Meeting a friend for coffee next week - how and when do I tell her my feelings for her?
December 2, 2011 3:44 AM   Subscribe

Meeting a friend for coffee next week - how and when do I tell her my feelings for her?

I'm going for coffee with a friend who I haven't seen for a long time next week - we've both been busy and in other relationships but always got on really well. I've had pretty strong feelings for her, and I get the feeling she might have felt the same towards me, and maybe still does. I've seen her with other friends a few times recently, and she's been very keen to suggest we meet up. Nothing has ever happened past the friendship stage though.

I've just come out of a protracted break-up, and feel it's time to assert myself and start seeing people that I want to see - I've always been a bit of a wallflower and had low self-confidence, and don't tend to put myself out there much, even with friends. The fact I've felt like I have about her for such a long time (close to three years!) suggests to me I need to do something about it, so this is a bold step for me.

She, however, is in a relationship, so I don't want to go into this coffee meet-up expecting the wrong things. How can I develop the friendship from here into something more significant, and let her know and assert my feelings for her, without being invasive to her current relationship?
posted by ashkenazy to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She, however, is in a relationship

You can't. Right person, wrong time/place. Keep looking.
posted by anaelith at 3:57 AM on December 2, 2011 [27 favorites]

No offense, but you can't do this without being invasive, because the notion is absolutely selfish (not in the "OMG, you're a jerk" kind of way, but in the "totally about me and what I hope for" kind of way). In a perfect world, she would hear you, the feelings would be mutual, she'd end her relationship, you two would start something special with both of you free from your respective recent pasts. But you can't cleanly get there from here, even if that's what both of you ultimately want.

Your feelings are real, hers may be there and real too. But the reality is that she doesn't have a whole lot of option once you unload this. She gets stuck with a dilemma and all the stress that comes along with it. Somebody will get crushed (either you or her current-and-soon-to-be-ex boyfriend), and she will be forced to be the cause of that. Please don't put her in that position, it's not nice. Just try to be a good friend. Your feelings aren't an emergency and don't require action and she's not necessarily the answer to and reprieve from where you've just been, relationship-wise. Simmer and see and enjoy her friendship. Let it grow into whatever it shall become. That's how you get there from here.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:58 AM on December 2, 2011 [17 favorites]

The way to respect her relationship is to respect her relationship. I wouldn't bring up your feelings for her at this point. As an aside, part of being assertive about relationships is not getting hung up on people who are unavailable, and actively investing energy in meeting people who you are attracted to AND who are in a position to actually date you.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 4:01 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Please give some thought to the fact that your math is a little fucked up here. While you were in a relationship, telling her seemed like a bad idea; now you're out of one, it seems like a good idea. Except she is still in a relationship, so it probably won't seem like a good idea to her.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:10 AM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've gotten the "if you guys don't work out, I'm available!" speech before. It was weird and not attractive.

Unless you, the girl in question, and her SO are poly, in which case...I have no idea what the etiquette is. But yeah, there is no way not to be "invasive" to someone else's monogamous relationship when you hope to eventually break it up.
posted by chaiminda at 4:19 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's a thing that's true that you can discuss with her: you're ready to put yourself out there.

If the conversation goes to a place where she says you're a great person, get past the self-image issues, etc, Do Not understand that to mean "whoo boy, you are hot, take me now!!!" Friend will just be telling you what you are hearing in this thread - get out there and meet people. But maybe she can fix you up with someone.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:22 AM on December 2, 2011

Well, I assume that you haven't told her before because you were unavailable, right?

Well, she's still unavailable. So, the same reasoning (for not telling her you are interested) still kind of applies.

I think your best bet would be to remain friendly with her on a daytime coffee-date kind of basis.
posted by bearette at 5:05 AM on December 2, 2011

The consensus is right. There is no possible polite way to do this.

The most you can do is maintain the friendship and wait until she breaks up with the other guy, being careful not to do anything grossly anti-seductive in the meantime.

