Sinking ship or uncertain waters?
March 26, 2011 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm in love with my girlfriend. I'm in love with my best friend. Kindly bludgeon me with advice.

A few years ago I met a girl and it was love at first sight. Let's call her D. She had a boyfriend, though, so we settled into one of those terrifyingly close best-friendships. D told me everything, from her relationship woes to her traumatic childhood (addiction, manipulative parents, an abusive ex, the works). I told her everything, too, even a lot of past drama I'd never told anybody about, and stories about all the stupid hookups I was having at the time. We flirted constantly, but innocently, and watched each other's backs as we grew closer as friends. D's boy and I, for what it's worth, never made an effort to be close but were always peaceful; he apparently never voiced concern about me.

A year and a half ago, I met another girl. We'll call her M. M and I became girlfriend and boyfriend fairly quickly. We've got a lot in common (musical and food tastes, career goals, twisted senses of humour), and are generally one of those gross couples that make old ladies on the tram titter about young people in love. We "fight" a lot, but always in a civil way. The misunderstandings usually get fixed before either of us gets petty. It feels healthier than my past relationships by miles, and most of our friends and families approve.

M and D get along great. D jumped to defend me when some "friends" tried to tell me that some of the positive changes I'd been making for myself (like cycling more, eating fewer sweets, and such) were because M was "controlling" me. Having D also cancelled out the sexual tension for M & me, so she and I got closer too. Love you, love you too, blah blah. The four of us would go on double dates and everybody was happy.

Then last week D dumped her boyfriend. D got very drunk. D told me that she dumped him in part because she didn't trust him like she trusted me. D told me she'd wished all these years that she was with me instead. This while M and me are in the middle of a weird downturn (been fighting a lot more, hardly having sex, not making as much time for each other). And now I'm looking both ways.

D and I are such a good fit, and since M and I are having big problems, I'm tempted to switch camps. That doesn't seem fair, though. She's had three times as long to get to know me, and maybe the grass just looks greener because of the timing. It was an awful thing for her to tell me all that like that, though, and I kind of feel like I've been the girl in this strip all along. Sinking ship or uncertain waters? I owe it to M to try my best to fix things, but I feel like I can't even turn to D for advice.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

You've been in an emotional relationship/affair with D for years. It sounds like M was aware of this and gambled on a relationship with you anyway.

Personally, I think you're being hasty in making any decisions at this time (does the word "rebound" ring a bell?).

I would maintain for a while, and by "while" I would think a couple of months at least. I suspect any other course could cost you both relationships.

And, of course, be honest with both of them.
posted by tomswift at 11:57 AM on March 26, 2011

You have a good friendship that's momentarily weird and a good relationship that's momentarily stalled. Changing things at the present time would leave you with a weird, dramatic relationship/friendship hybrid and without an existing solid relationship. You need to back off from doing intense friend stuff with D for a while and try to fix things with M. If things don't work out with M, you'll have a better sense of whether things will work with D when you're setting aside some friendship elements to interact with one another in a different way. You need to treat M and D as non-substitute options, not alternatives, and let seeing either one romantically rise or sink on its own merits - otherwise, you're just going to end up bouncing back and forth and second-guessing yourself.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:03 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

D. told me she'd wished all these years that she was with me instead.

If she really wanted it, why didn't she make it happen?

Since D. probably doesn't want to be with you that much and M. has been the one to step up to the plate, I'd let D. cool her heels and give things with M. a fair shot. If they don't end up working out maybe at some point when you've got nothing to lose you and D. can give things a go.
posted by orange swan at 12:06 PM on March 26, 2011 [27 favorites]

I think it is a bit weird that D tells you that she's wished all these years that she was with you instead of her boyfriend; if that was what she wished, why didn't she make that happen? After all, you were certainly available, prior to your relationship with M. All she had to do was ask. But now it's more complicated. I don't really know how serious your recent fights with M are; fights often can be resolved - but not always. It's very hard to really know what is best in this situation, considering that I have not personally met any of the people involved, but my guess is that you should stick with M, unless the problems you have with her are not resolving.
posted by grizzled at 12:06 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seems like you and D have always liked each other.
Maybe D was "stuck" in the relationship and didn't know how (or was afraid) to break things off.
That happens all the time.

