Being a Better Friend and Person
August 7, 2012 6:34 AM   Subscribe

How do I move past being hurt from unrequited love, in order to have a friendship with this person?

I'm female, and one of my closest friends is a guy I have known for about 4 years. During the first year we knew each other, we spent lots of time together, I developed feelings, and he sometimes "acted" like a had feelings too (in my mind), but did not return them.

For the past 3 or so years we have been living at a distance from one another but have kept in touch pretty regularly. I haven't seen him in person in about a year, though. The thing is, I cannot get him out of my mind, on a romantic level, and I think my pride/ego never stopped feeling hurt by not having my romantic feelings returned (i.e. "I'm not attractive enough?")

The thing is, our friendship is really special so I don't think I just want to give it up. But recently it's become clear that I still have feelings, which he definitely cannot return, and it's affecting the friendship. I can't be a good friend now. We decided we needed some space from one another (break in contact for awhile).

What I am looking for are some ways of rethinking this, perhaps some mental exercises or concrete things I can do to "get over" these feelings of being hurt and "in love", in order to just be friends with this guy. I know space and time is one aspect, but I feel like I have some mental work to do as well.

Any ideas? thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I been there. And unfortunately time and space is really what's going to do the trick.

About the only thing that helped me short-circuit the mental loops about how he was teh awesome and stuff was to consciously replay the memory of when he shot me down. It wasn't fun, but it really sort of helped drive home the fact that "he is not an option no matter how much I want him to be one, so this wishing is pointless."

It sucks but it is surviveable. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best way to get over a crush, in my experience, is to date someone else. That simple. Find someone else to have those feelings for. Start doing what you can to find a partner. Maybe sign up for online dating. Also, just be busy! Get involved in things and be occupied. Volunteer, join a club, invest more time in your fitness... basically, just pour any energy you have been spending on thinking about him and the uncomfortable unrequited attraction in to somethink else, preferably something else that directly benefits YOU. Being busy gives you less time to brood over your feelings, and it also is likely to widen your social circle and increase the chances of your finding a partner.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:43 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need time, and you need other things to take up the mental space that your feelings for this guy are taking up. You might need to grieve the loss of a hoped-for relationship. So grieve it, a bit. Indulge yourself. Write a mopey poem about how it would have been, and then go out into the woods and burn the poem and let yourself cry, if you want to, that the future you had in the poem isn't the future you're going to have. Out there, in the woods, you are putting that future to rest forever. Then dry your tears, come back home, and remember that the future you still have ahead of you is likely to be far more interesting, far more difficult, far more rewarding, and ultimately far more real, than the one you imagined.

Then take up exercising or a hobby or a volunteer activity that gets you out of the house and interacting with people. And then, when you feel ready, start going on dates with people you think are interesting.

It's just going to take time.
posted by gauche at 6:45 AM on August 7, 2012

ps - dude, I have SO been there. I was there for four years, and my unrequited crush was on a married co-worker/friend. I didn't have the option of distance since we worked together and I saw him every day, so my "find someone else to crush on and be busy" tactic was all I could do. Worked pretty well.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:46 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the best way to get over something like this is to actively be dating and engaging with other potential suitors.

In isolation, this "perfect" guy will continue to be perfect (especially at a distance) if you're dreaming up scenarios where he suddenly falls for you and things work out. You can try reminding yourself of his faults and the reasons that even if he felt that way about you, you'd still not work, but for most people just "thinking" away feelings don't work.

Get out in your local area, meet some people, hopefully meet an interesting guy or two and after a while, you can probably approach being friends again.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:51 AM on August 7, 2012

I'm a loner, so YMMV, but I tend to think one friendship w/ one person is not worth it if you are feeling bad things during the interaction. For whatever reason.
posted by angrycat at 6:52 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've mentioned this in the past, but I have been in this place. And I think of my strong feelings for a person, if unrequited, as fuel for a little fire that helps keep ME going. It can propel me to interesting creative places and, if I don't dwell on the person and instead dwell on the feeling which is not a bad feeling at all. Remember at some level this is your mind on drugs thinking that you have a special pair bond with this person in a way you don't (or may never) click with someone else. It's an illusion, though a powerful one. So you go on a drug withdrawal and try to not fall into the same old problems. For me this meant

- Do not act like you have a partnered relationship with this person. Don't talk about your "relationship" and don't mistake the give and take of friendship for the more constricted give and take in a partnership. If the friendship isn't working for you, you can opt out of the friendship but don't have a lot of talks about "our relationship"
- Do not hold it against your friend that they do not feel the same way, this is skewed thinking and sets you up to somehow be the wronged party in a way that is bad for everyone involved, including you.
- Keep reminding yourself that the right person for you to be in a relationship is someone who wants to be in a relationship with you, actively. This is not this person, ergo, this is not the right relationship. This can help you from doing the eternal "if only...." thinking which is crazymaking.
- The person has not died and they are still there for you in pretty great ways. That has value, even though it's sometimes hard to see

