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‘He’s “Confused.” Should I Wait for Him?’

Photo: Erlend Krumsvik/Getty Images/EyeEm

Dear Polly,

I have a problem. I’m a gay male college student, and at the beginning of this semester, an upperclassman started asking me to hang out all the time, and I mean, ALL the time. It was obvious we both liked each other, and within a couple of days, he asked if he could kiss me.

For the week following that, we had a period of awkward kissing when nobody was around, because we didn’t know if we were now a “thing” or not. Then we had a talk, and he told me he couldn’t afford a relationship when he’s graduating so soon, and because he was afraid of this turning out like all of his past experiences (he has some crazy ex-girlfriend stories). I said fine, because I enjoy his company and his energy, and it’s more important for me to be around him than to be his boyfriend.

A few days later, we were both intoxicated and ended up kissing again anyway. He said he liked me, and I said I liked him too. But, of course, we swung back to friendship after that as he drew back once again.

A month went by where we were just really close friends (hanging out often, doing homework and listening to music together, etc.) and he ended up asking me to come over. I go, and we have sex. I was ecstatic, because I thought we finally hit a breakthrough. But a week later, he told me he was confused as to whether he deeply cared for me as a friend or as something more. I asked if it was a “booty call,” but he denied it, saying that it had to be me. He wouldn’t have contacted anybody else that night. He’d missed me. After all that happened, I told him my true feelings: I know for a fact that I like him a lot, and I acknowledge it and accept it. But also acknowledge and accept his state of confusion, and so will remain his friend.

Ever since then, we’ve been back at friend mode, but I hate it. I think at this point (three months into this whole mess) I’m pretty much sure I’m in love with this man, and for no good reason. I want him to be my boyfriend. I know I’m good for him, I care so deeply for him, and I’m tired of him making us swing back and forth. I don’t know if I should even try with that anymore, or move on. Should I wait for him to figure it out? Should I take the reins? Or is he a lost cause?


A Boy in Love

Dear Boy in Love,

People often use the word “confused” to express their hesitation in love. “Confused” is a way of saying “completely attracted and enthusiastic but swept away by unspecified counterforces that aren’t my fault.” “Confused” is a way of remaining passive and blameless.

But “confused” can also mean wishy-washy, ambivalent, disinterested, detached. “Confused” can mean “not as into this as I’d like to be.” “Confused” can mean “put off by your obvious devotion” and “not sure I can play the role of boyfriend right now.” “Confused” can mean “keeping my options open” and “wondering if you’re really the best possible guy for me.” “Confused” can also mean “I’m about to graduate and getting serious with someone sounds stupid and, besides, I’m not sure you warrant that kind of devotion.”

Confused is a placeholder that could keep you in a state of limbo indefinitely. And while you say that “it’s more important for me to be around him than to be his boyfriend,” I can see from your letter that this is not entirely true. The more times you make out with this guy and then he changes his mind, the worse you feel about merely being around him. You act chill about it, then you go home and feel like shit. You pretend to be “enjoying his energy” when really all you’re doing is collecting data, scanning his face for signs that he likes you or signs that he doesn’t. Sooner or later, collecting data becomes your full-time job. You become a scientist of his desires. Everything else falls away but your one crucial job. Everything else dims compared to his bright colors. You become dull. Your feelings become irrelevant. Only his feelings matter.

When you pretend your feelings don’t matter, you slowly erase yourself.

You want him to be your boyfriend, period. And when you linger and loiter and wait around while he’s supposedly making up his mind, all you’re doing is demonstrating to him that you see yourself as not quite good enough to get exactly what you want when you want it. You’re just a guy who has to wait while struggling to remain hopeful. You’re just a guy who doesn’t have better things to do. You think you’re studying his face and biding your time and making yourself available for the moment he stops being “confused,” but what you’re really doing is making yourself look like the cheapest, easiest resource around, one he can always come back to if other things don’t work out. So why would he settle for you? He can go out and do whatever he wants, and he knows that you’ll still be around, waiting to see if he changes his mind. His energy is that potent. Your time is that worthless.

I know that sounds wretched and harsh. But as someone who looooved to put a guy on a pedestal and then loiter around in his life, waiting for him to change his mind, all the while collecting data from him that said “You’re not good enough yet” and “You need to be better,” I want to strongly recommend that you get the fuck out of this guy’s life until he walks straight up to you and uses his words to say “I want to be your boyfriend and nothing else will do.”

Because nothing else will do. You don’t want to soak in his awesome energy. You want to jump his bones and hear that he loves you you you and nobody else but you. And as long as you represent yourself as someone who wants LESS THAN WHAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT, you are representing yourself as someone who is LESS THAN WHO YOU ACTUALLY ARE and someone who DESERVES LESS THAN YOU DESERVE.

Fuck that noise. Move on. There is no way to “take the reins.” He knows how you feel already. The fact that you believe there’s some way to play the hero and win your man hints that you’re living in a fantasy world. You think you can control the outcome, using only your mind. But you can’t. A rousing speech, a passionate kiss: these things will have no effect. You know that already — it’s just that the magical thinking deep inside your brain tells you that you can write yourself a Happily Ever After through sheer force of will. I was like that, too! I loved to accept someone’s leftover scraps while living in an imaginary world where I controlled the sun and the moon and the stars. In my fantasy world, I felt good, because it was obvious that my guy would come around eventually and praise me as his queen.

Did that ever work, the many times I tried it? NOPE.

The moral? Learn to love men even when they love you back. Learn to love men who say that they love you using their adjectives and verbs and nouns. I know you’re thinking “This isn’t my fault!” But you seem to be naturally more attracted to men who have an air about them like they might bolt for the hills at any second. You like a distracted guy with better things to do. That’s the “energy” you love. That’s the energy you’ll wait for indefinitely. It feels comfortable, being ignored. Think about why that’s true.

And after you’re done? Learn to enjoy attention and affection from men who openly adore you, even when it makes you feel a teensy bit self-conscious, even when you sometimes wonder if you can’t do better, simply because you tend to enjoy the chase so much. Learn to savor true devotion, even though that’s unfamiliar to you, even though indifference and confusion feel more like home. If you want a home that’s not ruled by indifference and confusion, you have to live in a new way. You have to grow. You have to learn to love LOVE AND DEVOTION itself, from someone who sees you clearly, from someone who isn’t always scanning the horizon for something better.

Energy is not enough. You want a real boyfriend. You want true love. And you deserve it. Go out and state what you want, out loud, using words, to men who aren’t confused. Represent who you are, honestly and directly, and eventually men will flock to you and you can take your pick. Your time is valuable. You are valuable. Repeat that to yourself until you know it in your heart. Stop hiding in a fantasy and live in reality. It’s less confusing here. It’s more satisfying, too. You deserve all of the love in the world, and once you know that in your heart, you’ll get it. But even when love is nowhere to be found, you’ll feel good. Because you’ll know that you’re never going to settle for less than you deserve again.


Order Polly’s new book What If This Were Enoughhere. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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‘He’s “Confused.” Should I Wait for Him?’