My best friend is getting into an LTR, and I'm feeling lost.
November 26, 2018 6:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 30-year-old man, and I have a best friend who's a woman. We've known each other for 10 years, and our friendship is unusually close. When we met in college, our relationship was flirty and couple-y at first, but we drew clear boundaries over time and there are no romantic feelings between us anymore. There is a lot of love, however—true, unconditional love—and we make sure to show each other this love often. She has shown me *so* much support and affection over the years, and I've become a better person from having known her. I can't stress enough how much this friend means to me. In turn, she often tells me that she'd be completely lost without me. I feel physical pain at the thought of not having her around. Well: my friend is starting to date a new boyfriend, and my spidey sense tell me that he might be The One. Suddenly, I'm finding myself in crisis mode. I mean, complete and utter despair, to the point of being unable to function, that I might actually be alone for the rest of my life.

A bit about me. I'm an extreme introvert, and though my friend frequently tells me how charming and lovable I am, I just don't form bonds with people, even ones who I've known for decades. This friend is the single exception to the rule. By freak chance, she actually managed to get inside my bubble, which no one before or since had managed to do. She's pretty much the only person I talk to outside my family and coworkers. She's the only person I'm comfortable spending indefinite periods of time with. I've had roommates, lived in communal housing, and traveled through hostels, and it's all been the same: people just don't seem to stick to me. I've never had a significant other.

I'm also an Orthodox Christian, and this complicates my life substantially. In effect, I can't date. There's no premarital sex in our religion, and birth control is basically prohibited, so any dating is just a fast track to marriage and starting a family. I certainly want companionship, but I don't think I want children. Complicating matters is the fact that while I try to stay true to my faith, I basically live in a state of perpetual doublethink from living in a liberal society. I can't reconcile my two disparate value systems, and I don't think I could ever be with someone who didn't feel the same kind of insurmountable internal conflict. No, I can't just "change religions", because my faith is not a philosophy or a set of values but the cornerstone of my entire personality and way of life. At this point, it's basically wired into my DNA.

Back to the problem at hand. In truth, I've been using my friendship as a sort of relationship proxy. As I said, our bond is unusually close. She shares her bank accounts with me. I gladly go and get her snacks or medicine when she needs it. Sometimes I spend the night at her place and we cuddle and watch TV. (Trust me, it's not sexual.) She sometimes buys me presents for no reason. Sometimes she holds my hand when we're walking around. We talk for hours about our successes and failures. We're always each others' plus-ones, and our mutual friends are used to thinking of us as an inseparable pair. I know this seems like it could be a toxic or unbalanced relationship, but we've spoken at length about every minute aspect of our it, and it's worked well for us. We comfort each other through the difficulties of life.

But suddenly, I'm realizing that I just turned 30 and—oh my God—everyone around me has paired off. I don't know why I didn't notice it before, but I'm going to be the last person standing, and it's going to last forever. My friend and I joked that if things didn't work out in our love lives, we'd start a cat colony together. In the back of my mind, though it was mostly a joke, I kind of pictured this as our future. She has also said that even though guys will come and go, I will always be the most important person in her life, and this has been proven time and time again for as long as I've known her. Her friendship is unshakably loyal. But I sense that marriage will be different. Eventually, I expect that while I'll still be a person she deeply cares about—in the back of her mind—her life will be ultimately focused on her partner and (maybe?) her family. She will have her own cozy world separate from mine. I won't be the person who brings her comfort when she needs it the most. Meanwhile, I'll go home to an empty apartment, microwave a TV dinner, watch Bojack Horseman for the hundredth time, and think about how lucky I was to have what I had for those 10 warm and loving years.

I've talked to her about all this, of course. She tells me that no matter what happens, I will never stop being an utmost priority to her, and she has even told her new boyfriend as much. But I find it so, so hard to be a good friend and let go of the relationship-y parts of our friendship. It's sad: I've had a lot of success and good fortune in my life, but I think the happiest I've ever been is when we would huddle under blankets and watch our favorite shows together. That trivial bit of physical companionship simply beats out every bit of career success, professional acclaim, and creative fulfillment. Obviously, this is something that will go away with a long-term partner. It's incredibly unfair to her that I feel this way, but I do.

I know. I've painted myself into a corner. I'm not in love with my best friend, but it would be easy to flip that switch, and I fear I'm going to spend my entire life wondering why I didn't shove all my religious wiring into a corner and ask her to be my girlfriend. It took me 10 years to get this close to another human being. I know almost everything about her. Her life is inseparably part of mine. Her mom adores me, and my parents adore her! How could any other relationship possibly live up to the depth of our friendship? Maybe this is my one chance to actually be happy, and I'm going to blow it for reasons that would seem absurd to any secular person.

How can I be the best friend she speaks of so lovingly, and be really, truly happy for her?

