Why It's So Confusing To Lead Someone On

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Warning: Major spoilers to come for Master Of None season 2.
People have lots of opinions about Dev and Francesca's relationship dynamic on Master of None, and rightfully so, because the whole situation is pretty loaded. To quickly re-cap: Francesca accompanies her fiancé Pino on a month-long business trip to New York City, and she hangs out with Dev most of the time that she's there.
Dev is stoked to spend so much one-on-one time with Francesca, and the pair visits the Brooklyn Museum, attends a swanky dinner party to hear John Legend perform, and shares late-night tapas. They even go on the mother-of-all-dates: a day trip to Storm King Art Centre. And to cap things off, Francesca spends the night snowed-in at Dev's place, and sleeps in his bed with him. There is sexual tension, and lots of it.
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Regardless of how the season ends, watching Francesca and Dev's chemistry is sweet, and then at a point it becomes painful and awkward. Some people have noted how fake Francesca's character seems, but this type of friendship-but-maybe-something-more situation is actually very common. Here's the thing: Francesca is engaged, which makes her decidedly unavailable. Dev, on the other hand, is emotionally available, and more than willing to spend time in her presence. There has to be a reason why Francesca knowingly strings him along, right?

People may be dissatisfied, or bored, or whatever in their current romantic relationship and hence look outward.

April Bleske-Rechek, PhD
As far as motivation is concerned, a 2012 study found that women who reported having strong, "cross-sex" friendships also reported having less satisfaction in their romantic relationships. While this is just one (very heteronormative) study, this might suggest that some people in shaky romantic relationships rely on a platonic friend because they're missing something from their partner.
"People may be dissatisfied, or bored, or whatever in their current romantic relationship and hence look outward and develop friendships with those they are attracted to more, or who make them feel desired," says April Bleske-Rechek, PhD, the lead study author and professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. But it's also possible that the strong platonic relationship actually causes the tension or issues in a romantic relationship, so it really depends on the situation, she adds. Most of the time, having close friends is healthy, even if you have a romantic partner. But every now and then, one person in the friendship ends up feeling taken advantage of or used.
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Dr. Bleske-Rechek thinks that "stringing someone along" usually happens accidentally. "In many cases, I think men and women lead each other on without really knowing that they're doing it, or the ultimate reasons why," she says. Francesca likely knew that she might have been leading Dev on, but didn't know how to handle the conflict, which isn't necessarily her fault.
Usually, when a platonic friendship seems to threaten a romantic relationship, it's "more often about the romantic relationship than any other," says Meg Manthos, PhD, a licensed psychologist who has studied friends with benefits. That's why it's so important to communicate clearly about your needs, wants, and expectations regularly with your partner — not just when there's conflict, she says. "Romantic relationships are stronger when partners prioritise the commitments they have made to each other, and uphold those commitments in their other relationships," she says.
At the same time, it's totally possible to have a healthy, platonic friendship when you're dating a person, and not lead your friend on. If you even have to worry that your friend could misconstrue your motivations, that could be a sign that you need to clear the air, Dr. Manthos says. If it feels weird, figure out what about the relationship is stressful, Dr. Manthos says. There might be deception or misunderstanding, or one friend might be violating physical or emotional boundaries, she says. Or there could be an imbalance of power that's damaging to someone in the friendship, she says. "Remember that this conversation may give rise to feelings of vulnerability, so approach it with kindness and compassion," she says.
In Dev and Francesca's situation, Francesca coyly attempts to explain why she just "has" to be with her fiancé, Pino. And Dev is patient to a fault about the whole deal, until the penultimate episode, when he tells Francesca that he's in love with her as they fly around Manhattan in a helicopter. Later, Dev attempts to explain to her very clearly what he wants (her to be with him), but Francesca says she's just not ready to make a decision, even though she enjoys hanging out with him. She clearly has the power, which sucks for Dev.
Without spoiling too much of the Master of None finale, lets just say it'll be very interesting to see where these two go from here, with or without Pino in the picture. Communication — whether it's in broken Italian or English — will hopefully get them where they need to be.
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