Hello all you walking slabs of haunted pork, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that’s a certified keyblade wielder.
This week, we’re tackling the tricky art of relationship maintenance. How do you introduce future boyfriends into a platonic polyamorous relationship? How do you turn down a friend who’s looking for a relationship upgrade… without losing the friendship? How can you tell when you’ve moved on from a failed relationship and when you’re on the rebound?
It’s time to load Tinder back onto your GummiPhone. Let’s do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
First off, I’m a big fan. I even read your book! I’ve also never written to an advice column before so here it goes. I’m 28 and a self-professed gamer girl. Last year, my fiance of 5 years dumped me...over discord msg. It was heartbreaking. Now I’m considering getting back out there but things seem a lot harder than it was the first time go around.
First off, I should explain that I’m kinda already in a committed relationship with my best friend. She & I have known each other since we were ten. We’ve lived together for almost nine years now. We own a house and have a shared bank account. Hell, she even makes me lunches to take to work and books me dental appointments. We take care of each other. She has supported me through my parents’ divorce, college and the previously mentioned break up. We’ve often joked that we should declare ourselves common law since we’re so financially joined if one of us were to pass away the other would need to figure things out. She’s literally my soulmate. The only problem is that I’m a hopeless heterosexual and she is...well I’m not even sure she knows.
She has also expressed zero interest in dating. While she’s had crushes on guys in the past, she’s only ever been on one date and doesn’t seem that bothered by being single at all. Which is fine with me; that’s her business after all. As her best friend I can only encourage her and no, she is not in love with me. If she was that problem would’ve presented itself in my previous relationship, but it didn’t.
My ex was okay with how close we were and understood that I was a two package deal (though he had serious commitment issues but that’s another story altogether) but I struggled to balance the two of them and their separate lives. Even living between two houses every week. Eventually, I couldn’t juggle them both anymore.
I’m a romantic person. Children are not high on my priority list but I genuinely want to be in a loving relationship with a man. It’s one of the things I need to be happy, but I also am committed to my friend/sister and absolutely do not want to abandon her. She’s family and the person I rely the most on. I’ve thought about pursuing just physical relationships with men but I find it hard to detach my feelings in those kinds of situation, leaving me depressed.
How should I explain to a potential gentleman friend that being with me would mean also becoming a part of her life as well? How do I manage this weird pseudo poly relationship?
- Truly Odd Couple
The first thing to do is stop seeing this as a deep dark secret, TOC. You and your best friend are family — a family of choice, rather than of blood, but no less family for that. There’s nothing shameful, weird or terribly unusual about any of this.
It’s love, yeah, but there are many kinds of love. There’s more than just eros, love of the body, or agape, love of the soul. There’s also filia, the love of devoted friends, and pragma, the kind of love that exists in a relationship of long standing. The fact that we as a culture tend to focus on the first two — often to the point that we forget that platonic love exists — doesn’t mean that it’s unknown or alien.
Hell, this sort of relationship is so common in life and in fiction that it has its own TVTropes entry.
The way to bring this up is to to treat your relationship with your best friend not as a weird platonic poly relationship, but simply as your sister and roommate. You wouldn’t keep the fact that you have a sister a secret. Nor would you avoid mentioning that you share a house with somebody. Hell, you wouldn’t see having a close relationship with your family as unusual or something to avoid mentioning. It’s just another fact of who you are.
Once you frame it in that light, then things become much simpler. This may mean that the first few times you and your new beau hook up, it may be at his place, at least until you’re feeling like this may be a relationship with staying power. Like introducing any potential new partner to your family, it’s not something that you necessarily want to do until you’re pretty sure the relationship has some potential. After all, meeting the family is often a significant relationship milestone.
The key to how you introduce this to people you may date is to start as you mean to go on. The way that you roll this out to potential partners is going to color how they react to the information. Your partners will tend to take cues from you about how to respond. If you treat this as something that you have to apologize for, something that you feel uncomfortable with or otherwise something shameful, they’re going to be primed to see this as unusual and awkward. If you treat it as something normal — even something cool and unique about yourself — then you’ll be encouraging them to see it the same way.
It’s also worth noting that this sort of relationship is actually a boon for you and your future lovers. No couple can be all things to all people; having strong emotional connections and friends outside of the relationship helps strengthen and maintain your connection with your partner. You won’t be putting all of your needs for support and intimacy in one figurative basket and straining your relationship (and your mutual patience).
Just remember: even if this weren’t fairly well known, it’s still part and parcel of who you are as a person. It’s what makes you unique and contributes to your being the person that those future potential boyfriend are attracted to. Anyone who’s going to date you or share your life is going to be accepting of this. If they aren’t… well, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re not compatible with you in the first place.
Hello Dr. NerdLove,
So my question is not related to attraction, at least not from my end. It’s what I can fairly confidently call attraction from a friend of mine to me. More than that however, is to receive proper confirmation or denial of my suspicions, and to receive advice on how to deal with it. Ideally in a way that has a chance at allowing our friendship to continue.
