At the moment, I find myself waiting for a friend to grow healthier (both emotionally and physically) on the off-chance that this growth will allow our friendship to turn romantic further on. Should I simply resign myself to friendship alone (do my level best to date other people, cement myself in her friend zone), or is there some long-term logic to what feels, right now, like madness?
posted by trainsurfing to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry this is so long; I suppose it's a marker of how on-edge I've been lately...
Over the past six months, I've found myself in an increasingly close friendship with someone I initially had a crush on from afar. Our friendship developed through a short series of work-related interactions, and my crush, though secretly raging when we first started spending time together, faded shortly after I discovered she had a girlfriend. That is to say: I gradually acknowledged the unrequited nature of my feelings once it was clear her relationship, though deeply troubled, was something she hoped very much to mend. Both she and her girlfriend had taken major steps to become healthier people (variously, through quitting addictive substances, enrolling in therapy, and taking psychiatric medication), and because my affection for her, even at that earlier point in our friendship, was entirely separable from my desire to be with her romantically, I came to accept, and even embrace, my role as a supportive, platonic friend. I gave her advice on how to be a healthier partner, I cheered her on in her endeavors, and upon meeting her girlfriend, whom I liked immediately, I found it even easier to be encouraging of their relationship. I turned my mind to dating other people, enjoying my sprawling, but thoroughly fulfilling, social life, and being grateful for her friendship, such as it was.
Recently, however, things have gotten really complicated, and my emotions have started to spiral more or less wildly out of control. At the root of the trouble is that our hang-outs have always been a bit more like dates than seems defensible—most of the time I spend with friends consists of group gatherings or coffee/work sessions, but my time with her generally amounts to long day-trips (beaches, touristy attractions, museums) and dinners/movies/shows. Our friendship exists in a vacuum, and though at first I thought this would change over time, it simply hasn't. After meeting her girlfriend, I started to ask if her girlfriend might like to come along for some of our activities in an effort to be clear about my strictly platonic intentions, but the happy group dynamic I envisioned never materialized. Our friendship remained exclusive (even as she began to feel more comfortable speaking of her girlfriend as a beloved, and likely permanent, partner), and now that her girlfriend is out of town (for work), our hang-outs have more than doubled.
We now see each other almost every other day (kind of remarkable given that there is no reason why our paths would cross otherwise), and almost always for something more involved (read: fun and time-consuming) than a simple friend lunch or work session. This could in large part be because she's the sort of person who loves to fill her life with colorful activities, and because I'm a good second-choice activity partner in her girlfriend's absence, but to make matters worse, she and her girlfriend have not handled the long distance well and are now on the verge of a break-up. The not-unpredictable (though perhaps no less regrettable) result of all this, and hence the reason for my (admittedly melodramatic, if no less desperate) question, is that my desire to be with her has reemerged in full force. And if at some point that desire was naïve—based largely in my physical attraction to her and a general sense of her personality—it has since found hefty strongholds in nearly every aspect of how we are with one another.
Though both of us are pretty strongly averse to using the other as an unrestricted sounding board (so: no late-night phone calls, no hours spent gchatting, no heartfelt crying sessions where we process our emotions at their most ugly and raw), we do talk frankly and fairly about our feelings, and freely admit our vulnerabilities. Emotionally, we're very similar, and approach each other out of an empathy that feels, more often than not, extreme. It seems undeniable that we've been good for each other—that we're able to treat each other exceedingly well, perhaps even better than we treat other people, and that the time we spend together is reliably free (/freeing) of the stressors that haunt other aspects of our lives. We have eerily similar visions of, and wishes for, the future (both practical—what sort of house, what sort of neighborhood, what part of the country—and fantastic), and our personalities/lifestyles (diets, conversation interests, aesthetic tastes, politics) are closely aligned as well. I've never been able to see myself so clearly moving through life with someone; it's terrifying how vivid the future seems—how crisp and livable—when I think about the spaces we might occupy together. I know this is precisely the sort of wishful imagination that fuels blindness and confusion, but it's also the sort of wishful imagination our hang-outs seem destined, however unwittingly, to encourage.
After hearing her side of the (should she break-up) story at some length, and despite my natural reserve and studied objectivity (leaning, in fact, toward subjectivity in favor of their relationship), I am now quite convinced the break-up would be right (healthy, emotionally responsible) for both of them. I've resisted this conclusion as mightily as a can, because I know how impossible it is to separate my own sense of our rightness for each other—and, more crucially, my love for her, which makes me bristle at the thought of her being ill-treated—from any judgment I might make, but, as she herself has stated, it's absolutely apparent to everyone else whose opinion she values that her relationship has turned truly toxic. She is understandably reluctant to pull the trigger, and, acutely aware of the stickiness of my situation, I have refrained from urging her in one direction or the other, but it's now nearly impossible for me, at least internally, to resist speculating on the possibility of, well, becoming a possibility for her. She's terrified of being alone, and it's so tempting to think a few words from me might be all it takes to soothe that fear (in both our hearts) and allow her to take a necessary step away from something damaging.
But the truth is, neither one of us is at our healthiest right now, and even if she did reciprocate my feelings, I'd want us to keep friend-dating for a while longer as we figure our pieces. I have this unshakeable feeling that we could grow, over the next few years, into exactly the people we each want and need, romantically, and that all it would take is mutual reassurance and support without the pressure of being everything to each other immediately. Unfortunately, though not unsurprisingly, the other truth is that I have no way of knowing how she feels about me—especially, whether or not she is, or could ever be, physically attracted to me. We're both objectively attractive (arguably even very attractive) people, but clearly that has little bearing on how a person feels. She keeps her cards, in this respect, obsessively close to her chest (never saying anything that explicitly pushes me away as an option for her, but not shutting down other general, or contradictory, options either) and I do too. We keep our hands to ourselves, we tease but don't flirt, we're not clingy or needy, and never seem to need to see one another, though I suppose, on some level, we do.
Everything feels urgent right now because I'm terrified she won't be able to break off her current relationship without the security of knowing there is a relationship waiting for her on the other side, and I feel strongly enough about her that I know I could commit to her in an instant, but I also know that saying something while she's vulnerable could not only lead her to make rash decisions that aren't grounded in true depth of emotion, but potentially (and much worse) destroy one of the best and most rewarding friendships of my present life. I love her too much to want to be a source of stress or anxiety for her, and you might say I need her too much to want to risk what we've built together, strictly platonic as it is (and might indefinitely be). So. I suppose my question is less about how to choose between a) quietly waiting for some future point at which things might be more right for us, and b) simply moving on, than about whether or when to reverse the choice I've made (waiting, working on my own growth, but keeping myself romantically tuned to the possibility of her alone).
I have already, in my fear and timidity and reluctance to be a point of ambiguity in, or accessory to, a break-up, somewhat taken myself off the table as a non-platonic option, but the thought of reinforcing this more firmly makes me so sad (and a bit ill). I know I would go to the ends of the earth to support her happiness with someone else if that is what she wants, and what feels healthy for her, but the petulant, wishful child in me can't help holding out hope that my sense of our near-future compatibility (i.e. our present compatibility buoyed by a bit more health and wisdom) is right, and that, secretly, perhaps unwittingly, she senses it too.
Apologies again for the length of this, and thanks so much for your thoughts.