It was my first date ever.
She was happy.
I wanted it to be over before it started. Two weeks before our first date, this thoughtful girl came to my rescue my first day at a new school. She invited me to join her and her friends at lunch. She was a lifesaver, helping me fit in and being a friend when I needed one.
When homecoming came around, she asked me out. I was terrified. I liked her as a friend. I wasn’t ready to start something more serious.
Instead of telling her that, I said I wasn’t going to the dance, hoping I could escape without hurting her feelings. That didn’t work. She suggested an alternative. Young and naïve, I accepted.
On our date she was so sweet. I felt so guilty. She leaned in emotionally while I leaned away. I had no intention of pursuing a relationship with her, but I didn’t know how to tell her without making her feel bad.
Come Monday morning at school, I did the worst thing possible. I gave her the cold shoulder. I didn’t talk with her, explain how I felt or apologize for leading her on. I ghosted her.
I felt guilty about it then, and I feel terrible about it to this day. I, too, have been led on, so I know how painful it can be. And I know this: No one wins if honest communication takes a backseat to assumptions and expectations.
It might not be them; it could be you
I’ve latched onto girls without them knowing it or inviting it.
Because I had a crush on them, I misinterpreted signals. I made dates out of outings that weren’t intended to be dates. I got Christmas gifts for girls, and they thought it was strange. I used words like “love” prematurely and had to accept the consequences.
It wasn’t until college when my brother catfished me as a prank that I realized I was desperate for love and came on strong. At the time I felt like many girls had led me on. The fact was I was leading myself on. Instead of engaging in honest conversation, I misinterpreted their actions in hopeful expectation.
I was scared to ask girls out, so I’d befriend them and then try to work my way out of the friend zone. Without revealing my intentions, I often got my feelings hurt. I expected something my friends never agreed to give me in the first place.
If you feel you’re being led on, ask yourself if your friend agreed to be more than friends. How does this friend act around you? Has he or she ever talked about starting a deeper relationship? If you’ve never talked about it, then you shouldn’t expect your friend to know you want something more.
Are you hard to say no to?
Sometimes I pursued relationships with a friend even though she made it clear she wasn’t interested.
It was the classic she’ll-come-around tactic. She said she’s not interested, but we got along so well as friends. If I give her time, she’ll eventually see the obvious chemistry we share, I thought.
If this resembles your friendship, they’re not leading you on. They’re being sensitive. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s difficult to tell a close friend you’re not interested in getting more involved. It’s even harder to maintain that friendship, knowing he or she will always want more from it than you do. Your friend is trying to be the best friend possible without completely cutting you off.
Rejection hurts, but denial only postpones it. If you admit you’re interested in being more than friends, if he or she doesn’t reciprocate, don’t wait for him or her to come around. Yes, the friendship could change, but it’s always better to embrace reality instead of wasting time in fantasy.
It’s not you; it’s them
There’s no excuse for the way I treated my first date. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or make her think I didn’t like her. Instead of talking with her, I did the worst thing possible. I led her on and ran away.
Truth is when you ask a friend out on a date, you’re not the only one in a vulnerable position. Risking rejection is as difficult as rejecting a friend.
So if someone seems to be leading you on, give an opportunity to explain how he or she feels without crushing you. If your friend is afraid of hurting your feelings, encourage honesty. Let him or her know you’d be disappointed if there’s no interest, but you’d rather be on the same page. See if he or she is up for chatting through things on the phone or even over email before you pursue things further. Some people don’t handle difficult conversations well in person.
If you’re leading someone on because you’re scared to hurt his or her feelings, don’t do what I did and run away. I didn’t want to be honest and hurt feelings by admitting I wasn’t interested. By leading her on at first and then acting like we never went on a date together, I hurt her far worse than if I was more vulnerable about why I wasn’t ready to date in the first place.
There’s nothing kind or loving about sparing someone’s feelings only to crush him or her later on. Instead, resolve to be thoughtful and straightforward from the start. You can’t control anyone but yourself, so lead with honesty and be brave knowing that there’s freedom in reality.
Copyright 2019 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.