In love with best friend for about a year but he's taken. Now what?
February 28, 2015 9:47 PM   Subscribe

About a year ago I realised I loved a close friend of about a decade. Now what?

I am in my early 20s and met a guy over the internet a decade ago. We became friends over time, until eventually we talked more or less daily. The friendship was always platonic, although he sometimes joked that I was his "exactly" his type. For me, I only thought of him as a friend and he was my ultimate confidante. Logistically, meeting in person was never possible because we lived too far away.

Then, about 4 years later he announced he was moving just an hour from where I lived to study. He wrote me a letter asking if we could meet and I came up with excuses. I think I was secretly scared that he was moving to be close to me and I had a boyfriend. I worried about how meeting would change things. So the friendship continued, and we saw each other through bereavements and relationships. He didn't raise meeting after I said no a few times.

We lost touch for 2 years. Then one day he found my contact details again and we picked up where we left off. He had a girlfriend and was completing an MA. Meanwhile, I had a boyfriend who promptly broke up with me - in swooped my friend to comfort me, and for the first time in 10 years, I thought: maybe this is the guy I am meant to be with and I was too blind to see it all along. In time, I realised I was in love with him. I don't know if his feelings for me are anything more than platonic - but I do know that the friendship is suffused with a love that I haven't known in some of my other strong friendships with men.

So I made moves to meet in person. We did. It was great and bizarre concurrently. I was very surprised to be very attracted to him. He was very nervous and expressed sadness about the fact I was leaving (I moved abroad last year). Since then, we have kept touch via email. He said that he had had a fantastic time and his only regret was that we hadn't met sooner. He said he hoped we could to it again when I returned and talked about "when you return" a lot, as though to make sure I actually would! He also talked of his admiration of me and mentioned that I was "beautiful" seemingly in passing.

While abroad I have met some nice guys and am trying to keep an open heart. But I adore this guy and would like to see where things could go. I know this isn't realistic seeing as he is taken and I am no homewrecker. The thing is that I am planning to "return" this year, but partly for him. Because of how I feel. Is this crazy? Do I need to be taking serious measures to distance myself?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know you didn't use the word, but you can't ever steal someone away. They, as a autonomous adult with free will and intellect, can be with whomever they choose. If this is something that you can't live with out telling him, then you have to deal with the idea that you might lose him. If you can't be around him because it hurts to not be with him, then yeah, you will have to start distancing yourself from him if you can't or won't tell him how you feel.

Here's what I think. If he's your best friend, you have to be honest with him. Warts and all. Let the chips fall where they may. If I were you, I'd want to...have to...know what would happen if he knew how I felt. I can't guarantee it will end with a happy ending with you and him being together, but I can say that it's better than you doing a fade away from him without an explanation.
posted by inturnaround at 10:40 PM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Um, how much drama do you want?

High drama is you tell him right away. Low drama is you keep this in your back pocket and explore the possibility of a relationship with him when you return home.

IDK. The girlfriend thing is complicated. Your relationship with this guy is complicated.

Would you be moving elsewhere if he wasn't going to be your boyfriend (you hope) when you go home? If so, then ethically you might have to tell him now and be prepared to back out of the relationship with him.

The problem is, once you tell him, it is like you and he are going behind his GF's back if you stay in touch. Y'know what I mean? Trust me, do NOT do that. It will poison so much, including how you feel about yourself. Mostly, it's just bad JuJu.

I think you should tough it out and hope they break up of their own accord. Whatever you do from here on out, please please don't let him talk to you about any relationship issues. Again, that is a moral boundary you don't want to cross.

And, that was probably of little help.

FWIW, I was prepared to stop reading when you wrote you were early 20's. I know this feels important, but I promise you that if he turns out not to be your BF, there are so many men out there you can connect with on as a deep a level. This whole situation is chill, and you should be cool like Fonzie. Be well.
posted by jbenben at 11:09 PM on February 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

If this guy has a girlfriend - not a wife, not a serious live-in partner, not the mother to his children - then the real issue here is the whole long-distance relationship thing. If you are going to "return", then yeah, I think you and him need to have a heart-to-heart talk. To be clear: you are not a "homewrecker" if he chooses to be with you instead of her.

