Meeting people through daily activities - dealing with risks and conflicts

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Post by inbloomer on Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:06 am

I was unsure where to put this but this category is about boundaries and conflicts of interest so...

As may be clear from my posts already, I am not a fan of online dating. For me it's up there with jetpacks and hoverboards as a technology that offered far more than it delivered. I am more positive about the potential for meeting people through daily activities, which is indeed the route DNL now most advocates. However, one problem I run into with that is that the majority of women I meet and feel are faint dating prospects (and I can think of several at the moment) are in the "amber zone". By which I mean, asking them out or dating them would break no actual rule, but there’s enough potential for controversy to make going for it seem that much more daunting than it already does.

There are lots of factors that can create this, including the ones that come up perennially on the main forum. A common example is that when you first met this person you really couldn’t go straight into flirting (they were in the red zone, as it were). Those factors have since changed, but trying to alter the dynamic now could raise questions about was this your plan all along and did it affect your decision-making. Or it could come across that you’re trying the Platonic Friend Backdoor Gambit (DNL’s favourite) even though you couldn’t really have done any different.

I would actually argue that the last period in which the majority of people around you are in the green zone – you have lots of ins to approach and get to know them, but there’s relatively little potential for wider problems if things go wrong – is university. But for other reasons – people under lots of pressure and working to different timetables, still living half their lives in their home towns – university isn’t a great dating environment either.

It came out from the social skills thread that we all find extending the boundaries of an existing connection to be really difficult. I wonder if anyone has constructive thoughts or tips?

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Post by Enail on Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:42 pm

I think this is one of those things that depends on context enough that it's hard to make generalities. If you're decent at reading signs and get some sense of potential openness to it, and you're specific about your interest rather than asking out everyone attractive within your dating pool,  I'd say just going ahead and asking them out explicitly is probably the best bet in those cases.

But if you tend to over-read signs, or have had issues in the past with people feeling like you were just using the Backdoor Gambit and didn't actually want to be friends, or if the person doesn't give much in the way of cues in general (if they do give cues for other people and/or for non-romantic things, and you're just seeing a big absence of those for you, that's likely a sign they're not interested), I'd think it might be better to check a little for interest rather than putting them on the spot totally out of the blue. For most ways of deepening or changing relationships, I find taking small steps and watching for reciprocity (or backing off if it isn't reciprocated) is a good way to operate. So trying some very light flirting, or even starting off by just showing a little more personal enthusiasm for them specifically to see if they're interested in getting closer in general, and seeing if they reciprocate or escalate, or if they dial back or just ignore it. OTOH, if you're quite bad at reading cues or have had issues with creeping people out, this can risk going wrong, so I don't think it's a great approach for everyone.

One thing I've seen before be an issue for some people is that what you actually feel matters; if you are only interested in someone because you'd like to date them and wouldn't feel terribly enthusiastic about getting to know them if it's never going to lead to anything romantic, that's pretty likely to come through and make your platonic interactions seem insincere or suspect. So I tend to think people who aren't open to platonic outcomes when connecting with someone they're interested in would generally do better to focus on more dating-oriented situations for meeting dates.
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Post by inbloomer on Mon Dec 16, 2019 8:46 pm

I have some problems with platonic outcomes, but they may not be the problems you think. Platonic as in friendly acquaintances who occasionally meet for a coffee or do something as part of a group, fine. But platonic as in an intense friendship is more problematic. It's my theory/experience that if you spend a lot of time with someone, you start to develop some of the feelings associated with romance even if you aren't really attracted to them sexually. So without bad intent on either side, boundaries can naturally get stretched to the point where it's suddenly a problem for one party. At the same time, as just a friend you are quite low in the pecking order. I mean, I've had a woman literally run out on a just as friends activity with me because her boyfriend texted her some petty slight, then come back and say "sorry, but that was far more important". So you end up in this uncomfortable position where you're quite invested in this friendship but it can and probably will end abruptly at any moment.

