High on the list of the most awkward, painful and traumatic things I’ve done is ‘telling someone I ‘like’ like them'(Ok ok, in one case it wasn’t so much that as, ‘hey, I’m obsessed with you. That’s attractive right?’). Very very high on the awkward list! It’s right up there with walk-up/door knocking evangelism and a few other personal things I don’t even have permission from the people involved to discuss, they were so awkwardly traumatising. It’s a special category, this trauma-through-awkwardness, and confessions of love fit right in.
There are so many reasons confessing ‘like’ like is awkward. The inequality itself (I like them more than they like me! Oh no!! I’m out here alone!) is enough to stop us in our tracks. The risk of ruining a friendship is right up there too, as is just general vulnerability. I’ve only ever deeply liked people I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell with (hooray for me!), so I think the vulnerability has been the biggest threat for me…
But here’s the problem. We’ve chosen a system of marriage-cos-we-like-each-other. No arranged marriage for us ‘civilised’ Westerners thank you very much! I want to choose my spouse. AND, to make matters worse, in this globalised, metropolitan world, the choice parameters are HUGE! There are literally tens of thousands of people I have or could contact and ‘select’ from. It would be a lot easier if there were just twenty guys in the village. But there ain’t.
And furthermore, in this system of marriage-cos-we-like-each-other, I have relational commitments I’m trying to maintain, to treat all men as brothers in Christ and all women as sisters, not as targets and competition respectively. So I somehow have to find someone who ‘like’ likes me enough to make a flimsy commitment to arrange our schedules (ie, dating), in order to get to know one another in a gentle and sexually pure slightly grey area between ‘brother’ and ‘husband’ (no wonder this sounds weird to people who don’t give a rats or downplay Jesus exhortations to love one another as the family of God!) and eventually figure out how we’re moving out of the grey area (hint hint, there are two options, engagement/marriage or breaking up). It’s tough out there!
How can we solve the problems inherent to our system? How can we date in a ‘godly’ way?
Unfortunately, if, like me, you lack both self-confidence and a long list of attractive features, I have no good news for you. I’m not going to suggest less trauma, but more! And, if you’ve got self-confidence coming out the wazoo and masses of people waiting for you to ask them out (I’m too polite at the moment to specify those in my circles who fit this category, but just for researches sake, I made a list and came up with 10 people that I personally know who have a loooooong line of panting suitors/suitoresses), then, well, I guess this won’t necessarily be traumatic for you. But it’s an invitation to give up laziness…
What I’m going to argue is this: if we wait until we know that the object of our desires ‘like’ likes us before we move into the grey area of dating by asking them out (in order to “avoid” the risks and traumas stated above [they may not like you, you’ll be vulnerable, it may ‘ruin’ the friendship]), then, we are no longer treating one another as brothers or sisters, and thus are not acting appropriately toward one another.
I believe this takes two forms.
1. The I’m-gonna-flirt-super-super-hard-until-you-realise method of avoidance.
We’ve all been there or at least seen this happen. For eg, girl likes guy, girl wants guy to ask her out. Guy likes girl too, but is ‘not sure’ if she likes him, and doesn’t want to be vulnerable, risk the friendship etc etc etc, sooooooo, they flirt outrageously and extensively with one another, often going on faux-dates to ascertain with a sense of finality that each likes the other.
Perhaps you’ve been a friend caught up in this process.
You’ve watched at church as your friend ignores all new people, welcomes no one, overlooks people they should be speaking to, in order to make a bee-line for their unconfessed beloved to make best use of the flirting time available, continuing the, possibly endless, campaign to get the person to ask them out.
You’ve talked endlessly, endlessly, endlessly about the person with your friend, til you’ve gone over every single conversation they’ve ever had about 62 times, meanwhile, real life is passing you by, and you wanted to talk to that friend about why you’re having such a hard time at work, or hate your mum, or whatever, and you’ve ‘lost’ your friend to their ‘beloved’ before anything has ACTUALLY HAPPENED!! Your friend no longer talks about anything else…
Now, I just need to pause here and acknowledge that I have been the culprit of this, and I am truly and deeply sorry to those friends whose needs I’ve ignored and sidelined in order to talk about my crushes. I’m really sorry that I’ve not been a good friend, a good sister to you.
Can you see why I don’t think this method is a good idea?
Without introducing any clarity into the situation, obsession can take over and cause all sorts of damage, all without anyone actually dating anyone else!! Sure, you’re protecting yourself from the risks of confession, but that’s exactly the problem. You are putting yourself and your needs first, in order to attain a relationship in which you apparently intend to promise to put the other person first until you die.
We need to begin as we mean to go on. By putting the needs of others before our own.
2. The I’m-gonna-be-godly-about-this method.
This is the above, but dressed in Christian maturity, ie, you don’t go out of your way to flirt with the person, you keep maintaining all relationships as before, so the impact on others is minimal. But let’s face it, a whole lot of your thought world is still taken up with this person, pondering and analysing their every move, which means at the very least, there’s internal damage going on. I have certainly done this as well and it is not good! You still get all the pain, but you also get nowhere. No clarity, no hope, no nothing.
