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Auntie SparkNotes: Which Guy Do I Choose?

Our beloved Auntie SparkNotes,

I’m in a bit of a pinch and I’m not sure what I am to do. The beginning of my problems was the fact that I was broken up with the day before Valentine’s day (I cried for about an hour) but it doesn’t stop there.

The majority of my friend group are guys who have or have had a crush on me. While they were all super supportive of me after my breakup, I’ve had five love confessions in two days and I don’t know if I can stand to break any of their hearts…

The first boy is a tall sophomore who is on the wrestling team (I’m a junior). He is a sweet boy, but a bit naive and bipolar. He can be a bit of a puppy dog at times but he really means well.

The second boy is an average size junior who has the emotional baggage train of a man in a mid-life crisis. He is manipulative and moody and is not afraid to use his depression to guilt you into doing what he wants. He is incredibly loyal and gives wonderful compliments but last year he ruined my relationship with a great guy by manipulating me into cheating with him because he liked me. I am not in a hurry to give him a second chance.

The third boy is a tall dark and handsome junior. He has really dark brown hair, soft blue eyes, and freckles all over. He is incredibly kind and loyal to me and I love him to pieces—I just don’t know if I’m in love with him. When I first met him he had very deeply set depression and I helped him through it. I was able to get him the help he needed and now he is one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet.

The fourth boy I’ve known since eighth grade and he is a senior. Ever since we first met he’s had a massive crush on me and, to be fair to him, he’s gone from a slightly short, overweight, social outcast to a tall, muscular, handsome young man, but he’s just a friend. Recently he’s been getting into some questionable things because of his depression and I don’t want to let him down again.

Last but not least, the fifth boy is a tall, slim senior who has apparently had a crush on me for awhile. He is one of those boys who likes to keep up his image of being scary because he has no patience for incompetent people. While that is how he likes to seem, I suspect on the inside he is much more sensitive than he wants people to believe. I know a smile as bright and contagious as I’ve found his to be, can’t be just for show.

Can you help me or should I work on starting a harem?

Oh, there’s no need for that, Sparkler. Because, uh, you already have one.

I mean, it’s right there in your letter: “The majority of my friend group are guys who have or have had a crush on me.” Even if you didn’t explicitly set out to put yourself at the center of a social circle made up almost entirely of fawning admirers, that is, in fact, where you are—and the fact that you’re not explicitly dating all of these guys at once is just a minor technicality.

And look: for the record, I know that the position you’re in is an easy one to fall into, especially if you happen to be good at flirting, bad at vulnerability, and highly appreciative of the confidence-boosting effects of being surrounded at all times by adoring dudes like some kind of rockstar crush object. But the problem with this, as you’ve discovered, is that your friendships aren’t really friendships. You treat these guys primarily as attention-dispensers who are there to validate your attractiveness, and in return, they see you as a potential girlfriend with whom they are temporarily settling for a platonic friendship. There’s nothing friendly about any of it. And that’s where you run into trouble, sweet pea, because when that potential doesn’t pan out, things tend to get weird, or even ugly, depending on how disappointed or manipulated the interested party feels.

Which is why the most important question is not which guy you should date, but how and why this scenario came to pass in the first place. Do you, by any chance, feel like your dateability is your most (or only) winning quality? Have you perhaps internalized the ubiquitous but ultimately toxic message that the most important thing you can be is hot? Do you suffer from insecurity that makes you afraid to put yourself out there as a person, rather than a prospect?

Ask yourself these questions, and be as brutally honest with yourself as you can about the answers. Because here’s the thing: once you’ve figured out that part, you’re going to read back through your letter and ask yourself why you’re considering dating any of these guys—particularly when you don’t seem to actually like any of them, but rather see them as either science projects or pity cases or both. (Pro tip: “I don’t want to let him down” is a terrible reason to say yes to a relationship you don’t otherwise want at all, and leading people on isn’t exactly quality behavior, either. You should stop.)

And then, having realized that all your suitors are more or less totally unsuitable, you can set some boundaries with your current crop of guy pals while also embarking on new friendships that aren’t just romances-in-development—friendships built on mutual respect and fondness in which everyone is on more or less equal footing and nobody is secretly pining for more. They’re not as easy to find or keep, and you’ll risk more in the process, but those friendships will fulfill and sustain you in a way that commanding a small army of lovestruck, cow-eyed guys never will.

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