It's taking it out of me to try to stay friends with her
June 23, 2017 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Hi Metafilter! Once upon a time, I was in a relationship that ‘changed the game’ for me. I’ve been dwelling on how powerful it was ever since. We're friends again, but it's hard. Ideally: I’d like to keep the relationship, and change my attitude towards it, so that I have space to change my attitude towards life. Realistically: I know the best way would be to change my attitude towards life, and the focus on the relationship will follow. Hope me. Tough love me.

Metafilter, I need advice. Let me tell you a story of me and a love-interest/best friend. Assume we’re early-twenties then, mid-twenties now.

A few years ago, I had a very beautiful romantic partnership (but not-quite-a-relationship) with a wonderful girl. We fell in love, supported each other nearly without condition, spent loads of time together, got a little physical, and even rather romantic, but never made it effectively a committed relationship, beyond the agreed-upon best-friendship. I was the one who was interested in more – at least in terms of intimacy and commitment – but it either was a wrong thing/wrong time issue, or just not a mutuality. I didn’t push it; and moreover, I was really excited by how what we had seemed to not need it. It surpassed my expectations of friendship tenfold. We were, respectively, confidante and muse. I was young, and blown away by an indescribably deep relationship with another. It lit me up for the first time in my life – and it did so for her too, much in the same way as it did for me, she has intimated.

We both knew it was unique, and perhaps even a bit unhealthy, but it was so darned exciting. Please take it as a given for me that both of us experienced what we had with gratefulness and profundity, and that it registered such great impact on both our lives that we can’t look back at it but with gravitas.

When it came time to move on from her after about two years – she was ready to really date someone, in all seriousness – I supported her with an incredible amount of selflessness, belying some of my feelings. I actually still loved her quite deeply. (They've been together since. I feel okay about that.)

I let her go, and we spoke less and less until it was as if we had broken up. I felt I needed to get over her. Truthfully, I’m not sure I ever did – I think I just displaced her from my life until the memory aged sufficiently. I would have wanted to talk to her at the end, to let her know how I really felt – it probably would have been a better, more conclusive end to what we had, to make explicit our misalignment, just for once. Recently, she reached out to me, and I back to her – after the wound had had years of good time to heal up – and we revisited our connection, both agreeing it was regretful but likely necessary that we took our leave from each another like we did. Also, we both talked and agreed that it seemed such a rotten shame to have had such a powerful connection and not tried to adapt it into the here-and-now. So, we did that – successfully at the outset – but it lit up something in me when we did that.

Our reconnecting came with a goal for me that I verbalized: that, now that we had reconnected, we’d try to be healthier, more individually-focused, and genuinely supportive around the edges (and not ambiguous, nor motivated from the wrong place, nor misguided in our attempts at connection). It was exciting to plan this, but that sort of talk always excited me, and found an appreciative audience with her. But it’s not been that easy. I carried with me a lot of the inbuilt dynamic of our old relationship – my desire for connection retained my wanting for depth and emotional closeness in best-friendship.

Nowadays, we have grown towards minimal amounts of contact – about once a week or less. Part of that’s my choice, recently, after getting exhausted by holding so much space for her – thinking far too often about how to re-find little places of depth in our newly-reborn friendship. But a lot of it’s her lifestyle. She lives far away, and has a very demanding job; she is not able to afford the bandwidth to connect actively, either because of time constraints, energy, or frankly, intent. I’m afraid she resents whatever pressure I put on her to connect, and that saddens the shit out of me. I do a lot of anxious self-talk around being a better friend. It's telling, but I hate being desperate for affection from her. I’m frustrated, remorseful, and just plain wanting to make it better.

I do also know that friendship is a mutuality. That friends don’t typically ‘need’ or pursue or put pressure on each other to connect. That we were never just ‘friends,’ and that I never really attained closure. That said, I’m up for doing the right thing – which I imagine is really and truly letting go in a big way – and yet, doing that feels like it betrays the optimism and goodwill we’ve always tried to share, to put an active damper on what friendship I do have with her in order to take better care of it. Ideally, I want to just talk about it, and have my ducks in a row so I really know what I'm getting at when I ask her to understand where I'm at, and what I need. I want to openly communicate whatever I'm doing, but just enough so that I get the message across.

