How Do I Know if I Don’t Want To Be Friends?


Dear Doc,

Longtime reader, first time writer… I know this isn’t the type of question that you usually get, but I’m hoping you might be able to help me. I’m a mid-40’s cishet woman, happily married, and my question isn’t about dating, but about making friends.

About a month ago, I was in the grocery store, and ended up in a random conversation with a woman in the produce aisle, about garlic. We ended up in a long (for the grocery store) conversation (about 15 minutes or so). Turns out we’re from similar places, with similar foodways, and she seemed genuinely nice. She mentioned that she has no friends in the area, and she wanted to give me her contact info. So, I wrote down her email on the back of my grocery list. (She doesn’t do social media, aside from a site where she posts her art.)

Now, I’m notorious for getting into random conversations with people in places like grocery stores (not because I want to, but somehow it just seems to happen), but I don’t usually exchange info with them. But, because she really needed a friend and is in a crummy living situation (had to move in with her ex, to help take care of their kid), I felt a sort of moral obligation to be a friend to her. We ended up meeting for coffee about a week later, and it was really nice.

However… I can tell she’s the sort of person who might get a little too attached a little too quickly (and in this case, because she is so isolated and has no real friends in the area, I think she might be even more predisposed to latch on) I’ve been careful not to let her in too close, too fast. I haven’t given her my phone number, and have limited contact to email only.

I waited a few days before emailing her and saying, “Hey, that was fun, let’s meet up again,” and we went back and forth a couple of times over the span of about two weeks, regarding where to meet. (We’d met at Starbuck’s the first time, and she was really unhappy with the coffee, so I didn’t want to put her through that again.) She left that ball in my court, and so yesterday I emailed and suggested another local spot. We’re supposed to meet up tomorrow morning, so I figured 48 hours beforehand was a decent window to suggest a place.

I haven’t heard back from her yet, and I have kind of mixed feelings about it. Part of me genuinely likes her (I wouldn’t have suggested a second meetup if the first hadn’t gone well), but part of me also feels like this is a sort of obligation I’ve backed myself into. I know how hard it is to make friends as an adult (and I know you’ve written about that more than once), so I saw a chance to help out someone who needed a friend. At the same time, I have a lot of friends myself, and really don’t need another one… it often feels like I can’t keep up with the ones I already have.

My plan as of now is to show up at the time we’d agreed upon, at the place I suggested. Worse to worse, there’s a place close by that I need to go to tomorrow, anyway, so it’s not like I’ll be going out of my way if she doesn’t show up. I’m not sure if I should email her again, to confirm plans?

I know that I wasn’t exactly Jenny-on-the-spot with my emails, so it’s not like we’d been going back and forth and all of a sudden she stopped replying. It could be that she sees my lack of prompt reply as license not to have to reply quickly? I’m not taking it personally…

And, honestly, if she ghosts me, I’m not going to be heartbroken. I’m more worried that she is going to be hurt by my not responding super quickly, or overly enthusiastically. Because I understand how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, I am feeling a little bit like I led her on, and now I’m obligated to keep this going.

I mean, this could end up being a cool friendship… or I could end up being the sole local friend of a lonely person who really needs social support, and honestly, that thought is just… exhausting.

I’m sorry there’s not a direct “what should I do?” type question here. I guess I’m just looking for some general guidance. I feel like, since I was the one who emailed her (when I could very well have just left the store and never seen her again; unless we bumped into each other again in the produce aisle…) that I’ve got a responsibility to keep it going. They say, “if you want a friend, be a friend,” but I don’t really know if I want a friend…


Backed into a Friend Corner

This is one of those times when doing “the right thing” isn’t cut and dried. In this case, that’s not because it’s varying degrees of suck, or because every option is complicated and potentially bad but because… well, it’s a question of what’s right for whom.

So right off the bat, you did a good thing – striking up a conversation with a stranger, offering an opportunity for connection for someone who clearly feels isolated and lost and desperately needing a friend. That’s very much a mark in the plus column for you. You should feel good about that.

But the fact that someone feels isolated and lost – for very understandable reasons – doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re obligated to be there for life. It sounds like this woman is in a rough place and, again, understandably, has a lot of emotional needs. And if you’re her only contact in town… well, you’re likely going to be the primary resource for her when it comes to getting those needs met.

Now I want to be clear here: having those needs isn’t bad, nor does being lonely. Neither, for that matter, would be getting a little over-excited and possibly clinging to the first connection she made. In some ways, it’s a bit like finding an oasis in the desert, so it’d be understandable if she were to be a little intense at first. But while that can be true, it can also be true that you can be empathetic, caring and wanting to help, but simply not have the mental and emotional resources to help someone in the way they need.

We toss the phrase “put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs” a lot, and often in circumstances that are more dire or more difficult than this, but I feel like it applies here, too. If you’re working with limited spoons and it seems like a friendship with this person might take more spoons than you have to spare, then continuing to be a friend to her may ultimately be good for her, but may harm you in the process.