Where I have gone wrong back in the past is with a small number of women who genuinely were at the very introverted and hard to read end of the spectrum. I dropped some light hints, didn't really get a response so thought maybe the message was missed and I needed to try again. Once might have been right, but I kept going past the point where I should have realised it was time to give up and move on.

I really don't think I'd make that mistake again, but it is hard overall, without any real examples of interest to baseline against. I guess the dilemma is that the strongest risk-free move may still not be that effective. For example, I had an amber zone situation recently where I trailed the idea of us meeting up for coffee and she was keen. My spur of the moment judgement was that it was fine for me to give her my personal contact details but more risky for me to ask for hers. So that's what I did - but it's two months on and she's never messaged.

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Post by Enail on Mon Dec 16, 2019 11:50 pm

Well, there's no move that's definitely going to be effective, because not everyone is going to be interested in everyone else no matter how they go about asking. Obviously, how you hit on people is a part you can control, so it makes sense to focus on it, but don't get caught up in the idea that there's always a way to get your desired outcome if you just act exactly right or that if someone's not interested it means you screwed up.

As far as overly intense friendships shading unintentionally into aspects of romantic relationships that doesn't match the priority you have for each other, that kind of sounds like being really clear on boundaries and maybe looking for people who treat their friends with consideration and respect might solve that? It sounds like one of those things that can just happen unintentionally when you don't expect it, but if you've experienced that pattern before, you've probably got more ability to recognize it and consciously avoid stepping into it, I'd think. Also I've known a few people whose friendships are either pretty arms-length or extremely intense, no in-between, and where the latter lands up with dynamics similar to what you describe or exploding messily, and sometimes just consciously going slower and not jumping into all-out, intense closeness when they start to get closer seems to help avoid that pattern for them. Especially when closeness and intensity happens really quickly, sometimes the closeness doesn't match the level of reliability or commitment to the friendship, b/c those things often come slower, if that makes any sense.
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Post by inbloomer on Wed Dec 18, 2019 7:17 pm

OK, this is important - I totally get that these are two-way situations in which there is no perfect sequence of moves. But I think it's reasonable to talk about an "optimal move", which is the best possible balance between creating opportunity and keeping risk proportionate.

The workplaces and clubs/societies I'm involved with have all talked louder about sexual harassment in the past few years. I've looked at the rules and basically, consensual relationships are allowed; asking in the right way, getting turned down and handling it in the right way is allowed; but you really don't need to overshoot by much to be in potentially dangerous territory. This isn't just about direct lines of authority but relates to anyone you interact with who you wouldn't interact with if you weren't associated with that organisation, and can be a single non-touch incident. The consequences might not be career-ending, but for someone with low dating confidence, one embarrassing ticking off can be a really serious knock. Within non-organisational daily activities like friendship groups, the rules aren't formally written but they're still there.

As I've said, the strategy of "strike all that out, if you want to date go on an app", is in my view really not working for society. I want to get this right. But one other thing I do know is that people hate scripted lines: another reason why I've always been allergic to the "I'd like to take you on a date on Friday" formulation. So finding that optimal move is not easy.

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Post by Enail on Wed Dec 18, 2019 11:53 pm

Y-es? Different situations are different in how much negative impact it would have if things went badly  in expressing romantic interest or in any of the many ways things can go badly in dating, and the asker needs to not just balance their opportunity vs. risk but also the risk and comfort to the other person. But of course, the other person's comfort level is something one should pay attention to regardless of the situation, so for people who have trouble recognizing those cues I do think it's better to stick to lower impact situations that are more opt-in, like online dating, to ask people out.

I'd say the workplace is Advanced Dating and very much not a 101 situation, I'm not really clear what level of social challenge you're up for so that may or may not apply to you. Because it's bringing people's ability to earn a living into the mix, making someone uncomfortable or making them feel pressured can be a lot more harmful than in other, more social situations. So while I'm not flat-out against dating coworkers, imo it's only a good idea for people with a solid grasp of social skills and cues and where the lines are, who can be reasonably confident that "creepy" isn't a likely failure state for them, and who are also good at handling awkwardness and getting on with people who've rejected or broken up with them. And "this isn't in the employee handbook as harassment" is not a high enough bar to aim for, if that's the angle you're looking at it from.

