I love Captain Awkward. It is actually a blog written by a female screenwriter. From her “about” section–
“I write screenplays and direct movies. I read advice columns.
Advice columns are full of conflict.
Good screenplays are full of conflict.
People who write to advice columnists are usually looking for help in having a difficult conversation. Most advice-column advice comes down to “Have you tried telling that person what you just told me?”
Movie characters are all direct and brave and articulate the way that we almost never get to be in real life. They get to have those difficult conversations and make them sound awesome. That’s not because screenwriters are life experts. We are not. You should probably not be taking life advice from a woman whose plan for paying back $100K in grad school debt is “be an indie filmmaker.”
I can’t tell you what to do. But I can try to tell you what to say, or lend you some courage in saying it.
If you have a question, submit it here. I will give you honest answers and try to make you sound awesome.”
But your question illustrates the limitations of that strategy, when your endgame isn’t “get with this dude,” it’s “enjoy his company without shredding your own heart” as he casually flirts with you.
So this is about finding a way to take care of yourself. One way is to wait for the next time he flirts with you and address it.
“Hey, it can be really fun to flirt with you, but could you chill out with it for a while?“
He’s gonna say something like “Aw man, why?“
And you can say “Eh, it’s just a bit too much, thanks” and leave it there. You don’t have to give reasons. Repeat versions and variations of “It’s too much.” “I know you don’t mean anything by it, but it feels like too much.”
I’m usually against invoking Mysterious Other People Who Agree With Me That You Are Doing Things Wrong in discussions, but the fact that it’s noticeable enough in public that other people are commenting on it can be part of the reason. “In public it attracts more attention than I’m comfortable with, and in private it just feels confusing and inappropriate.“
Get ready for him to defend his honor and your honor. But we’re just friends! I don’t mean anything by it! My girlfriend is okay with it! You’re my friend, you’re not some fangirl groupie, etc., etc.
The thing is, this doesn’t have to be about his relationship, the rules of his relationship, his just-a-friendly feelings for you, or whatever. This is about you and your comfort. His right to flirt with you ends at your comfort with that. You get to reset the boundary within your friendship. “No flirting for a while” is a perfectly reasonable request, and a true friend (especially someone with a little fame who is used to ‘starstruck’ fans) has a lot of room to be cool and understanding. You’re not obligated to keep flirting with him just so that your friendship will never change and he will always feel 100% okay about his behavior, so don’t get sucked into that trap.
This discussion might spiral into a FEELINGSTALK, if you set a boundary about behavior and he keeps digging for reasons.“I don’t want to get between you and girlfriend, or make our friendship weird, but the flirting stuff makes my feelings confused. The problem isn’t that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I *really* enjoy it, in a way that feels inappropriate given that we are not involved and you are very happily involved with someone else. I’d like very much to stay friends with you, but I need the flirting to stop for that to comfortably happen.“
In the screenplay in my head he says “Oh.” and you say “Bet you wish you’d just stopped back when I said ‘can you lay off the flirting for a while?‘”
The other way is to pull back a bit from the friendship and put your energy into meeting new people and otherwise distracting yourself. You don’t have to slow fade or cut things off, and you don’t have to notify him that you are doing it or why. Just let him do the work of initiating conversation for a while. Maybe train yourself out of responding immediately by filtering his emails to a folder that you check once a week. Maybe don’t be so available on IM. Maybe be more scheduled about IM sessions or phone calls so that you can compartmentalize a bit and it’s not all flirty messaging, all the time. When you have a crush like the way you have a crush, your brain interprets any attention from him as “Happy Reward Times! RELEASE THE PLEASURE CHEMICALS” and you need to cut into that cycle somehow.
If he notices that you are not so available and asks you about it, and if you feel up to it, you can level with him. “Since you ask, last time I saw you at Event, we were very flirty, and it made my feelings confused. I don’t want a little crush on you to make our friendship weird or lead to anything inappropriate, so I’ve been pulling back a bit until my feelings get less awkward. I’ll see you/talk to you in (time frame that is probably a few months), is that cool?“
Everything that makes you fun to flirt with for this person is within you. It’s not some glow imparted by this one dude’s Nerdfame or attention, it’s your wit and attractiveness and good humor and loyal friendship or whatever Terrifyingly Amazing stuff you’ve got going on. This is the good part of crushes, the part that lights you up and makes you smile and get great haircuts on the regular and stand up straight and flirt shamelessly with hot nerd celebrities. Keep being brave and awkward, and when love comes to you it will come correct.