Starting a relationship with someone who has an unresolved crush
August 23, 2016 2:02 PM   Subscribe

You know those connections where you mutually fall for a platonic friend, but you're just never single at the same time? What if it's your new dating partner who has that situation? Would you be comfortable with that? Do people actually get over their old "what if" flames? Are they happy with the people they're with when they get with someone who is not the old flame?

I am starting up something with a guy but there is a "we were never single at the same time" situation between him and a long standing, now married woman friend. They have a very special bond.

He's a long time friend - and I started to have a crush on him a while back, but never pursued anything because of what came up about this woman. I stepped back and decided to just be friends.

Well... now something has been sparking up between us.

I've been in two LTRs (a marriage and one that was like a marriage). I'm jaded. I know that most people don't ever get with their "we were never single at the same time" friend. I'm in my 40s and I put aside all the old flames long, long ago. He's more experienced than me sexually, but less experienced in committed relationships.

The connection he has with her seems significant. They have a special bond - a connection i wish somebody felt they had with me!

She is in a bad marriage and I don't know that he isn't basically just waiting for her to leave the husband. I kind of suspect that a reason he didn't commit to anyone is because he was waiting for her to become single and doesn't have the bond with others that he has with her, but that could be in my head, I don't know.

We are long time friends who never expected to have chemistry, but do. We have decided to put the friendship first regardless of what happens. The problem is that I know his dating history inside and out. He also knows mine (which is painful, and makes me feel vulnerable and one-down.)

I just don't want to be cruising for a bruising.
posted by mousesinger to Human Relations (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, one last: he's taking a trip with her next year.

I almost wish I could have waited on this until after the trip. But things just happened.
posted by mousesinger at 2:04 PM on August 23, 2016

Nope. Nope nope nope. Sing it with me: Nope.

You know what real grownups do when they have a hangup on a married friend who ought to be focusing on their marriage? Back the fuck off. Respect their space. They do not maintain "special bonds". They do not book their fuckcation for next year.

This dude is low quality. There's better out there, or you'll at least be alone and know it rather than convincing yourself this guy has a whit of interest in you beyond time-wasting nookie.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:12 PM on August 23, 2016 [83 favorites]

If you've only ever been in very long term relationships, it might be difficult to divorce the feeling-each-other-out portion of a fledgling relationship from the start of something Big And Important. Remember: you're free to leave at any time! For any reason!

Because the questions you ask are all highly, highly variable person to person:

1. Would you be comfortable with that? Some people would be, some people would not be, both are ok.
2. Do people actually get over their old "what if" flames? Some people do, some people do not.
3. Are they happy with the people they're with when they get with someone who is not the old flame? Some people are, some people are not.

But here's the magic bit: you don't have to know the answer to any of those questions right now! You can start dating this guy, see where things go, and if something changes, you can both go your separate ways. You change your mind about 1? You guys stop seeing each other, no problem. He decides he can't to point 2? You guys stop seeing each other, no problem. You realize he's falling victim to number 3? You guys stop seeing each other, no problem. You decide when it's time for this trip that you're uncomfortable with him traveling with her? You guys stop seeing each other, no problem.

You're only just starting to date here, nothing is set in stone and this is not a life sentence. It is endlessly fungible. Be open and honest with each other about where you're at and what you want, and if it's not working for you (either of you), go your separate ways.
posted by phunniemee at 2:14 PM on August 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: The sad part of this is: I am alone in my community and this person was one of my only close friends here. I needed this friendship. He actually helped me out of a bad space. I don't wish dating or sex had never shown up. But I miss being "just" his friend, and I miss how it was before there were feelings.
posted by mousesinger at 2:25 PM on August 23, 2016

This guy sounds immature and not worth your time.

But to answer your question: No, I would not be comfortable with that. Nor would I be interested in that.
posted by sprezzy at 2:25 PM on August 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

The connection he has with her seems significant. They have a special bond - a connection i wish somebody felt they had with me!

I would keep this casual, then, and hold out your serious feelings for when you meet someone you have that special bond with. It's so worth it to find the right person and not have all these questions.
posted by getawaysticks at 2:28 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seeing your update, I have to say that you have agency in this matter. Feelings can get in the way, yes, but you have the power to distance yourself from this dating situation. His friendship may be valuable, but it might be worth your time to dial it back a bit, take some time off, and then try to re-establish this friendship with boundaries. It sounds like dating him is already causing more stress than it's worth. If you miss "how it was before there were feelings" maybe you shouldn't date him.
posted by sprezzy at 2:28 PM on August 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

It sounds like he is going to pull the 'friend' card on you as soon as this woman is available. I think that regardless of your comment about people never getting with their never-single-at-the-same-time-friends, this guy is setting plans in place to ensure they will be. Then he will put it on you to be understanding and be his 'friend' in all this, because you agreed in putting the friendship first, right, you'd be a jerk to stand in the way of his true love? Right? He's just biding time with you until she becomes available and then guess who will be asked to step aside? He will spin it as some great romance where they both had to overcome adversity in their other relationships to end up together.