You’re still spending copious amounts of time trying to figure out if the other person ‘like’ likes you before doing anything about it, it’s just internalised instead of externalised, which is not really any better…
And PS, if it’s the ‘friendship’ you’re trying to save by not saying anything, YOU’VE LOST IT ALREADY! A friendship is not a thing where you have one person obsessed with the other and the other is just cruising in a “we’re on equal footing in this give and take, back and forth relationship.” If you’ve got a massive crush, you’re already bent all out of shape in how you perceive and relate to this person, so the friendship is already irrevocably changed.
This too is not a good method!
The only other option is ‘deciding’ to ‘get over it’, but frankly, if you’re at full blown crush/obsession stage, this is not really an option. And also, what’s the point in getting over someone if you haven’t actually found out if they like/love/are obsessed with YOU?! You cannot know this purely through pop-psychology and obsessive analysis!
So, here’s the bit where I suggest trauma as the way out.
You’ve gotta tell them.
If you like someone enough that it’s distracting you from godliness, putting the needs of others first, putting God first above all things (hint, if you think you’ll die if the person doesn’t like you, you are now distracted), you need to tell them.
PLEASE NOTE, this ‘telling’ thing is not a demand for them to respond. You can’t control another person, and if you’re trying to, you shouldn’t! (Another reason to avoid excessive flirting. It’s essentially manipulation via arousal, pretty sure that’s not what you should do to your brother or sister…) You don’t say, “hey, I like you, can you let me know within ten days if you like me too or not?” (Pretty sure I’ve made this mistake too… Sorry people!!!) You don’t say, “hey, I like you, if you don’t like me back, I’ll die!”
You are simply saying, “hey, I like you. If you wanna do something with that, I’m open to it, if not, let’s stay/be friends.” (Again, I’ve failed at this one, mostly in the last part, the stay/be friends department. What I really should have said for total honesty in these situations was, “hey, I like you. If you wanna do something with that, I’m open to it, if not, I am going to avoid you in shame for the rest of my life, never speak with you again and hopefully subtly delete you on facebook due to sheer embarrassment. Have a nice life!”)
It’s risky, it’s scary, it’s vulnerable, BUT, it’s a.) the only way to actually find out what’s going on inside someone (even the ‘he’s just not that into you’ rule of male-pursuit has exceptions! He might be shy-er, more scattered or less strategic than the men the ‘he’s just not etc’ rule is base on) and b.) it’s the best way to avoid the immaturity and selfishness of the above methods. And c.) is the only way you can ‘save’ this friendship you’re protecting (if you do it early enough, before things get totally unequal (one obsessed, one unaware), then after a short interval of awkwardness, you can get straight back on track!
PLUS, if we all start doing this, ie, confessing through words earlier instead of putting it off via flirting or angsting, then it will be more and more normal for friends to say to friends, ‘hey, I like you’, to the point where we don’t actually ruin relationships over this stuff, and hey, maybe some great people will actually hook up.
The only other option is STOP LIKING PEOPLE! But seeing as that’s impossible for non-psychopaths, I’m not even going to suggest it… I’ve tried it. And I can suppress a whole lotta stuff (just ask my counsellor!), but at some point, you have to admit to yourself you like the person, and then all the categories apply as usual. So, don’t ignore it. Just tell them.
You can obviously reject this advice, maybe because you don’t agree with the aims of sexual purity and/in family relationships, or because it’s too terrifying to contemplate.
But, I do want to reassure you that I make this argument out of love for you all, NOT a sadistic desire to see people endure awkward, traumatic conversations. I’ve been trying to follow these guidelines for myself. And I suck at it. But I’m in the attempt. And honestly, even though it’s been awkward and painful, I’m much more at peace with myself and my behaviour.
Yes, I still flirt (not that people really notice when it happens. I flirt like a nerd see, so I tend to be like, “hey, did you know praying mantis’ are sexually cannibalistic?” I know right, what a great line! Or this one, “well actually, the original inhabitants of Iceland were Celtic monks?” Yah. I’m beginning to see why I’m single…), and recently was moving toward the point where I thought my distraction level was getting high enough to do something about it, and as I wrote this I pondered again if I’d let it go further than I should. Thankfully though, the distraction level was solved for me, as the person is now ‘off the market’ (although that’s a whole other post for another day!), and when the disappointment wasn’t crushing I thought, well hey, it probably wasn’t as full blown as I’d begun to think…
And yes, this all raises more questions, like, what are the ethics and impacts of unrequited love? And, can you ‘steal’ someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend? And, how can you tell someone you like them in a way that makes them want to like you? (Sorry, I have no answers for that last one! No one I’ve told has been at all keen!) And, how can I grieve for my unrequited love? But those are all fodder for future discussion.
Right now, I want to suggest that you and I and we pray together for more confidence and hope in God’s love for us, more satisfaction in His mercy and more joy in knowing Him. So that these awkward and painful discussions diminish in trauma, as we fix our eyes on Jesus and not ourselves.