Other social situations are less fraught, but there's still a spectrum of how much negative impact it would have if things went badly in any of the many ways things can go badly in relationships and in expressing romantic interest, so I think in any environment that's not specifically dedicated to dating people really do need to pay attention to that balance.

What do you mean by "not working for society?"
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Post by inbloomer on Thu Dec 19, 2019 5:56 pm

OK ... this opens up too many points for a single post but I'll start with one...

I gave online dating a pretty good go, over a period. I actually got quite a lot of matches, but they never went further than a very boring conversation that soon fizzled out. And seriously, I had good openers, it was they who had shot their bolt after saying "S'up?" However, the biggest problem was the very low rate of people I honestly thought even worth trying to engage. I was liking 1 in 10 but felt that was very generous and really it was 1 in 100 that I thought seemed at all compatible. I was literally getting RSI from swiping them away. And the problem wasn't looks - I was rejecting a lot of Instagram-model types. I'm very aware that you say this on a dating forum and people are liable to accuse you of being far too judgemental. But actually, I think a compatibility rate of 1 in 100 or even up to 1 in 10,000 from the overall, unfiltered population isn't insane. That's still a decent pool in total, and through daily activities where the people you meet have already been filtered or have self-selected to a significant extent, the chance of meeting women you actually might be compatible with is much higher.

It's this original claim that dating sites did make, that their algorithms could match people up better than any human filtering, that's complete bullshit. In fact, the people I matched with had usually been to the same university as me, or a similar one - I could usually guess before I swiped who was going to return the interest - so you could see people desperately trying to apply their own social filters in real time.

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Post by Enail on Thu Dec 19, 2019 6:52 pm

That makes sense, it doesn't suit everyone's preferences or cater to every pool, and since everything's gone more tinder-style it sounds like matching has gone downhill. But that sounds like "not the best dating option for some people," rather than something damaging to society, no? Its existence doesn't rule out other ways of dating.
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Post by inbloomer on Thu Dec 19, 2019 7:26 pm

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply no-one finds success through online dating. Clearly some people do, and good luck to them. What I don't like is the argument that because online dating exists, you shouldn't even think about finding partners in day to day situations. That's certainly not DNL's view but I have heard various people express it.

I do think that for people using online dating for casual sex, there's something I find uncomfortable in the way people think they can eliminate all the tricky social nuance stuff beforehand and eliminate any emotional stuff afterwards, yet often seem surprised that the quality of the sex they get in between is terrible. Obviously my experience is less direct on that, but it comes out in a lot of articles and posts I've read.

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Post by inbloomer on Sat Dec 21, 2019 12:01 pm

OK, so going back to daily activities. One key point I think is that there are risks with not doing things, as well as with doing them.

With workplaces, obviously this varies but in my experience there's been a lot of blurring between work and personal lives in the last few years. It's been presented as a win - hey, you can be flexible about your timings, you don't have to wear a suit and tie - but actually you are being expected to do a whole lot of new emotional labour. (I use the term in its original, correct sense, not the whingey "my friends sometimes want to talk about themselves".)

The old style, where you come in to do your job and treat everyone with baseline courtesy, but don't consider yourself there to make friends, is no longer deemed good enough. You are actually expected to be a fun-loving extrovert, a tireless networker, and generous, empathetic and sensitive way beyond baseline levels. And yet, developing feelings for anyone you come into contact with through all that is, while not exactly against the rules, tricky and taboo territory.

With clubs and societies, I think it's less mandatory but it's still there. After all, such organisations can only keep going if they have a critical mass of people who are keen enough to turn up regularly, and some people have to put in work to generate that enthusiasm. A type of interaction I've found really challenging is asking/messaging people if they're going to come along to the next session or whatever it is. Sometimes it is entirely the right thing to do, but it can easily tip into coming across as needy or even creepy, thus driving them away. And when you're doing the right thing but with a bit of personal bias - you care a bit more about this person turning up because you do find her attractive - it's easy to get into a mental tangle.

