Question:

I've been going out with my boyfriend for a year. We are just out of college, and this is the first real relationship for both of us. He initiated it after being friends for a year. I really like him, and most everything is going well.

The only issue is that he avoids introducing me to his friends. I don't think they know about me. (I asked him, and he said, "They probably assume so.") Everything we do is at my place. He is not very social in general and doesn't really hang out with other people much, but after a year, they should at least know about me.

I asked him why he never invites me to hang out with them, and he said that it would probably be very awkward and I would hate them, but that if I really wanted to meet them, he would invite me.

It almost seems like he is embarrassed by me. I have not really made a big issue over this, so he might not realize how much it bothers me. I don't know what to think or do about it.

Answer:

Anytime you're faced with mystifying behavior - basically, anytime you find yourself wishing you could read someone's mind - use this formula: Stop, think, ask, wait. "Think" means you entertain all possible conclusions, instead of just jumping to one; "ask" means you don't accuse; "wait" means you back off far enough to leave people room for an honest response.

Your situation offers a perfect illustration. Your idea that you embarrass him is a solid one. It happens. But it's hardly the only explanation your story supports.

By your own estimation, he's not a naturally social creature, you haven't told him about your hurt feelings, and you're both relationship rookies. There isn't just room for miscommunication here; there's room for it to hold a convention.

He could find his friends embarrassing. He could find himself embarrassing. He could find his place embarrassing. He could find it embarrassing to be with a date around people who've never seen him with a date. He could be self-conscious about being his embarrassing self in front of his embarrassing friends at his embarrassing home with his date looking on in utter embarrassment. A social anxiety could be in play.

Maybe he's as unsure of where he stands with you as you are with him.

Maybe he's using you. Maybe he's seeing six other people.

Since you could "maybe" yourself into complete paralysis, it's OK to finish up the thought process by reminding yourself there could still be other reasonable explanations that haven't occurred to you.

At this point, you're wondering: Isn't it easier just to ask? Yes, of course. But people fudge their answers more when they feel cornered, less when they feel safe - and since the whole point of asking is to hear the truth, you want him to know it's safe to be honest with you. And the most reliable way to accomplish that is to approach him with your mind genuinely open to whatever he has to say.

And so you conjure all these possible explanations beforehand as a way to prop open your mind. Then, you drop your defenses and ask: What's going on?

Q:

What does it mean when someone says, "I'd date you if I didn't have a girlfriend/boyfriend?"

The person is looking for something better? Or the person is throwing you a bone because you aren't getting any?

A:

It means either one, depending on the person. "Looking for something better" can mean different things, too, like testing you as a replacement, feeling you out for an affair, testing the market, fishing for flattery.

And since either way it means nothing - since, either way, it's coming from someone you can't really trust - it also means you wave it off after giving it exactly as much thought as it takes to figure this out.

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