Dear Kiki: Is there a more subtle way to tell a guy, ‘I’m not trying to f— you’?

Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area can be submitted to, or anonymously using this form. Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Hi Kiki,

Is there a more subtle way to tell a guy, “I’m not trying to fuck you” when getting to know them?

I am a queer woman. While I am attracted to men, I’m not attracted to every man, but I feel awkward trying to become friends with them. I consider casually mentioning that I’m not really into guys, or I police my own behavior so as to not lead them on. My issue with the former is it’s not the truth and the latter leads me to act as not myself — both shaky foundations for any friendship.

And yes, this is rooted in trauma. I had a male friend once and it ended very badly.

I really enjoy people. I like listening to their experiences, interests, bad jokes, etc., so my enthusiasm can be interpreted as flirtation (but what’s the difference anyway?).

I don’t want to feel defensive when trying to befriend men, and I don’t want them to feel like I’m coming on to them. How do I get past this?

-Friendzone Me

Dear Friendzone,

There is a certain kind of person who will always believe that everyone who is so much as nice to them is trying to fuck them. There is another type of person who needs a hammer to the head and a neon sign to accept that flirtation with intent is occurring. So when you say that you “don’t want them to feel like [you’re] coming on to them,” you may just need to accept that you can’t control that. People will believe that or not based entirely on their own baggage and experiences, regardless of what you do or say to them.

It’s true that folks raised as men seem more likely to fall into the first category than those socialized as women, for a whole host of reasons including good old-fashioned entitlement. But surely you’ve experienced the same with women you weren’t actually interested in as well, right? What skills did you fall back on there to clear up the miscommunications?

Friendzone, I think you need to ask yourself what your end goal is in these situations. Since you are interested in both men and women, are you entering these friendships open to the possibility of them evolving into something more? Or do you only befriend men you explicitly do not find attractive? Are you hoping to avoid hurting their feelings, or are you anxious to avoid being harmed yourself? You say you “really enjoy people,” but what do you offer in return as a friend? Is it something they want?

I’m going to level with you here: I’m not particularly good at developing friendships, irrespective of gender. I’m always either too intense or too aloof (sometimes both in a matter of minutes!). So I started going by the policy that I’d just be myself to the best of my ability and let others self-select into my circle. But I think if I were in your position, group activities would be the key to clarity.

I know, I know — that hasn’t been a thing for a year now! But it will be possible soon again. In a group situation, your potential friends will see that your behavior, even if they choose to interpret it as flirtatious, is a character trait, not targeted directly to them. That will give you a bit of a buffer against crossed wires.

All people are different, and gender is not binary, and all of the other relevant disclaimers here to assure you that I am being descriptive, not proscriptive: In terms of socialization, many folks raised as men are taught roughly the same fucked up things about emotional intimacy as folks raised as women are frequently taught about physical intimacy.

That’s not at all an excuse for entitlement or cruelty, but if you’re looking to truly be friends with these men, it helps to consider what they need and want out of a friendship, not just what you do.

xoxo, Kiki

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