same time. Perhaps you expect to be rejected and would rather not try anything because rejection would be too unbearable. You sound very unconfident about your own attractiveness and I suggest that you are wondering what is going on in his mind as a way of not facing up to what is going on in your own mind.
Again you go on to sound quite doubtful and somewhat depressed. You’d ‘given up’, you ‘chatted a bit’ and he said it ‘would be good’ to see you. This all sounds rather flat and I think your are right to say that you had given up even before you started. You don’t say ‘I was elated to hear from him out of the blue!’ or ‘all the feelings rushed back’ or anything very positive. It feels as though you had very low expectations and meekly went along to meet him with this feeling of having given up very strong in your mind. It sounds as though you are utterly passive in this relationship and you leave all the decision-taking to him, wondering why you can’t guess his thoughts.
You feel upset and embarrassed that he didn’t rush at you but, by the sounds of it, you didn’t rush at him either. You seem to be confusing your own ambivalence (which is possibly shyness and a low-lying depression) with his. You are expecting him to do all the running but, significantly, you feel embarrassed for having hoped, for having made yourself vulnerable to desire. Instead of thinking about that shame and what it might really be about (a contempt for the needy, loving person/child in yourself who only meets devastating rejection?) we leap on to what you say is your ‘real’ worry which is that you misconstrued something. You are right to point to that as the problem but it is not his mind you misconstrued (because clearly we can’t know what someone else is thinking) but your own. You seem to flatten your feelings down for fear of humiliation and yet you expect him to read the mind you are trying to hide.
It’s not surprising that you haven’t been in a relationship because you aren’t at all clear that you really want to be in a relationship. You are hoping that this man or perhaps another will come and scoop you up however reluctant or uncertain you seem. There is no possibility in your mind that you might approach him, talk to him honestly or properly test the waters and then embrace him or move on if he isn’t for you. You are leaving it all to him.
It seems as though you felt this situation was pretty hopeless in the first place and went to meet him with low expectations. It doesn’t sound as though you showed him overt enthusiasm. There is also the possibility that you are unconsciously aware that he isn’t interested but you maintain an interest in him in a masochistic way, feeling that rejection is all you can expect and all you deserve and acting that out, possibly not for the first time. Might you reject someone who was openly enthusiastic out of hand as not fitting into your world view, your view of yourself?
There is not much hint as to why you might feel so unworthy and so passive but it is not your lack of mind-reading abilities that are the issue, more your own lack of confidence and inability to take responsibility for your own feelings or to act them.
You ask how you are meant to know if a man likes you or not. Firstly you need to be sure that you like him, which is not completely clear here, and then….you can ask him (especially if he is, as you say, already a friend)! But in your case I would try to learn about your own personal selection process and be sure you are not specifically choosing men who you know will reject you.
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