‘Why don’t you ask her out?’ I’d ask. ‘Don’t you like her?’
‘Like her? I’m nuts about her. I dream about her. She’s beautiful. She’s the kind of woman my mother would never let me go out with. She’s what I watched my roommate Norman screw for four years at BMS. A centerfold.’
‘So why don’t you ask her out?’
‘I’m scared she won’t like me and say no.’
‘So what? What have you got to lose?’
‘The possibility—if she says no—that she might have said yes. Whatever I do, I don’t want to lose that possibility.’
Shem, Samuel. House Of God (Black Swan) (p. 118). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. It all started with a conversation at lunch. Queenie said she gets annoyed at women who pretend that they didn’t notice someone is into them (while reaping the benefits of it). I interjected and suggested that maybe some of those women really don’t notice that someone is into them. Queenie replied that it’s not possible, it’s obvious when someone is into you. Both Jal and I disagreed, and said we had a hard time telling if someone was into us, or just friendly. Both Queenie and Roger said they found it easy, with Queenie adding that maybe we just struggle because we’re geeks.
After speaking to some other people about it, it’s neither limited to geeks, nor do geeks always struggle. There seems to be a general trend for Team Hard To Tell:
I’ve definitely been in the situation where I’ve seen two people who are obviously into each other, but neither of them seems to realise it. Why is it easy to see when you’re on the outside? Part of it is probably because you have nothing to lose – you’re just the observer. When it’s happening to you, when you’re the one with skin in the game, then suddenly you feel apprehensive about making a move. Did they say they like the same bands as you because they’re trying to impress you, or because they genuinely just happen to like the same bands? Did they volunteer to help out with an event to spend more time with you, or because they just wanted to help out? Did they take you up to their room, dim the lights, take their clothes off and have sex with you because they like you, or because they’re from Canada and they’re just being polite?
Just the idea that someone could be interested in me seemed so alien at one point in my life. Even now, having been with MrFodder for so many years, I still have this fear that one day I’ll wake up to a note on my pillow saying, “Ha ha, it was all a joke. As if anyone could love you. I’m going back to my real wife.” And then an egg smashes flies through the window and smashes into my face. I think Never Been Kissed has forever ruined me. So when it comes to trying to work out if it’s friendly or flirting, I’d side with friendly, because who on Earth would flirt with me?
It’s just not worth the risk of losing such a great friendship. Sure, you could ask them out, and maybe there’s a 10% chance they’ll say yes (the low self-confidence thing coming into play). Is that really worth the risk of losing the friendship?
The three things are fairly similar, in that the underlying sentiment is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. But I got an interesting response from Herb:
Herb: emotions are temporary
Herb: attraction is temporary
Herb: being interested in someone is temporary
Herb: like i honestly find it weird
Herb: yes i can have an intense crush on someone
Herb: but that really means nothing
Herb: unless you are that close to them
Herb: and truly know so much about them
Herb: you are attracted to your idea of the person
Herb: the more you know someone
Herb: the more you might realise they are a good match
Herb: but until you actual embark on a relationship
Herb: those feelings are essentially meaningless
Herb: they are just the catalyst to start a relationship
Herb: and if it doesn’t start then w/e
Herb: so just be mature enough when they reject you
Herb: and remember all those crushes in the past that now mean nothing
I wouldn’t say my past crushes mean nothing, as I still sometimes get that jittery feeling when I bump into someone I had feelings for in the past, but I barely ever think about them now. The feelings that seemed all-consuming at the time are a faint blip on my radar. But I think in the grand scheme of things, he’s right. Maybe it’s just a symptom of getting older / working full time, but I barely spend time thinking about old flames, and it’s usually triggered by bumping into them or seeing something that reminds me of them.
Still, the quote at the top from House of God still resonates with me: “The possibility—if she says no—that she might have said yes. Whatever I do, I don’t want to lose that possibility.” I still remember that intoxicating feeling of spending time with your crush, and even if they don’t outwardly say they feel the same way, the fact that they are willing to spend time alone with you deludes you into thinking that maybe they do, and that was enough to keep the possibility alive for me.
Maybe I’m just really slow, but when I have a crush on someone, it tends to last a long time – usually years. I’ve been thinking about what makes it end? Obviously, if it lasts years, it’s probably one-sided, so you’d think at some point I’d have made the conscious decision to give up on it. Nope. I think what typically happens is that someone new comes along and takes centre stage, but since I’ve never actually gotten over the old crush, it can come back to whack me in the face if the new person falls out of the spotlight.
After having a long-term crush fade somewhat recently, it got me thinking about how that actually happened, and I think it’s because I finally realised there were no reciprocal feelings. I opened Schrödinger’s box and discovered whether the cat was alive or dead. It was well and truly dead, and the smell it was giving off made me regret not opening it sooner.
I still don’t know what the secret is to being able to tell whether someone is attracted to you, though the people on Team It’s Obvious seem to have a higher opinion of their own appearance (based on my perception of their opinion of their own appearance), so maybe it’s just easier for them because they have more experience. Though someone pointed out that the might be equally as clueless, because until you actually find out from someone whether they’re into you or not, you never really know for sure. I could walk around thinking that I turn heads everywhere I go, but it’s entirely possible that there’s a fire truck that is following behind me, and everyone is looking at it wondering where the fire is.
However, as the captain of Team Hard to Tell, I have to say that the waiting around hoping your crush will ask you out isn’t worth it in the long run. If I were to give advice to past me, I would say set a deadline (e.g. 6 months – which I know is still a long time, but it’s a lot better than multiple years). After you hit that deadline, it’s time to open the box and move on if required. I think there’s some benefit in waiting for your friendship to mature and to give the chance for the other person to develop reciprocal feelings, but at the end of the day, someone is going to have to make a move, and assuming you’re outside high school, or somewhere really gossipy, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be you. I think most people are mature enough to not hold it over your head if you like them and they don’t like you back*
* Though that might vary depending on the person, so I leave it up to you to decide whether they thrive on the drama and attention or not. As for a guide on how to tell whether they do or not, I can’t help you there, sorry.