I’ve been reading your column for many years and found that thinking of what advice would I give first and then comparing it with your answer is a great way to gradually calibrate my views about relationships. So I figured I would ask for your holy Chair Leg now since I have no idea what advice to give myself (or rather – I do, but all of it sounds dumb to me and I suspect I am deceiving myself in some ways).
For the context, I am a 27y old hetero guy and I’ve had some struggles with dating due to shyness and inexperience, but have since gone through several pretty good relationships which ended for just not being that compatible. I always knew that I am seeking someone for a lifelong committed relationship, someone with who I could one day become awesome parents.
It has now been more than 3 years since I started dating the girl of my dreams (I had had a crush on her for more than a year before that, discovered she had started dating my friend instead, tried to forget about her, met her many months after, learned she was single again and that she obviously wanted me too), let’s call her R. She is smart, fun and cute, we are both geeks and hikers and love each other profoundly. At first, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to ever have kids but has since told me she wants them one day if it’s with me. Our relationship was always pretty smooth and without fights or drama, even after we moved together with my friends as our flatmates – R became great friends with them too. And the relationship is still mostly great, except maybe for falling a bit into a routine recently, which is something we know about and I believe is very solvable if we put the effort into doing new things together and having deep talks more often.
As you might expect, there is a But. And it’s another girl, my long-time friend B.
B is a member of our team of volunteers who are also my main group of friends, a second family so to say. I will call them the Crew. I’ve known B since she was a kid and was always fond of her, but no romantic thoughts had crossed my mind due to our age difference (she is 9 years younger). Recently, however, something changed – she is an adult now, very mature and responsible in (some) ways, and we started working and hanging out together more often (mostly with other people of the Crew too, not alone). I also ended up becoming one of B’s people to talk to about her family crisis and other issues, so we got to know each other much more.
And this summer, I realized I have gradually developed a huuuuge crush on B – I am not only extremely attracted to her and fantasize about her a lot, but I also deeply care about her, have fun talking with her and she inspires me by always caring for others and facing her own fears and issues. She’s also awesome with kids. I can’t stop thinking about her and am grateful for every moment I can spend with her.
I didn’t want to ruin my great relationship with R, so I told myself that my feelings for B are just an unfortunate crush that should fade away if I focus on me and R. It sounded like a wise plan.
But hell, this plan is failing catastrophically! It has now been around six months and my crush on B got much much more intense instead of fading away. I think about her and my situation almost constantly now, longing for B, feeling guilty that I do it, feeling helpless, wondering if a relationship with B could have potential, running in circles around my head. Sometimes I can’t sleep for hours and this state is also hurting my relationship with R because I am distracted and feel that keeping this secret struggle from her is slowly pulling us apart…
I just wish I could split up into two parallel worlds – one where I stay with R and a second where I break up with her and try it with B – and see where both options lead to be able to decide. I think I love both of them in some way and I don’t see a good way out of this.
It sounds ridiculous to risk or throw away the great and tested relationship with R for an unsure quantum field of possible outcomes with B. I don’t even know if she would want me, because I didn’t want to cross any lines when I have a girlfriend. I only know that B likes me at least as a good friend and is maybe a bit more casually touchy with me than others. But hell, even if she is attracted to me, she hasn’t probably considered me as an option because of our age difference and me being with R, plus she has never dated anyone, so she might be very insecure about it. And even if she wanted me and we actually started something, who knows if it lasts when it’s her first relationship…
But as ridiculous as that might be, I am just unable to let B go. I know the crush would fade with time if I stopped seeing her, but that would mean cutting myself off from the Crew and frankly, I just don’t wanna do it. I think I will be pretty okay if I find out that B doesn’t want me, but if I could have only one of the girls in my life, I am afraid I would choose B and the Crew.