And even if none of this is true, do you really want to be with someone who makes it clear you're second best and if his dream girl ever showed up, you'd be gone!? You'll always be wondering about their conversations, their late nights, their best friend getaways. You know, I have very good male friends. But my best friend is my husband and I would never dream of making him feel that any other guy had that title or 'special connection'. Bleergk.
posted by Jubey at 2:55 PM on August 23, 2016 [14 favorites]

Don't settle for someone who appears to be waiting in the wings for another woman. You deserve someone who puts you first and whose affection for you is not contingent on another person. You are not a placeholder.
posted by delight at 3:00 PM on August 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your feedback, folks. Yeah, I am not seeing what can come of this for me. I don't really want to be casual with anybody and I don't think I can let go of that.

It felt completely right in the moment. Because we are actually friends whereas most of my people have been "dates" (and most of my long relationships have been shitty), it was actually my best intimate experience ever.

But that's just it. It felt right... until it didn't.

I am a jaded old fuck. I expect nothing from crushes and gave up on most of my old flames. I have already BTDT, a million times, with the "what-if" relationships and I have absolutely no "what-if" relationships left. They've all been resolved.

I've NEVER found that "right" person, just several wrong ones. My marriage was to a "what-if" - a "we were never single at the same time" situation - and it was a disaster. And I know relationships are hard work.

I feel like someone who is still in "crush" space is someone who is probably too young for me in a lot of other ways.

I think this was my "opener" - I was celibate for a LONG time and very, very fearful, and just needed to remember that human intimacy and sexuality are a thing and that sex is fun.

Now, conversations that were part of the raw honesty of our friendship (our chemistry was completely unexpected - we've known each other a LONG time) - are painful, I am starting to have those disgusting clingy Sad Girl feelings, and this is getting to be something I don't think I can do.
posted by mousesinger at 3:01 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

> The connection he has with her seems significant. They have a special bond

> She is in a bad marriage

> He also knows mine (which is painful, and makes me feel vulnerable and one-down.)

> I am alone in my community and this person was one of my only close friends here. I needed this friendship. He actually helped me out of a bad space.

These things feel significant to me. Has he made a habit of pursuing or attempting to rescue women in troubled situations? It may be helpful to think about whether this is a pattern for him, and what that says about how he would treat you when you're in a better place, more engaged with your community, and not feeling "one down".

I have dated people who turned out to be more interested in satisfying an inner emptiness or need for control by "fixing" or "rescuing" me than they were in maintaining a relationship of equals, and I urge people (women especially, if you identify as a woman) to look out for this because it is a potential indicator of future abuse. (Not saying you are in an abusive situation right now, just that there are some aspects of it that ping my "oof, look out" radar.)
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 3:07 PM on August 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

As a counterpoint, I have a similar friendship with an old friend. We're close friends and have a special bond. We've taken trips with each other. Nothing's ever happened and I don't expect it ever will, and there's still that bit of lingering chemistry, but even if she were suddenly single, I don't think we'd date. Sometimes that's just the way life and relationships play out.

We had the friendship before either of us started dating our current significant others and not turning our backs on each other doesn't make us "low quality" or immature.

Maybe he's never committed to anyone because he's holding a torch for her but maybe he just doesn't want that in general, especially if he's getting the sex that he wants outside of a committed relationship. If him potentially never committing to you is a dealbreaker, that's the important thing, regardless of what's causing it.

Is he labeling what he feels as a crush or are you?

I have absolutely no "what-if" relationships left. They've all been resolved.

A lot of people never get that closure. I still have what-if questions about ways that my first serious relationship could have played out, but to borrow a phrase, I'd cut off my hand before reaching for them again.
posted by Candleman at 3:09 PM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

It feels pretty crappy to be in a relationship with someone knowing you're their second choice. Don't do that to yourself.
posted by emd3737 at 3:14 PM on August 23, 2016 [17 favorites]

I honestly can't tell from your writeup whether he's actually said anything to you about this specific situation or whether you're spinning it all from things he's said in the past and your own insecurity or your legit sense that he isn't going to commit to you combined with your observations of him + this other person.