Note that I say "the most you can do," not "the best you can do." I would caution you that just because the above course of action is not disrespectful, that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Well, okay, I do recommend that you don't blow it by doing something that's a huge turnoff, like oversharing or TMI or slagging off previous partners, etc etc (details left as exercise, there is plenty of literature on this). But other than that, nobody is going to recommend that you hang about waiting for someone who's not available, may never be, and might not be into you if they were.

I am not saying it's unlikely she'll break up with the other guy; the odds of that happening are not against you. Nevertheless, waiting for this to happen is a mug's game, in ways which can only be fully understood through experience. Best not to learn this the hard way.

You need to nail this door shut and stop viewing her as a prospect. Put a bumper sticker on your heart: "Unavailable women? Nein danke!" She is not a potential partner for you, she won't be for the foreseeable future, that's it, not negotiable, the end.
posted by tel3path at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've gotten the "if you guys don't work out, I'm available!" speech before. It was weird and not attractive.

I've been told that a few times, and all but one time were weird and very, very uncomfortable. The one time that was fine was from someone who was just so comfortable with themselves, and so socially adept, that there was nothing odd or uncomfortable when she brought it up in conversation. However, a pretty good rule of thumb is that if you are having to ask people how to say something, you don't have the level of smoothness to bring this off.

In other words, don't do this. Be friends for friendship's sake, or if your feelings are too intense, be honest to yourself and back off. Don't be the weird person who intrudes into other people's relationships. It's not dignified, and it's not polite.
posted by Forktine at 5:28 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was all ready to encourage you to just lay it out there and ask her out until you mentioned she was in a relationship. Please respect her and her relationship and don't say anything. Come on back for another AskMe when she's single.

The fact I've felt like I have about her for such a long time (close to three years!) suggests to me I need to do something about it,
You need to get over her and live your life.
posted by like_neon at 5:33 AM on December 2, 2011

There is no way to confess your feelings to her and to attempt to turn your friendship into a romantic relationship without being invasive to her current relationship. Come on! You know that.

You need to stop carrying a torch for this chick. Unrequited feelings can get obsessive and that may be why you've had these intense feelings for three years. It seems pretty likely to me that your friend in fact views you as a friend (you're reading way too much into things, like her suggesting that you meet up, which is something that friends do).

You're right to realize that you need to be more assertive, put yourself out there, and see people you want to see. But that should not include people who are unavailable. This girl isn't that special -- go find someone else and get over this.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2011

I've just come out of a protracted break-up
She, however, is in a relationship,

Danger Will Robinson DANGER! (insert robot arm flailing here)

Even if she were available, I'd advise you against this course of action for the simple fact that you're just out of a break-up. This isn't asserting yourself, it's letting your lonelinesss do the talking for you.

If you can't be friends, honest to goodness just friends, with this woman, then slowly phase her out of your life, because she is unavailable, and you're setting yourself up for unwanted drama and losing a friend in a way that is likely unrecoverable.
posted by canine epigram at 6:02 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Anecdata: In your situation almost exactly*, she was in a relationship but I was upfront about my feelings and long story short, we've been married 21 years now with three beautiful kids.

Was I being selfish? Probably. Risking a friendship? Probably. I felt like it was worth it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:19 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

She, however, is in a relationship

do you want to make sure she never has anything to do with you again? because saying that will either end up very good or very bad -- either way it isnt something she will forget.

and if it goes bad, it isnt something you can ever probably recover from friendship-wise
posted by knockoutking at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2011

I think all you can do is flirt with here a LOT and try and edge things towards an affair. there is no point in just saying "how you feel".

According to some, if she's not married she's fair game.
posted by mary8nne at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2011

I say tell her. Not in the way of 'I love you and have always loved you' but in a more casual and to the point 'I can't really see you as a friend because I have always liked you as more than that,' said with a smile not too much meaningful eye contact. Yes this means you will not maintain a friendship but do you really want to be the frustrated staring friend anyway? I say get it out there, people break up and the chance of you being present in the window of opportunity between relationships is slim. Just don't make it a big deal, don't make it look like you are moving in, and in fact, don't try and move in on her current relationship, just float the idea out there and move on.
posted by InkaLomax at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2011

Look deep inside yourself and query whether you are the dog chasing the car here. You've been interested in her for how long? And you're going to tell her now, when she is in a relationship? How would you feel if her response was, "Me too! Let's be together!"?

