Each week in the Wednesday column, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays.
Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer; thanks to FD, Ashley D, KLGREY 1414, and LULU for their ideas!
I have a crush on one of my close friends, but she’s in a relationship and I don’t know what to do. I met her like a year ago and we were instantly friends. I think that it might have been either fate or love at first fucking sight, because as soon as I laid eyes on her, something clicked in my mind that she was the one. I could literally picture myself with her while we’re old and gray, but, like I said, she’s in a relationship. The most frustrating thing is that if she was straight or if she never reciprocated anything—we flirt all the time—it might be easier to get over this, but she does every fucking time, and it’s getting even harder to remind myself that I can never be with her because she’s absolutely in love with her long-term boyfriend. I’ve had conversations with her about all the things that go on in her relationship because we’re friends, and sometimes it really seems like she wants to break up with him, but when I ask if she ever would, she says that she doesn’t think she ever could. It’s so painful seeing them together when I know that there is a possibility that we could be together, and I don’t know where to even begin when it comes to getting over this stupendous crush. I could also never distance myself from her because we have such a strong connection, like we’re basically soulmates. I just need some advice on what to do because honestly, it hurts so much.
—Little Miss Heartbroken
Dear Little Miss Heartbroken,
The situation you’re in is both very common and very difficult. When I shared it with readers, I received a lot of tough love advice combined with practical suggestions for moving on. Read a few here:
I want you to ask yourself an important question: If your friend never reciprocated your feelings, would you still want to be friends with her? If the answer is no, then you’re not really close friends. You have an expansive imagination to fantasize about possible futures where you are together, but you need to use that same imaginative power to picture the opposite. In a world where there is absolutely no chance of you two getting together, would her friendship still enrich your life? On a practical level, you need to take some time away from this friend. Make this as easy on yourself as possible. If you regularly text her harmless little observations of things throughout the day, identify someone else who will receive those messages or write them in the notes app. Over-schedule yourself with things you’ve been putting off so you simply won’t have time to see her. If that seems impossible, I have found a slightly petty route to be useful when getting over an ill-advised crush: Lean into the things you like that the crush does not like. Is there a food you love that she can’t stand? Eat it every day. A genre of movie or music she finds annoying? Or, better yet, an involved hobby or craft you love that she doesn’t? Make your entire weekend about that. Remind yourself of the things you enjoy outside of this person so it’s easier to remember that your life won’t end if a relationship never manifests.
Gosh, I’ve been in your position as a young woman in love with a married woman. She was the breath of life in my dull young life. She, too, seemed dissatisfied with her relationship and flirted endlessly with me. I thought that I couldn’t let such a strong and vibrant connection go, but a good friend gave me some great advice that I now see was very wise. She reminded me that people experience dissatisfaction with every relationship at some times. Since you seem to have a strong connection, she feels comfortable telling you about her struggles, and people tend to talk more about bad things than good ones because the bad ones need to be worked through. People who flirt may just be flirtatious personalities, but a lot of people like the thrill of being desired or having extra attention paid to them without ever wanting to leave the comfort and safety of an established relationship. You need to find a way to let her go. You can be honest about your feelings for her or choose to distance yourself slowly by being less available, but this situation is untenable for both of you. She is not interested in more of a relationship with you, and you deserve so much more than to pine for a woman who will not return your affections. Be gentle with yourself and cherish these feelings for what they are, but I promise there is more than one person on this earth suitable for a lovely young person like you.
If your friend truly felt the same way about you, she would have broken up with her boyfriend. The fact that she hasn’t speaks volumes. I think you need to back away from your friend and find someone single. Otherwise, you will continue to be hurt and disappointed.
So yes, we all agree that you need to move on. I’m sorry. But there was a consensus. If this was meant to be it would, well… be. And I agree with readers who suggested that you’re underestimating what you’re capable of doing to take care of yourself when you act as if it would be impossible to pull back from the friendship. You can do it! You won’t die.
I really loved this response in particular. (Lulu, come take my job! Alternatively, are you by any chance a therapist who is accepting new clients and takes health insurance? Email me… ) I just thought this was so incredibly insightful and kind:
I feel so much compassion for this letter writer as someone who has been here before as a young queer person. Unfortunately, these situations of pining away for a taken friend rarely end well for those doing the pining. The letter writer’s friend gets the best of both worlds here—she gets her safe, comfortable boyfriend as well as fun and excitement from flirting with LW. She gives LW scraps of flirtatious attention whenever it’s convenient for her, but LW likely will never get more than that especially if their friend is able to have this fun, exciting “flirtationship” while also keeping her stable boyfriend. LW is effectively handing their friend all the power by giving her the keys to their heart without any reciprocity. LW should ask themselves if they really want to be with someone who isn’t willing to take the plunge with them, not to mention someone who constantly flirts with her friends despite being in what sounds like a monogamous relationship with her boyfriend. “You lose them how you get them,” etc., and this friend does not sound like she is holding appropriate boundaries in her current relationship, which doesn’t bode well even if LW were to eventually “get the girl.” My most intense phase of crushes on unavailable friends came at a time when I did not see myself as worthy of someone prioritizing and loving me unabashedly. I was terrified of the frightening, uncontrollable possibility of heartbreak that can come with loving someone who is truly available, so I settled instead for the predictable heartbreak of loving someone who I could be fairly sure would never reciprocate. I wonder if the LW, like my former self, is dealing with some self-esteem issues that are making it hard for them to envision a relationship where they are truly wanted and prioritized. If so, it might be helpful for them to take steps to build up their own confidence and self-love so they see that they are deserving of a love that is nourishing and full, not the scraps from someone else’s table.
I completely agree that this situation could help you identify areas where growth and healing could make you less drawn to heartbreak. Because feeling the way you feel isn’t any fun. You deserve better. Imagine a life in which you love yourself as much as you think you love your friend.