It doesn't really matter either way--don't date people who make you feel "one down" because they know information about you. I'm all for friendships that evolve into relationships but there's just as much potential for a toxic power differential in them as there is in a regular ol' "we met on Tinder" situation, and I think you have one. Frankly, I don't know that the friendship itself sounded super-healthy; more like codependent. You're wise to get out of this sooner rather than later.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:18 PM on August 23, 2016

Run Run Run.

Get new friends! Branch out!

This situation is toxic and gross. They are two gross people (agreed trips with your "special bond" friend are counter to the health of her marriage.). Don't let them include you further in their grossness. RUN.

Find new people. I know you can :))
posted by jbenben at 3:18 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why is he not crazy about you? He must be sick in the head.
Let that be your mantra for all relationships going forward.
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:33 PM on August 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Wait -- her marriage is troubled at the moment, and he's going on vacation with her, just the two of them...?

I'm very loosey-goosey about who I can hang out with and who my partner can hang out with and under what circumstances -- but I'm still having trouble spinning that in a good way. If he's a friend first, he'll rally for the marriage, or back off until things have sorted themselves out, or...or something else that does not read "Woo hoo! Here's my in."


> We have decided to put the friendship first regardless of what happens.

Unfortunately this is a thing that is very easy to say at the time, and sometimes very hard to follow through with later. Not always! But it's risky.
posted by kmennie at 3:43 PM on August 23, 2016

Whoever gets there the firstest with the mostest is usually the winner.

You want him to forget her, then get his mind on something else. Be all no holds barred, because it is just a fling anyway, amirite?

I mean, it is up to you. But she's married. You absolutely do not need to have any respect whatsoever for her having dibs on the man. You can help him forget she ever existed.

The future is unwritten. Nothing takes the past away like the future. Etc.
posted by Michele in California at 4:27 PM on August 23, 2016

Response by poster: Part of the problem is that I'm 42 and have been married (I married my "what-if" and we divorced a year later!), and people carrying torches for their "what-ifs" seems kind of silly to me now. "What-ifs" in fact seem silly. I've already been there and done that on the "what-if" wagon a million times, and burned my bridges, and put the old crushes behind me.

I learned to love the one I'm with and I can put stuff behind me so fast it would make your head spin! It seems like something young people do, who've never been married. He *is* younger than me (not a huge amount). Those old torches seem like something I would have done in my 20s.

If he's still pining after people, it actually makes him kind of unattractive to me, because I want someone with more emotional maturity who I can lean on in hard times, who doesn't think marriage is supposed to be a 24/7 party, and it's hard for me to emotionally trust in someone who isn't in the same space about relationships. I don't want to be anyone else's teacher, or just end up being someone else's learning experience. I don't want to give to someone who isn't fully equipped to give back.

it's not right or wrong, it just what is. he is in his space, I am in mine.
posted by mousesinger at 4:35 PM on August 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

I was trying to not be all TMI. I had that relationship with a guy with more sexual experience and less relationship experience. I got educated about sex. He got educated about love. He wasn't pining for a married woman. He was screwing her twice a week. He dumped her and asked me to marry him. When our relationship ended, he married someone else within six months.

Potato chips stopped satisfying the man once had he a taste of something better.

But, you do what makes sense to you.
posted by Michele in California at 4:41 PM on August 23, 2016

So I identify pretty hard with this guy. Because I have unresolved crushes on all kinds of people in my past. Because for me, a crush is a harmless hobby when I don't want a relationship. Because I hate dating. So when I'm single, I am typically closing up shop, so to speak. The unavailability aspect of it is what makes it work.

When I do want a relationship, all of these crushes are put on hold. That's my involuntary emotional reaction to a relationship, not a moral choice. If a crush reappears, that's me telling me there is something I'm not getting in my relationship. And maybe it's something inconsequential and I'll dismiss it. Or maybe it's something pretty substantive, and I should address it.

Which is to acknowledge crushes are totally silly. But it's hard to say if that translates into immaturity. It's just as likely he created this unavailable relationship with her precisely because it's a placeholder until he's ready for an actual relationship. The risk averse answer is to not take a chance. But it also sounds like you might be projecting your vulnerability onto his experiences.
posted by politikitty at 4:50 PM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do people actually get over their old "what if" flames?

In your specific situation, I would echo everyone else here that "tread with caution (and also maybe run)" is the best advice.