So in this case, what may be good for her, may well end up being not great for you. What’s better for you may be less than what she might need. And that’s OK. There’s nothing inherently bad, wrong or even selfish for recognizing and acknowledging that you’re not able to meet those needs. There’s also nothing wrong with admitting that maybe this isn’t a friendship you want to pursue right now, either.

Here’s the thing: the fact that you started things off doesn’t mean you’re now obligated to be friends with them, any more than someone is obligated to be in a relationship with someone just because you went on a date or two. It’s entirely possible – and allowed – to have a good time with someone and still recognize that maybe you don’t want to take things any further.

Now the one place where I feel you could’ve done better was to wait a couple of days before writing to say “hey, that was fun!”. I’m generally of the opinion that it’s polite to send the “I had a good time” message either when you get home or the next day. I think letting it hang out there isn’t the coolest thing you can do; beyond it being a little impolite, it can also be anxiety-provoking in folks. Sending an email or text or what-have-you within 24 hours isn’t really that much of a demand of one’s time. And I do understand wanting to avoid giving someone giving needy or clingy vibes the opening to be clingy and thus send a subtle message… I just don’t think that’s the best way to handle it.

But honestly, that’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things, and not really worth more than to say “you could do better, next time”. It’s possible she was stung by that, and it’s possible she wasn’t. If you were to write and say “hey, I’m sorry I left this hanging”, I think you’d make up for it.

So what now? I think for the sake of politeness and at least drawing a line under things, you should email to confirm plans (or to confirm they’re off). But otherwise? I think the fact that you’re kind of relieved over having not heard back says a lot about where your head’s at with this. She sounds like a nice person that you just don’t have the time or energy to handle, and that’s ok.

The issue of feeling obligated to see it through is kind of misleading; seeing it through doesn’t automatically mean that you’re now locked together like you’re The Defiant Ones. Seeing it through could just as easily “meet up one more time and see how it goes”, write back and say “hey, I’m incredibly low on time and ability to hang out these days” or even just to say “you seem nice, but I don’t know if I have the spoons for a new friendship”.

Now one thing that may help – assuming that she isn’t ghosting you – would be to do her a solid. You may be in a place where being her friend is exhausting, but maybe you could facilitate her meeting some folks who are up for a new cool coffee buddy. If there’re any meet-ups, mixers or events, especially ones oriented towards making friends or social connections, directing her towards those could not only help her be less isolated and find her community, but you’d also feel less guilty for (possibly) not wanting or being able to make this friendship work. That, I suspect, may well end up being the best of both worlds.

Good luck.


Dear Dr. NerdLove, first time, long time, male, pansexual, 28 years old, single and dealing with a weird issue.

After graduating college and getting my masters, I moved from my small town to a big city and I’m basically out on my own for the first time in a while with no roommates or family. I had a late start when it came to dating but now I’m in my element and I’m having a great time. In fact, I want to just enjoy being single for a while and take advantage of having a player phase for a while until I’m ready to settle down. Thing is, I’m having problems with casual sex partners. I’m actually pretty good at finding people who want to have sex and the sex is good, but all of my casual relationships fall apart pretty fast.

The biggest issue is that I’ve had a couple casual partners develop feelings for me when I first started dating around and that got unpleasant for everyone. Now I’m trying to make sure that my hook-ups know the score, but it seems like things keep ending with hurt feelings and former hook ups who aren’t happy with me. Not “you ruined my life” unhappy or “how could you do this you monster” stuff but definitely chilly when we run into each other in what seems like the smallest big city in the world.

I’m not sure what’s happennnig other than I’m being really direct about what we have. I try to keep things casual when we’re together and I’ve been avoiding setting any sort of relationship frame with them, and a lot of times we’re kinda keeping things low key, even around my friends (my preference). I’m not always the one ending things but that doesn’t seem to matter considering how folks act.

Last thing I want is to get a rep in my circles and I don’t want any of my exes to shit talk me to potential hook-ups in the future (I do a lot of what you’d call social circle game), so I’m not sure what’s going on or what I’m doing wrong. But it must be me since I’m the biggest common denominator in this, right?

How do I have better break ups and less angry exes?

Good Time Not A Long Time

I’m gonna be blunt here, GTNLT: the issue here is the word “casual”. Specifically, the way you’re throwing it around and the way you’re letting it define your behavior. You’re trying to be casual, but – to misquote John Scalzi – the fail mode of “casual” is “asshole”.

This is something I see a lot – mostly, but not exclusively in men: they want regular sex with someone but without strings. Sometimes this comes across like a – and by all that’s holy I hate this term – “situationship”, where someone’s getting all the benefits of a relationship without the responsibilities and obligations. Other times, it’s just about getting down-and-dirty without the social trappings or non-bedroom related activities beyond ordering take-out before or afterwards.

But the thing that unites all of those people and all of those relationships is the ‘casual’ nature of it. Or, more specifically, the way that they let the “casual” label be an excuse to treat their partner casually.

Now, sometimes this is pure selfishness – they’re getting their itch scratched, so who cares about the other person? Other times, it can actually come from what they think is a good place. They want their partner to know that this is casual and (likely) short term and so they don’t want to take the chance that the other person may catch feelings for them.