Argh. Can you help me to frame this better? Help me to cull out the best thing I can do for myself right now? (I'd really like figure out how to embrace and utilize good boundaries, and be able to relate deeply while keeping within them, just in general.) I am actively seeing a therapist, journaling regularly, attempting to meditate and stay mindful, and focusing on hobbies and interests more. What are your thoughts, MetaFilter? Thanks for reading this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Your question seems to be "what do I do about all of this?" Look, you're still pining for your not-ex-girlfriend, and even you seem to recognize that your rekindled friendship is causing you a lot of hurt. You need to spend much, much less time thinking about how to appropriately handle this relationship, and spend much, much more time thing about. . . literally anything else. Seriously. Maybe it's a new fling, maybe it's rekindling your love for fine woodworking, maybe its running a marathon. Doesn't matter what it is, as long as its something else you can devote your time, energy, and attention to that doesn't make you feel bad. Spend at least six months focusing as hard as you can on $newthing, and I'll bet this issue with the old flame resolves itself.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2017 [12 favorites]

You don't think of this woman as a friend. You never have, you still don't. You're romanticizing the shit out of her and your relationship, and she's in a long-term relationship with someone else. Whatever it is you want here, it's not friendship.

I’m up for doing the right thing – which I imagine is really and truly letting go in a big way

There it is. You know the answer.
posted by something something at 12:01 PM on June 23, 2017 [40 favorites]

Yeah, for people who tend to obsess (I know from experience), zero contact for more than ten years is probably what the heart requires.
posted by rikschell at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2017 [12 favorites]

I’m up for doing the right thing – which I imagine is really and truly letting go in a big way – and yet, doing that feels like it betrays the optimism and goodwill we’ve always tried to share, to put an active damper on what friendship I do have with her in order to take better care of it.

Nope! I can see why it'd feel that way, but letting go is probably the only alternative to completely cutting off contact. Focus on how a lot of what you're feeling isn't truly shared, not completely. Sometimes it's easier to go no contact than to be repeatedly seeing the relationship in this "less than it was, less than you want" state.

Sorry, these first-love things can be really hard to let go of. All this stuff you want about a supportive but grounded, boundaried, and mutual relationship will come much easier with others in the future. This one may always be a real head trip.
posted by salvia at 12:31 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think your last paragraph describes some excellent ways to move forward. I suggest that you use therapy as a way to help you make the life you want, rather than spend a lot of time talking about the relationship youre putting behind you. Put your energy into doing things that satisfy you, because you can't stop sad thoughts unless you replace them with something else that matters to you. As for communicating to her that you need to cut off contact, tell the truth as simply as you can. Maybe say, "I'd love to be friends with you but it's too hard for me and I feel __________." ( Sad? Confused? Frustrated? Uncomfortable?) "It's better for me if we don't contact each other."»
posted by wryly at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2017

Nowadays, we have grown towards minimal amounts of contact – about once a week or less. Part of that’s my choice, recently, after getting exhausted by holding so much space for her – thinking far too often about how to re-find little places of depth in our newly-reborn friendship. But a lot of it’s her lifestyle.

A lot of it is her putting distance between the two of you. Perhaps she recognizes that your existing dynamic is unhealthy and is trying to break away from it. I would suggest that you do the same.

Not to make this about me, but I had a similar relationship that I clung to emotionally for much too long, even long after the other participant had moved on. At the same age, even. In retrospect, I was clinging to a non-existent fantasy and to the pain of not having it realized, because it was easier and more romantic to pine and carry a torch. than to move on and find something real. And you know what, that clinging and pining formed a scar, a habit, that created a real and lasting detriment to my ability to have fulfilling relationships with other people. What I should have done was cut that person out of my life and never looked back. I would have been free of that emotional handcuff years and years sooner.

Let. Go. Do what I didn't do, just mentally wish her well and block her and forget she exists. You will be doing yourself a huge, huge favor. Whatever the two of you had, it has reached a point of completion and no longer exists. You can't get it back. Whatever you think you have now and what it "could be", it isn't real. Let go, move on, look to the future, and know that if you loved like this once, you can do it again with someone else. Make a conscious choice to do so.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:58 PM on June 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

Tell her, "I'm not in a good place to be in a friendship with you. Best wishes." There is no perfect phrasing that will make all of this all right, and agonizing over it is just another means for your brain to hyper-focus on her. Make the break, and keep working with your therapist.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:05 PM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

You're trying to have an emotional affair with someone who is already in a committed intimate relationship. She's being normal, you are obsessing.

Let me help you here, OK?

It is the height of selfishness to push this relationship considering she has a boyfriend. Likely her best friend is her boyfriend, and yes, being in touch multiple times per month is likely too much contact for someone already having their intimate needs met.

