the way forward with a broken heart
May 21, 2010 6:56 PM   Subscribe

How do I approach friendship with a (formerly?) broken heart?

I know this topic has been discussed here before, the whole unrequited-love-then-friendship thing, except that my situation is a little different than what has been discussed previously, and also, I am moreso looking for approaches to this and experiences people have had.

My story and question:I used to live and study in China. While in a grad program there I met a Chinese guy I'll call J. We became close friends, spending several hours a week together, alone and just talking. I got a crush. He didn't want to date. I had difficulty, but we pretty much remained close friends, even traveling together, until the end of the program when he got a girlfriend and I got very sad. I decided abruptly to return to the U.S. (not really because of that, for a number of reasons.) We didn't say goodbye.

About a month later I emailed him, and we got back in contact. I suggested we talk on skype sometime; he suggested every Fri and Sat for 2 hours each time (these were "language exchanges" like we used to have, but really we'd talk about anything and everything). We did this, sometimes talking for 3-5 hours at a time, for a few months (over skype). Later on he got busy with various life events, and stopped being so available for skyping, which made me a bit upset.

Well, I'm going back to China this summer, for the summer only. He knows this, but we haven't talked recently- I was basically the one making the effort the last few times, so I stopped. He still has a girlfriend. We never spent time together as friends with other people; we always hung out 1 on 1. I don't know how to be his friend when he has a girlfriend physically there (talking on skype, I could forget about it since he almost never mentioned her; he knew that would make me upset.)

I wonder if I should just let things happen as they come? I view the friendship as slightly different than one between two people in the same country, since our chances to see one another are a lot less. It was a very valuable friendship. I guess I'm wondering when it's worth it? If he makes an effort to get together (likely) how I deal with my feelings?

Frankly I don't understand romantic relationships well. At the age of 31, I've never had a "relationship" lasting longer than a month. (unless you count some loosely held together relationships that were basically close friendships with no commitment and some sex involved). I've had close friends my whole life though, and tend to feel de-valued when they get into relationships. It's definitely a pattern in my life.

I was looking to get feed back about how to approach this, in thought and/or in action. Examples from your own life are helpful.
posted by bearette to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're allowing wishful thinking to cloud your judgement.

I guess I'm wondering when it's worth it? If he makes an effort to get together (likely) how I deal with my feelings?

Read back on what you wrote. It appears as if each time, you were the initiator, and he dropped off when it became inconvenient for him. I know you still have feelings for him, but the likelyhood is that he will probably only maintain minimal contact unles you initiate - and then only as is convenient to him - because however he sees this, it is purely a friendship and possibly more like an acquaintance.

So I say, let this go. Do not contact him. Do not allow yourself to be drawn back into a situation where any potential romantic interest is tied up in an unrequited situation that sounds terribly painful. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into other loosely held together relationships that [are] basically close friendships with no commitment and some sex involved. This is not what you're looking for out of a relationship, so if you find yourself headed in this direction again... ask yourself why.

Don't settle for less than what you want, I'm inferring is requited romantic relationship with comitment.
posted by canine epigram at 7:32 PM on May 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Well, what do you want when you go visit? There's no possibility of a romantic relationship with him. He doesn't want that, and he has a girlfriend. I understand that you might be hurt by that so maybe the best thing is to limit contact until you've moved on from that, and can develop a better friendship once you're in a healthier place. I assume that you're not visiting just to see him, that you have other friends there, and that you might do some travelling or whatnot (i.e. you'll have other distractions). So maybe just see him once or twice for tea. I know that's hard because you had a great, great friendship and you want that back, but you also had that great friendship while having feelings for him. It's almost like you have to start anew with him, but I don't think you're ready for that now.

I guess what you have to understand about romantic relationships is that both people have to want it. You respect their point of view even if it's not what you want. You deal with it and you move on. How to deal? You understand that there are other people you could have relationships with. You distract yourself from the crush; focus on other things, get busy with life. You let go. Not having contact is a really good idea, just to let yourself heal. You get back in contact when you're ready for it (which generally takes a few months).
posted by foxjacket at 7:42 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

What would you hope to get out of such a meeting? Based on your previous experiences with him and other friends, it seems that it would likely only result in additional heartache.
I am sure that the geographic distance alone has already helped you get over your crush, so what would be the point of opening an old wound instead of allowing yourself to completely move on?
posted by Nemo Niemand at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2010

I appreciate the answers. Maybe I haven't made it clear that he and I were very close friends, not acquaintances. He's one of the best friends I ever had. We continued sharing our lives over skype after I came back to the States. So, it's not a casual thing to just decide not to see him.

I'm looking for perspectives on being friends in these types of situations (because I know it has been done, if infrequently) and using this information to decide how to approach, or not to approach my friendship with him. (i.e. not seeing him may be a part of this, though it is likely we will at least cross paths when I am there).