Break up with M, as its not fair to her since you've obviously always been in love with D and are thinking about breaking it off anyway. It's probably obvious to her that you're pining over D anyway.

Slow things down and concentrate on yourself for a couple of months and then see where things go with D. Maybe keep in touch a little bit.

It's not like anyone's married. So, just go with your instinct. If things don't work out with D (or if it never gets to a non-platonic relationship), then maybe your friendship is strong enough to just remain friends.

Gotta take risks.

My boyfriend was in a similar situation as yours. He took a massive risk and now we've been together for a few years and plan to get married.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:09 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

D sounds like one of those people who are great, and interesting, but words like "stable" and "mature" don't come readily to mind. At the risk of sounding like your mother, and keep in mind I'm working from your own descriptions, D sounds like someone you might have fun with; M sounds like someone you might marry. I don't know the timing here; you're a little vague, but is the tension between you and M because of what's now going on with D?

I'd keep things really casual with D right now and work on the relationship with M.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

D doesn't really want you. She just feels vulnerable right now. She can easily say, "Can we go back to being friends." M sounds worthwhile.
posted by anniecat at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

It's interesting how you describe each of them.

D: "D told me everything, from her relationship woes to her traumatic childhood (addiction, manipulative parents, an abusive ex, the works)."

M: "We've got a lot in common (musical and food tastes, career goals, twisted senses of humour), and are generally one of those gross couples that make old ladies on the tram titter about young people in love."

M sounds like the vastly better choice.
posted by Houstonian at 12:30 PM on March 26, 2011 [21 favorites]

If you decide to stay with M, stop talking to D. Completely. Not forever, but definitely until you have things with M sorted out. It's tough to do the real work of fixing problems in a relationship when you're constantly tempting yourself with a human escape hatch.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:52 PM on March 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

It was an awful thing for her to tell me all that like that, though, and I kind of feel like I've been the girl in this strip all along.

I'm sure I'm reading too much into this, and if so, please forgive me, but just in case... If you choose to take up with D, and things don't work out, you don't get to blame her for doing this "awful thing" and making you break up with your girlfriend. The girl in that strip isn't in the dark about her friend's designs on her (she "won't want to hurt [his] feelings"); she's getting something out of their relationship at every stage, and she, like you and like all of us, is responsible for her own choices.

Best of luck to you.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:57 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with Houstonian. M seems to be the better choice. M sounds stable and good for you; D sounds like a mess. I think you're tempted by D because it's a sort of "forbidden fruit" type thing.
posted by jayder at 1:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're more like the guy in that strip.
posted by elpea at 1:06 PM on March 26, 2011 [27 favorites]

We humans have trouble sometimes understanding what a close, intimate friendship might mean. Especially if we are friends with someone we are attracted to. I have two people in my life right now, my best friends, to whom I am very attracted and feel very close to. In the past, I often found myself confused about whether or not I was in love with them. I often found myself worried that I was going to make a move with one of them that would destroy my current relationship. But I haven't, and now I find that I don't really want to. I do love them both very much, but my relationship with them is just not like the relationship I have with my partner. I love my partner, and our life together, and the way we approach our life together. My best friends are important, indispensable even, but they aren't life partners.

If a relationship with D is important enough, it can wait until she's had some time to recover from her break up. And it can wait while you figure out if you want to patch things up with M or if you want to leave. (and it can wait til she can talk about it when she's not drunk.) It *should* wait for those things. You will be left wondering what might have been with M if you leave for any reason other than what's happening in your relationship with her; wondering if you really wanted to be with D or just wanted a way out.

Whatever you do, give yourself time. Go slowly. There are not quick and easy answers here. Nothing of great value will be lost by being cautious in this.

Also, have you talked to M about what D said? If you haven't, you need to do so.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 1:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Time is sooo not an issue here. In fact, it's exactly what everybody needs.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:34 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

D told me that she dumped him in part because she didn't trust him like she trusted me. D told me she'd wished all these years that she was with me instead.