Problem is, while you can influence how someone feels about you to a limited degree, more often than not, the feels these folks create tend to be… well, feelings of resentment and like they’ve been used. This is because the person trying to keep things “casual” keeps hammering home the “this is just fucking, we’re not dating, I’m not going to treat you like a boyfriend/girlfriend” – setting the relationship frame, as you put it. And they do so by being cold, dismissive or even rude, avoiding not just intimacy but in many cases, courtesy. Some – and it sounds like you’re one of them – even try to avoid letting folks know that they’re hooking up in the first place and may act like a stranger or like you and your current fuckbuddy haven’t seen each other naked when you’re around mutuals.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar, GTNLT. In trying to avoid that relationship frame and make sure everyone knows what’s up, you’re being really cold and dismissive to them by treating them like your dirty little secret. Especially if you’re pretending like you didn’t bang when you’re around folks you both know.

This may come from a place of good intentions but it sure as shit doesn’t stay there. If anything the only way this could feel more alienating and insulting is if you’d wiped your dick on their shirt and tossed them a twenty for cab fare. Regardless of what you intend, you end up giving the message that they’re good enough to fuck (in secret) but not enough to date or even acknowledge that the two of you had a fling. It’s not as though you need to advertise everyone you’re banging, but acting like it never happened and you hadn’t been up in them tends to leave folks feeling about as worthwhile as a crusty sock.

You may not intend to make them feel like you wanted to use them as a mobile sex toy, but you sure as hell succeeded at it anyway.

Small wonder your lovers are all giving you the cold shoulder.

Here’s the thing. It’s good to be clear about where you stand and what you are and aren’t available for. It’s good to make sure that someone you’re fucking knows that this is just a sex thing and that you’re not looking for nor are you open to a relationship. But the way it seems you’re going about it is almost custom made to piss people off and leave you with a shrinking pool of potential partners and an expanding one of folks who’d really like to see if your scrotum will fit over your head.

The important word in “casual relationship” isn’t “casual”, it’s “relationship”. Even if, by mutual agreement and mutual lack of interest, all you’re doing is fucking and leaving, it’s still a relationship and it should be handled with courtesy and consideration. If someone’s good enough for you to fuck, then they’re good enough to be treated with respect and thoughtfulness. And it sounds like you haven’t been doing that.

If you’re serious about wanting regular sex with someone but without strings or expectations of a relationship, then that’s awesome, I’m all in favor of casual fuckbuddies. But the way you handle this – and deal with the “risk” of someone catching feels – is through communication. Being clear up front is part of it, but so is checking in with them, making sure they’re ok with things and otherwise treating them with respect. Treating them like a secret – especially when that’s not something you agreed upon – is the opposite of treating them with respect. Constantly reminding them that it’s not gonna be anything more than sex? Also not respectful. Being rude or cold or not acting with courtesy or concern for their feelings isn’t how you avoid them falling in love or wanting more, it’s how you convince folks you’re an asshole.

None of that is asking a lot of you. If anything, that level of communication, decency and respect should come standard, whether that relationship is for a month, a week or a night. Not being a dick to them shouldn’t be that high of a bar to clear, my dude.

If you can respect their boundaries in bed, you can respect them and actually honor what the two of you have. If you two agree that you want to keep your hook-ups on the down low, then hey, great. But you should talk about that first and discuss how you’re going to handle being around people you both know. Making that decision for them in some misguided attempt to either avoid getting caught up in a relationship frame or to not damage your chances of hooking up with someone else you both know just makes you the asshole here.

Now I’m going to be real with you: even if you actively don’t respect or even like your casual partners, there’s still an issue of self-preservation here. You don’t say how many people you’ve hooked up with, but I can tell you from personal experience: the more you act like this, the greater the odds that it’s going to bite you in the ass, messily and all over the place. I’ve seen it happen first hand – a guy I used to work with would do the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” shit with women at his regular bar… right up until one of the women he banged and kicked out made it her life’s mission to roll up and warn off every woman he so much as made eye-contact with. She made his life so miserable (deservedly so, dude acted like a royal dick to his hook-ups) that he was functionally banned from the bar.

And that wasn’t the first time, or even the first bar he ever had to abandon.

You don’t want to be that guy. It certainly sounds like you’ve got better intentions than that. If that’s the case? Then it’s time to start living up to those intentions and acting in alignment with your values and your best self. You can have hot, horny, no-strings hook-ups and still treat your partners with respect and dignity. That’s not going to make them fall in love with you, but it will make them more fond of you if and when things end. And whether you and they become friends after the benefits run out or you never see each other again… that’s still a far better result for everyone.

Stop acting like a selfish dickface in the name of some ‘cruel to be kind’ action and start acting like someone who actually gives a damn about the people he sleeps with.

Good luck.


This post was previously published on and is republished on Medium.



Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.

All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.

A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.

Register New Account

Log in if you wish to renew an existing subscription.

Choose your subscription level

By completing this registration form, you are also agreeing to our Terms of Service which can be found here.



Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.

Photo credit: iStock


The post How Do I Know if I Don’t Want To Be Friends? appeared first on The Good Men Project.