I'm going to China for a job, not to visit him. We learned a lot from each other about our respective cultures, and personalities, and had a lot of fun together.
posted by bearette at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2010

"I was basically the one making the effort the last few times"
"talking on skype, I could forget about it since he almost never mentioned her; he knew that would make me upset"
"It's definitely a pattern in my life"
"Maybe I haven't made it clear that he and I were very close friends, not acquaintances. He's one of the best friends I ever had"

Here's the thing. Obviously this guy has some level of affection for you if he talked to you on Skype for hours, but please understand: he means more to you than you mean to him. Period. Run of the mill friends, even close ones, don't get upset when the other friend mentions their girlfriend. Sure it's somewhat normal to have jealously issues over splitting time and allegiances, but not to the degree you're describing. You have an unhealthy relationship with this person. Stop it.

It cannot, in fact, be done. You have never witnessed it being done. What you have witnessed is someone hanging on to a relationship and a possibility that only exists in their mind. That's not friendship, it's mild delusion. Otherwise you'd be happy that he had a girlfriend.

If I sound harsh I apologize, but experience has taught me you're only going to torture yourself if you choose to peruse a "friendship" with this guy. Drop it and walk away.
posted by Roman Graves at 8:22 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for perspectives on being friends in these types of situations (because I know it has been done, if infrequently) and using this information to decide how to approach, or not to approach my friendship with him.

I'm sorry to say this, but it doesn't seem like he really wants to be friends with you, at least not to the extent that you are interested in. All the advice for approaching this type of situation hinges on whether or not he actually wants to participate. It seems to me that no matter what your relationship was in the past, he's just not interested now.
posted by crankylex at 8:43 PM on May 21, 2010

Okay, take a deep breath and visualize the feelings that you have for him outside of friendship. Those romantic feelings can take many forms, sometimes they are there because we truly love that person and we love their happiness and the happiness we feel when together with them, just spending time. Other times, they are the result of our need for someone to fill a real or perceived hole in our own selves. The feeling of need for another person to need us and to love us unconditionally. These are not the only two manifestations of these feelings but to simplify lets look at these and imagine that there is a range between them. Once you figure which end your feelings fall with regards to him, then you are well on your way to becoming his friend.

If they fall to the former then hooray! this is the easier to deal with. In this case what you need to do is really reflect on that love. It is great to love your friends in this way. Just take one more step and realize that we are not made to be romantically involved with everyone that we click with. Be happy for your friend that he has found a girl that he loves and who loves him in return. Think about her as an extension of your friend and allow her to have some of the love you have for him. They will be together forever, at least tell yourself this -as you start to accept this fact you will find it is easier and easier to think of him only as a friend. You must believe 100% that he is off-limits romantically.

If it is the latter, then you may want to pull away a little bit. It is extremely difficult to make this situation work in this case. You must come to terms with your need for him, which upon exploration you will realize is not in fact need for him but rather a manifestation of your need for your connection. You think it is him but really it is only him when there are no others to fill that space. For this you must journey to fill that space for yourself prior to looking for a partner. See other threads for amazing advice (this place teems with it) on how to start loving yourself. It is not easy but once this has happened, then you can re-approach him and his girlfriend based on part one.

Good luck!

Also, if you fall into the second category and if you absolutely must hang out with him, then try as hard as you can to befriend his girlfriend, this will reduce your threat level to her and may help you come to terms with his relationship.
posted by occidental at 9:57 PM on May 21, 2010 [14 favorites]

With this particular guy, I hate to say this, but you need to basically de-friend him until you are comfortable with him on a purely platonic basis. Otherwise, you can keep torturing yourself with the maybes and could bes. You can't be friends with him when you continue to feel this way. When you're okay and even happy for him to have a girlfriend, then you can be friends again.

Keep reminding yourself of all the things that you *don't* like about him. What are the unattractive things about him? If you know him so well, there is sure to be plenty.

I think you need to be honest with yourself, because to me, the relationship pattern that you describe is keeping you from risking more romantically. This kind of relationship, in a certain way, is very safe. One of my favourite quotes from Queer as Folk (UK) describes this very well: "Unrequited love. It's fantastic, 'cause it never has to change, it never has to grow up and it never has to die!"
posted by so much modern time at 10:02 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

What occidental said - if you love this person for their own sake and simply click with them and enjoy them in their own right you can get over your romantic feelings and have a brilliant friendship. That's happened to me before and it is lovely because the person I'm thinking of is now happily involved with somebody and this does not bother me in any way and we can just enjoy each other's company and be supportive and that's it. And the really great thing is that my romantic feelings for my friend prevented him from being as close a friend as he now is, because he needed to maintain the boundry.

If this person just fills an emotional gap for you you need to do what so much modern time says instead, because I have experienced these relationships as well and these friendships and one sided attachments are a really substitute for you having to take a long hard look at yourself to work out what stops you from finding somebody who actually loves you back.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:58 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

If I could favourite occidental's comment a dozen times, I would. Right on the nose.
posted by hepta at 6:25 AM on May 22, 2010

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