Telling him how I feel. When and is it selfish?
August 7, 2016 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I have romantic feelings for my long-time male friend. He's gone abroad for a year, he may stay longer, I am resolved to tell him how I feel. Is this selfish? When should I tell him?

I'm female, we’re both in our thirties, and we've been friends for ~14 years. Our friendship's always been based on meeting a handful of times a year one-to-one with regular email in-between. We have a lot of common interests and have a laugh together. Contact is fairly equal, possibly slightly more from my side. When I first met him I was in a relationship with someone else so although I’d developed feelings for him I did not tell him. We have both lived in various parts of the country over the years but in the past couple of years we’ve lived in the same region. We are both single. We’ve always kept in contact and met up but we’ve never spoken about what we mean to each other. I’ve always had a bit of a crush but since we’ve lived in the same area again my feelings have resurfaced properly. I think he likes me too but we are both rubbish at talking about our feelings. I’ve really thought about whether my feelings are real (not a product of loneliness etc)– they are.

Last December he turned up at my house unexpectedly (very unusual) to tell me that he’d applied for a career-boosting job, lasting a year, in Australia. He got the job and left one month ago. We last saw each other a couple of weeks before he left we had a fantastic, flirtatious day but I did not say anything about my feelings. I bitterly regret this. But I did not want to create drama and I wanted to be supportive. I think possibly he threw out a few positive hints but I did not realise until it was too late (I'm a wally!). During our last meeting he explained that he may decide to stay in Australia permanently.

Since he left I have been bereft. I’ve made sure that I have plenty of things to do to keep myself occupied. I have decided that I must tell him how I feel otherwise I will regret it. He's got social anxiety, generally manifested in avoidance, so I am worried that he will push me away when I say something. But my feeling is that we will drift apart if he moves to a different hemisphere permanently so I think the risk is worth it. I don't think he's very experienced so I think I will be up to me to make myself vulnerable. I think sending an email (nothing too heavy just “I like you and if you like me too something can come of it in the future if you want”) is the best way to do this since it’s our main method of communication when apart. This post has been useful for this.

My question is two-fold. Is telling him selfish? To clarify I’m not going to ask for promises I just want to be clear with him once and for all about my feelings and he can decide what to do from there. When should I tell him – the sooner the better or should I wait?
posted by kittykat020 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A big part of relationships working is timing and basic logistics. I think tell you him when he is in another hemisphere and may not return is pointless UNLESS you have already arranged to move to Australia permanently yourself (including work and housing so you are not dependent on him). Otherwise, what are you proposing, a LTR with no end date, a disruption of his adventure in Australia unless HE moves to where you are?
posted by saucysault at 5:35 AM on August 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

There's a lot going on - whether he stays in Australia or not - kinda who knows really?

Nope nope on email.

In my opinion, if you want to explore your feelings, start (quietly) planning a vacation to oz - say a year from now and a full itinerary that includes his town (ie. make it worth it for itself). And who knows; the travel agent you talk with at a your friend's dinner party may turn out to be some hottie and you two start dating and it's awesome.

Give yourself time and try non't overthink it - he's been your friend for 14 years and he's doing his thing. It'll all work out somehow, and that doesn't mean exactly your script. Maybe you both meet partners, you all 4 get along famously and you love vacationing in the other hemisphere clinking glasses in the sunset together.
posted by parki at 5:49 AM on August 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

When should I tell him – the sooner the better or should I wait?

You should wait. Until he has decided what to do wrt Australia, until he is finished this chapter, until (if) he makes plans to return to your area.

You had 14 years of opportunity to tell him something he could act on and you didn't. He was in your world and life then. And you may have another opportunity should Australia end up being just a chapter in his life.

But right now? He wouldn't be able to act on it even if he wanted to, and it would complicate his decisions unfairly. At best you would have emails fraught with desire, making his enjoyment of Oz incomplete. At worst you lose a friend and he loses an important connection to home.

Now is not the time.
posted by headnsouth at 5:57 AM on August 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

Call him up, tell him that you have developed feelings for him and you just wanted to be honest and let him know, because a good friendship deserves honesty. He's too far away for him to feel pressured by this. If he says he has feelings for you then start talking about when you can see one another again.