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on August 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

OK, so... The thing is, this feeling that your friendship is really special is strongly influenced by your romantic feelings. I know this expectation, that the guy in question, even if he does not return your affections, should somehow make you feel special. Be a friend, yes, but not just A friend. A Special Friend who also treats you like a Very Special Friend.
I have been in almost your exact situation and after taking a long break finally realized that I was hurting myself by maintaining any contact at all.
What I think you need is time, and lots of it. But also trying to get your needs met in another relationship. You will not be able to become good platonic friends on any meaningful level as long as there is ANY wish on either side to be something more.
I get the feeling you want to somehow accelerate this process (by doing something) so that you can go back to being friends quickly. One mental exercise I can think of is trying to mentally give up his friendship. Thank the universe that you had the chance to meet him and grow, and mentally let him go. Gratitude can turn sadness into joy. Sort of.
posted by M. at 6:54 AM on August 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

You need to broaden your horizons. Engage with your other friends more, join groups where you have activities to look forward to, anything to have this one person not be your universe.

Crushes and unrequited love are great because it's all in your head. The actual person isn't there farting, scratching his balls or leaving his dirty underwear on the bathroom floor. He's your perfect little daydream. He's real in that he exists, breathes air and has mass, but surreal in that he's just wonderful as he brushes the hair out of your eyes, walks down Parisian streets with you or wipes a tear of joy from your eye. Not being part of your real day-to-day existance he can be exactly what you need in every instance. He won't honk the horn while your still putting your shoes on. He won't be late meeting your for coffee downtown.

He's flat out told you he wants distance. You need it too. At first you'll be going through the motions, after a while, you'll take plesure in the things that your doing. Get a routine that keeps you busy all day. Join a gym, a book club, get into a tv show.

You'll be fine. In ten years you won't even remember this guy's last name.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're trying to pursue two goals:

-how do I get over this/not allow it to bother me?
-how to I maintain this friendship?

These may be mutually exclusive; don't hesitiate doing something to achieve goal one because it might prevent you from achieving goal two.

Truth of the matter is, if you give yourself the distance and reflection needed to get away from this situation, you're very likely going to not really want to be around this person anymore. You're going to come to not like who you are when you're around/thinking about this person. If you keep it in your mind that you must be a friend to this person, you might keep yourself from moving on.

You need to not be afraid of this process.
posted by spaltavian at 7:04 AM on August 7, 2012

Personally I don't think that anyone can "be friends" with someone that's rejected their affections. It'd be best to simply not contact this person again, and focus on the other people in your life.
posted by Anima Mundi at 7:05 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

As long as you hold on to how special your friendship is, the longer it's going to take to move on.

There is a reason it feels so special, and that's because he is fufilling your emotional needs. He is (if only on your side, if only in your head) doing all the things emotionally that your partner would do.

You notice how when you are in a commited, equal relationship- these super close "platonic" friendship downshift?

This guy can't be your special friend, because he has become your emotional boyfriend. You have to downshift him back to normal, healthy friendship. So until you can totally accept that this friendship is going to be fundamentally diffenerent- you can't be around him.

You say you don't want to give it up... but it's gone.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:13 AM on August 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

>About the only thing that helped me short-circuit the mental loops about how he was teh awesome and stuff was to consciously replay the memory of when he shot me down.

That's an effective approach.

Doing something like this over and over again, making the mental picture/movie of being shot down big and bright and vivid, and doing it for ten minutes straight, without interruption, would probably allow OP to cross the internal Forget That Guy threshold.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2012

Unfortunately I've lived through this exact same situation, and if I'm honest, I've done this quite a few times in my life. I actually started with a similar goal, but in the end, now I only have recommendations for this part of your question: concrete things I can do to "get over" these feelings of being hurt and "in love"These are things that are working for me to "reset" how I view this person and to get over the person. YMMV because you may or may not have done the same things.

I realized in retrospect that I ended up forming a form of intimacy with this person. We talked every day (and several times a day). We would spend time hanging out in situations that felt date like (dinner, drinks, alcohol). Use this as a background to decide whether or not these things may help you too:

Stop.sharing.everything.with.the.other.person. Look up old friends and call and talk with them and get their advice for situations instead of reaching out to this guy. But do not share every single thought that you have with this person (because of course you will think of him when X, Y, and Z happens if he is involved in every single decision that you make and you share every detail of your life).