I agree with everything above and would add that this, taken literally, is kind of weak sauce. It's not the same as "I want us to be together now and am willing to do the hard work or waiting or whatever it takes."

This observation is, to me, less important than other points above like Houstonian's.
posted by salvia at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Damned if you do and damned if you don't. The fact that you are willing to consider this change means to me that you are not so in love with your girlfriend. Just know that if this ends badly, it will end really badly.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:07 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

My instinct is that D has bad boundaries and is a bucket of crazy. Only hook up with her if you're comfortable with a tumultuous, but exciting relationship where, at some point, she'll find a new male BFF who she eventually dumps you for.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

Coincidence or otherwise, drama starts with D and mature starts with M.
posted by ambient2 at 2:21 PM on March 26, 2011 [12 favorites]

D's background spells drama and trouble -- did she cheat on her current BF at all? Is she an alcoholic?

That said, how unhappy are you with M? Are you ready to settle down at all? If you're still young, and you just want to have a good time right now, and sincerely think that it might work with D and you're really unhappy with M, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to take a shot at it. You don't want to live with regrets.
posted by empath at 2:28 PM on March 26, 2011

If you're considering dumping your girlfriend for your friend who recently became available (and who you've always wanted), you're not actually in love with your girlfriend.

There's no telling if things with your friend would work out, but you might as well break things off with your girlfriend and give it a shot. There's only one way to find out, and again, you're not in love with your girlfriend.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

You and M are going through a rough patch. D is just an interfering variable. If D hadn't done her drunk confession, would you want to try to work things out with M? You don't say how long your downturn has been - I think it's totally normal in a relationship of 1.5 years to hit a patch like that for a little bit. I think you're probably looking at D a little as an 'escape hatch' that will save you from dealing with the hard parts of relationships sometimes.

To an outside observer, D is telling you, in a stable relationship, that she wants to be with you, ostensibly hoping you will leave them for her. This is kind of shady behavior. I would be wary of starting a relationship with anyone who is willing to start it off by knowingly breaking you up with someone else. This signals "What I want is more important than your current state of stability or happiness".

You're treating this like it's a dichotomy - "I have to pick M or D" - when there are many other options. You can pick neither of them, dump M, and sort things out in your head for awhile. For all you know, you'll meet Girl X if you take some time off from both M and D. You can tell D you need awhile to sort this out. (If she's overly upset by that, I'd take it as another red flag, since she opened up a complicated situation in the first place).
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should break up with M, just because it isn't fair to keep dating her when you're not-so-secretly in love with D. I'm willing to wager that M knows or at least strongly suspects your feelings for D and that's the underlying source of your relationship problems.

That being said, I think the chances you and D will end up together are highly unlikely (as it's been mentioned above, you're like the guy in the strip and she sounds like a whole lot of drama, like she craves attention from you but doesn't actually want to be with you) but that's probably something you need to find out for yourself.
posted by emd3737 at 3:17 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

How does D feel about what she said, now that's she sobered up?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:51 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You seem way more like the guy in the strip.

Sounds like you've been D's backup all these years. And now that she's single and you're taken, you being the "backup" doesn't seem that plausible anymore. \
Ask her when she's sober what she wants and feels, AND why she didn't do anything about wanting to be with you.

Regardless, it's unfair to M. I nth that if you want to be with M, then stop seeing D.
posted by Neekee at 5:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have to admit that I haven't read any of the above responses, and am therefore coming in late to the conversation.

I like M better. That is, if I (straight, early-30's woman) had to pick one of them RI-NOW, it would be M. She sounds like she has her shit together more than D does.

This, though, creeps me out: Having D also cancelled out the sexual tension for M & me, so she and I got closer too.

How do you mean that? I mean, what do you mean here? Do you mean that D gave you blowjobs or had sex with you or whatever, and all the while you were secretly pining for M? Because if so, you seriously need to reexamine your priorities and let them BOTH go. Even if there wasn't anything physical between you and D, it still sounds very, very unfair to both D and M in the sense that you're using one woman to "wait" for the other. Not at all cool. Which brings me to...

