[Adv] Am I Leading on Old Boyfriends?

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Post by readertorider on Sat Jan 31, 2015 5:09 pm

After over a year of limited/no contact in one case and quite a few months in the other I am back in (long distance) communication with both of my college boyfriends. I like them as friends and honestly do look forward to talking with them, but have absolutely no desire to get back together with either (maybe in 10 years...when we're different people, but for the foreseeable future--nope).

The thing is though that I'm worried they think they're waiting for me. Both guys had parents whose romance spanned continents and I was first girlfriend. People also tend to tell me I'm "motherly" (I think they mean this as a compliment?) and for a more traditional guy that wants a family maybe that's actually attractive? IDK. They just both seem more interested in keeping the line of communication open than most of my college friends who were only friends.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to ethically do here. I don't want to just cut off contact or assume they can't manage their own emotions (if they exist). And I'm really not sure how to manage a "Just friends, thanks" conversation when there really isn't any indication that they want more than friendship. But I certainly don't want to take advantage and there's a lot of vitriol for girls who "lead people on"/"can't cut people loose" all over the web. I like both these guys as friends (we talk about things I don't talk about with anyone else), and I'd like to deepen that friendship if it goes in that direction, but I don't want to cause them pain--really just hoping I'm over thinking things. Any advice?
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Post by OneTrueGuest on Sat Jan 31, 2015 5:12 pm

These men are adults.  If they want to live in a fantasy of their own making and not communicate with you their "true" feelings, that isn't your responsibility.  The problem with the "leading people on" line is it is often made by irrational males who want to place the blame for their lack of success on women.  If they can make women the villains then they don't have to direct anger inwards. The fact is there are many more women who are in your exact situation, wanting to be friends with men but worried about their feelings, than women actually actively using men.  Most are not using men (though some women do), they are not leading them on.  They are clear on their boundaries.  But the men will pretend the boundaries aren't real.  That has nothing to do with women nor is it women's fault.  It is the fault of the men.

If and when either of these men express romantic feelings, be direct and honest with your lack of interest.  Otherwise there's not much you can do short of not being their friend anymore.  You are not responsible for others reading more into a situation than there is.  You cannot cause them pain any more than they are causing themselves pain.  They are responsible for wanting someone who has clearly told them they aren't interested.  You aren't responsible for their feelings.  They are grownups not small children.  Treat them like that and if they choose to behave otherwise that's not your fault, it's theirs.

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Post by Mel on Sat Jan 31, 2015 5:41 pm

I agree with everything OTG said, but I'd add one caveat, based on a question: Who re-initiated contact?

If the guys reached out to you, and haven't made any overtures that are more than friendly, then I think you should assume it's up to them to speak up if they're hoping for more, and as long as you keep things only friendly on your side, you're not doing anything wrong.

If in either or both causes you reached out to them, especially a) if you initiated the break-up and the guy seemed to have wanted to continue the relationship otherwise, b) you are both currently single, and c) you weren't really friends before you started dating (i.e., up until now your interactions with them have been almost entirely romantic, so this is a new development, rather than going back to an older dynamic), I think it would be kind (though not required) to briefly make sure they know that you're only interested friendship, because it might look to them like you re-thinking things and possibly reconsidering them as romantic partners. Again, I don't think you're a bad person if you don't do this, but it would potentially save them the same kind of wondering you're doing right now.  Smile
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Post by readertorider on Sun Feb 01, 2015 12:36 pm

Thank you both for setting my head on straight--especially for the nuanced response, Mel. In both cases they did reach out to me, though I did initiate the break ups and we are all currently single (as far as I know). I will trust them to be adults (thanks OTG!), know their own minds, and hope we have long years of friendship ahead. Thank you again!
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Post by Caffeinated on Sun Feb 01, 2015 2:22 pm

My perspective on your question is a bit funny, as I am married to someone who I dated on and off in my teens and early twenties, and then was in very sporadic contact with for ten years (the annual email ping, but didn't see each other in person from age 22 to 32) and then when we met up again all grown up, things worked out. The old attraction was still there but we had both matured to the point where the things that were problems when we were kids weren't an issue any more. You might ask if he was waiting for me all those years. Well, kind of but kind of not. It's not like he was holding my spot for me or anything, as he did try to date other people over the years. But if you asked if he had a bit of one-itis, maybe so. So I tend to think that staying friends with old boyfriends, even ones who might still have some romantic feelings, isn't such a bad idea. On the other hand, there were some old boyfriends I tried to stay friends with where things got awkward, and friendship didn't really work out. But you say that you like them as people and consider the friendship worthwhile, so I think go for it. And yes, they are adults who can deal with their own feelings in whatever way they need to.
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Mon Feb 02, 2015 3:26 pm

readertorider wrote:Anyway, I'm not sure what to ethically do here. I don't want to just cut off contact or assume they can't manage their own emotions (if they exist). And I'm really not sure how to manage a "Just friends, thanks" conversation when there really isn't any indication that they want more than friendship. But I certainly don't want to take advantage and there's a lot of vitriol for girls who "lead people on"/"can't cut people loose" all over the web. I like both these guys as friends (we talk about things I don't talk about with anyone else), and I'd like to deepen that friendship if it goes in that direction, but I don't want to cause them pain--really just hoping I'm over thinking things. Any advice?

If you can do it gracefully, make it clear you're dating. Something as simple as "Have you seen [movie yet]? O cool, yeah, I went to see it last week with someone and. . ." If he suddenly gets sulky, you have your answer.

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Post by readertorider on Sun Feb 08, 2015 4:00 pm

Thank you both Caffinated and Gentleman Johnny for the new perspectives.

Gentleman Johnny wrote:
If you can do it gracefully, make it clear you're dating. Something as simple as "Have you seen [movie yet]? O cool, yeah, I went to see it last week with someone and. . ." If he suddenly gets sulky, you have your answer.

I definitely thought about this, but at the moment I'm not dating (living with parents, happily single, planning on possibly moving anywhere in the country for next job). If I do seriously start dating I will definitely tell them because it will be a part of my life (and give them more evidence that I'm not romantically interested (think I was very clear before, but who knows)), but "having my answer" doesn't really help because I don't think it would change how I would deal with them (aside from feeling weird). I don't want the friend I have a crush on to cut contact just because of my crush (it will fade) and if my ex-boyfriends still want to be friends with me, my knowing their romantic feelings doesn't help the friendship (unless they relate to a person who is not me).
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