I think that it is wrong to continue the pretense of friendship when you want something more. You should tell him.
posted by myselfasme at 6:24 AM on August 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Since you have a long history of staying in touch via email, I think an email explaining your feelings would not be weird or selfish. It seems, in fact, that he's sort of put the ball in your court to do exactly this. I would not write anything too heavy, like you said, but be clear. It sounds like carrying this around secretly is causing you some stress.

And since he's far away with a deadline of at least a year, you both have a buffer in case there are hurt feelings on either side. The possibilities seem to be 1) he really likes you back; 2) he maybe likes you back but isn't sure; 3) doesn't like you back, but is your friend. An email-based connection for a few months (without the potential for in-person awkwardness) might be a safe way for you both to explore this.

The logistics of being in different countries will get sorted out. That's the cart to put *after* the horse ;)
posted by pantarei70 at 6:49 AM on August 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

What do you think telling him about your feelings would accomplish? I can't think of what it would do other than ease your emotional burden by putting some of it onto him. In that case yes, telling him would be selfish. If you have some more concrete goal in mind—such as starting an LDR—then you could consider telling him, but personally I'd recommend against trying to have a relationship that started as an open-ended LDR with no clear path to resolution. I think that is about 90% likely to turn out to be miserable and stressful for both of you, even if he accepted the proposition, which he probably wouldn't since he's just leaving to start a new chapter in his life and he's probably looking forward to exploring a new world of open possibilities, including romantic possibilities, and a long-distance relationship with an old friend on the other side of the world really doesn't fit into that picture.

It would probably be bad for you, too. Long-distance relationships are generally a drain on the resources of both partners, rather than a source of nourishment. People ususally keep them going for the sake of preserving the "normal" relationship that they had before and will have again when reunited, not because the LDR is a great thing in itself. Starting a relationship as an LDR with no obvious course to reuniting doesn't sound like it's likely to end up being psychologically healthy for you, and the strain it creates could easily poison your friendship with this person.

If you're going to live on opposite sides of the world, you can probably only expect to see each other very occasionally; not so different from what you've had in the past. If he has or had an interest in you—which it sounds like he might have—and the issue is just that nobody ever acted on it, then there might be an option for you and he to have a relationship where you are just friends (i.e. not tied to each other emotionally) but you visit each other once in a blue moon for good times and hot sex. That is to say, you might be able to add a dimension to your existing relationship where you are occasional lovers as well as long-distance friends.

If you want to pursue that (and you think it would be fun rather than emotional torture—you might just be stringing yourself along, after all) then the thing to do is visit him in Australia at some point, perhaps arranging to stay with him for part of the visit, and find out if he's down for some fun sexy times with you. You might get rejected. You might find out that his feelings for you stretch back 14 years and you missed out on a great romance. You might learn that you two are hot in bed but would have made terrible romantic partners. Anyway, you'll have to travel to Australia if you want to find out, and I would recommend that you do not make it the focal point of your trip because otherwise you're setting yourself up for a lonely, miserable time if things don't go as you hope. Australia is a super cool place, make sure you plan lots of fun stuff for you to do there that doesn't involve boning your friend. Also, it would be creepy to travel halfway around the world just to hit someone up for sex. Let's not get obsessive here.

I think though that the main thing you need to do, the most important thing, is to find a way to get this guy out of your heart. I'm sorry to say it, but your dream of a relationship with this man needs to die, or at least be put firmly on a back shelf for the foreseeable future. It's not good for you to expend emotional energy pining after someone who's so firmly unavailable, and I think confessing your feelings at this point would just open up a wound in your heart that you should instead be trying to heal. What you should be doing is trying to enjoy and build on the life you have in the here and now, rather than getting all caught up in dreams of a life that isn't and may never be possible. I know in your mind some part of you is likely hoping that if you open up to him he'll reciprocate and that you'll end up making plans to move to Australia to be with him or he'll decide to move back after a year to be near you or something like that, but sad as it is to say I think that that's a pipe dream, not a plan.

