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Context:

I (23f) have been working with a guy (30m) for more than half a year already. We used to joke around at work, talk about different topics and generally came to know each other. In those conversations I made it clear (or at least I think so) that I'm in no hurry to getting married and not sure if I ever will. I've always thought about my relationship with him as a kind of "office frindship" that stays mostly in office and doesn't go much beyond that.

After several months he invited me to go with him and his friends to a quest room of sorts and while I agreed I didn't put much thought in it, it didn't look like a date of any kind so I only came to have a good time with a friend. We went with his friends and former colleagues to the same quest room again a couple of months later which was quite fun as well.

However he recently invited me to spend the later half of New Year (31 December night) with him and his friends and former colleagues, to play board games and to eat. I agreed, but having received recently a relatively expensive New Year present (smart-watch) from him, I can't help but rethink our relationship.

While he never posed any of our goings out together as dates nor did he say anything directly about getting involved romantically and I can't help but think if that's what he wants. When we went together he used to try to hug me when we met up/left. I didn't feel comfortable, but went along, at the same time persuading myself that it didn't mean much. He is highly extroverted by the way, so I wouldn't put it past him to do it to his casual friends, but all the while during those hugs he tries to kiss me on a cheek which makes me even more uncomfortable and I don't know how to react without being offensive.

While I could have come clear and talked to him about it - asked him directly if he has anything romantic in mind, it doesn't seem like the right approach, because there's a huge opportunity for plausible deniability for him - he didn't go beyond just those hugs and going out together with other people without any romantic context.

Questions:

So I need to figure out how to make it clear to him that whatever it is he wants beyond casual non-romantic relationships doesn't interest me, but to do it subtly.

Also I need to find a way of refusing those hugs without being offensive or overly obvious. So far pulling my phone and checking it right after saying hello helped - it wouldn't feel right for him to hug me half a minute after we met, so he didn't try it. But sometimes I do forget to do that and he initiates the hug and I have no choice but return it. Is there any subtle way out of it?

EDIT: Concerning the cultural aspect, I'm from Eastern Europe and while things are rather conservative here it's not so much with younger generations.

  • A relevant question that might prove insightful -> interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2632/… – Jesse Dec 31 '17 at 0:24
  • “ I need to figure out how to make it clear to him that whatever it is he wants beyond casual non-romantic relationships doesn't interest me“ - why? - as long as he hasnt made any intentions clear, why do you have to make that clear? A 30yo old extrovert should be able to provide for themselves. – DonQuiKong Dec 31 '17 at 0:57
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    Not sure it's relevant but a girl I had a huge crush on once told me "I like you as a friend but I'm not interested in you in any romantic way". It was hard to hear but it was the right thing to hear and the sooner she told me the better. I crushed on her for about 6 months. She was friendly and I deluded myself into seeing that as possibility. When I finally told her how I felt it took her a week until she had her talk with me. That week felt like forever. If she'd told me earlier she'd have saved me lots of self grief for memories of the previous 6 months that I'd mis-read. – gman Dec 31 '17 at 6:44
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How to make it clear you're interested in friendship only

One option, as you point out, is to have a frank conversation with him. As much as I am a general advocate for candor, that may not be the best option here. He has never said anything direct to you on the topic, never asked you out on an official "date", no open/obvious flirting, no attempts at physical contact that clearly crosses the line from friendly to romantic, etc. Opening a conversation about how you don't want to date him could end badly, with hurt feelings on both sides.

You might be able to do more to clearly broadcast to him that you're not interested in anything more than friendship, though. Here are a couple suggestions:

  1. Most importantly, be very careful about not sending mixed signals (don't flirt with him, etc.). It sounds like you're already very conscious of this, but it bears repeating since appearing inconsistent here can undermine the rest of your clear "not interested" signaling.
  2. Tell him how much you value his friendship as friendship. For example, you can say something like "It's so nice to be able to hang out and have fun without any of the weirdness of dating." or "I feel so much more relaxed with you than with other guys --- I think the fact that we can be just friends is so nice"
  3. If you feel comfortable doing so, mention to him other people you would be interested in dating. Confiding in him in this way can strengthen your friendship while underscoring the fact that it's not building toward romance.
  4. Tell him he's like a brother to you. That generally puts a quick stop to any romance-y feelings.

One other thing: This all assumes that you are indeed interested in maintaining a friendship with this guy. If you'd rather get away from him completely, then you should do that instead --- just stop accepting invitations, don't answer his phone calls, always be busy, keep things cool and professional at work. You don't have to be friends with him just because he wants to.

How to get out of those hugs

If you're right that those hugs and cheek kisses might be an attempt to get close to you because of a romantic interest, then clearly "friendzoning" him as above might actually stop the hug attempts without you having to do anything else. It's also not clear from your question whether you want the hugs to stop because you think they're part of the romantic signaling, or if you just don't want to be hugged by him regardless of the motivation.