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Post by Enail on Sun Dec 22, 2019 4:01 pm

I have never worked somewhere that expected me to be any of those things! That sounds awful!

But I'd say the point of clubs and societies is typically at least partially about forming social connections, so it seems natural to me that most people would need to put in some social effort to make the group work and to get something out of it. If you're truly just interested in the activity/topic and don't want to get to know people, I'm having a hard time imagining a group that considers its non-social aspects to be important but doesn't allow for someone to participate in the activities, just give baseline courtesy to other group members, and then go home. Naturally, that person isn't going get the same social benefits and connections as someone who puts effort into building connections, and if few people build connections, the group is less likely to flourish, but that seems like a lower level of expectation than it sounds like you're meaning?

As far as messaging people to ask if they're going, I can't see any reason you need to do that or that not doing it would be "not doing the right thing," so if you find it comes across badly more often then not, you could skip that altogether. When I've tried to build connections with people in groups I'm in, the things that have usually worked best are either suggesting the group go out afterwards for coffee or drinks, finding outside events related to the group's topic or to other interests people have mentioned and broadly seeing if others would like to join you, or if there's a specific person I've been connecting with during the group (we talk a lot during or afterwards and they seem enthusiastic, they initiate conversation and talk about things that aren't purely group-business, they'll seek me out to hang out during the meetup or pair up with me for tasks), ask them specifically if they want to do something together.  For people who you have some level of connection with but don't feel like you're at "hang out together outside of group" levels, I've had some luck with 'teaming up' with them to together try and get a group outing going; it's solidifying a connection and moving it outside of the group meeting time without having to jump straight to one-on-one levels of closeness.
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Post by inbloomer on Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:43 am

That's useful thinking, thanks. That is really what I'm getting at here: the situation where you see this person intermittently and unpredictably (e.g. they only turn up at the group every so often), you've got through the earliest stages of building a connection and things seem kind of promising, but realistically you aren't that close.

So if you jump ahead too far and fast, it is quite likely to come across as predatory and get that reaction. Subtly trying to engineer more time together can also come across wrong and raise suspicions. But with a passive strategy, the connection will just stick at a basic platonic level and eventually fizzle out.

With all the people I've met through daily activities over the years, I'd say I've kept getting to this dilemma point and never been able to solve it satisfactorily.

One at the moment is a young woman who works in a different department to me but relatively close in the building. I often see her, though usually she's rushing to a meeting rather than hanging around. For no reason at all (and this is unusual) we started saying hi to each other really effusively. A couple of weeks ago I got my first good chance to approach her, we had a really nice chat and she genuinely seems a cool person, and now is even more friendly.

But I'm now back to the old dilemma. I really don't want to make her uncomfortable, even inadvertently - our paths keep crossing so I worry it could look like I'm following her around, even though I'm really not. On the other hand, this is pretty much a carbon copy of a situation I had back in high school, which is one that's always haunted me because I was too passive and waited for the perfect opportunity that never came. (The girl then would probably never have been that interested in me, but I think she would have been open to me being a bit more forward.)

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Post by Enail on Tue Dec 24, 2019 3:17 pm

Hm. That sounds like a situation where building a little on the level of relationship you're already on might be a good idea, rather than jumping to trying to make it more ASAP. Keep chatting when you see her, see if after a few more good chats it feels natural to suggest going for a coffee break or to pick up lunch together, and see if you both seem to be still wanting to get to know each other more from there.