Yes, some people do get over it. I am one of them: I had that kind of situation with someone - we had crazy chemistry, we were never both single (well, until I moved away for a while - we hooked up once when I came to visit and we were both solo), and many years later we live near each other again. He's married; I'm in a LTR. We are friends but we don't see each other often, and even though that chemistry lasted a long time... it has faded. I've moved on. If we were both single again, I would not go for it.

Disclaimer: We are gay. We are part of a community that's more open about nonmonogamy, so we've been able to talk about our history with our partners without judgment. My old flame has given my current partner a hickey at a bar, and I razzed him about it. YMMV. This is not advice. Follow your heart.
posted by psoas at 4:56 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll just say that I have only ever had crushes on people I was also friends with, and the friendship has always outlasted the crush, and I have special bonds with people who I have had crushes on who now are in relationships and it is completely possible to have appropriate boundaries in that situation.
posted by Nothing at 5:14 PM on August 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

What does he say about this?

When you ask him, "If Jane were to leave Ted, would you jump at the opportunity to be with her?" Is he like "OF COURSE, DUH" or does he play it off in a way where you know he really wants her even if he won't admit it, or is it more like, "Jane who?"

If this dude isn't saying "Jane who?" you need to not get into anything with him.

I have a few "what if" people in my life. I'm in a very committed relationship. I give negative a million fucks about whether any of my what-ifs are single, likely to become single, what they're up to, are they still into me, etc. I do not ever think about them at all. Because I have someone in my life I don't have to ask "what if" about.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on August 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

I know what it's like to feel like someone's second-best bed when someone else is their Dark Lady. It's a shitty situation.

Whether you go there or not is up to you, but if you do, there will be times when you feel like dirt.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:46 PM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

When you ask him, "If Jane were to leave Ted, would you jump at the opportunity to be with her?" Is he like "OF COURSE, DUH" or does he play it off in a way where you know he really wants her even if he won't admit it, or is it more like, "Jane who?"

This reminds me of the time that my boyfriend's best friend was all, "So how would you feel if (crushgirl) actually wanted to date your boyfriend and he threw you over for her?"
Now in my case, I wasn't really worried about this, and was kinda shocked by the question in the first place. But here it sounds like a very reasonable issue for the situation. How would you feel if she breaks up with her husband tomorrow?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2016

Response by poster: Psoas:

The funny thing is:

I'm poly! And we're a couple of kinks!

This SHOULDN'T bother me, right?

I made it clear from the beginning (before we started seeing each other) that I want to be poly; I've never been in a relationship with a man where I didn't also at some point ALSO have deep feelings for a woman. Or vice versa. I've given up trying to control it and am just trying to work with it. Also, I am still very, very dear friends with an ex (who is now about to move in with his boyfriend). We love each other, but that love changed form over the years and is now more like family: but it's been a problem for every monogamous partner I've been with.

I wanted away from jealous feelings and all but surprisingly, they've popped up. With the guy I'm kind of seeing (it's still in that fuzzy undefined space, and he had this trip planned long before I was ever on his radar), we were talking about celebrities we'd bang. While in bed. We've talked about exes. He talked about his bi-curiosity.

At the same time, if I were to be in a new relationship - I want time to bond, and wallow in that new relationship energy, and get secure with my partner, and build memories with them, before each of us goes off flitting on new adventures.

It's when it's a woman actually significant in his life, that changes it. And she and he go WAY back (known each other practically since childhood - so much for the Westermarck Effect) and by "special bond" - I literally mean they share very, very many things and experiences (been through much of the same shit, lived through a couple of important events together, have a supernatural dream-sharing connection like twins sometimes do). There really is something deep there and (not to sound too woo) from the outside it reminds me of what people describe as a soulmate connection. This is what I am observing, not anything he's said. He has honestly said that they would jump each other's bones the moment they were both single and that he had a crush on her when he was young. They care very deeply for each other.

Whereas he and I are just a couple of freaks who like each other and enjoy each other's company. The difference is, I'm at a jaded and sad point in life where I think that's a lot. I'd be happy with a relationship that only offered that much. I'm over "soulmate connections"; I've been in a few and they're always fucked up. I don't want someone to share my dreams or read my mind - I'm a gaslighting/emotional-abuse survivor and just don't want to share that anymore. I just want to share my life, and some laughs. And a best friend at my side. That is what I ask for. From someone else for whom that would be enough.
posted by mousesinger at 5:51 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, so was I! Which made that question even weirder. Presumably best friend was assuming that if crushgirl gave him a chance he'd immediately go monogamous for her.... which, well, I dunno, if she'd asked, I have no idea.

