I am the consistently single girl within a group of mostly marrieds. My group of friends is an urban tribe -- we have roaring dinner parties, favorite bars for trivia night, go on vacation together -- and I am always the one who gets to sleep on the couch, the chair at the end of the booth, the back seat.
About two years ago, I went through a period where I despised this role and actively started not hanging out with the marrieds in favor of some single friends. But after six months of fun but little fulfillment from my new single clan, I realized I really missed my old tribe and rejoined them in full force.
Here's my problem. One of the married men within the group has made advances toward me. Nothing overt, nothing officially untoward, but most definitely there. His wife has been incredibly stressed and busy lately -- traveling for her job, working late, etc. And he and I have been spending more time together within the rubric of overall group activities. He has started calling me all the time, wanting to hang out alone, sending me cute little e-mails. I am feeling courted -- and extremely uncomfortable. Up until this point, I considered him one of my closest friends and I love his wife dearly. I have tried being unresponsive and that only seems to fan the flames of his attention. I am afraid of the consequences of confronting him. I really don't know what to do. I just want him to drop this so that everything can return to normal. Help!
Muddled in Manhattan
You have such an interesting situation. You're not really asking me how to break out of this tribe, become one of a couple, or stop being the odd one out, are you? You're asking how to preserve the tribe against a threat to its happy cohesion. You like the tribe. It's secure, it's nonsexual, it's like a family, with lots of parents and a few kids. It sounds wonderful, although you might inquire of yourself what the deeper meaning of your attachment to the tribe is. That is, are you perhaps preserving a kind of chaste girlhood or neuter status -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you are, knowing that it's what you prefer right now will help you deal with situations that arise where you're seen as sexually available by one of the other tribe members.
Even if you were sexually available to another guy in the tribe, he would have to be unmarried for it to not threaten the integrity of the group. So you need to have a talk with this married guy. If fear of the consequences of such a talk is preventing you, consider how much more dire could be the consequences of not confronting him. You seem to value your membership in the tribe pretty highly; if something untoward happened between you two, it could harm the tribe or get you ostracized. So you have to talk with him privately. If he's trying to cheat on her with you, he must be stopped.
Get him alone and tell him ... what? What would you tell him? What do you want to tell him? Tell him the truth about what you feel toward him. And ask him what's going on. It could be that he and his wife are on the outs. That wouldn't make what he's doing OK. But it would give you an understanding of the situation. But don't just discuss the situation with him. Also tell him the rules. Tell him the rule is that if he doesn't stop flirting with you, you're going to tell his wife that he's coming on to you. That should have the desired effect.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.