So now I got to the point where I think my only option is to sincerely tell R about my crush on B and my whole struggle because keeping it a secret is slowly destroying our relationship and myself. I am not sure how she would respond, but I would then suggest we take a break because I am unable to be with her fully until I explore the option with B and find out what I really want. If me and R split, I would tell B that I like her in this way and ask if she would like to go on something explicitly date-y with me to explore if there is some potential between her and me, assuring her that it’s completely alright if she says no.
But although I couldn’t come up with anything better to do, this still feels pretty unpractical and scary for a lot of reasons – It could hurt R for a long time… I could lose R just to hear “No” from B… R and I live together… We have common friends and plans… R and B know and like each other and this would definitely change that somehow… The information could leak through the Crew to B before I ask her myself.. – for all those reasons, I keep postponing for now.
Please tell me Doc – am I missing something or is this dumb Plan B the smartest thing I could do? Thanks for doing all this,
– Need A Parallel Universe
There’re a few things going on here, NAPU.
First is just the human condition. What you’re feeling isn’t unusual or even uncommon, nor does it say anything about the strength of your feelings for R. We are a novelty-seeking species who are very good at adapting to just about anything. Even the happiest, most exciting and sexually charged relationship eventually becomes just the status quo for us because hey, turns out hedonic adaptation is part of being one of the top sentient meat-bags on this planet.
So it’s not at all surprising that this crush on B has reached up and smacked you across the mouth. This is a thing that happens to… well, pretty much everyone. We see someone awesome, we get crushes and we think all kinds of sweaty thoughts about them. It’s just part of being a person.
Another thing to consider is how much this tracks with previous patterns, especially with regard to women. I mean, “met this person, had a massive crush on them that lingered for a long, long time, they were unavailable to you for reasons…” is pretty damn close to what you went through with R. Consciously or unconsciously, there are enough similarities between how you got with R and what you’re feeling for B that it’s not surprising there’s some mental crosstalk going on.
Considering that this is, in many ways, the dance remix of your first go-round, it’s hardly surprising that it’s hitting you this hard. It also seems like you’re the sort of person who carries a torch for a while, which is something else to consider.
There’s also the fact that you’ve spent a lot of time with her and had those close, intimate conversations with her. While you don’t mention other friendships, I’m going to guess that, like a lot of guys, you have few emotionally close friendships with other men and feel more comfortable being that open and that vulnerable with women. Unfortunately, our society still teaches men to be disconnected from their emotions and conflates emotional intimacy with sexual and romantic intimacy. As a result, a lot of guys get crushes on their female friends because they’re so unused to feeling that open, vulnerable and close to other people. So the odds are good that having these deep, serious conversations and the attendant feelings of intimacy are tickling your lizardbrain too.
So, good news: the way you feel for her is entirely normal, understandable and profoundly mundane.
The bad news: none of it is a good reason to try to actively pursue something with her. In fact, it would be incredibly counterproductive for… just about everything in your life, really.
There’re a lot of reasons why this isn’t fading the way you’d hoped. First and foremost is that, well, you’re continuing to do all the things that promote that crush. You’re spending lots of time with her, having those deep serious conversations and — importantly — focusing on all of those feelings. It sounds like you’re trying to push them aside and just think about R. Unfortunately, what you’re doing is a lot like trying not to think about Betty White cosplaying as Widowmaker; all that’s going to do is ensure that you keep thinking about it.
Rather than trying to force yourself to think about R or not think about B, you should just… be. Rather than trying force it away, what you should be doing is just letting those feelings happen. You note and name them — “oh yes, that’s my crush on B” — and then gently return to whatever it was you were supposed to be focusing at that moment. It’s very similar to dealing with random thoughts when you’re meditating; you notice your mind has drifted, you label those thoughts and just go back to what you were focusing on before.
You should also be real about what you want. Are you actually looking for ways to push this crush aside? Or are you looking for a permission structure that would let you pursue B? Because let’s be honest, just you, me and all the people reading this: part of why you don’t want to cut back on seeing B is because you’re hoping to find signs of attraction. If you weren’t passively lookin for that excuse to make your move, you’d be more amenable to dialing things back with B.