Your intimate needs can not be met by this person. Get out there, meet new people, work on yourself. Actively let this connection go by re-focusing on yourself. Get a practice going. Fall back on your practice every single time you start thinking that being in touch with this woman is a good idea. It's not a good idea! She's with someone else! You are being the "bad guy" in this situation. Since I know you don't think of yourself as a bad person, stop pursuing this woman so that your impression of yourself and the reality of your conduct is in sync. Stop pursuing someone in a committed intimate relationship Full stop.

Alternate Take....

You are worthy of more than this person's table scraps. Find another person you "click" with that is fully emotionally available and 1000% into you. Take better care of yourself by getting out there and finding this feeling with the right person. This woman is not the right person, table scraps are not enough. Do better for yourself. Start now.
posted by jbenben at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

You're in love with her, and holding onto the jagged edges of "what could have been". She probably loved/loves you in one form or another, but not in a way that yall could translate to a working LTR of the type that you wanted, and that she now has with her boyfriend.

In my opinion grief and heartbreak don't really go away if you ignore them.... You have to really face, and wade through the muck of all the loss and negative feelings. You had something wonderful, for a time. That time has passed. Holding onto it is causing you pain; praying/hoping/wishing for something you can't make happen is, at best, bittersweet. But not really a long term strategy.

I'm sorry that it didn't work out. I think letting it go is the best option... It frees up space in your life for a new person to give you that depth of intimacy and care
posted by Jacen at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I want to openly communicate whatever I'm doing, but just enough so that I get the message across. Argh. Can you help me to frame this better?

Yeah. You're in love with a woman who used to be your best friend and is now only a casual friend. You want to tell her what it's like to be in love with her and how much you want to be her best friend again. You are making this into an endless intolerable loop (I want to tell her, but she doesn't want to hear it, but I want to tell her, but she doesn't want to hear it, but I want to tell her). Cut the loop. here's how:

I want to tell her. But I can sense she doesn't want to hear it. So I won't.

(Or: I can sense she doesn't want to hear it, but I need to tell her. So I will, and then we won't talk anymore.)

(I'd really like figure out how to embrace and utilize good boundaries, and be able to relate deeply while keeping within them, just in general.)

Keeping within boundaries means that you cannot relate deeply to people who are not interested in deep relationships, even if they used to be. Another way to phrase your parenthetical is: I'd like to be both good and happy. this is not possible in every single situation.

Your situation is normal, is the thing. indescribably deep gravitas or no, this relationship is normal and typical and simple. You are talking it into a very big, very complicated, and very unique problem, because it seems like the complexity of it should match the difficulty. but it's not complex, just hard. don't try to use this to make yourself feel better, because it won't, but try to believe it, because it's true.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:50 PM on June 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

We both knew it was unique, and perhaps even a bit unhealthy, but it was so darned exciting.

There are chemicals your body produces that make you feel this way. I don't mean to say this to be dismissive, those feelings are real, but they are generated for reasons not all of which are to make you happy in the long term. Also because sometimes understanding why you feel so ... weird can be helpful, or not. For me it was helpful to understand this: being with that person was, in some ways like being on drugs. Having them not be there (especially be there and not-there) is like withdrawal.

It might also be helpful for you to hear a story about my sister. She had a relationship with a very nice man that was casual but intense for a very long time. She broke off the FWB aspect of it when she decided she wanted to be in a committed partnered relationship which did not seem like it was an option for that guy. However, as soon as she had made that decision he suddenly was up for a relationship. Not only that but he was bereft that she was suddenly unavailable. She wanted to be friends and that limped along for a while but while they were very close, he still was in love with her. She loved him but not in that way. He wouldn't stop being mooney eyed and mopey and more than once wanted to talk to her about how hard this was for him. And she was like "We are not in that kind of relationship anymore so you have to process those feelings on your own. I made a decision, I can not feel guilty about your feelings because I specifically chose to not be your special person"

He couldn't move on, she finally had to go no contact because she had set a boundary ("We are not going to be in a relationship, you have to accept that if we are to continue our friendship"). After a while she missed him (and he her) and they tried getting together for very NON DATE activities and it went well. She was happy to have him back in her life as a friend. This proceeded for a few months until.... He just HAD TO TELL HER how mopey and sad he's been because he's hung up on her and etc. And ... this was very hard for her because at its core it's about a guy who is not respecting your boundaries. I do not know your gender and am not saying this is a gender thing, but for women it's a red flag when someone is not respecting your boundaries. When someone knows you don't want a thing but THEY want it and that matters to them more than your feelings. So it might help for you to just understand that there is a toxic element in that feeling of wanting something that, practically speaking, you can't have and doing something that dumps it in someone else's lap. Don't do that.