Now for context, I am a straight male in my mid-late 20's, and I know we are often (quite rightfully) accused of assuming that girls like us when they just want to be friends. And certainly, I don’t exempt myself from having made erroneous assumptions in the past, as well as being oblivious to advances, even fairly evident ones. And yet in spite of this, I believe with due certainty that this friend, “Samantha,” wants to be more than friends.
We met a couple of years ago, and both of us were dating someone when we met. The four of us all were part of the same social circle. We were all tabletop gamers and all-around geeks. Over time, we both broke up with our then partners, but Sam and I stayed in contact — especially since we were in the same social circles.
A year ago or so, we began to hang out one on one. Before, we mainly hung out whenever the group was all together. Now we’ve also been meeting up separately, since we’ve found that we have more things in common than we initially realized.
Recently, our friendship has started to be strained. I’ve been dating a woman, “Charlotte,” for about six months. Obviously, this is something all my friends know about. And while Sam did seem happy for me when we texted, she seemed far less so when she actually met Charlotte.
When we all got together for the first time, Charlotte fit fairly well with most of my friends. Samantha on the other hand was just one step below being straight up rude. She would cut conversations with us short, giving the kinds of answers that shut down the topic. On its own, this wouldn’t be so bad; we all have our bad moods. But Sam would act like this every time Charlotte was around. When she wasn’t present with the group, Samantha was quite pleasant.
Samantha dated and broke up with one guy in the interim. The one time he hung out with the rest of the group and us, Samantha was particularly obnoxious about him. Every time when specifically Charlotte or I piped in with a story or comment, Samantha tried to one up the two of us with a story or comment about her and her boyfriend. Charlotte pointed out that Samantha only did this to the two of us.
I never confronted Samantha about this, however the next few times we would all hang out in a group, Charlotte and I would just talk to one or two people at once rather than joining in on group conversations. This fortunately and unfortunately didn’t last long, Samantha eventually broke up with this guy and stopped hanging out with our group altogether.
Flash forward to two months ago, Charlotte and I broke up. We left on good terms, but it hurt regardless. Charlotte was fun even if things didn’t work out as they should for reasons beyond the scope of this question. All of a sudden, Samantha, who had limited herself to talking with me in monosyllables and the odd meme here and there, sends me a request to meet up. I agreed and we met up, it all seemed to have gone back to normal, and Samantha was hanging out with all of us again.
That said, the incident that, for me at least, made it very clear that Samantha wants something more was rather recent. A couple of weeks ago, Samantha told me that the group was going to watch Aquaman together. When I got there, Samantha was there by herself. She told me that nobody could make it. Most of us have relatively busy lives so at the time I didn’t question it. But a couple of days ago, I met up with another friend from the group who told me me that it was the first time he learned of this.
Samantha never actually invited him. I asked the others and all of them said the same.
At the time this made me feel simply... hurt. Things did gradually start to click. It didn’t seem like there was any other explanation. And while I do think Samantha is pretty and I enjoy hanging out with her, I’m just not interested in her that way.
Plus, there are other factors that make me less interested in dating her. For example: she has severe depression issues and takes medication for them. I don’t judge, since I take meds for my own disorders, but Sam has, on occasion, dropped the meds without consulting the psychiatrist. This leads to her being difficult to deal with. I am not equipped to deal with her when she’s at her worst, which would be bad for the two of us. Plus, I met her as a friend so it’s hard for me to see her as anything else.
My question is, is there any way I can talk to her about this and get an answer? I’d rather stay friends with her, but if she is feeling like that, first and foremost, I don’t want to lead her on anymore. It’s not fair to her.
Thanks a lot, and I love your column!
-Hoping to Keep a Friend
I wouldn’t necessarily leap to “she’s attracted to me,” HtKaF. While it’s certainly a possibility, there’re other potential ways to read this — ways that seem as plausible. I think Samantha was jealous of Charlotte’s place in your life to be sure… but that doesn’t mean that Samantha’s attracted to you.
As I was saying to Truly Odd Couple, the fact that we focus so much on sex and attraction means that we tend to end up downplaying the importance or intensity that friendships can have. Or, for that matter, the way those friendships can make us react.
It’s entirely possible that part of why Samantha was so passive-aggressively hostile towards Charlotte is because she felt threatened by her presence. Not because Charlotte was a romantic rival but because she was a threat to the friendship dynamic you had. Lots of people get pissy when their friend starts dating someone because it cuts into their relationship. The cliché of “they got a boyfriend/girlfriend and now they never see their friends anymore” exists for a reason after all.
Watch Chasing Amy some time; half the conflict of the movie is due to Banky’s jealousy of Alyssa and the time she’s taking away from him and Holden. Holden assumes it’s because Banky’s attracted to him, rather than his being upset that someone has disrupted their friendship.