The hazard here is: why are you "return"ing? In the movies and television, it's perfectly okay for you to come back just for him. In real life, alas, it can get weird. But if you're honestly going to "return" for your own reasons, and hey - look who lives just down the street?! - then go for it. But try to be a little bit emotionally reserved, just in case you two get together and, for some reason, the magic isn't there any more.

But I hope it works out for you.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:05 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Don't "return" for him, even if it's only partly for him. If you decide to go anywhere, go where it's best for you to be. If the two of you were in a relationship right now he'd probably be telling you the same thing, unless this was something you had already discussed and decided upon together.

Also, in my experience thinking of relationships as 'meant to be' isn't that helpful. Over the years I've fallen in love with people who were, or turned out to be, taken / not into my gender in general / not into me in particular / business associates I wanted to maintain a professional relationship with / unavailable for all kinds of other reasons, and every time it felt like it was 'meant to be' and I had found 'the one' at last. By this I don't mean to trivialise your experience in any way, it's just that falling in love can be an emotional roller-coaster ride regardless of how much chance you have of ending up in a long term relationship.

Best of luck.
posted by rjs at 2:26 AM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: doctortoughlove - well, they have been living together for a year. When he told me they moved in together I said that was incredible and his response was something like 'well I wasn't doing much else and was bored, so it seemed like the natural thing to do." He was in between his studies and work at the time.

He has yet to paint her in a good light when we speak (he talked his ex up all the time). He even mentioned moving to the country I am in now for his "studies" next year, yet he knows she hates this country and would never move here. But maybe he really does love her.

I'm not necessarily saying it's meant to be but I would like to have a fighting chance. Can I forgive myself for not meeting him when he repeatedly asked me to years ago?
posted by Kat_Dubs at 2:48 AM on March 1, 2015

Best answer: You say are in your early 20's. It sounds like you met him when you were in your early teens? Not sure what your age difference is, but assuming this guy is not a creeper, you need to try to look at the bigger picture: You have known each other, in some form or another, for a third or almost a half of your life, still like each other, and (if you'll pardon me), you're still very young to be feeling like this is now or never, let alone all or nothing.

Life is long, and love is tricky, but when you're in your early 20's time is 100% on your side. He may marry this girlfriend and then later get divorced, he may break up with her tomorrow. He may leave her because of you. She may leave him because of you. And she may leave him because there are things about his character that you don't know at all, things that you too would eventually break up with him over, as you haven't spent that much substantive time with him in person.

I wouldn't come back for him. I wouldn't try to cause drama or mentally make this potential relationship into Your Only Shot At True Love. He's a good friend, and meeting him made you aware of an attraction, so now he's super shiny. But keep being the friend you've been, and if there's any potential, it will come out on its own.
posted by Mchelly at 5:28 AM on March 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

"well I wasn't doing much else and was bored, so it seemed like the natural thing to do." ... He has yet to paint her in a good light

Um. In view of the compliments he's giving you, I assume what he's doing by down-playing the value of his relationship is signaling his potential availability, but that could well mean he's also masking some of the realities of that relationship.

I'd be concerned that his GF might actually be an ordinary, caring, trusting person who's genuinely interested in spending her time on him with an eye toward the future. You wouldn't owe her anything, but he's supposed to be meeting her on equal terms, trying to meet her needs, and, you know, not going around saying crappy things about her. I think what you're reporting here makes him sound pretty immature and probably selfish. It's conceivable that his GF has similar feelings, and they're just using each other or something like that. But in the absence of a really good explanation, an inability to do right by her and resolve what sounds a bit like contempt for her while sharing a life with her makes me see him in a negative light, raising questions in my mind about his readiness for a lasting relationship. The thought that he might be wasting her time and then also dump her hard for a 'better' option isn't a pleasant one--if he has any kind of conscience, it would bother him for a long time.

You probably have a lot more information than most people who're nursing crushes on their friends, so what do I know, but that could also cause things to ramp up really quickly. Whatever he's like as a friend, it's hard to know what he'll be like as a boyfriend, and your expectations about how considerate, responsible, charitable, helpful, and supportive he'll be when it eventually comes to sharing time, space, money, chores, and emotion work under tighter and/or private circumstances could well be challenged in an actual relationship with him. What happens when he starts seeing you as a part of his everyday life could be disappointing--or not, you never know. I'm only saying this would probably be quite a new relationship with him, including the usual spread of questions about how that works and maybe not something all that fun to start in a messy way.

