Avoiding friendships over attraction
September 21, 2013 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Is avoiding friendships if you are attracted to that person a bad thing?

All my life, I've realized it is very easy for me to build intense feelings for someone else (I cried when my high school crush decided not to attend the same university I was going to go to... I had only spoken to him twice...). Fast forward to now, I have been dating my current boyfriend for over 5 years. Throughout this relationship, I've made it a personal rule to not be friends with anybody I find attractive - just because of the threat of "mutual feelings" being involved, and my own intuition that that can get messy quite quickly. It's not that I don't trust that I can't control myself but just that I have found that if I end up crushing over someone else, I go through the exact same scenario I did as a 17 year old. Not crying over them obviously, but thinking about "insert attractive person" a lot. As I grow older, I'm beginning to realize how silly this is. This means that I'm potentially missing out on some great friendships just because I'm letting attraction get in the way. How do you 'brush' that kind of thing aside? Do you let them know right away "hey I have a boyfriend and I'm really just here for the friendship"?
posted by raintree to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't brush it aside! I avoid these scenarios. Nothing's wrong, in a relationship, with friends of the gender you're attracted to...just as long as you're not attracted to THAT exemplar. You know yourself best.

Someone less high-strung than myself, less prone to romantic obsession, could possibly get away with it. Not me! And it sounds like not you either.
posted by skbw at 2:57 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like this is more about you than about the other person. It's generally a good idea to mention that you're in a relationship with someone, if you're in a situation where you think things could be misconstrued. I just wonder if telling the other person that you're only here for friendship is going to be enough to convince YOU that nothing is going to happen.

I get attached/attracted to people quite quickly too. It's kind of embarrassing at times. Usually it happens right after I meet someone, handily, so I can withdraw a bit and remind myself that this is just that thing that I do happening again. Most of the time, people are OK with me not being overly effusive because we're still in the getting to know one another stage.

To help "brush things aside" in the past, I've reminded myself over and over that this thing that I'm feeling isn't real. It's not based on reality, because I hardly know this person. It's just an image of them that I've built up in my mind. Tell yourself that it's just chemicals in your head reacting to a stimulus. Remind yourself that you don't actually know this person. You just have an image of them in your head. Try to see them as a more 3D model than someone who is worth your attention and positive regard simply because they look nice to you.

Conversely, try to get to know them better. Nobody is perfect, so they must have some kind of flaw. Maybe they kick puppies, or are an arms dealer, or fart in densely packed subway cars. Remind yourself of that flaw every time you think of them.
posted by Solomon at 2:58 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Well, I think it's extreme to not be friends with someone because you find them attractive. However, the "rule" I do follow, is that if I discover an overly intense chemistry with someone that I consider just a friend, I make a point to not get too close, to only hang out in groups or around some specific non-romantic activity-- basically limit the relationship.

Try to not put people on pedestals, I can keep crushes in check by always balancing my perception of someone, not going crazy by building up in my mind only their exemplary traits.

Now if the other person is openly expressing romantic interest in you, it is a kindness to address it immediately and terminate the friendship if they cannot switch gears.

Oh and yes, it's a good habit to mention the boyfriend early on, this should come up naturally in casual conversation.
posted by abirdinthehand at 2:58 PM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

It depends on what you mean by "attracted to." If you mean people in whom you have romantic interest, then yes, avoid. If you mean people you merely find attractive - physically or otherwise - then no, no need to avoid.
posted by The World Famous at 4:32 PM on September 21, 2013

I think this is the sort of thing where everyone needs to figure out for themself what sort of boundaries work best.

I have a lot of friends who I think are good-looking, a few who I could imagine having some actual chemistry with, and one or two who I've even dated before (and definitely had chemistry with!). I've found that this works okay for me — and that if I start getting actively crush-y over someone when I'm not available for a relationship, I can keep things from getting awful by taking a few steps back and making sure not to spend too much one-on-one time together or get into emotionally intimate conversations.

