Took a step back, don't think a friendship will work. What do I owe?
May 15, 2018 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I met someone at work, a pretty intense friendship ensued, we mutually acknowledged "bigger than friends" feelings, but ruled out a romance. After bumping along for a while trying to make the friend thing work, I've realized some things I was doing that weren't great. I asked for some space, got it, and after several months I think it'd be best to just part ways. I'm not sure what I owe.

I'm not sure if a lot more color will help, but:

I began to realize, after we agreed that there couldn't be a romance for some legit reasons, that I was still pretty hooked on them. "Butterflies when I'm around them" stuff. Because we work for the same company in different locations we had a regular sort of video lunch together, and I began to look forward to it with a pretty weird mix of feelings: Partly excited, because any chance to talk to them always made me happy; but also some dread, because some part of me refused to register the "nothing romantic can come of this" agreement, and I could feel a very small, dumb part of me that was holding out hope. I stopped feeling like my best self because they brought that out in me, and started feeling like I was performing my best self because I wanted them to want me back enough to decide maybe something could happen. I didn't feel honest, or like I was acting with integrity.

So after being on that yoyo for a while, I finally took the very hard but immensely relieving step of telling them I needed to cancel that standing time together to get a little space. Since then, it's been pretty quiet. Cordial to each other when professional circumstances bring us together (that's rare). They've contacted me once over a personal channel. I was polite but brief in response.

But after months of not being around each other, I know a few things: I still think about them all the time. I still think about what set of circumstances it would take for something to happen between us. When I see them on a video screen as I walk by some conference room, I still get butterflies and my heart skips a beat. I still feel like I wouldn't really conduct myself with much integrity around them. I know one of us wants something the other does not. Just being apart hasn't caused whatever's going on inside to just heal over or go away, and I'm pretty sure that's just going to take a while. I really look forward to the day I can go a single day without thinking about them.

So, I want to explain myself enough to end the friendship. I don't want to make some big declaration of love or anything like that. I just want to say, "thanks for giving me that space. I don't think a friendship is going to work for me right now. It's not you, it's really, truly me. I feel like asking for space means also asking to have a space held open, and I don't think that's fair."

But I'm not sure what the rules are here, or if there are any. If maybe it's actually more right and proper, having asked for space then not coming back around, to just leave things be as they are with no further comment because, I dunno, everyone knows you're supposed to just fade. I don't know. I just want to be fair, kind, and decent about the whole thing, and I don't want to do anything that reads as an attempt at manipulation or drama.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It’s been months since you’ve asked for space and they’ve respected that. I don’t think you need to reach out to clarify. I think further explanation would be warranted if they reach out to you.
posted by vivzan at 2:08 PM on May 15, 2018 [17 favorites]

It seems you don't have a friendship anymore. I don't see why you need to re-hash it. It seems there is already about as much closure as either of you is going to get.
posted by Aranquis at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

So, I want to explain myself enough to end the friendship .

I think you're upset and sad about not being able to have a relationship here, and you want some closure for yourself. But you guys are barely talking now and have IMed like once since you mutually agreed to back off? The "friendship" is already over, I think. You don't need to explain yourself, they will get it if they have any maturity.

I don't think you really want to be "kind and fair and decent"; I think you want to express yourself and get an acknowledgement and I think part of you may secretly, subconsciously, hoping they will come around and decide to romance after all. Doing what you're describing is still putting this relationship in a romancey discourse, it's the kind of behaviour we only do with strong feelings of affection and emotion, but you actually should be trying to get away from that, keep it a little more formal, don't overshare feelings. That may well help you move on in a faster, easier way.

I think sometimes when we have crushes on people we can get this masochistic streak, and really want to self express our feelings to the other person - even when our feelings have changed, and regardless of what their feelings might be. This is understandable because we are so orientated around these feelings for a period of time.

But I guess I'm saying if you want to get out of that crush territory, you need to change that behaviour, and I would say not to say anything. Changing behaviour changes emotions, which change thoughts. Keep up with the slow fade and best of luck to you.
posted by smoke at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2018 [35 favorites]

You asked for time and space; this person gave you time and space. Unlike everyone else, I think it's appropriate to send a sign-off exactly like the one you initially suggested. I realise this is the age of ghosting, but I don't think that reflects basic human decency. If someone has been decent to you, I think you should treat them accordingly.

