Is That You Behind the Ficus? / I Was Good, but I Still Feel Bad
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I read in a recent issue of Letters where a person asked you what to do about a stalker. After reading the letter, I realized that I am in a similar situation, except from the other side. I have been accused of stalking somebody, and I don’t get it. I am far from being a stalker. The object of my attention kept telling me that he only wants to be friends and yet, he seemed to be letting me in little by little by telling me personal things and showing me another side of him that others rarely see. I would ask him out from time to time for dinner or to hang out, because I enjoyed hanging out with him. Yet he kept taking that as my way of roping him into a relationship. He took my actions, as well as things I said to others, way out of context, even accusing me of trying to get him in a relationship, and now stalking. I don’t have that sort of time and energy or the lack of sanity for that. I feel bad about this and I’m not sure what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Let’s drop the label for a moment. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re a stalker. Instead, let’s speak in plainer English: You’re paying attention to someone more than they want you to.
People sometimes send mixed signals. They tell you one thing, and then they do something different. When such a contradiction exists, my policy is to go with a person’s behavior more than what they say. However, if someone acts like he wants you to pay attention, but then calls you a stalker when you do, I’d make an exception to this rule and simply stop paying attention to him. If he later asks why you’re doing this, tell him you’re simply honoring his request, because, based on what you describe, you are.
You said, “I would ask him out from time to time for dinner or to hang out, because I enjoyed hanging out with him. Yet he kept taking that as my way of roping him into a relationship.” These problems are easy to solve by communication. If you ask him out to dinner, simply tell him, “I know you’re not interested in me as someone to date. And that’s fine. This is only friendship.” If he’s still uncomfortable, then stop going out with him. Why put yourself through that?
I’m not saying you’re a stalker. But it does sound like you have unresolved issues or feelings towards this person. Why do I say that? Because you’re saying, “This person accuses me of stalking him, and I find it uncomfortable to get together with him, or pay attention to him.” OK: So stop getting together with him and paying attention to him. Remain calm and move on. If, as you say, you’re truly not a stalker, then that shouldn’t be a problem.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
A good friend of mine has been in a relationship for about 18 months. When they first met, his boyfriend and I went out on a date and almost ended up in bed together. Interestingly, in spite of the “mood” and a couple glasses of wine, we both thought better of it and abstained from doing the deed. They are now fully in a relationship and are planning to get married. I still feel uncomfortable about that night, and feel I can’t be completely candid with my friend. This was 18 months ago and maybe it doesn’t even matter. But it still bothers me. Should I tell my friend about that night?
Dr. Hurd replies,
First of all, get a grip. What you described is not cheating. The two of them were not yet fully in a relationship, and despite that fact, you and your friend still acknowledged the boundaries. If anything, that’s laudable! Why do you talk as if you’re ashamed of your secret?
In answer to your question, no, I would not say anything. I would not lie about it either, if it ever came up. But what are you—a crusader? Are you everybody’s keeper? It’s not your job or obligation to take on this role. I see no possible benefit that could come from bringing this subject up. And in the unlikely event it ever does come up, you have nothing to be ashamed about, because you did nothing wrong.
I don’t know you, but I sense you suffer from some measure of unearned guilt, i.e., feeling responsibility or remorse for something that is either not bad or that you did not cause. Unearned guilt is a major underlying cause of so many psychological disorders. It creates unnecessary stress and anxiety that is hard on your body and on your mind. I encourage you to look more deeply into this issue. It’s healthy and reasonable to feel guilty when you actually did something wrong, but if you feel you must atone for things that aren’t wrong, it’s a lot of wasted energy and it’s not healthy.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.