Absent more concrete proof that Sam’s attracted to you, I’d err more towards the side of “awkward friendship” drama. This would potentially cover the “Let’s all go to the movies, oops, nobody else could make it” move; yeah, it gets her alone time with you, but sometimes we want one-on-one hang-outs with our friends. If she can’t express herself like a grown-ass adult when she’s upset, it’s not unusual that she may not be able to express herself like one when she’s trying to rebuild a friendship either.
But whether it’s attraction or just a friend who’s not so good with emotions, my advice is more or less the same: continue acting like a friend until she gives you reason not to. You’re not Killgrave or Professor X; you can’t control other people’s emotions or make her not like you. Unless you’re actually flirting with her or otherwise acting like a potential boyfriend, then you’re not leading her on — not in any way that you can control for, in any case. As every woman who’s ever been stuck dealing with a Nice Guy knows, some folks will take anything as a sign to continue, regardless of the actual behavior.
If she starts to actually press for more from you than friendship — or she starts getting snotty around you when you start dating again — then it’s time to call the question and establish some boundaries.
But for now, never play an ace when a deuce will do. I think you’re safe in continuing to act like a friend and possibly dialing back the amount of one-on-one time you spend with her if need be. There’s little to do that won’t cause unnecessary drama and risk the chances of maintaining your friendship with her.
I was married to a woman for a very long time. As in all marriages, we had good times, bad times, and of course times when everything was average. However some sticking points were that we didn’t share a lot in common and she hated my hobbies (video games and other nerdy stuff).
When we met I was working retail, she was getting a masters degree. When we married, I worked my butt off to go back to school and work a full time job. After finishing school I got to the point where I was making good money. However for her it was never enough. She would criticize me for “starting so late” and even though I was making very good money, more than her at this point, she said I should have been farther along. Also she held her background over my head, touting how she came from a white collar background and mine was very blue collar.
She quit her job and went through a myriad of other ones before she settled on a new career. She was going back to school for this new career and got into one that was out of state and would be living halfway across the country for 3 years. I supported her in that. Even after I lost my job and had to move to a new city. Between her school and the move I was wiped out financially and I am just now getting on my feet after a couple of years.
We tried to make it work but I could feel her pulling away quickly. One day she hit me with “I want a divorce” and was very adamant about it. Well adamant is an understatement, more like cruel. I won’t repeat the things she said exactly but it can be summed up in variations of “I used you because I was alone, I needed support, I never loved you.” I was crushed by all this.
I took some time, examined everything in the relationship. Where I messed up, all the things I did wrong and all the things she said and did during our marriage. After reflecting on all this I came to the conclusion that I would be better off without her and started moving on.
The divorce is in process and should be completed in 3 months.
I started dating and I’ve met a wonderful girl who actually treats me well, and we share a lot of the same interests. She knows about my situation and is willing to stick by me.
The issues now are:
1. My soon-to-be-ex wanted a second chance. I told her no, not after what you did and said. However I feel kind of guilty about it. She has also gone back to bouncing aimlessly between job to job again and I feel sorry for her. Some people have told me I should hate her but I can’t bring myself to do it. Is there something wrong with me that no matter what she said/did I can’t bring myself to do so?
2. I really love my girlfriend and everything is great. We even talked about a future together after the divorce is final. However I also heard about the dreaded “Rebound Relationship” that ends in disaster. How do I avoid that happening here? I really feel a great connection with this girl and I don’t want to lose her.
So Damn Confused
First SDC: No, you shouldn’t give your ex a second chance, nor should you feel guilty about it. It is totally understandable that you feel weird about things; you were with this woman for a very long time. Even if she was an abusive shitbag to you — and she was — it’s normal for you to have complex and complicated feelings. Even people who are in physically abusive relationships often feel guilt about leaving or worry about their ex.
This is totally normal and it just means that you’re human.
Just don’t let that feeling of guilt persuade you into giving your ex even a second more of your time. You don’t owe her any more of your brain’s bandwidth than the bare minimum it’ll take to get through the divorce. She burned those bridges herself and she can fuck right off into the sea.
Second: A rebound relationship is just the fancy name we give for getting into a relationship before you’re ready. Just like some folks will try to walk on a sprained ankle before it’s healed, some people will leap into a relationship before they’ve finished mourning and processing their last one.
The problem is that we tend to call any relationship we get into a “rebound” if it’s the first one post break-up, especially after that one ends. But if you get right down to it, by that definition, every relationship is a rebound for the one before it.
The truth is that we process break-ups at different speeds. In fact, sometimes the reason why we’re able to get over a relationship, even a long-term one, incredibly quickly is because we left the relationship before it ended. We started the “getting over them” process while we were still dating them and the official end date was much more of a formality than a milestone.
The key to making this relationship work is to make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Not because you have anything to prove to yourself or your ex, not because you’re afraid to be alone, but because this person, specifically, gives you the love, companionship, support, intimacy, compassion and care that you need, and you can return that in equal measure.
Let that be your guiding star, and you’ll be just fine.
Did you have a platonic hetero lifemate? Have you dealt with a friend’s inconvenient crush? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.
He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.