Focus on yourself. Get out and do things. Meet people. Maybe even have a couple of fairly meaningless flings, just for the sake of having fun and reassuring yourself that you have options. If you need to confess your feelings, unload them on some other friend who has no mutual connection to this guy, someone who can take that burden from you without it turning into a burden on them. Write love poetry and burn it to exorcise him from your heart. Do whatever you have to do to get over this guy, because even if a year or ten years from now you find yourselves in a place where a relationship is a real possibility, you'll want to be able to approach him as a free and whole person, not as somebody who's all hollowed-out with pining. Getting over somebody while still maintaining a friendship with them is work, but it sounds like work well worth it in this case. Good luck.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:35 AM on August 7, 2016 [11 favorites]

I think that you need to be a bit more honest/clear about what you want out of this before you dive in.

So... Is it selfish? Sort of...
(i) YES: because he has a lot of big decisions to make right now, and you might create a lot of uncertainty for him and create extra stress.
(ii) NO: because you feel upset by his departure, the uncertainty of this semi-romantic friendship state is distressing and unpleasant for you. You want resolution and to return to a stable equilibrium state. You want to know where he stands, so you can throw the feelings away, or invest your emotions productively in developing a relationship with this guy.

That's fair enough. Your emotions are just as valuable as his!

Here's an idea, why not ask for a resolution in a low-pressure way and at a low stress time in both of your lives so that you minimize stress to him but solve your own problem? So maybe start by getting in touch and reheating the friendship.

And then, a little while later, say something like "I don't have any expectations and I know that you might not feel the same way. If you don't want things to develop, I understand and think we can still be platonic friends in the future! It's just that I have a big crush on you right now. I'm not sure if it would be a good idea for us to be together, but it would give me a lot of peace of mind if you could just let me know, do you feel the same way?"

And then you guys can make plans for where to move from here.

I think you'll be okay no matter what happens!
Worst case scenario: your friendship takes a time out for a few months and you can move on and let go.
Best case scenario: you have an amazing relationship that would never have happened if not for this!
Meh case scenario: you date for a while, it fizzles out, your friendship drifts apart but then reconnects when you're both older and wiser.

I think.. The current state is unsustainable, basically, so I think you should speak up. To me at least, emotions are like pop ups, they just keep bubbling around if you don't express them. Good luck! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 7:47 AM on August 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think you should tell him and take it from there. It sounds like you'd really like to air your feelings and knowing his response, whatever it is, will help you decide how to proceed: to schedule a visit, to take a break from the friendship for a bit, etc. Email is a good, if not quite ideal, medium because it gives him time to respond without a lot of immediate pressure. It's possible that this is what he's always wanted to hear or what he's always wanted to avoid hearing. It's possible that it will deepen your relationship, whether as a friendship or romantic relationship, or it could create a rift that will change things forever. However, I am firmly in the camp of being honest and putting yourself out there because a possible rejection (or reciprocation!) is better than holding back, never knowing, and feeling disappointed from not even trying.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:32 AM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I strongly disagree with the people who say you should wait. Call him today.

Is it selfish? Just because something might benefit us personally doesn't mean it won't benefit others. You know him; you know whether this would be too distracting for him. I don't think it would, based on what you've written.

The message for your proposed e-mail sounds perfect. I might suggest delivering it by telephone, just so he can feel a little more loved, but you know your relationship. Give him a chance to respond badly, awkwardly, a little hurtfully maybe; then give him another chance to respond after he's had time to think about it.

You've known each other a long time. A year with him being away isn't that long.
posted by amtho at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with Crookshanks_Meow.

Importantly, I think that it's worth remembering that this is a gendered issue, and the feeling that it's selfish to share your feelings is probably more about how you'd feel as a woman if a man did that to you, rather than how a man would feel if a woman did it to him. As a man who's been in the situation of women having crushes on him a few times, my only thought when socialising with the woman with the crush is "how do I best protect her feelings", and there's very little discomfort. When it's the man with the crush, the power dynamics are much more imbalanced.

So yes, go ahead and ask. But make sure you have a recovery strategy in case of rejection, so you can lick your wounds and return to the friendship. And make sure what you say to him isn't "I have a crush on you: your move". Make sure it's "I have a crush on you. If you feel the same, let's figure out how to make it work."

