17
Nov
10

the group dynamic

Reader C. J. writes:

There is someone who has shown interest in me and I don’t really feel the same way and I am unsure of how to address it. I really enjoy her company and we have a lot of fun together, but we’re both part of a group which I don’t want to mess up. Is it possible to maintain this group dynamic while letting this girl down?

Dear C.J.:

I have addressed this to some extent in a previous post, but I think this is a much more specific situation and I can perhaps eke a little bit more advice out of it.

I think you are wise to follow your gut about not messing up the group dynamic. Yes, I do think you can be friends with someone who has liked you (though she may feel embarrassed or there may be a bit of awkwardness), and I think it’s respectable of you to care about the feelings of the group when it comes to your actions.

group

Don't let this happen to you. Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am wondering if the group issue is the only reason you’re not interested in the person. If you find later on that you really are attracted to her or that there might be a spark, I would advocate weighing the pros and cons of what being interested in this person might entail. While I like to err on the side of caution when dealing with dating within a special group (e.g. where you work, within your friend group, in your church choir, etc.), I have definitely let myself cave to the romantic leanings of my heart in spite of my hard-and-fast rules concerning group dynamics (guilty!). And when I did decide to let that happen, the relationships have been amazing and, for the most part, totally worth the consequences to the group later on. Sometimes the benefits of a great relationship outweigh the detriments to the group that may occur if things go awry.

But there, then, is the kicker: things tend to go awry. Of the people you date (or just fool around with) in your lifetime, the romantic relationship with most of them is probably not going to last forever, and therefore, yes, things will almost certainly get awkward if you choose to pursue a romantic relationship with someone that you will be forced to see in your personal life after the break up. Will your friends have to choose between you two? Will one of you have to quit attending the book club? These are all concerns that I do not blame you for wanting to avoid.

So now you’re wondering if you can respond to this person who has expressed interest in you without mucking it up.

I have a few ideas for you.

– Let sleeping dogs lie.

In my earlier post on letting someone know you’re not interested, I believe I instructed the asker to ignore the come-ons if they wanted to continue being friends with someone. Most people won’t keep up a romantic attack if the other party isn’t showing signs of interest. (Okay, most self-respecting, attractive people. If you’ve got a stalker, we have another issue on our hands.) If you must act , simply make a point of indirectly communicating your disinterest. Talk about the people you are interested in, or leave hints by talking to this friend about how you wouldn’t want to mess up the group dynamic. As I pointed out in the aforementioned post, this could backfire if you do eventually decide you want to date someone within the group, so be careful.

By going this route, you give the person the option of saving face. Some people need that, particularly the shy and bashful friend who wouldn’t normally come on to someone. No need to bruise their ego indefinitely by directly declaring your lack of interest in them if they’re not pushing the issue directly themselves. Eventually the crush will wear off (hopefully) and everyone can move on with his or her respective love life.

– Grasp the snake by its tail.

If you don’t think your admirer is going to get your hints or leave things alone, or if she’s actually come on to you in a very direct manner, confront her about it. A simple, pleasant “I am not interested in you that way” should usually suffice. Telling her directly is the only way to be sure she understands that there’s no chance, so while this may be the toughest route, it’s also the safest in that sense. However, she may be a bit hurt that you’re not interested, and could back off of your friendship to some extent, so don’t be too surprised if she’s a little cooler to you than she was before. It’s hard to be rejected and still keep things warm and fuzzy with someone. She has already busted the “we’re just hanging out” bubble by liking you, so there’s really no going back in that direction, anyway.

Do not, for any reason, embarrass her by airing the issue in public. Obviously that would make things much worse between you and the group than dating her could ever make it in the first place. Take her aside in private at one point and tell her exactly what you’ve told me: you enjoy her company and you enjoy the group dynamic you’re already in, and you don’t want to mess it up. It’s not necessarily personal, but she’ll get the idea that there’s no chance.

– Be a cowardly lion.

This is actually probably a stupid suggestion, but if you need to be direct without actually having the confrontation, you could have a friend tell her that you’re not interested. Make sure it’s not in a “C. J. told me to tell you he’s not interested” way, but rather a “it has come up in casual conversation way”. What I mean is, tell one of the friends in your group that you think this girl is great, but you’re afraid she may be romantically interested, and you don’t feel the same way. And when this mutual friend talks to the girl, if she happens to bring it up that she’s interested in you, the mutual friend can casually mention that he doesn’t think the feeling is returned. Like I said, this is cowardly, and can also go as awry as your non-existent romantic relationship might have. Remember that there’s a thin line between keeping things low-key/non-confrontational and simply spreading gossip. You have to know both of the other parties in this situation extremely well.

Unless this girl you’re talking about is a total stalker/drama monger/crazy person, she ought to respond with grace and a grown up attitude to any of these let-downs. Just keep it calm and friendly, and all should go well. Furthermore, don’t drag too many other folks in the group into it if you can, to further minimize the awkward. She’ll most likely understand, and you can continue to be friends, with her and with everyone else in the group.

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