A 21-year-old male college student once wrote me a very nice email asking me for advice. He was having lady problems.
There was a girl who lived on the same floor of his dorm that he had slept with a bunch of times. Now she was giving noncommittal answers whenever he texted her to go on dates and avoiding him in real life pretty much altogether. At the end of the email, he wrote, "I don't know what to do, and I'm annoyed because it just feels like she led me on."
And that's when I had to put my phone down and say a prayer. I lit my Rihanna (the Patron Saint of Not Giving a Fuck) prayer candle and prayed for strength. Because that phrase in our lexicon needs to go.
When I wrote back to him, the first thing I did was apologize upfront for if I came across as dismissive or patronizing in my answer because my first instinct was to type in all caps: "HONEY, YOU ARE TOO YOUNG TO BE CARING ABOUT THIS PERSON. YOU ARE IN COLLEGE. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH PUSSY YOU CAN EASILY GET IN COLLEGE? " But then I took a step back and realized that I was once a college student, too, and I've been disappointed by romantic interests, too, so tried to give him some actual advice instead of Ghost of Christmas Future-ing his ass and being like, "In two months you're going to get your dick wet with someone else, forget alllllll about this chick and, when I mention her name, you're gonna be like 'WHO?!'"
So what I ended up telling him was that the thing about being "led on" is that it has more to do with you than the other person. Most of the time it's you leading yourself on. It's you assuming that the other person has the same feelings, wants, and desires as you... and then you realize that they don't. And that is what sucks. I've dated people who I thought I'd end up in a relationship with. When it didn't work out, I didn't think, He led me on. You know what I have thought though? Ah shit, he changed his mind.
Because that's what happened. If they've flirted, slept with you or dated you and no longer what to do that, they've changed their mind. (For reasons that are sometimes not shared with you.) And they are allowed to do that as much as you are.
And you know what sucks even more? Being the person who has changed their mind. Because I have been there and it feels horrible. I agreed to be exclusive with someone around this time last year, actually. I was his girlfriend for two weeks, because, at first, I thought he was what I wanted, and then it turned out that he wasn't. And I had to say, "I'm so sorry, but I thought I wanted a relationship with you, and then I realized that I don't." He was upset, but appreciated my honesty. I had to end it, though, because I knew that if I kept it going, the pain of me breaking up with him after two weeks of exclusivity would be far less than after two months or two years.
Sometimes people aren't able to say the things necessary to call something off, to be direct. And so they do things like ghost on people or keep talking to people even though they have no intention of dating them. Sometimes people are unable to be direct because they don't know how. (As women, we are taught that being direct means you're a bitch.) Sometimes, it's because we're scared. We're scared to break up with people because we're not sure how they're going to take it. The person doing the breaking up may get yelled or screamed at. Or have their social media accounts broken into. Or be talked about poorly to others. Or be physically hurt.
Because, more often than not, the person being broken up with is going to be sad and perhaps even angry, and it's difficult to predict what someone is going to do with those feelings.
But let's even take those people who will react badly out of the equation. Even if someone knows that you're a really nice, sane person and would never act poorly towards someone who broke up with you, they don't want to hurt you. And so, sometimes, people think "being nice" is to keep talking to you without agreeing to ever meet up again or ghost on you instead of pulling the band aid off and saying "I don't want to be with you." It's wrong and it sucks. Everyone has done this at some point in their lives, and it only goes away with maturity.
Lastly, there is the tiny percent of people who will keep you in the mix even though they have no intention of ever dating you because they enjoy the attention. This is one of the fun side-effects of low self-esteem. These are the same people who say they "don't want any drama," but they fucking live for it because it makes them feel important. Just avoid these people.
But the vast majority of the time, the person who "led you on" just changed their mind. Especially when someone has gone from being all over you to giving you the cold shoulder. It's really confusing, and it's so easy to blame them for it and be hurt and think mean thoughts about them. But that's a waste of mental energy. Just let them go.
At the end of the letter, I told my new friend that I had to give him a reality check. I wrote, "You are 21 years old and have had sex with at least one person (I obviously only know of this chick). So, therefore, I'm going to imagine that if someone else has found you sexually attractive, you're a young, cute guy. And when you're a young, cute guy at college, you have SO MANY OPTIONS. This person is not the 'last shot' you have at finding a relationship. There will be so. many. other. women. Women who are nicer to you and know deep in their bones that they want you and only you. Women who are more direct. This girl ain't it. You deserve someone who essentially adores the idea of hanging out with you. And so it feels SO shitty right now. I get that. I've been there. But why would you even want to date someone who doesn't want to date you? You deserve better than that."
We all do.