Also, I've had friends who've used letters in the same situation. They're good in many ways because they're asynchronous, so he wouldn't feel under pressure, because you won't even know when it's arrived. But of course there are disadvantages.
posted by ambrosen at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's another option besides a phone call or email. Start Skyping or Facetiming with him and make it a habit, where you're hanging out together on line. Seeing his face will tell you a lot-- how does he react when you say you miss him?--especially if you want to propose a visit. Any chance he's coming back for the winter holidays?
posted by carmicha at 9:12 AM on August 7, 2016

I think you should say something now. If it turns out that he's not interested, then you have time while he's away to work through your feelings from him and move on. Otherwise, you'll be left in a limbo state, wondering if he's interested in you, worrying that he may find someone else while he's away, etc. Not telling him may end up holding you back from finding a person where you currently live. When you're hung up on someone, it's difficult to be interested in anyone else (at least that's how it works for me).

I have a sense that he is interested in you. My hunch is that he has been too shy to say anything, if he's as you describe. Showing up at your house unexpectedly to tell you about his move, almost makes me think that he wanted you to say something then. Maybe he's a bit immature in that regard.

Say something now and end the ambiguity and then go from there.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

For goodness' sake tell him. Email is great as you can do all the unloading without feeling too awkward. He can then spent some time getting himself together to reply.

From what you've said I would put money on his suggestion that he might stay in Australia being a test strategy to see how you reacted. He could very well be besotted by you and only in Australia to start with because he finds it hard to say how he feels.

Doing it now lets you both have time to handle it if it doesn't work. I could imagine being him, never quite having built up the courage or found the best possible time. For all you know he'll be on a plane back next week!
posted by tillsbury at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2016

Life is an experiment. The two of you are adults; I don't think you have to know how things will play out in order to tell your friend how you feel. Nobody knows what the future will hold, and nobody knows what stress this knowledge will or won't add to your friend's life. Maybe it will fill his heart with joy. Maybe it will be challenging news. Maybe it won't affect him particularly. You're not in charge of his feelings or his behaviour. You are only in charge of your own. So I vote that you tell him. Because he doesn't have a complete picture of you. The part about your feelings for him is missing. So fill that in and see what happens. Maybe it will end wonderfully and maybe not; at least you won't have any regrets about what might have been.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:05 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think this is not a great idea. You have conveniently waited until your long term male friend is completely unavailable to develop an attachment. There's nothing wrong with getting hooked on someone. If you now send him some missive of your attachment, you may well spook the guy and get exactly the thing you don't want to have happen, a withdrawal or perhaps a rejection. What if you send a message of your attachment and get nothing in return? Then you will really hit the wall emotionally.
Really, if you want to pursue this, see if your friend wants to hang out in Australia with you, then take a week off and go. If sparks fly, great. If not, then you've had a trip and learned something. My two cents worth. I haven't parsed your message for exact details, just getting the overall gist.
posted by diode at 5:01 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Myselfasme nailed it. I say call him soon and tell him how you feel. It may well be that he kept trying to feel you out and when (he thought) you weren't going for it he decided to reluctantly move on. If it turns out your feelings are mutual, then you can make arrangements to meet and spend some time together. But every day you're not telling him, he may be placing ads on the Australian version of OKCupid looking for a lady to fill the void in his heart left after you "got away"!

This isn't selfish. You feel what you feel, and there's nothing wrong with it. Maybe he feels the same way. Tell him and see what happens!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:39 PM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree that this is not a great time. However the better time has already passed, and it is now or never really. I think it might be time for you to start planning a nice holiday in Australia.
posted by intensitymultiply at 6:16 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

For gawd's sake tell him. In today's world, anything can happen tomorrow. You don't have to come on too strong but just use some simple words and get it out there.
posted by metajim at 1:09 PM on August 8, 2016

Tell him. If he doesn't reciprocate, you can move on and with any luck be able to continue the friendship as before. You meet up a handful of times a year? He's not your best friend, it's not the biggest risk in the world. Better now than when either of you are in a serious relationship.
posted by kinoeye at 5:09 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

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