I thought the suggestions here to be circumspect made sense even without these observations--you have so much time, and no one needs the drama. And I'm not suggesting you forget the whole thing--I'm sure the good things you see in this guy are really there. But my suggestion would be to be a good friend and give him positive encouragement to examine what he's really doing and figure himself out a bit more, at least before entangling yourself in his relationship learning experiences too suddenly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:33 AM on March 1, 2015 [25 favorites]

I'm sorry to say this, but you're not in love with him. You've got an awful lots of starry-eyed romanticism and absolutes happening in your mind. He's the guy I'm meant to be with, I was in love with him, I adore this guy, he is taken and I am no homewrecker...I am planning to "return" this year, but partly for him.

You're online friends, on and off for a few years, and you've met just once. I am not saying that your positive feelings towards him are wrong, but I think they're hyperbolic for someone that you don't actually know. It's easy to "be there" for someone online. Think about it. These are not giant romantic gestures; they're only emails. Yes they're nice and good for you for having this online friend, but you're putting wayyyyy too much He's My One and Only Soulmate-thinking into this guy.

Make plans to live your life on your own terms. If you were going to return because you wanted to, then do that. Moving back because of this person who (again, sorry if this seems harsh) you don't really know isn't a good idea.

And this: of moving in with his girlfriend, he said, well I wasn't doing much else and was bored, so it seemed like the natural thing to do."

That's an immature way to view relationships and a pretty shitty thing to do to other people. He was bored so he deepened his relationship with someone by sharing his life with them? Yikes.

He's been an online friend (which is not that hard to do, honestly); keep it that way.
posted by kinetic at 5:45 AM on March 1, 2015 [25 favorites]

Kinetic has this one right.
This is someone you met when you were 12 or 13 and met once.
This is NOT the basis for any world changing decisions whether they are geographical or of the heart.
You need to be more Spock than Kirk here, and take a step back and take a good hard look at what is really going on here.
Be gently brutal on yourself, as if it were your best friend who was thinking about doing this and discussing over a bottle of wine.
If you have to, write it down and make a decision like Ben Franklin.

Hang in there, move on, because this, too, shall pass.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 6:37 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you are wise to be cautious. If I were you, I would not tell him how you feel, since he's currently in another relationship. (Which I see you do recognize as a concern; I just want to serve as a counterbalance to people above saying go for it 'cause he's not married.) I also think you should remind yourself that you are idealizing him. I find it hard to believe he could be such a great guy if he's minimizing his girlfriend by saying he moved in with her since he was bored. While I guess it's possible things would be different if he were going out with you, I tend to believe you can't really change someone's personality, so I'd worry he could wind up treating you the same way if you got together.

All that having been said, I don't think it would be inherently bad if you returned from abroad and remained in touch with him as friends (possibly while hoping he and his girlfriend break up, as jbenben said above). I would just be wary of getting your hopes up with respect to starting a relationship, because of the fact that he has a girlfriend and sounds, at least to me, like less than a 100% great guy.
posted by ferret branca at 6:51 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. I am truly am thinking about each comment.

When he made the comment about moving in with his girlfriend, I was taken aback. I had never heard him make such a bizarre comment before. About a month later, he confided he was having some difficult emotional problems, so perhaps that could explain it.

RE the girlfriend I don't know if he meant to paint her in a less than bad light. More, that the things he told me did not make me warm to her (she baselessly dislikes a number of countries/cultures) and he told me she is incredibly impatient. But I'm sure she loves him and there's a lot I don't see.

I do realise that a degree of romanticising has went on in my part. It can be hard not to. But I also realise there is much I still don't know: when we met, much of him was just the same and some of him wasn't. I realise I would have a lot to get to know in person but at the same time, I do feel I know him pretty well. Bear in mind we met when we were 12/13 but talked almost every day on the phone for over 4 years following. I also don't believe the words and letters that comforted me during tough times came from a computerised robot; they came from him.

Mchelly, I know you're probably right. I suppose I am worried that he will marry her and the chance to at least explore things will never occur.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 7:01 AM on March 1, 2015

The thing is that I am planning to "return" this year, but partly for him.

Oh no, OP, please don't do this. It is never a good idea to change your life plans in any significant way for a man you have only met once. Doubly so at your age, where you don't know what you don't know yet (ugh I sound really condescending right now.) I know you feel like you really know this guy on a deep level, but you honestly don't. "Words and letters" he's written do not necessarily equal his true character. It takes at least a year of living in the same place as someone and spending lots of actual in-person time with them to truly know them on a deep level. You don't yet know how he treats other people, and that is something you need to see with your own eyes before you get all gaga and upend your own life.