But that only really works as a considerate and respectful approach if you're genuinely interested in getting to know her better even if it doesn't end in dating. Especially since it's the workplace, it's not great to be overly focused on dating, and it makes it tricky both in terms of moving too fast - someone who's just trying to be nice might feel more uncomfortable with a coworker she hasn't been wanting to let too far into her life even platonically immediately asking her out, and in terms of Backdoor Gambiting, which can equally land up feeling deceitful and like she can't just interact with her coworkers without looking for ulterior motives.  Like I've said, I think dating in the workplace is Advanced-level dating, and if you're not confident in your ability to balance between directness and building gradual connection - which it doesn't sound like you are all that confident about - that's at a pretty high risk of harming both you and her if you try and turn it romantic in the workplace. I generally think it's better to slow your roll and move at least a little towards friendly acquaintanceship outside of work before considering asking someone out rather than treating purely in-work relationships as dating opportunities right then and there - but that's only a good way to operate if you would genuinely like to get to know her more even if it was 100% platonic forever.
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Post by inbloomer on Thu Dec 26, 2019 10:05 am

Yes, I agree that doing anything directly romantic in the workplace is really too risky for all concerned and that it's better to aim for friendly acquaintanceship outside of work, with anything beyond that only happening once there's an air gap from the original context. As you say though, the intent at that building stage has to be totally authentic.

This isn't just about dating - there was a guy I arranged a meeting with a while back, for a good purpose. He was very cool and I'd have liked to be friends, but the circumstances weren't right to take it straight outside of work and while I spent ages trying to think of a genuine reason for a follow-up meeting, there just wasn't one and I had to let it go.

So I guess the next question is what I can do to build connection, within what might be limited opportunities. Self-assessing your social abilities is always a bit risky, but it's probably fair to say that I'm genuinely good at the initial approach but then struggle to maintain momentum beyond that. I'm someone who tends to play safe in conversation topics even with people I know well, but as has come up in other posts, it's terribly frustrating when a connection gets stuck, so you talk about the weather and how busy you are but it's lost momentum, even though the other person might potentially have been open to more.









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Post by inbloomer on Fri Feb 21, 2020 5:05 pm

A small update regarding the woman I mentioned above, and request for any further advice.

We did lunch together the other day, which went really well and she's keen to do more. How shall I put this? If I didn't know better, I'd suspect she's into me. I've done a lot of things over the years that were close to being dates but weren't quite. The vibe of that lunch could easily have resolved as friendly networking, but instead it felt totally and unambiguously like a date.

In terms of my feelings, I'm not blinded by oneitis, I don't think we're slam-dunk 100% compatible, but equally I'd say she's way over the line for being worth giving it a go.

But of course there are now fears and worries as well. I could still have got it spectulacularly wrong, or she could change her mind overnight. I'm mindful that so far this is still within a workplace (and as I've said, even though we don't work together on anything it's one where things get noticed and gossip travels quickly). Even if everything is straight-up what it looks like, I am now in uncharted territory and do feel intimidated about how I handle anything from this point on.

Any thoughts?

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Post by Enail on Fri Feb 21, 2020 6:30 pm

I'm glad lunch went well and that it seems like she might be interested!

But, um, when you say it felt unambiguously like a date, that makes it sound like it hasn't been presented as a date and no one has said anything about it being a date, but you're pretty much thinking about it as a date anyway? It's still really coming off to me like you're hoping this will slide into "oh, look, I guess we're dating" without ever clarifying that that's what you're wanting or clarifying if she's interested in that, rather than like you're approaching this first and foremost as a potential work-friend with a side of it'd be cool if down the road you became closer and built an out-of-work friendship or dated. Hopefully I'm misreading you, but it really sounds to me like you're mentally already in romantic mode and thinking of this as a romantic escalation, when she may not even be aware of that or thinking this is anything but a friendly, platonic coworker invite, and, as I've mentioned before, I think that really isn't considerate or a good idea in the workplace.

So my thoughts are that you should either dramatically rein in your romantic hopes and expectations, stop thinking about things you do together as this-is-just-like-a-date(s), and see if you can make an actual friend here before thinking about dates at all, or you need to ask her out in a low-key way that makes it very clear it's totally fine if she's not interested and you won't make it weird or uncomfortable for her. Otherwise, I think you're in serious danger of Workplace Backdoor Gambiting.
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Post by inbloomer on Sat Feb 22, 2020 8:28 am

To clarify first, we didn’t use the word “date” because that would have been inappropriate in the context, but I made it crystal clear that the invitation was to meet on a personal basis. This wasn’t pitched as a work meeting and then subtly shifted to be something else. (And I asked her because she approached me for a conversation, whose tone was such that “Would you like to do a lunch?” literally seemed like the logical next thing to say.)

