Are We Just Friends? Does She Like Me Back or Not?
A reader writes in on the article "Staying Out of Auto-Rejection," about asking himself the question of "Are we just friends?" and giving up on a girl he was pursuing - only to have her pull him back in with an expression of her feelings:
“I wrote off a girl (well have tried to anyway with great difficulty) I felt strongly for about a year ago due to the fact that although she expressed strong interested in me, she moved onto another guy due to me moving too slow, being aloof etc.
Since then, as part of bringing closure to the whole episode, I read all these theories about escalation-windows and auto-rejection, and concluded that this was most likely what happened in my case, and thus put the whole thing to rest, reaching acceptance that anything we had was over (well at least trying my best with these steps), and resolving not to make these 'mistakes' again with the next someone special who comes along.
As it is not often that someone who I feel is really special comes into my life I did not react to the apparent loss by trying to find someone else, as I knew it would be highly unlikely that I would come across two girls who made me feel this way within such a short space of time. And I wasn't going to get one to use to try and make her jealous either, as not only do I not play such games, but it would be hard to find one as attractive as her (at least to me anyway). So I have basically just spent the entire time feeling very down over the whole thing and hoping someone else would come along that would help me forget about her.
Yet I was recently left pretty much stunned to find out that the girl in question had never given up on me, never moved on, and never really went into this supposed process of 'auto-rejection' at all (don't ask how she chose to demonstrate this to me, it's too complicated to explain here). She had actually went to what are in my view the pretty extraordinary lengths of getting involved in an apparent ever-increasingly serious relationship spanning over a year - including moving in with the guy - throughout the entire time I was trying to come to acceptance that anything we had was long gone and unrepairable, while all the while still having her sights firmly set on me.
The effect of this on me has been a bit like being told by a loved one that they only had a year or two left to live - going through the processes of anger/frustration/denial mourning and acceptance - only to find out it was all only a joke and one of these 'tests'. Now I'm torn between deciding whether or not to just leave her to her own devices with the guy (who seems nice and who she must at least like, but definitely doesn't love) she used all this time to get under my skin (thus making her the ultimate loser in this long game, but at the same time not only depriving her of me, but me of her as well), or to swallow my pride, accept that the pain caused by the whole thing was partially my own fault, and come up with a way of approaching her with the aim of fixing the whole thing and putting the games to an end. It's an agonizing decision to have to make. We're both in our final year at college, and the college environment has proven a good one for this type of long game, as I can't simply avoid her, and can't leave it either (unless I take time out which would show she's getting to me).
On the one hand I don't want my own stubbornness to be a permanent source of regret over what could have been with this girl, while on the other hand I don't want to give into this manipulative behavior and feel like she herself could maybe do with learning a life lesson about the risks involved in playing these games. If neither of us gives ground over it, we'll both go through a lot of sadness and regret which will probably stay with us for a very long time, but at the same time we will each learn some valuable lessons over it all. Or one of us could just simply reach out to the other and bring the whole thing to a happy conclusion. Although she's got involved with this guy to such an extent, including actually living with him for our whole last year at college and now nearing finals, that bringing everything to a happy conclusion won't be simple at all. What course of action would any of you guys do/advise in this situation?
I just wanted to highlight that all these auto-rejection and escalation-window theories are too simplistic (unless of course when applied to nightclub hookups or situations where either party wouldn't be particularly bothered if they never saw the other person again). Where special feelings have begun to develop a woman can't just go into auto-rejection mode with someone she's falling in love with and make such feelings simply disappear, especially over something so laughably trivial as the guy moving too slow for her liking or him being a bit aloof. The whole idea of 'Escalation Windows' is also similarly simplistic and is by and large only applicable to casual hook-ups too. If two people really have powerful feelings for each other they will never just go away, and one party won't simply be able to write off the other simply because they didn't move fast enough within some time frame. Maybe it would be a good thing if everyone could be as clinical as that with their emotions, but the reality is that things are not so simple and most people of either sex can't.”
There's a lot going on in this comment, and I thought it was very worth addressing in a post of its own. The gist of it though is this: how do you know if you are just friends, or if you're trapped in orbiter status? And, on top of that, what do you do with a girl you really like who just isn't with you?
And, could this reader be right - are the concepts of escalation windows and auto-rejection too simple for something as complicated as a girl you've fallen for that you haven't yet made yours?
The first question I ever asked online - the first thing I ever wrote on the Internet about dating or romance or anything, really - was at the end of 2005, when I posted on the now-defunct FastSeduction.com (we have a discussion board here now, built somewhat similarly to what that board used to be like) asking its members how to kiss a girl in a nightclub. I'd been approaching women for a year in bars and clubs and cafeterias and the gym, gradually figuring out things a little bit at a time with girls, when at last I discovered that there were other guys out there doing the same thing - and they were talking about it online. Awesome!