But it is your responsibility to be an adult and not continue the correspondence if/when they email back.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, you don't have an obligation to say anything else at this point, I think you can continue on as you've been going. If they do try to ramp up the friendship again, I think a very simple "hey, thank you for giving me space, during that time I realized that it's just probably not best for us to be friends." It sounds like there's enough knowledge of the dynamic on both sides that you don't need to make a big thing about it. Making a special point of bringing it up again will just increase the emotional drama and your mutual entanglement.

You ... also may want to think about looking for a new job. That may sound extreme, but it's already been a few months and you're still thinking about them every day. It can be really hard to get over a crush/romantic feelings if there's the active chance of seeing the crush object every day. I mean, don't do anything rash, but give it some thought.
posted by lunasol at 3:02 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

You've already ended the friendship at this point. The phrase "I need some space" is pretty well understood to include an implied "and I may never come back" on the end, I think. It's been months, you're professionally cordial, and you're not over them but also don't want to try again because you know there's nothing real there. They seem to be handling their end of things well, and haven't made a big deal out of it. There's no kind way to tell someone that you don't want to be their friend. Just let it go, do a little grieving if you have to, and allow yourself to start the process of moving on with your life.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:06 PM on May 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

I agree with others that you don't really owe an explanation.

I also agree with lunasol that it couldn't hurt to consider other job opportunities. Like you, I have a hard time getting past crushes and they eat up a lot of headspace - a combination of distance + time helps a lot.
posted by bunderful at 4:09 PM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

You don't owe him anything. If that frees you up to live your life without worrying about this anymore, then read no more, be free and prosper!

If, even after knowing you don't owe him anything, you find these thoughts of the person still dog you-- that's OK too. This (lack of) relationship has taken up a lot of space in your brain, and may well continue to do so until you get complete with it.

One way that I have learned to get complete with something like this, is to reach out to the person and start by really acknowledging them. "Thank you for being such a fun part of my life at work. Thank you for being a friend to me in a meaningful way when we first met. Thank you for genuinely respecting my request and boundaries when I needed space" (whatever your truth is along these lines). Sometimes i practice this type of language in advance by writing down my acknowledgements in a journal or talking them out with a friend.

Having that acknowledgement as the basis of the communication usually opens something up, for me, about why I invited this person into my life in the first place. And it makes it a lot easier to a) get clear on, and b) declare, what actually works for me moving forward. Sometimes I find to my surprise I actually can and do seek friendship. Sometimes I get clarity that I need to have space from the person. What's going to work best for you in this situation is something only you yourself can really know.

But so many of us unnecessarily walk around with all these little nagging, unfinished, anxiety-inducing stories of "what if?" and "but it doesn't seem done!" bouncing around in our brains taking up valuable space. And sometimes all it takes to finish (or continue!) the story in a way that really works for YOU is to let the other person (and yourself!) know why you wrote them into the story in the first place, and let yourself see what answer arises from there.
posted by seemoorglass at 9:31 PM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

So, I want to explain myself enough to end the friendship.

Nope. That's just an excuse to return to the exciting drama of what you know is a relationship around which you have inappropriate boundaries. You've ramped down and it's the right thing to do. I know it sort of feels hard to leave a thought hanging, but it's best in the end because the urge to resolve is really just the urge to continue, dressed up to pass as rectitude. Move on and let this lie.
posted by Miko at 6:15 AM on May 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, you don't say if you're partnered, but if not this is probably a big signal that you're feeling a bit of a want in your life for someone to be "bigger than friends" with.
posted by Miko at 6:17 AM on May 16, 2018

Writing a letter and not sending it can scratch that communication/closure itch, sometimes. Worth trying.
posted by mosst at 8:02 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

From the other end of a similar situation: I would have liked to have had that door closed to me. Your friend might be on the same page with you-- for legitimate reasons, this relationship cannot be allowed to blossom. Or, your friend may be employing incredibly strong patience, waiting for you to resolve (for yourself) the issues that would arise if your relationship were to blossom. But deeply rooted emotions can be painful when they aren't rationalized into a working context; you don't want the what if's to haunt either you or your friend. I would rather have the door shut and locked, not left ajar.
posted by mule98J at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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