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Background

A little over a year ago, I met a nice girl (let's call her Alice) and we went on some dates together. Things were going well until she stopped talking to me, which I later found out (once we started talking again) was because she had been having some body image issues and didn't feel up to socialising with anyone.

Since that initial gap of us not talking (for about a month and a half), things have deteriorated. We still speak every now and then, and we've caught up once or twice, but it's always very brief. There have been times when we have discussed catching up, or started a very short conversation, but nothing has ever come of it. For one thing I'm worried about cutting into her personal space too much or making her feel uncomfortable, so I'm always reluctant to initiate conversation with her, but a lot of the time it's because she doesn't reply to a lot of my messages when I do initiate conversation or bring up the possibility of us hanging out.

The thing is, I like her personality a lot, and we have a lot of common interests. Although I said we did start out by going on dates, I would also be fine with things if she just wanted to be friends (and obviously, if her reduced communication is due to her not wanting any further contact with me, I would respect that and cease communication with her). I would assume that she doesn't want to know me any more, if it weren't for the fact that she initiates conversation from time to time and (from the tone of our messages) seems to enjoy talking to me.

Goal

To find out what sort of relationship we have - whether we're friends, romantic interests for each other, or whether she wants me out of her life. (Incidentally, I'd lean more towards wanting to be friends with her at this point, but I could see a romantic spark starting up again). That way I know how much effort to put into communicating with her and know whether or not I should stop talking to her.

What I've Tried So Far

  • Starting up innocuous conversations in the hopes that once we get talking, I can move the topic to talking about what we think of each other. By innocuous I mean sending her a funny picture, or a link to an article she might be interested in. As mentioned above, our conversations are usually very brief, so the ball never really gets rolling enough.
  • Sending her messages asking whether she'd like to go out for lunch or to the movies. With a bit of luck, once we're catching up in person, I can bring up the topic. It's been a while since we've spent time together, though, and she usually replies that she's busy when I ask her to hang out, so I haven't had the opportunity to do so.
  • Flat-out asking whether she wants me in her life. To elaborate, I sent her a message a few months ago which can be summed up as, "I'm worried that I might make you uncomfortable when I message you; would you like me to stay out of your life?" I didn't get a response from her, and to err on the side of caution, I decided not to talk to her. Through complete coincidence, a few weeks after I sent that message, we ran into each other at a convention, and got (occasionally) talking once more from there.

What I've Considered

  • Calling her up and discussing what's going on between us. Speaking will have a lot less ambiguity than messaging, but it feels very confrontational (especially as this would come out of the blue), and I'd rather this conversation be as friendly as possible.

If anyone considers it to be relevant to the question, we're both Aussies, and we're both in our mid-20s.

6

The words that stand out in your post are: body image issues. Although you don't elaborate on how serious this problem is for Alice, it could well be the reason for your difficult communication. She has told you it was the reason your socialising stopped, so it is a fair assumption that it is the reason your socialising hasn't resumed as well.

People with negative body image issues can struggle with relationships. It certainly doesn't mean they can't have one, but it can be uncomfortable for them at times. They have an inner voice telling them negative things about themselves, and a partner telling them the complete opposite - and that can be confusing. Imagine if you had a friend that constantly told you with conviction things that you inwardly believe are untrue - that would be unsettling; you might not even know if you can trust that person. This is what a person with a body image issue in a relationship can feel.

So, it may be that your questions about the relationship are unsettling for her, for different reasons than you might expect. I think you may have to be more patient and build your relationship back up again over time.

Instead of a "date", tell her that you would like to meet as friends. Most importantly, mean it. Don't promise to be friends and then go after more. You may have to earn her trust. Also, just consider whether her particular body issues might affect eating. I don't just mean an "eating disorder" where people don't eat or overeat - some people can develop extreme anxiety about eating in front of others. A lunch date might not be the best thing. It might even be the reason you've been ignored/turned down. Even a movie date might mean popcorn, so try something that doesn't involve eating until you know more about the situation.

Relationships can be complex at times, but really they ought not to be. It is normally obvious whether someone likes you or not. You seem sure that there is something here, even if it is just a friendship, so don't give up. Be a friend, show (not just tell) her that she can trust you, and see if she is willing to talk more about this possible problem. In time she might overcome it, or at least get to a point where she can be more open about it with you, and with that will hopefully come understanding and better communication.

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    I like your suggestion, I'm just not sure how I would word that. "Hi, want to [do X together] as friends?" feels a little unnatural, and it might sound like I'm trying to disguise an ulterior motive. – Hyperion Oct 29 '18 at 20:46

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