There was this girl I'd met at a nightclub a little while back, and
she'd offered me her phone number, and I'd met up with her a couple of
times - always in the same nightclub - and she always had a lot of guys
around, but usually gave me most of her attention, stroked my leg with
her foot, and generally seemed to really like talking to me. However, I
couldn't get her to meet up with me on a proper date, just the two of
us. So I asked: How do I kiss this girl in the nightclub?
I really wanted to know. I figured if I couldn't get her out on a date,
I ought to just try and make things happen right there in the venue.
The response was not very helpful; mostly, it was just guys telling me that this was clearly a situation in which I was an orbiter - some guy in her orbit around her, trapped in her tractor beam - a guy she was "just friends" with, and keeping around because his attention fed her emotional validation and made her feel good.
Meh, these guys don't know what they're talking about, I thought. I don't know what most of the people who post on these Internet forums are like, but I'm not the "just friends" type.
Over the next few months, I stepped up my approaching even more, to the point where I was regularly meeting 10 or 12 women a night in the nightclub - and I did figure out how to kiss girls in clubs, and I had girls all over me and trying to get me to take them home (which I repeatedly botched at the time, not yet knowing what the right thing to do in that situation was).
But that one girl I just could not figure out. Every time I thought, "Okay, I'm not giving her any more attention... she clearly just wants my attention and that's it," she'd step it up, spend ALL her time with me, dismiss every other guy walking up to her, and it'd be just her and me, having amazing conversation, this circle of guys trying to talk to her and being rebuffed, and girls I'd talked to earlier in the night trying to talk to me and getting ignored.
Together, we ruled the nightclub.
There was just one problem: she never did anything with me OUTSIDE the place.
And no matter how well I did with other women in my early days picking up, I just could not get out of first gear with her.
Are We Just Friends?
When you read the commenter's remarks at the start of this post, or you take a look at that story of mine early into my dating career, you see how easy it is to end up in a situation that feels a lot more complicated than a simple black-and-white "just friends or more than just friends" either-or.
It's your life, so it feels substantially more complex and nuanced than throwing a label on it and calling it this or that.
This is especially true if you've got a bit of ego, like I've always had; you look at yourself, look at the kind of girls who give you attention - the prettiest girls, the most popular girls, the socialites - and you say, Nah - girls LOVE me! I wouldn't be in the FRIEND ZONE!
And truth be told, it usually isn't black and white. With every friend zone relationship (or, relationship where the male and female aren't together romantically or sexually, she's dating other people, but he still thinks he has a shot with her for one reason or another), there are almost always multiple things at play:
- The girl likes the guy as a friend
- The girl has some degree of interest in the guy sexually/romantically
- The girl isn't "sure" whether or not she wants to date the guy
- The girl's afraid of losing other kinds of value he provides to her life
There's more going on than her wanting you just as a friend.
That's one of the two big reasons why being able to answer the question "Are we just friends?" was so hard for me, and why it's so hard for this commenter - there isn't a clear right answer.
There's another reason though, too, and it's the one we discussed in "Can't Stop Thinking About Her? Here's Why You Need to Meet More Girls": it's easy to become focused on one girl above all others, start investing more and more in her, mentally, temporally, emotionally, and begin to elevate her status in your mind as "more special than all the rest."
At that point - with her now on a pedestal as the one great woman in the world, far better than all the rest - it's almost impossible for a man to shake out of it.
This rarely happens to women - at least to the same extent - because even when a girl's fallen for a guy she isn't with, she's still getting approached by other men, and at some point she sighs and says "yes." And then she gets partially or even completely snapped out of it by this new man (or these new men).
For a man though... when a man is hung up on one special girl... he stops meeting new women, to large degree, and stops getting chances to snap out of it.
It's like being trapped in a hole that only you can free yourself from, and deciding that instead of trying to free yourself, you'll just wait for help.
But help isn't coming.
But She Keeps Showing Me She Likes Me!
I frequently have girlfriends who have male friends they keep "stringing along" - or at least, it seems to me like they're stringing the guy along. It doesn't seem that way to them at all.
The reasons why girls do this are because:
- They really don't know what they want with the guy
- They think that maybe they MIGHT want to date the guy... some day
- They feel bad about hurting the guy's feelings
- They go through emotional ups and downs with their current guy and sometimes need a caring ear to unload their troubles on
This is not a uniquely female problem. Men do this too. Both men and women are careless with one another's hearts in this regard:
Women lead men on, keeping them trapped in friendships the men think are going somewhere, that usually go nowhere, because those women aren't sure whether or not they want to date the guys someday
Men lead women on, keeping them trapped in relationships the women think are going somewhere, that usually go nowhere, because those men aren't sure whether or not they want to commit to those girls / marry them / have kids with them someday
If you ask for opinions, you'll usually hear the other side's worse:
Men: "It's worse when women do it - at least if a man leads a woman on, she's actually in a relationship and getting sex and companionship! When you're just friends, you get nothing!"
