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Originally published April 23, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Page modified April 23, 2013 at 6:08 AM

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Is he interested in me? Are you sure?

Carolyn Hax offers advice to someone trying to sort through the classic decision of love or work, as well as coping with a friend’s angry habit.

Syndicated columnist

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I swear, I'm starting to think Carolyn is bipolar. Upping the ante of not talking... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: Can you recommend a surefire way to find out if a man is interested in you without embarrassing yourself too much? I believe men don’t dally when they want to be with someone, but I’ve only known this guy a few months and we’re both in a Ph.D. program that leaves precious little time for romance.

I thought he was interested in another woman, so I stopped initiating contact and decided to mentally move on, but he responded by being more engaged and flirty than ever. At my age (30, sigh) I don’t want to spend another semester wondering what he really thinks.

Any ideas or kicks in the pants? I’ve never had success being the initiator, which is why I now wait for the guy to come to me. But I feel time’s winged chariot hurrying near.

— Had We But World Enough, and Time

DEAR HAD WE BUT WORLD ENOUGH, AND TIME: Put the Ph.D. program down ... and that caveman stereotype ... and this hackneyed device, and back away slowly.

I can’t say this is universally applicable because I’m concocting the theory as I type it, but the answer to any question that takes the form of, “How do I X without causing Y?” isn’t about the X at all. You can’t have X without Y, or else you’d have figured out how already.

By not trying for X, then, you’re really saying that avoiding Y is more important to you than having X.

So, it’s all about the Y.

Asking for “surefire” Y prevention says you’re not serious about changing your ways. Still, you are asking, so try posing yourself this blunt question: Which is worse, risking Y or doing nothing to have X?

Would you rather make yourself vulnerable in ways you find unappealing — with possible rewards for taking the risk — or would you rather keep assuming all men really do act on their interests immediately, instead of treating each as a unique individual with his own views and needs with regard to romantic pursuit? The latter is how you’d want this guy to treat you, no?

Morphing into someone you’re not is never a plausible answer, granted, so if you’re happiest as a sideline-sitter, then stay there. There’s considerable range, though, between a careful “What did you think of that lecture?” and the sexually self-possessed Band-Aid rip of “Hey, you wanna (date idea here)?”

Either way, a shrug and an “OK, thought I’d ask” works better than lyrical self-flagellation if the answer turns out to be “no.”

DEAR CAROLYN: I have a friend who shuts down when he’s angry, insists on being left alone and refuses to discuss the matter at hand. Though this may work for him in that he gets space to think and be mad, I am left unable to express my frustration.

Any advice on how to placate us both? I find it grating that an adult thinks he can go silent for as long as three days for the most trivial issues, like being interrupted when he’s talking, then come back when he’s ready as though nothing happened.

— Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: When he returns, you needn’t welcome him back, except perhaps with this: “That was one silent treatment too many.”

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living

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