Assuming the hugs don't stop, though, and assuming you'd like to not be hugged like that even if there's clearly no romantic intent associated with it, here's what you can do:

  1. Bring it up at another time (not right when you meet/part), saying how awkward you feel about hugging as a greeting. If you want to lighten the blow, maybe make a joke about how sensitive you are about personal space (Note: I'm not saying you are being overly sensitive, and you shouldn't feel like you're in the wrong here --- I'm just pointing out that assuming the "blame" for awkwardness can smooth over a situation, even when it's not actually justified). There's a big cultural difference here, too, since hugging/cheek kissing is a very standard greeting in some places but not others. If you and he have different cultural backgrounds, that could be a way to open the conversation (e.g. "It's so funny how everyday stuff varies country to country. Like the hugging as a greeting thing --- I know it's super normal here, but where I grew up it would be a huge invasion of personal space! I feel super awkward about it every time."). Hopefully he'll get the hint and stop doing that with you.
  2. Make it a general request. When you all get together, pre-empt the first hug by saying something like "Oh, I'm so weird about hugs --- can we just do high fives or something instead?" and then high-five everybody. Be prepared for a little friendly teasing, and try to keep things light. Be very firm about the lack of hugging, though (if "teasing" turns into an attempt at forcing a hug, shut it down hard by backing away and saying "No, seriously, I'm not comfortable being hugged.") This only works if lots of people in your friend group hug/kiss each other as greetings, of course; if it's just him then a "general request" will feel very pointed no matter how you word it.
  3. Replace the hugging with something else, like your trick with taking out your phone at the moment when a hug would take place. You can also try doing a smile + wave while keeping your body turned slightly away and maybe even taking a step backward. If you can put something/someone between you while you do a smile + wave (e.g. greet him from the other side of a chair or something), that may also help stop the hug. Note that these replacement actions can work to prevent individual hugs, but you'll want to make your feelings understood more generally (such as with #1 and/or #2) to stop the hug attempts altogether.
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    As a guy, I can say that your "how to make it clear" section does a pretty bad job of making it clear to me, as a guy. You see, my emotional intelligence is slightly higher than the one of my chair. I would much prefer to hear, "we're just friends, I'm not gonna date you," once and for all, rather than multiple friendzone hints. If it hurts, do it fast. – scriptin Dec 31 '17 at 9:03
  • @scriptin Yeah, generally my inclination is for open communication as well, since "hinting" is never perfectly clear, by definition. But in this scenario (a work colleague OP may be careful of offending, he hasn't made an open pass that OP can respond to openly, OP said she doesn't want to address it openly with him), these suggestions seemed like the best way forward – Rose Hartman Dec 31 '17 at 20:46
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The subtle way out of this is to start turning down these outside of work invites. Draw back from this friendship. Be friendly but less available for conversation at work.

When he initiates unwanted hugs, draw back, put your hand up, and ask him not to hug you. Please don't feel like you can't tell him no or ask him to respect your boundaries. It's unhealthy to feel like you are obliged to hug someone because it would be too awkward not to.

There's also nothing wrong with clearly communicating that you were uncomfortable with the expensive present. I might return the gift to him and tell him I don't feel right accepting something so expensive from a friend from work.

  • I appreciate your input, but I'd rather not to pull it out in the open about the hugs. If there are any subtle ways, I'd rather use them first. Drawing back from the friendship is exactly what I'm going to do, it won't be hard since he's leaving my company after new year. And unfortunatelly it seems like too late to return the gift already. I plan on getting equal there by giving him a present of similar value. – woodStone Dec 30 '17 at 19:05
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    @woodStone Reciprocating with an expensive present might be sending mixed signals. – Lawrence Dec 31 '17 at 17:15
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My advice would be to explain that you don't want to send the wrong message and to replace your New Years Eve celebration with something that you organize yourself and pay for yourself.

For instance, you two could go on something like a brunch at 11 in the morning the next day, or both go to a different New Years Eve celebration where couples are not allowed, or go go-cart racing the next weekend, or do something else entirely.

When he inquires about what message you don't want him receiving. Just tell him that you just want to be friends, but that you're worried that if you go and spend New Year's Eve with him that it might make him think of you as something more.

After which, if he wants to clear up that misunderstanding, or promise you that he's not going to hit on you, nor try to kiss you on the mouth at midnight, then you may want to change your mind.

It's just that sometimes, it's better to clear up things like this before alcohol/champagne start getting ingested. Also, if he wants to kiss a girl on New Year's Eve, that would give him a chance to find someone else for New Year's Eve and still allow you two to do something fun and strictly platonic the next day or next week.

  • The only part I agree is, 'You can tell him you "just want to be friends". Advice #4 is disgusting, please don't do that. The rest I strongly disagree as well, because it's just misleading. – scriptin Dec 31 '17 at 9:23
  • @Scriptin, "Advice #4 is disgusting". Yes, that was the point. "please don't do that." You can't tell her not to say that. If she feels cornered, that's an option she has available to her. As to #1 and #2 being misleading, I just don't see what you're seeing. I'll just assume you were thinking of #3 and #4 instead. – Stephan Branczyk Dec 31 '17 at 10:15
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    No, the advice itself is disgusting. Neither it's an honest way of dealing with that issue, nor an effective one. – scriptin Dec 31 '17 at 12:40
  • @scriptin, And now? – Stephan Branczyk Jan 1 '18 at 18:57

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