But that's what works for me. You've gotta figure out what works for you.

Unfortunately, that means taking the risk that some things will be slightly awkward or that you'll experience some difficult feelings. (It's okay, though. Feelings won't kill you, you know? They suck, but you'll live, and you'll have learned something.)

Anyway, if what you learn is that you really can't emotionally handle being friends with people you're attracted to — you've tried it, you've done everything right, it's still led to situations where you're upset or unpleasantly hung up on them or something — then okay, cool, keep doing what you're doing and stay away from those people. The fact that someone else could make that friendship work does not mean that you're obligated to try too. You're totally allowed to say, "Yeah, I've learned about myself that shit like this isn't a good idea for me."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:32 PM on September 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think of crushes as a pretty normal thing. At the same time, if my SO has any, I don't really want to know about it. But since we've been together, there's not been any person I've had a crush on who I've thought about in a "what if" way, and I think it's not that I don't let myself think or feel that way but that I know I'm already in the best relationship for me. I don't think of myself as having a really strict self-control, but it just never occurs to me that I really want to be with any other person in any kind of fling or serious way. What I have to lose is more important to me than what I could gain. The people I crush on are always lacking something my SO isn't.

I do tend to let people know right away that I'm in serious relationship, but it always comes up pretty organically.
posted by sm1tten at 9:40 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think if you have a strong tendency towards quick, intense crushing, that you are doing the right thing by avoiding male friendships with those you find attractive. I think the temptation/potential problems are a lot worse for you than possibly missing out on some friendship. I have one friend who does this kind of thing a lot and I honestly don't think it's great for her psyche to frequently be secretly pining for some crush dude when she is genuinely happy with her husband. If someone has pants-feelings, it's not a true friendship anyway.

(Disclaimer: I've had enough "surprise, I have a crush on you" moments from guy friends that I am incredibly careful about who I hang out with these days--it's probably even more likely for you that it's MUTUAL.)

But as for when to let someone know you're taken--in my experience, "Oh, my husband and I went to a concert by X Dude You Just Mentioned a few weeks ago"-type things usually cover it. If someone is coupled with someone, they WILL just mention it casually in conversation because the SO is such a part of their life. I think it is a big red flag if you meet someone who's taken and they DON'T mention it when they meet you, actually.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:50 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally I find self-asserted distance between oneself and anyone one finds oneself inordinately attracted to, while in a committed relationship to someone else, to be a basic sign of integrity and good character. It never occurred to me that it might be a problem. I have realized, as I got older, that many people disagree, and think it fine to play with fire due to the "oh, but I would be MISSING OUT on such a good friendship!" and frankly... my experience of these types of people has only reaffirmed my personal stance. Make of that what you will.
posted by celtalitha at 11:18 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

To each their own, but your approach seems fine. Are you really missing out on a great friendship, or a friendship with someone you have a crush on? (I'm assuming attraction here means more than admitting that the other person is good looking.)
posted by J. Wilson at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2013

I think its a good thing you're aware of this aspect of your personality and while I agree that its perfectly acceptable for a grown, independent people in a settled and stable relationship to have the friends they want to have; actually managing those is often quite tricky.

While you seem to have an awareness of yourself in these situations; on a 1to1 basis , the politics of this while you're in a relationship has its own issues too, and maybe not only to be aware of the potential for drama between you and the "friend" but the potential for jealousy between you and your boyfriend, and the potential for rivalry between two chaps together that can be equally complicated.

In my experience of relationships the only way to have this work is for the "attractive" friend to become a friend of you equally as a couple; this way everyone knows the score and can be happy to be together, unfortunately where this isn't the case due to the nature of human beings drama of one kind or another (suspicion / jealousy / exclusion) even in the most enduring relationships seems inevitable, and given the closeness of those involved can be extremely difficult and upsetting for everyone.
posted by Middlemarch at 8:45 AM on September 22, 2013

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