And realistically remember that she may be trying to care for your feelings anyhow, and she may not be being as clear about her feelings for her current person or her "I don't like you like that" feelings about you. You should let her actions guide you in terms of whatever level of friendship probably works for her and try to balance it with your own. If it were me, I'd be really trying to fade on this because you're sort of drunk on the what if"ness of being around her and that's disrespectful to her current situation. She doesn't have the same mutual deep relationship with you as you did. You "fixing this" should be about you working on your own feelings not processing it with her. I am sorry, I know it's a bad feeling. It will get better.
posted by jessamyn at 4:03 PM on June 23, 2017 [18 favorites]

I bet you have other friends, and it might be interesting to take some of her behaviors and imagine that another friend, someone who you don't have any kind of romantic connection or history at all, doing the same things. In a regular friendship with no hidden agendas, if a friend isn't able to connect very frequently that's usually not an cause for misery. It sounds like she wants a regular friendship and you want romance.

letting go in a big way – and yet, doing that feels like it betrays the optimism and goodwill we’ve always tried to share,

Show yourself some goodwill and optimism. Trust that you can let go of this and move on and be happier for it, and that there are healthier, better relationships in your future.

And that's showing her some goodwill too, since she's not on the same page that you are, and presumably you want to respect her boundaries and her current relationship.

No contact for about 10 years seems about right. No need to tell her that, just tell her you can't be friends and that you wish her well. Then block block block.
posted by bunderful at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you two had a strong connection. It also sounds like you're still in love with her. She, however, for whatever reason, does not love you the same way. She likes you, and she feels the connection too, but she didn't pick you. She still isn't picking you, and truthfully, she won't pick you. Maybe in ten years she'll contact you again and say something like she was young and didn't know what she was doing and she should have, but even then, she'll know she's settling for what she didn't want. It's even possible that deep down, she likes the idea that you're still pining for her, she likes the romantic idea that someone is waiting for her.

Trust me, this will keep on going for years. I know, because I've been on both sides of this. Repeat this to yourself: She didn't pick me. And let her go.

Close that chapter of your life. Learn from its lessons. You'll never have another relationship like that because you'll never be that age again. But you'll have others. You can't move on, though, while still nursing the tiny bit of hope that you have. And that hope will cause you to waste your life, waiting on someone who isn't waiting on you.

It'll take time. You might even be thinking that your connection with her was almost otherworldly, or fated. You might think she's your soulmate. If so, Elizabeth Gilbert's friend told her that you can never actually stay with a soulmate forever. It's too painful - you're only meant to meet them, and have them shake up your life, love them, and then let them go after they've taught you what you needed to learn. So, let her go. And get on with your life.
posted by umwhat at 5:55 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a best friend like this. He got a girlfriend. I backed right back and now we occasionally like each others status on Facebook a few times a year and that's it. It took time, but it doesn't hurt anymore. Being in relationships of my own helped with that. And time. And genuinely wishing him well enough with his new relationship that I don't want to muddy it.
It was a special thing at the time, and a special memory now, but we have both moved on. The last time we caught up, it was just too weird. We've both tactfully, without saying anything, made sure that that doesn't happen again.

I want a real relationship. I'm sure you do to. You'll find it and it will be better than a half finished love.
posted by Chrysalis at 6:53 AM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

PS one thing that helped me was considering his lovely new girlfriend. I realized that the most respectful and supportive thing I could do for both her and for him would be to not be a shadow. That I would not want to have a partner who had some unrequited love on the peripheral. That she deserved better than that. I feel really good about it.
posted by Chrysalis at 7:00 AM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

100% what Jessamyn said. The person you really need to break up with is the imagined version of her you are still having a relationship with in your mind. You are having an emotional experience she is not sharing. Any attempts you could make to push this connection to be more intimate than she has directly expressed that she wants, either by asking for more contact than she is giving or expressing romantic feelings for her, would be a form of disrespect. At that point, those overtures would be about your emotions and agenda vs the objective reality of the relationship.

Unrequited love can feel extremely special, but it has a very real dark side. You hint that you realize the connection may be unhealthy, but it seems like you don't want to look at that very closely. I'd encourage you to consider that possibility more. It is objectively ok that she didn't love you and it's correct to not punish her for it, but it shouldn't be ok for you. I'm not saying the connection you experienced wasn't real and mutual in a lot of ways, but I suspect you are avoiding letting go of your romantic feelings on some level because it would require you to process how deeply her rejection has hurt you and will tarnish your idealized view of her.

Never accept scraps of love from a person and make that sufficient. It is not sufficient and you cannot have a fully reciprocated relationship with someone until you require their love as a condition of your investment.
posted by amycup at 10:05 AM on June 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

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