Instead, you’ve been putting yourself in the position where you feel like you “only” option is to tell R how you feel and then “go on a break”.
That… ain’t a great look, chief. Putting yourself into temptation’s way is generally a bad idea when you’re nominally trying to avoid it. It’s especially bad when you’re trying to not, y’know, cheat on your girlfriend or blow up your otherwise happy and fulfilling relationship.
(Now, under other circumstances, I’d say that it would be worth starting a series of conversations about ethical non-monogamy with R. However I’m of the opinion that these don’t exactly go well when what you’re really asking for is a “get out of trouble free” card so you can go actively pursue someone specific.)
So I think you need to decide what you actually want. Not “what would you do if you could pursue B consequence free,” not “find some way to thread the needle”, but a binary decision: stay with R and do the necessary work to let your feelings fade, or break up with R in order to pursue B… knowing that the odds are good that the answer is “I don’t feel the same for you.”
And yes, that’s the most likely answer; you’ve known her since she was a kid. She’s comfortable with you because you’ve been a part of her life for decades. That’s not the same as ‘attracted’; the physical closeness is much more likely to be friendship/surrogate older brother than it is a simmering crush of her own.
If you want my advice? Let go of B. Have fewer close conversations with her, spend less time with her and give yourself the emotional (and physical) space to let things fade. Plow the energy from that crush into your relationship with R — which you’ve said is great. This is as close to the “bird in the hand” aphorism as you could possibly get.
Or, to quote the sage: “There’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work.”
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
So my flatmate/long term friend told me that one night her and her work friends got really drunk and she ended up sleeping with this guy who I had caught feelings for and had been casually seeing for some time.
I think I still have lingering feelings, but they definitely did subside. But when she told me that they slept together, I felt so weird, especially as it’s only been a month since. I told her that I had feelings for him previously. It feels like our friendship is different, like trust has been broken and boundaries crossed.
Do I forgive her because we’re flatmates or do we just be civil?
I want to zero in on a few key words, DL: “seeing casually”, “had feelings for him previously” “definitely did subside”.
So just to be clear: you had a brief, casual relationship with a guy, you had at least some interest in him and those feelings faded after the relationship ended. Since then, your roommate hooked up with him and now you feel like she crossed a line.
Except… it doesn’t sound like she did. You had — emphasis on “had” — a relationship with him a while back, when you and he had no expectation of commitment or exclusivity. That relationship came to an end and whatever squishy feelings you had faded right up until your roommate hooked up with him. Leaving aside that you and he weren’t exclusive when you were together, you aren’t together with him now and haven’t been for a bit.
So, as far as lines go, it sounds to me like everything was on the up and up between the two of them. They’re both single, grown-ass adults who’re free to do their thing. Presumably he’s been dating and/or sleeping with other folks since you and he quit seeing each other. I would assume that knowing he’s likely hooked up with other folks in the interim. The only real difference between your roommate and those strangers is that… well, it’s your roommate.
I’ve said this before, DL, but you can’t call dibs on people. The fact you and he used to — again, emphasis on used to — date and you may or may not still like him doesn’t mean tat he’s off limits to everyone else forever. Feeling a little weird or having complicated feelings about it is understandable and valid; treating this as a betrayal isn’t. This isn’t a case of her touching your stuff, it’s two single people getting drunk and hooking up.
I won’t say that you should forgive her, because honestly, there’s nothing to forgive. However, I would say that you should focus being civil while you wait for these feelings to pass. And while you’re doing that, it may be worth sitting with your feels and zero in on just why this bothers you. Is it because you still still feel a sense of possession and ownership over him? A lingering hope of maybe getting back together? Or maybe it’s just the sort of knee-jerk reaction that is more about being caught off guard than any “real” problem?
Figuring that out will make it much easier for you and your roommate to get back to normal.