D and I are such a good fit, and since M and I are having big problems, I'm tempted to switch camps.

You think that's how it works? You think you can just "switch" between women who obviously both care for you (at this point, it's anyone's guess why) and it won't matter to anyone except...let me guess....YOU!! Women aren't campsites, my dear. You want to switch camps...come out here to the Allegheny Mountains and we'll get you a "different" campsite. You want a woman? Drop M and D both, and spend awhile thinking about what you could give a woman, rather than which woman you can get the most from.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 6:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't really get why many people are saying, "M seems like a better fit; you're better off with her."

Um, love doesn't work that way.
posted by bearette at 8:00 PM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Been there, done that. Very similar situation to yours. It was a disaster. Still feel guilty today.

You're suffering from grass-is-greener syndrome. The grass is not greener. My advice to you: Forget about the friend for now, carry your current relationship to its natural conclusion; and if that conclusion happens to be a break-up, then look at the friend. She'll still be there.
posted by BeaverTerror at 11:40 PM on March 26, 2011

I think you need a break from D to focus on your relationship with M. I am not going to say that M is a better fit for you, I just think you need to focus on your relationship with M and remove D from the equation for a bit without complicating things even more. See what happens from there.
posted by mleigh at 1:57 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Serious question. If something terrible happened in your life --- someone you care about dies, you lose your job, you're diagnosed with a terminal illness --- who would be the one you could trust the most to have you? Who would be the one who would make sure you eat? Who would be the one who makes sure you have clean clothes? Who would be the one to sit next to you quietly and hold your hand when you didn't want anything else? Who would know who to call for you if you couldn't make the calls yourself? Who would take care of you in the most real sense of the world?

Longterm relationships are work. You have to actively work at making them work. You'll hit rough patches and dry patches and go through periods of pure bliss. So at the end of a long, tiring day, who do you want waiting for you at the door?

It really could be M or D or a completely different girl. I don't think a year and a half of a mostly good and satisfying relationship with M should be thrown away without some attempts to make it work first.

But if you really believe what you have with M is over, then let her go, and give yourself some time. Be by yourself with yourself for a little bit. Don't talk to D for awhile --- maybe a month or so --- and then after you've had some time to yourself by yourself for yourself, if you still think there might be something with D, then give it a shot.

What I do know is jumping out of one relationship and immediately into another is usually a bad idea.
posted by zizzle at 6:33 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unlike a lot of people, I do believe it's possible to love two (or more) people simultaneously. Just because you are contemplating this issue does NOT mean "you don't love your girlfriend."

With that out of the way, I agree with others that you'd do well to distance yourself from D a bit now, and I think you should be honest with her about why you're doing so, ie "You're still one of my best friends, but I don't apprecaite the current predicament you've kind-of place me in. I value my relationship with M and it's not fair for me to be double-minded like this. I need to pull back some to focus on my relationship with her." While I advise being open about this with D, I don't advise the same with M. I think telling her the scenario would only plant doubt that might never fully go away. Just deal with this on your own. Find another friend to confide in to fill the space that D filled, at least for a while. It's really the only fair thing to do.

Good luck. I greatly empathize.
posted by GeniPalm at 12:27 PM on March 27, 2011

Whatever you decide to do, start CLEAN.

Clear your head. Chill on both for a bit. You won't "lose" your opportunity with D if you've been BFFs for years. I don't know about M. It's going to be tempting to manage her while you sort your shit out, but don't even try. She deserves better.

D needs some time to recover from the loss of her relationship, whether it was a good one or a bad one. Don't be her rebounding solace. Don't be her waiting-in-the-wings guy. If you have a chance with her, don't waste that chance by grasping toward each other as broken people.

It's spring! Embark on a personal renaissance. Reboot and reset. Give yourself some time to center yourself. Not incidentally, D needs that time too.

Ask yourself zizzle's questions.

I switched camps after a two-year relationship, but only broke up with Camp One well after my heart had settled down in Camp Two. Six years on, I am never moving out of Camp Two, but I still wish we had started cleaner.