Sounds to me like you're using this as a no-risk opportunity to assert yourself because you know she isn't going to dump her boyfriend to be with you. This is a bit selfish and, more importantly, emotionally dishonest to yourself, i.e., not a constructive way to begin this new phase of your life where you seek out what you want and pursue it wholeheartedly.

I could be wrong, but that's my reading of the situation.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:56 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

From my own personal experience I agree with mary8anne.
You haven't been seducing yet and you have to lay down the precedent fast. You clearly don't need her as a friend as that is unhealthy for you, so take the other route or move on.

A few years ago I came back from living abroad and went for a woman who I thought about while overseas that now had a boyfriend. I was certain I needed to see what could happen and pursued her regardless of the boyfriend. She resisted at first and it took a few months of consistent, genuine pursuit through conversation and writing physical letters (physical letters are untraceable and don't risk her reputation). I always respected that she would act like I was being audacious in front of her friends, but in her eyes I knew that she respected and saw that my feelings were genuine. In the long run it paid off she broke up with him and came to me. Yes, it was morally questionalble and not considerate to the boyfriend, but if he had been adressing her emotional needs she never would have come to me. It may not work but it is worth a chance. You just have to be patient, consistent, genuine and a man about it

Start telling her how you've been thinking about her while with your ex and what exactly you like in her why she could be special. Explain how you couldn't communicate this before because you were conflicted with your commitment. Be honest and not ashamed and do NOT keep it platonic ever. Do not respect the boyfriend's existence, but respect and protect her reputation. Pursue her regardless if you truly believe you two are a better match.
If you guys have any real potential she will respond in some way and be flattered. Don't listen to "but I have a boyfriend", listen to what her eyes and body is saying. Just don't expect the results to be instant and be a little persistant IF she shows genuine physical signs of attraction. But while she is still taken you should always be looking at other options for yourself. Don't expect anything, just be genuine and show her you have reason to pursue her regardless. Keep your pursuits discreet and steady, not aggressive with expectations.

If she doesn't show you anything but being surprised and weirded out, or overly polite (motherly). Be a man, tell her it's ok, to forget it and end the date. Don't apologise, respect your genuine feelings (they are genuine feelings, not just neediness right?). Go out and explore, there's so many beautiful women out there.

I suggest you do not over think the consequences here, because either way she will respect you for taking risks for something you believe in. A woman is much more likely to forgive you for being an honest man than being a pussy friend. Clearly you do not want to be "friends" with this woman.
posted by Count at 8:03 AM on December 2, 2011

You're in a not-fun position. Some things you need to know, probability-wise:
  1. The odds of you getting what you want here are slim-to-none.
  2. The odds of you making her uncomfortable if you mention this are medium-to-high.
  3. The odds of you getting into a "friendship" that hurts you every time you see her, but never develops into what you want, are very high.
My main advice is not to get let #3 happen. Keep your dignity one way or another. Do not spend the next N years in a "friendship" that consists of you wishing for her. Get past her one way or another.

If you have to tell her to maintain self-respect, do that but do it in the most casual, lighthearted way that gives her the least burden. No long stares, no heartfelt tone of voice. Make it clear you're informing her of how things are in order to nip #3 in the bud, rather than laying any expectation on her.

If you can manage to not tell her (and not put her on the spot) and still promise yourself you'll not let yourself inhabit a "friendship" that's just an excuse for you to hang around and wait for her, make that promise to yourself and keep it. Find an excuse to not see her further, go find someone else.
posted by ead at 8:25 AM on December 2, 2011

99 times out of 100, this is a really selfish thing to do. Because 99 times out of 100, if your feelings for someone need to be expressed in an Important Conversation About My Feelings For You, they aren't mutual. This isn't an arranged marriage you're envisioning, it's a healthy relationship (right?). They almost never start this way.

I'm speaking from experience with both sides of this horrible, horrible kind of conversation. I know one couple who started this way, but please understand how notable they are for being exceptional. You are probably not the exception.