And I actually don't see this guy's behavior so far as being very honorable, but I don't expect you to believe me though. What you've shared here -- so earnest, so believing-- reads like one of the oldest stories in the world. Men who say disrespectful things about their chosen live-in girlfriends to young women in their 20s who they have said are "beautiful" are not awesome men. Full stop. The signs are there right now.
posted by hush at 7:13 AM on March 1, 2015 [11 favorites]

Kat_Dubs, before a mod jumps in, it's great that you're thoughtfully considering responses, but the AskMe convention isn't a back and forth conversation unless you're specifically answering a clarifying question.
posted by kinetic at 7:20 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Hey Kat Dubs, yeah, just to let you know, AskMe's not really a venue for back-and-forth discussion; you can just let folks answer, reply if some specific clarification is needed, and mark the ones that seem most useful to you. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

He's treating his current girlfriend pretty badly by trash talking her to you. I would hope you would not want to put yourself into a similar position.

Keep him as a nice fantasy but find someone who is truly available.
posted by vespabelle at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Red flags all over this post.

1. You're in your early 20s. Everything seems really grown-up and important now but it's really not. Your brain is not even done growing until you're 25.
2. You met this guy when you were twelve.
3. You say your are "in love with him" before you've actually met in person. You may have to learn this one the hard way, but that is like a HUGE RED NEON SIGN OF NO NO NO BAD CHOICES NOT LOGICAL DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON.
4. If he cheats on her he will cheat on you. IF HE CHEATS ON HER HE WILL CHEAT ON YOU. I know you're thinking, okay maybe that makes sense but there have to be exceptions and I'm one of them because we have this special connection and blah blah yadda yadda excuses- NOPE. Also if he does not love or respect her this is BAD for you not good for you.
5. There is no "meant to be" and destiny, fate, soulmates, childhood romance- all total bullshit.
6. When you are young the best thing you can do is live for yourself for all the years up until 25. Just do whatever the hell you want and experience a lot of things.
7. This guy will still be around much later if it's really "meant to be." He waited 10 years he can wait 10 more.

Tl;dr - this to me is not "love" but I call love a hard, self-sacrificing, family-type bond. Love to me means character and making hard choices and has little to do with drama and feelings of limerance and breaking promises to others and giving up on making yourself a better person.
posted by quincunx at 8:35 AM on March 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

Another angle that hasn't quite been addressed is that even if it turns out he is interested in you (which you don't know for sure), and even if he'd dump his current girlfriend in order to be with you (which, as others have pointed out, would be a bit of a red flag in terms of how he might end up treating you later), neither of you know whether you'd actually work out as a couple. It's easy to emphasize how this is especially true because you've spent so little time together in-person, but really this would be true even if you'd been best in-person friends for the past decade. Until you've actually been in a relationship together, who knows what sort of bad patterns/incompatibilities could arise that could make you realize he's not for you (or vice versa) within even the first few months. (And this is probably compounded by both of you being in your early/mid-20s, an age when everyone is more likely to see potential relationships as being about magic soulmates -- and to drop things when that feeling fades.)

Which is to say: don't beat yourself up about maybe missing your chance a few years ago. (Chances are you would have broken up by now?)
posted by nobody at 8:38 AM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

1) You are in love with an idea you have in your head based on a lot of chatting online. This will pass.

2) How would you feel if someone up and announced to your partner that they're in love with them and have been forever? No matter the solidity of a relationship, that sort of thing can foster doubt and gnaw away at it.

Someone else being in an exclusive relationship means that person is not available for you to date, sorry. They are also not available for declarations of undying love.