Women: "It's worse when men do it - to waste all your time in a relationship, years of your life, thinking it's going somewhere, only to have your heart misled... it's nothing but a waste of time!"
In my mind, both of these are very bad. They're not intentionally bad... they're selfishly bad, when someone is looking out more for his or her own interests than he or she is for this other person.
Most people aren't aware they're doing this or aware they're being selfish, mind you. They're just doing what's best for them.
But what's best for them isn't always what's best for you.
Back to that commenter's last point: in discussing auto-rejection, escalation windows, and attraction's expiration date, are we making things too simple?
My answer is this:
No. If it seems too complex, YOU are letting it be too complex.
The world is not a complicated place. It isn't black and whites - there are no true absolutes in the universe
(even space-time is known to bend).
However, mankind evolved black and white thinking for one very specific reason: navigating the complicated "real" world.
The more gray you let things be, the more stuck in inaction you become. Seeing things the way they really are - as messy, complex, and complicated - gives you the most objective, realistic picture of the world. But the more you see things that way, the more it cripples you from doing... anything. From HAVING anything you want.
At some point, you simply just have to decide.
Confusion: Friend of the Person in Control
When you're a man trying to keep a girl in a relationship with you and have things "stay the way they are," even though she wants progress, or when you're a girl trying to keep a guy close to you as a friend and a potential someday prospect and have things "stay the way they are," even though he's fed up with being just friends, confusion and obfuscation is your friend. e.g.:
- Any girl reading this who's had a guy struggling to either date her or be rid of her that she wasn't sure what she wanted with knows the feeling: she ends up telling him she's just not ready for a relationship with him yet and needs more time... that she likes him, but she isn't ready.
- And any guy reading this who's had a girl struggling to either get commitment from him or be rid of him that he wasn't sure what he wanted with knows the feeling too: he ends up telling her he's just not ready to commit to her yet and needs more time... that he likes her, but he isn't ready.
Confusion and delay is how you buy time. It's how someone who wants to keep you where you are without giving you what you want keeps you there... she dangles a little carrot in front of you, and tells you to keep going, because she might want to give it to you at some point in the indefinite future.
It's not a good place to be.
If you hear these words:
- "I'm not sure."
- "I'm not ready."
- "I need more time."
- "I have to figure this out first."
... or anything remotely similar, that's actually code for this:
- "I need you to stay right where you are while I decide if I want you or not."
In the case of the girl wanting a guy to commit, and the guy delaying, that means he wants more time to pass as he gets older and becomes more attractive and successful and better able to get higher caliber partners, and she gets older and becomes less attractive and fertile and less able to get higher caliber partners. The more time passes in a relationship without commitment, the worse things get for a girl and the more her time and opportunity is wasted.
And in the case of the guy wanting the girl to date him, and the
girl delaying, that means
she wants more time to date other people and see if she can find
someone better than him, but still have him there as a backup option in
case she needs help or can't find a better option or her better guy
decides to leave her (or not commit). She's
asking him to wait for her while she dates other people and decides
whether to date him or not.
The Bob Marley song "Waiting in Vain" comes to mind here:
“I don't wanna wait in vain for your love;
I don't wanna wait in vain for your love,
'Cause if summer is here,
I'm still waiting there;
Winter is here,
And I'm still waiting there!”
If you're buying the confusion and delay tactics you're being fed by the person who's still trying to decide if she's "ready" or "needs more time," then you, my friend, are gambling with your time and emotions.
You're not playing the odds: the chance you get her is small - which communicates to her you probably don't have a whole heck of a lot of choice with women, if you're willing to sacrifice your time and energy for a small chance at getting HER.
She must be so much better than what you could otherwise get that dating you - for HER - would be dating down.
In other words, what she's really waiting to see is not if you're
good enough; rather, it is this: how
desperate is she for a man?
If she isn't desperate, then you need to be prepared to wait a loooong time... until she becomes desperate.
A Very Simple Situation
Everybody likes to think his situation is special.
Usually, he feels better by trying to pigeonhole input he's hearing to the contrary as "not relevant to his situation."
For instance, women will comment on this site that moving fast with girls is bad
advice and doesn't apply with them and that I or the other authors here
must only be getting
slutty girls with this - which is incorrect; the women most resistant to a
skilled seducer moving quickly and well are women who have a lot of
experience around sex and seduction - the more men she's been
generally, the better she is at resisting to try to get a relationship
promise / her being in control instead of you being in control. If a
"slut" is a girl who's had sex with a lot of men quickly and easily,
"sluts" are the girls best able to delay most men the longest and
resist sex the most firmly. That degree of skill comes only with
In our commenter's remarks above, this pigeonholing takes the form of "You must only be talking about nightclubs and bars and hooking up, because real people's relationships are way more complex!"