• Make yourself into a new person and build an entirely new network of people. Make a list of things that you would never have done with your friend but that you have always wanted to do. Maybe it is basket weaving. Hang gliding. It doesn't matter what those things are, just make your list. Now sign up to do one or two of those activities. Maybe it is a class, or a club-- but go to these things once or twice a week. The thing here is you will have activities that he is not or cannot even be involved with to even share in conversation.

• It may also help to include activities that are physical fitness related, just can burn off that energy/or you are too tired to think. If they are goal related, it also helps because your neurons think and become obsessed about something else....

• Try completely new activities, not even on the list. If has activities in your area, you can give that a go. But the thing is you will be exposed to new people and many will be more interesting than your friend; you just never saw them or let them into your life because you spent all your time with this guy, even if it was in your head.

Stop.sharing.everything.with.the.other.person. If you do some of these things, you will meet new people and do new activities. Don't tell him about these things so that you won't be thinking about him during these times. It's something less to share and the closeness can't be established.

• After a few months, revisit the friendship in your head. What did you really share? When I did this exercise, I realized...that there wasn't much there, really, and that *anyone* can go have drinks you, eat a meal, etc. It was not a special friendship, but you don't realize that until you have the distance. It was the intimacy that I enjoyed, so why not spend that energy and time looking for someone who truly wants to share that?

I really have to emphasize that this included spending little time with the other person and dropping contact was a big part of it. Drop the phone calls. Cut down on the email. The priority is to take care of yourself to "reset."

We still hang out, but now it is an acquaintanceship. I've had many platonic friendships in my life, but if those feelings start and to the degree that it did with me...I have to be honest and say it was no longer really a friendship. I also clung to trying to keep a friendship for many years but in retrospect, I loved the feeling and intensity, but it wasn't based on the person at all.

posted by Wolfster at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person, by Howard Halpern, has some useful strategies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Work on developing yourself as a person. Go back to school. Learn a skill. Develop a non-passive hobby (i.e. Woodworking vs. watching movies). Get involved in a cause you believe in. etc. Become the kind of person you would admire.

Most likely, you will stop having feelings for this person and also stop being friends with them because you will have outgrown them. Also, we tend to be attracted to people who fit a certain thing about us. In the process of growing as a person, the odds are very high he will lose any appeal because you will stop needing whatever it is about him that makes unrequitted love so highly appealing.

Most likely, the fact that it is unrequitted is actually part of the appeal. Real love requires you to wake up. Reality never exactly matches our dreams of love. Sometimes, not waking up is extremely appealing as a romantic thing. You can imagine it to be whatever you most long for and you know you will never have to wake up one morning to his bad breathe, pile of smelly socks, and other unpleasant realities.
posted by Michele in California at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2012

I haven't been in an exact situation of

friendship > crush > rejection > obsession

because usually I wind up making an advance early enough in the crush* that the rejection isn't as hard to deal with. I have been in situations of

friendship > crush > relationship > breakup > space&time > friendship

and, yeah, space and time really is what's needed. Also, branching out to other friends for emotional fulfillment is really useful, as is dating someone new. I will go a bit against the tide and say that it is possible to resume the friendship after growing a bit, and that growth != leaving a person behind as a friend. Growth can just mean that you've both evolved to the point where you recognize that you don't need the other person as a romantic partner.

I had an ex who wound up becoming a friend a year after we broke up. She moved away and we maintained active correspondence. I visited her a few years later and during that visit, felt this weird resurgence of romantic attachment to her, which freaked me out a little. My head knew that it wasn't going to work out, but my heart was being stubborn. So, I let contact lapse with her (which was ok, we were both getting really busy and she was travelling a lot). I got into a relationship that was really good for me and moved on.

However, when that relationship ended, this ex and I coincidentally started corresponding again, and we wound up having a really frank and honest talk about a bunch of unresolved feelings from our time ten years ago. We made plans to see each other, and those plans probably had an air of odd possibility to them, and I didn't know what would happen. Yet, when we saw each other, we both mutually recognized that we had become so different that our romantic spark was gone, but were still similar enough that our friendship still worked. It was just ... peaceful and comfortable and great.

So, yeah, be patient. Be kind to yourself. And take as much time as you need. If the bond between you two is as genuine as you believe it to be, you'll find each other again and it may not only be good, but it will be better.

(and, yes, given that some people in this thread have indicated that they perceive a repeat pattern, my advice to that if you find yourself doing this again with someone else ... deal with the crush as soon as is feasible. A crush nurtured over a prolonged period turns into pining and turns into obsession.)
posted by bl1nk at 10:29 AM on August 7, 2012

While you're at it, try to completely smash that destructive misconception that someone not being romantically into you somehow reflects on you personally. No-one is everyone's "type", not even Hollywood superstars.
(And not only is it serious enough to have caused you distress, but people not understanding (that rejection usually isn't personal) sometimes even leads to rape. Kill it with fire.)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2012

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