Good luck, Anon.
posted by Jezebella at 1:31 PM on March 27, 2011

I don't think there's a 'good' way out of this, exactly, at this point, which is why people say 'time' would help, and maybe not talking to D for awhile would help, and really re-evaluating both relationships while trying to focus on M would help, etc. All these things reset your starting points. Your current starting points are low on useful information, high on wistfulness and circumstantial 'evidence' for what you might say you 'really want'.

I'm semi-agreed with people who doubt your love commitment to M if it's this easy to look the other way. It's easy to put yourself in M's shoes and feel betrayed you're even thinking like this, then say M needs to know and/or be broken up with/put on hold/whatever. But that's an emotional reaction on the advice-giver's part I don't want to muddy the waters. In general, be careful of advice that clearly relies on the advice-giver's past experience.

I know what it's like to always look the other way (always!). I don't know if you're like that or not; describing your relationship to M, you say stuff like other people approve or you have shared interests-- it doesn't have the emotional oomph of sharing feelings (not just history) that you have with D. That doesn't make D 'better'; it means it's equally (not less or more) important to share deep feelings as it is to share interests or preferences in behavior (say, even shared fondness for public PDA).

If you base a relationship *either* purely on emotional intimacy *or* mostly on friendship-type intimacy, you'll feel incomplete. Ironically, D sounds more like a *lover* type relationship, and M more like a friend, because our friends is whom we share interests/activities and are affectionate/lovey-dovey with, and our lovers is who we share our deepest feelings with and trust deeply. Of course, ideally-- in a monogamous system, to have a stable relationship-- one person needs to be both. You can have close friends who mean the world to you, but they can't take priority over your relationship-- your relationship needs to be your priority, and it's exactly for times like this. Poly types like to mock this precept, but this is why it's useful. Trust needs to be invested more in your romantic partner than anyone else. But you're likely mistaken that your relationship with D is really an example of pure trust-- not if there are these hidden hopes/wishes/conflicts underneath.

It's almost always a bad idea to a) break up mostly to get with someone else (for your future relationship's sake); b) get together because one person is needy and/or you provide something they currently aren't getting; c) break up just because you're not getting something you haven't seriously *tried* to get. This is just sort of a statistically-based assessment. Most times people do any of the above, things blow up in their face. On the other hand, your relationship with D was always suspect, given she's in your strike-zone of attraction-- too intense, with hidden reefs and some false pretenses on both your parts, apparently, but at least on hers. That's not 'romantic' (or, not only), it's a warning flag neither of you are as honest or mature as you need to be or as you like think. If she didn't trust you with her feelings about you, she didn't trust you-- she used you. And maybe vice versa. It's almost a classic case of trying to get romantic-style intimacy without 'paying' for it with a relationship-- having your cake and eating it too. Doesn't work. You can have some very intimate friends, of course, but they can't function as a primary 'outlet' for your romantic relationships, or the latter will suffer. This is why you could have all those sucky relationships before M in the first place, at least in part-- D was there to provide the semblance of intimacy, so they weren't really *necessary* except on the surface. It seems like M is different because she provides something D doesn't/can't, something that didn't happen before. But this dual providership system is inherently flawed unless you want to have a threesome/open relationship. Which... you can consider if you like. The only 'real' solution to keep them is probably that, but it's not really likely for most people.

Lastly, I agree you're more like the guy in that strip. You're walking the edge of being the nice-guy-asshole stereotype. Be careful. Be *honest*. Do the thing that benefits those you love moreso than benefiting you. Don't just passively allow your relationships to list to the side this way or that; in any relationship, if things are clearly degenerating, it's up to you to try to fix it, not passively observe you may need a replacement of parts! Ask yourself what *they* need and not what you need or would prefer or think is most pleasing to you, and you'll be ok no matter what.
posted by reenka at 2:33 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

The whole time I was reading your question, I thought "wow, he sounds like the guy in that XKCD strip." You were single when you met D, right?
posted by timoni at 11:34 PM on April 4, 2011

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