If you don't care about the friendship, go for it - but if you don't care about the friendship then you need to take a hard look at what it is you really want here, and, for that matter, what you actually think about relationships.

You want to assert yourself? Great. Date. Have some fun. Start by finding available people.
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:28 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

What pursuing her regardless of her relationship choices does is communicate clearly to anyone paying attention that you do not respect the choices of people you want to enter into a relationship with. Especially if you take the advice to maintain a consistent and earnest pursuit, all you would be doing is declaring to the world that you care more about your satisfaction than the feelings of your friend towards either you or her boyfriend.

The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that you put her in a position where she doesn't want a relationship with you, regardless of whether or not she is satisfied with her relationship (which is so very much not your business), but still values your friendship. The second most likely outcome is the same only she no longer values your friendship. Either one is an incredibly awkward place for you to impose on her. Even if you try this and find that she has somehow missed the relationship wisdom necessary to see what a dick you would be acting like and actually has mutual interest, that would be a strong red flag that she isn't very good at relationships.

Some of the advice you have gotten in this thread is rape culture in action. If she tells you no, and you don't listen to her, relying instead on your perception of her signs of physical attraction as a sign to continue pursuit, that is deeply not ok in dramatic NOT OK ways. What you would be doing is trying to deny her agency to make her own choices in her own life, and trying to impose your agency onto her. This is the distilled essence of rape culture, don't do it.

If you are genuinely interested in both dating this woman and respecting her choices, go to the coffee thing. Don't do that "VERY IMPORTANT CONVERSATION ABOUT MY FEELINGS FOR YOU"* thing that you were planning but instead ask about how her boyfriend is doing and then separately about her plans for the future. I would bet dollars to cortex doughnuts that you've already been acting weird enough that she has an idea of whats up, do your best to ask in the least weird way possible, don't worry she'll get it.

Romantic Comedy Behavior get Real Life Man Arrested
posted by Blasdelb at 8:46 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be a great friend to her. Don't put any pressure on her at all, just love her unconditionally and without any expectations.

This is what my current sweetheart S did, back when we were just friends and I was dating someone else. After I broke up with my ex, I started thinking, "Gee, isn't my friend S the best guy? He's so wonderful, reliable, everything my ex wasn't. I wonder if maybe..."

I'm sure I wouldn't have felt this way if he had tried to talk me out of my relationship back then, though. That's a total loser move.
posted by devymetal at 9:16 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

devymetal has excellent advice, though I would caution you that even if your friend's relationship with her current partner ends at some point, asking then in such a way as that she feels pressured would remain a dick move. The searchable phrase for this kind of strategy is the [Nice Guy PhenomenonTM] and women everywhere are not fans.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:25 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, please do not follow the advice of Count. Not because it's "not considerate to the boyfriend" but because such protracted insistence on what you want despite the woman saying no shows complete lack of respect of her. Remember that she is a mature adult who does not need some shining knight to protect "her reputation" or to know better than she does what she really wants.

If you absolutely have to state your interest right now for your own needs (and don't fool yourself into thinking you're doing this for her), let her know, once, and then plan on removing yourself from her current circle for a good long while after that. Let her decide if she ever wants to hear from you again - who knows, maybe she will, but that needs to be her decision. Whatever you do, do not conceive of yourself as some valiant knight who can magically fulfill the "emotional needs" you imagine her current boyfriend must not be meeting. Don't harass her with letters or any other form of repeated pestering. And for the love of god, do NOT "listen to what her eyes and body are saying," listen to her blasted words and respect her as a rational adult who is fully capable of expressing through words what it is she wants or does not want.

Geeze louize.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would like to respond in regards to my advice earlier.
I was speaking from a particular personal experience and I've realized that in a different context it does look REALLY creepy. My post assumes that the woman actually does have some feelings for you. I also should have mentioned some past history.
It was not the right advice to give. and I admit in the end I did a selfish thing. I was just trying to make a point that there can be a place for persistence. However if the other party states that they are not interested, please don't take my advice and risk get yourself in trouble.
I am embarassed and humbled.
posted by Count at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

This kind of conversation CAN work. It has for me a few times in the past. That said, please do not take the advice that follows here for anything other than entertainment purposes. This is probably a bad idea and if your self-confidence is as low as you say it is than the results are likely going to leave that much worse. Also, this is such treacherous ground that I would hesitate to give any advice at all because I don't trust anything less than me handling this personally and even then it probably won't work.