Sure, I hook up with girls sometimes. And yes, I meet some of the girls I meet in bars and nightclubs.
No, I'm not only talking about
those situations in the stuff on this site.
When I look at this commenter's situation, it appears extremely simple to me:
- He liked a girl
- She liked him
- He moved too slow and didn't get her
- She started dating some other guy
- She still kinda likes him, and likes having him as a backup option
- He's still chasing her because he's invested a great deal in her and has no other real options
It only feels complex because he's
listening to words, not actions.
the same exact thing I hear over and over and over and over again from
and lots and lots of guys.
Are the permutations different? A little bit... but not really.
It's still the same darn thing, no matter how you slice it.
What complicates things for most guys are the words: "See! She says she likes me!"
But of course she does. She doesn't want to lose you as a backup option.
The thing love-struck men keep forgetting though, is this:
Actions speak louder than words.
Is she with you? No? Why not?
If it's because she has a really good reason, and that's reason enough for you, you're putting all your eggs in one wrong basket.
Stop Listening to Reasons - Listen to Actions
If you don't want to be stuck there wondering if you're just friends
forever, you need to deprogram yourself from listening to women's
It doesn't matter what her reasons are. She will tell you whatever it is she thinks you want to hear if it will get you to stick around and keep being her backup option... just like most men will give women whatever reason they want to hear to stop pushing for marriage and content themselves to just stay in a plateaued sexual relationship.
Chuck reasons in the garbage. They're only there to confuse you. Everybody has them, and they mean diddly-squat.
I've got my reasons why I don't contribute to charity. And, I think they're very good reasons. But the fact is, I don't contribute to charity. If you collect donations for a charity organization, you can either waste hours of your life trying to pick apart and appease my reasons... or, you can just say, "There's a guy who doesn't contribute to charity," and go spend your time finding other people who do contribute to charity, and getting them to donate instead.
Is it possible to change people's minds?
Yes, absolutely it is! No one is 100% certain about anything. If your frame control is strong enough, and your powers of persuasion truly up to the task, and you really do have a lot of value to offer in whatever it is you're trying to convince someone to do, you can convince anyone to do damn near anything.
But if you're new to collecting donations, you don't want to be targeting the hard cases to crack.
Otherwise, you'll be out of a job before you've even gotten going, due to lack of success at raising any funds.
If you find yourself chasing women and always feeling like you're almost there but never quite there, there's a reason for that - and it isn't that you expertly know what you're doing.
And that's fine - you will learn with time.
But you won't get better by continuing to chase. You'll just get frustrated, fatalistic, and jaded, instead.
Her reasons don't matter. Ask yourself:
- Is she sleeping with you?
- Is she going on dates with you?
- Is she kissing you?
... if your answer to any of those is "no, and I've been trying for
weeks / months / years!" it's time to move on.
Hard Decisions in Complex Situations
When I decided to throw in the towel on that girl I mentioned near the start of this post, it was only after a couple of nasty incidents I talked about in "Don't Be Bitter."
And when I walked away, she'd broken up with her boyfriend, told me she was single, and told me we could hang out sometime.
Did she like me?
I'm certain she did.
Did she want to date me?
Some part of her doubtlessly did.
Could I have gotten her?
But there was so much bad precedent of me chasing after her at that point that the real answer is "probably not, even though she liked me." And if I ever did get her, she'd never have respected me the way she would have had I gotten her the night I met her, or a date or two later. I'd always have been that guy she wasn't sure about, that she ended up with, probably because she didn't know who else to date.
It's said that the hardest thing to do in business is not to walk away from a failed business, but rather to walk away from a business that's only moderately successful.
You work so hard on
something, build it up to the point where it's producing some money, and then... you just
can't get it to work all that much better than it's working. You work,
and slave, and sacrifice on it, and it stubbornly won't budge. It's
At what point do you walk away?
That's a hard decision, in a complex situation.
Walking away from a girl who clearly likes you somewhat, but still isn't with you, is one of those situations too.
Not everybody can make hard decisions. Lots of people find it better not to ever decide, and instead to rather float along on the river of life and let it carry them where it may.
And that's fine, and that's one way to live your life.
But if your objective is to lead the best life you possibly can, and bring the things you really, truly want into your life, that's not the path that's going to take you there.
Hard decisions in complicated situations.
Learn how to make them if you really want a truly stellar life for you and the other people in yours with you.
If you're not sure if you're just friends, ask her out.
If she says "yes," there's your answer. If she says "no," there's
your answer too.
Hard decision made easy.
Stop making life so complicated - there's too much to do to
overcomplicate things and make molehills into mountains.
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