Dear Wendy: “How Can I Let Guys Know I Want To Befriend Them Not Date Them?”

I recently moved out of the country, and am in the process of making new friends. Every so often a new male stranger will strike up conversation with me. Since I’m new here and could use as many friends as possible, I’m always receptive and try to be engaging. However, it always reaches the point where the guy will ask for my number. Unfortunately, nine times out of 10 I’m not really into him enough to date him — rather I’d be more interested in being friends. I’m finding that by engaging in conversation with them, they think I’m flirting or somehow into them, and that later when I say I’m not, they think I’m a bitch. How can I let them know right away that I’m not interested in dating them, without hurting their ego and immediately ruining the possibility of becoming friends? — New Girl in Town

I realize I’m probably going to get reamed for over-generalizing here, but I’m gonna say it anyway: most (straight) men who strike up a conversation with a female stranger are not looking to make friends with her, they’re looking to boink her (or at least date her). Of course, there are exceptions: breaking the tedium while waiting in a long line (maybe); killing time on a long flight; legitimately asking for directions. But, I would say the overwhelming majority of straight men who approach female strangers are looking for more than a buddy. And they’re going to assume that you, as a female stranger, know that about them, since it’s kind of a given.

So in that sense, there are two conversations happening when a guy approaches you. There’s the one on the surface — the one that’s about the weather or how long the line is or what you do for a living — and then there’s the real one — the one that happens between the lines and starts as soon as the man opens his mouth. It doesn’t matter what he’s saying out loud, what he’s truly communicating is: “Hey, you’re cute. Do I have a chance in hell with you?” And if you engage him in conversation — if you’re friendly and smiley and ask questions or whatever — it doesn’t matter what you say out loud back, because all the guy is going to hear is: “Yeah, you do have a chance! Keep on talkin’.”

So, where does that leave you? Well, if you want to avoid sticky situations with strange men who think they have a chance with you because you’re being friendly, you should probably focus your attention on building the female side of your social circle instead. Once you have a few female friends, you’ll eventually meet guys through them you can become friends with — hopefully without the awkwardness of them thinking you’re a bitch simply because you don’t want to date them. But if you’re still intent on befriending the male strangers who keep approaching you, you’re probably going to have to just get used to hurting their egos when they realize you aren’t into them. That doesn’t mean they won’t get over it and be your bud anyway, but the likelihood that you can just skip to that part without a little awkwardness first is pretty close to zero. Sorry.

I have been dating someone for about three months. When we first met, I thought he was one of the sweetest and most thoughtful guys I’ve met. He had moved here to start a Ph.D. program, but his funding fell through, so he was left looking for a job. Since then, he’s gotten a contract job to keep him afloat, but it’s crappy and mind-numbingly boring and he hates it. Not to mention, it doesn’t pay well, so he is left worrying about money. He hasn’t had much luck looking for real jobs, and I’ve done as much as I can to help (working with him on his resume, asking friends for leads, even going so far as to get him an interview at my company). Then he tore his Achilles heel, so he’s dealing with rehabbing the injury and being sort of limpy and not able to do much. Sometimes, I feel like all I do is cheerlead and encourage and try to make him feel better. It’s exhausting.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve slowly begun to lose interest, sexually. I still recognize how sweet and thoughtful he is, but I have no interest in sex. Sometimes I dread when we go to bed if we’re spending the night together, because of the inevitable moves. So. Is this something that could clear up in time? I recognize how great he is, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the lack of spark and sexual chemistry (which we DID have at the beginning of the relationship). I worry that I am considering ending something that has real potential because of him failing to meet my expectations in a partner. I wonder if he’ll be stuck working some depressing, boring job for months longer and I’ll have to keep being the cheerful, upbeat girlfriend. I have tried talking to him about making more friends in town so that the pressure for me being his sole outlet is relieved, but with his injury he doesn’t have as many options. What should I do? — Exhausted Cheerleader

Hey, are you listening to yourself? Re-read this sentence: “I worry that I am considering ending something that has real potential because of him failing to meet my expectations in a partner.” Sweetie, if failing to meet your expectations in a partner isn’t a good enough reason to dump someone, I don’t know what is. I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about someone you’ve been with for awhile, whom you’ve built a foundation with and are committed to. This is a guy you’ve known for three months — most of which, it seems, have been kind of crappy. And this “potential” you’re talking about is based on what? The first two weeks you were together? The person you imagined he could be? The hope that things would get better? Relationships that last are built on a lot more than that.

Three months is a very, very small amount of time to invest in something that is already proving to be more emotionally draining than not. This should still be the courting stage. If you’re not actively being courted and your boyfriend is a drain on you, there’s no reason you should feel obligated to hang around — especially if you can’t stand the thought of sex with him and his mere presence in your life exhausts you. Do you really need me to tell you it’s time to MOA? Come on, now.

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