If you're okay with things as they are, then go for it, I suppose.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

That unexpected jealousy could be your subconscious trying to get your attention, especially since as an abuse survivor you're not as likely to trust yourself and your emotions. You can be poly and share a content time with a companion, but I'm not sure that's what you have here. He's told you he prioritizes her over you in every circumstance that matters.
posted by A hidden well at 6:09 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you sure "special bond" isn't "emotional affair"?
posted by bluedaisy at 6:18 PM on August 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Mousesinger, AskMe is not the place for back-and-forth conversations or freeform processing. Please just let people respond to the question you asked. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:21 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Via your updates. They are still gross. This guy is already hurting you and you are an abuse survivor -- WALK AWAY.

It's a mindfuck and that's familiar to you on some level, hence some feelings of attraction. WALK AWAY.

Oh. BTW? Everything about their relationship is bullshit storytelling and you can know this because she's having an emotional affair and her marriage is failing. Speaking of which...

If you have a relationship like this in your life now, and it consistently causes problems, then maybe this is your mirror moment showing you it's time to evolve or let go. YMMV, but that's what I'm reading in your narrative. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 7:21 PM on August 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

The advice I like best above is -- make friends, find ways to enjoy life that don't include this beau. OK, "make friends" is glib. Rather, interact with some new people while doing things that you're interested in. If there's some activity or hobby that's made you wonder, "what if I tried it..." then try it. Because you're going to need other things to enjoy. You'll need them if you're in a long-term relationship with anyone, and you'll especially need them if you decide to back off with your old friend/new lover.

I'd start cooling things off gradually. In what manner and order is for you to decide. In a similar situation I didn't tell the guy I was doing this, because I wanted to break up with him but wasn't ready. I stopped initiating get-togethers and sex but sometimes accepted when he initiated. I stopped asking for things I wouldn't ask of a platonic friend. I stopped saying to myself, "I wish he would.." and "It would be better if..." and concentrated instead on things that actually were real and happening. I also went on a few casual dates that never led to anything. I prepared for the break-up by adding a few minor things to my life that brought me into contact with new people.

The idea was to reduce my emotional dependence on him for my own good. I think that needing your partner LESS in some ways is really healthy in relationship.

In my case, what gradually happened was that while we were seeing less of each other, our relationship improved and he began to actively choose me over the other person he was close to. But that's not my point, I swear. I really think that pulling back before cutting the cord can help keep the friendship intact and also build trust. Or at least build your emotional independence.
posted by wryly at 7:34 PM on August 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Walk away, this one is taken. This man is already in a relationship, just not with you. The fact that they might not have consummated it doesn't mean anything. And though you may never get to know the answer, it would be interesting to see if his 'supernatural connection' with his friend has anything to do with her marriage breakdown. I bet her husband plays second fiddle here as well.
posted by Jubey at 8:27 PM on August 23, 2016

Best answer: I don't want to be all "you're doing poly wrong(tm)", but there's a lot to unpack in your last update, and maybe you should step back from this relationship until you can work through some of it. It sounds like you're envious of his ability to have a soulmate and not be completely jaded, not just in terms of feeling threatened by her but in terms of what you've lost. I recognize you've been through shit and suffered for your scars, but your attitude towards him comes across as condescending. Judging him harshly for not having enough serious relationships when your stated history is two LTRs, one of which appears to have been a short marriage, seems unkind.

I'm having trouble parsing exactly what you want in your relationships and I suspect that you may not know at this point either. There's a lot that feels unbalanced as far as the way that your partners and their partners are treated. You want a relationship that's monogamous for a while, that's serious and supportive but not intertwined in ways you view as overly involved and sappy (but would make you feel threatened if your partner were to have it with someone else).

I can put stuff behind me so fast it would make your head spin!

To be blunt, it doesn't feel like you've put your past relationships behind you and until you get some of those issues worked out, future ones (whether with this guy or someone else) are going to be problematic.
posted by Candleman at 9:53 PM on August 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

If it's making you sad, you can't rationalize the pain away. Being unhappy is reason enough not to be with him.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 12:36 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Run far, run fast. Being someone's second-best is a terrible thing. Why don't you think you deserve better? Stop spending all this time and energy angsting over this sad bastard and his gross "soulbond" nonsense. Take the advice wryly and others are offering, and pour that energy into experiences and interactions until your life feels interesting and complete on its own. A partner should be a choice, not a desperate necessity.
posted by the thought-fox at 7:29 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback.

I broke up with him tonight.
posted by mousesinger at 1:58 AM on August 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

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