I have had 20 years of doing platonic meet-ups with women and I'm quite well acquainted with the subtle ways in which they project friendliness while setting boundaries and putting certain things off-limits. By and large, someone whose interest is totally platonic wants to pass the time comfortably and shoot the breeze, but will make clear (as I said to Datelessman) that she’s fitting you into a gap in her schedule and isn’t going too far out of her way for your benefit.

I’ve said before that I’ve known one woman who went on to say straight out that she was into me. That happened at the end of a meet-up that I had expected to be more platonic but turned out to have a different vibe. Basically it felt like she was laying herself bare – both positives and potential dealbreakers - in the hope of passing the audition as it were. In the end I basically froze up, and it’s to my lasting regret that I wasn’t more ready to handle the situation. (This happened in a far-off country and I was about to go home, so it really was a now or never offer.)

This lunch felt much more like the latter than the former. There were various things – little things, but lots of them – that wouldn’t really make sense if she was thinking of it as a friendly platonic co-worker invite. Believe me, I am well aware that on average men overestimate women’s interest and women underestimate men’s interest, I’ve seen the research. The last thing I want is to get the wrong idea and it all blow up embarrassingly. But maybe you can see why I’m wanting to feel more prepared for other outcomes, and am asking advice on that basis.

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Post by Enail on Sat Feb 22, 2020 1:58 pm

I'm not saying you're wrong to read her as interested in something romantic - it sounds pretty likely to me from what you've said, and that suggesting the lunch was a natural and appropriate thing to do, and not a misread of the situation.

(Though your descriptions of how women tend to behave if they're only interested platonically sound like a more casual platonic interest, it's not uncommon for women who feel strongly but platonically about a potential friend to go well beyond just fitting them into a schedule gap. They'll likely set more boundaries if they're worried the other person might get the wrong idea that it's romantic, but otherwise, platonic can absolutely have a level of enthusiasm, intensity and vulnerability that you describe as being the province of romantic only. I'm not saying I therefore think you're wrong that she's interested in something romantic, just that your idea of how women might approach friendship seems pretty limited in a way that seems like it could very well lend to misreads of high levels of platonic interest as romantic in general.)

It also sounds like you've been clear that you're interested in her socially rather than just a work meeting, that wasn't a quibble I was trying to make, my concern was that it seems like you're being unclear with both her and yourself about what degree you're seeing this as a romantic social situation rather than a platonic one, which I don't think is good practice in general and particularly not in the workplace. So basically, based on what you've said, it sounds to me like your reading is likely to be correct here, but I still think you should be clarifying it both to yourself and with her before starting to think of your one-on-one time together as a date - there's a good chance that you could have dates with her, but until you've both clearly agreed that that's what you're having, don't start blurring the lines of what you're doing currently in your head.
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Post by inbloomer on Sat Feb 22, 2020 3:19 pm

I absolutely agree that within a short period, intense platonic and romantic interest can look extremely similar. I've learned not to read too much into one interaction, especially if the person had reason to be on her best behaviour. I have found that intense platonic tends to drop to casual over time, whereas this has been a steady build over the past few months. But I'm still far from completely sure.

I certainly don't have a problem with classifying everything that's happened so far as platonic. Just with, as we're agreeing, a sense that there is a non-zero chance of it going further. But that comes back to what I do next. I suggested another lunch, this time a little bit further away from our own building, and she said yes but I haven't yet said what day.

Basically, I don't want to be so cautious that she decides I'm not open to anything beyond friendship, but to be honest, when every previous time I've been more direct about romantic things it's led straight to a moment of hideous social embarrassment such as nightmares are made of, it's hard to think out constructively how I might handle it - even if the signals this time seem a bit more promising.

inbloomer

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