Live your own life. Meet an actual meatbag to hold hands with, someone you develop a relationship with in person.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:49 AM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

How much older than you is he? Because you sound like he's been grooming your crush.
posted by spunweb at 10:20 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I had a relationship with someone I was friends with since I was in my early teens (and who I initially met online). It didn't work out. We worked as friends, but we brought out the worst in each other as a couple. I regret that we ever dated because it ruined a good friendship. Part of the reason we ended up dating is because we felt so familiar with each other. It sounded so romantic to date someone I had known for so many years. You are different from me, but in my case, I think I romanticized the idea that we knew each other so well that we would make a great couple. I think in reality, if we had been meant to be a couple, it wouldn't have taken 10 years of friendship to have it turn into a relationship.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:53 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah no, this is a mess in the making. What you'll learn throughout your 20s is that dudes who will subtly downtalk/downplay/gripe about their relationships to keep you, the exciting potential other person, on the hook? THEY ARE THE WORST. And if you date them,* you'll be the person they are ever-so-subtly, with just the right amount of plausible deniability, shit-talking to make sure some new hot young thing doesn't go too far.

*But you won't because they don't actually dislike their partners at all, they just don't want YOU to think they like their partners too much...
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:11 AM on March 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

I was thinking that you should maybe share your feelings with him until I saw this update: He has yet to paint her in a good light when we speak.

He is doing you the favor of showing you what kind of boyfriend he is without you even having to date him... and it doesn't paint him in a very favorable light. If this is the way he treats his girlfriends why would you want to be one of them?
posted by Asparagus at 11:14 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Red flag number 8 might be that this is your 4th Ask about this dude and you haven't even started dating him yet....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

Some of the things you describe -- him talking incessantly about you "returning" and the less than flattering light in which he casts his current gal -- this is something men do sometimes when they are angling to cast you in the role of The Other Woman. You can bet pretty heavily that if you return and get romantically involved with him, once he has BOTH of you on the hook, you will suddenly start hearing a lot of "But, babe, you gotta understand..." and he will start backpedaling heavily on how the relationship isn't as shitty as you have come to believe and there are complicating factors as to why he can't leave her just yet and blah blah blah.

If you want to return and start a relationship with him, think first about whether or not you are okay with being a side-dish for possibly the rest of your life (or until you get fed up and tell him to shove it). Statistically, the odds are incredibly poor that he will leave her for you and the two of you will then live happily ever after. The vast majority of the time, when someone leaves one partner for another, they break up with the new partner within a year as well. In fact, most of the time, the new partner was essentially being used as a means to an end, to make the break-up easier on them (so they wouldn't have to sleep alone while dumping a long term romantic relationship and would have emotional support during a difficult period). Plus, sometimes the affair stabilizes the primary relationship. You going in and meeting whatever needs she is not meeting can mean that now his life works and he doesn't need to dump her.

He wrote me a letter asking if we could meet and I came up with excuses. I think I was secretly scared that he was moving to be close to me and I had a boyfriend.

So he has possibly been semi-stalking you for years and now the tables are turned and he is the one in a relationship and you are not.

Pro-tip: When you have an affair with someone, the person in a relationship has all the power. The person who doesn't have another relationship does all the accommodating and is at the beck and call of the person with a relationship. If being his doormat and listening to his excuses appeals to you, have at it.
posted by Michele in California at 3:02 PM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

He sounds like someone who's very easy to fantasize about and idealize given that you've only met him once IRL (as far as I can tell), and you're lonely and in another country and you may not actually like it when a dude is officially available for you to date. I mean, you specifically chose to not meet him until he had a girlfriend even though you seem to have had an inkling that he was into you romantically. I think that's telling that you might not be into him if he was single, but if you absolutely can't date a guy who's in another country and taken, now he's attractive to you.

Which hey, is fine as long as you don't actually WANT to take action about a dude and you just want him as fantasy wank material. I have a friend who is never interested in a dude unless he's gay/taken. But she doesn't really want to get physical as far as I can tell, she just wants a guy to think about. If you just want to fantasize and not deal with reality, just keep that in mind about yourself.

As for the guy: would you want to overhear him saying, "Oh yeah, I just moved in with Kat because I was bored?" Ugh, no, you probably wouldn't feel good hearing that about yourself. He's acting like his girlfriend is a warm body who pays rent and offers up her vagina, not someone he loves. Do you really want to be treated like that yourself?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:06 PM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also: moving is HARD. You don't shack up with a lady and go to all that effort because you're "bored," unless you are one of those shiftless dudes who has no life of his own and moves in just one bag of stuff with the one-night stand he just banged. I do not recommend dating a guy like that especially. But even assuming he's not one of those, he's downplaying this girl in hopes you'll take the bait. Ugh. Again, this could be you if you take that bait.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:13 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Please don't set yourself up where you will have to think of yourself as having been plan B.
posted by scottymac at 9:26 PM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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