So, myriad grains of salt on the table...

First, you would want to get all of the intel that you can from friends. Make as sure as you can that she has some interest in you. Ask your friends to be brutally honest about it. DO NOT go forward if friends are being hesitant. They don't want to hurt your feelings, but if they are acting at all like this is a bad idea, trust them.

Secondly, talk to her about her relationship, but not as a means of looking for reasons to tear it down. If this is a worthwhile venture than at least part of you cares more about her happiness than about your place in that happiness, so summon that. Best case scenario, which is not out of the realm of possibility, is that she is dating this other guy fairly casually, or settling for him, etc. THIS IS PROBABLY NOT THE CASE, but you can look into it without bad-mouthing the guy or criticizing her choices. Be her friend.

Thirdly, it might be the case that things are going badly for her, either in this relationship or elsewhere. This is where I'm going to hesitantly give some advice that is REALLY AWFUL, HORRIFYING ADVICE unless it is true. DON'T DO THIS UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN IT. If you truly love this woman, not just as someone you want to sleep with, but actually as a friend as well, as someone you truly care for regardless of your circumstances in relation to her, be willing to tell her that. Removed from the context of sex and dating, being told by someone of one's preferred gender that they love you and care about you, even if just as a friend, is warm and wonderful and comforting, and can set gears in motion on its own. Probably it does nothing. Possibly she realizes that she is seeing what she really wants. Most importantly, however, if you do this honestly and properly, it isn't a proposition. You are not asking for anything from her AT ALL.

Again, to do this right you need to actually truthfully believe in the sentiment, and not be looking for any specific response to it. You are only telling her that you are a friend who loves her and wants her to be happy, and who trusts her choices in finding that happiness.

Seriously, I don't think you should do this, but if you're going to anyway, and your feelings match what I've outlined above, that's the best I can do for you.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:43 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the moralizing and hand-wringing above, one would think you were asking advice on killing puppies, rather than getting someone to see you as more than a friend. Relax - letting someone know you're crushing on them does not (necessarily) mean you're selfish, invasive, or deluded.
That said, converting friendship into romance isn't easy at the best of times, and this isn't the best of times; she has a boyfriend and you seem to have something to prove.
I say dial back on the assertion. Try to be warm but not overbearing. Go out to lunch with her, make her laugh, and don't put her in an awkward position. She may know/suspect/intuit something of your feelings for her. Since she suggested you meet, she may intend to tell you she's leaving your hated rival and loves only you. Conversely, she may want to talk sports, ask your advice on wedding china, or warn you against wearing pleated khakis. In other words, don't be surprised if her agenda is different from your own. Find out where she's coming from, and take it from there. If you absolutely must bare your soul, do so in a manner/place/time where she has an easy, obvious, and dignified escape route.
posted by jcrcarter at 5:51 PM on December 2, 2011

letting someone know you're crushing on them *is* selfish when they are in a relationship and doing so puts them in the astoundingly shitty situation of having to inevitably hurt someone, as others have pointed out.

There's no "One." There is someone else you could make it work with and not cause unnecessary drama.

You know those AskMes that pop up from time to time where people ask, "I need to be more of a grown up but I don't know how?"* This is an example of how you can act like an adult. Adults consider the consequences of their actions.

If any of the above doesn't convince you, then I might as well point out that anecdotally, I would never consider dating someone who did this to me, even if I did otherwise have feelings for them, because their behavior tells me they don't respect relationships. Red flag: am I going to get sidelined or cheated on the next time you meet someone you click with?

Seriously, don't do this. Find something else to occupy your time. Start by looking up "limerence," since I don't think anyone else has mentioned it. Go on dates. The odds are good that you'll find someone and forget about this crush. Do that.

*or those relationship AskMes where the answers are unilaterally "your partner is immature and doesn't respect you, DTMFA"
posted by AV at 4:55 AM on December 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

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