How do I have faith in the strength of our friendship and not feel jealous of her significant others?

What do I do with myself to ensure that I don't get eaten by cats, cold and alone, in a trash-littered apartment?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
How could any other relationship possibly live up to the depth of our friendship? Maybe this is my one chance to actually be happy, and I'm going to blow it for reasons that would seem absurd to any secular person.

Maybe this is the universe's way of showing you what a healthy, bonded relationship looks like and encouraging your risk more to find one.

You don't need to shove all of your religious faith aside, either. No, you can't have sex but yes, you can date - you have just been making excuses so you didn't have to date so you could invest all your attention into this woman.

Go date women who are actually appropriate potential partners. Go date a lot of them.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:35 AM on November 26, 2018 [34 favorites]


I just wanted to address one aspect here.

I'm an extreme introvert, and though my friend frequently tells me how charming and lovable I am, I just don't form bonds with people, even ones who I've known for decades. This friend is the single exception to the rule.

I can't reconcile my two disparate value systems, and I don't think I could ever be with someone who didn't feel the same kind of insurmountable internal conflict. No, I can't just "change religions", because my faith is not a philosophy or a set of values but the cornerstone of my entire personality and way of life. At this point, it's basically wired into my DNA.

I know you think these things are set aspects of your personality, engraved into the hard bedrock of your fundamental self, that you can never, ever change these traits no matter what life throws at you or how old you grow.

But you will change. You just don't know how yet. Be open to change, be open to seeing all the richness and kindness of life, be open to the fact that you can be a different person, or learn to enjoy things that may have been foreign to you.

Be open to the idea that there are other people who could give you what she has given you, be it a significant other, or a multitude of friends, or sibling/ parent/ relative. And then you won't be so scared or anxious of change anymore.

For some science on change, see:

- article on Science: The End of History Illusion

- and context here: Our Personalities Are Constantly Changing, Even if We Think They’re Not
posted by moiraine at 6:37 AM on November 26, 2018 [18 favorites]


I think this statement says it all...

"I fear I'm going to spend my entire life wondering why I didn't shove all my religious wiring into a corner and ask her to be my girlfriend."

I think your problem may be less the fear of being alone the rest of your life than I missed the love of my life. Perhaps if you addressed that side of things, you could feel more joy and ease at her finding her "one". And you could move on too.
posted by jraz at 6:39 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


Oh anon, my heart aches for you. What you are feeling is 100% normal. You and your friend had a surrogate partnership for years, and it sounds like perhaps, you do have feelings for her, as you mention you could “flip that switch”.

But, your friendship is going to change. You’re right that your friend is no longer going to be available, she now has another “plus one”, and your lives won’t be the same. It’s okay to mourn this - many people are a tiny bit mournful when someone close to them gets married - from best friends to siblings to parents. And it’s okay to talk to her about this, that you miss her and it will be hard for you. But also be mindful of your requests for her time - you won’t see her as much and her focus in life is changing. Life is changes. It’s hard, but it happens.

So, how will you fill your time? Are you currently seeing a therapist? If not, please do so. These are hard emotions you’re dealing with, and it will help to talk through them with a neutral party. Have you tried dating? In earnest? Perhaps you haven’t felt a need, or perhaps you never really gave it a fair shake, because you always had your friend to fill your emotional and physical, but not sexual, needs. But now’s your chance. I would think there must be orthodox Christian dating sites. Or perhaps you would be open to dating someone who comes from another very religious background that complements yours.

So, worst case scenario? Say you don’t ever get married and you only see your friend once a month from here on out? What do you want your life to be? How will you make it meaningful? You will need to find another path. Maybe you won’t ever find another friend like her, but you can find other friends that are wonderful and enrich your life. I’m an introvert as well and for a long time thought that every friend needed to be a potential best friend or else I wouldn’t bother opening up. But it’s nice to have friends that are fun companions for certain activities, like hiking or political rallies or volunteering, so perhaps you can find a circle of friends like these to spread your attention around. And find some new causes, or delve more deeply into ones you have already. Envision another life, one that thrills you, and go after it.
posted by umwhat at 6:45 AM on November 26, 2018 [16 favorites]


You need to start dating. I remember a similar question from you some time ago, and I believe that was my advice then as well. You have created this "I can't date because my religion combines with my world view to make it impossible" out of whole cloth. You can and should date. You can date people of your religion, and if you do you might find your opinions on childbearing change. You can date people outside of your religion, and you might find others who are committed to celibacy before marriage, or perhaps your opinions on celibacy might change. There is simply no way for you to find someone else in the world unless you, y'know, look for them.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:48 AM on November 26, 2018 [27 favorites]


Do you have a faith-based counselor you can speak with? Because I actually think the big deal here is that you don't think you want kids and in your tradition that means that you should eschew all romantic entanglements. The reason you don't want to date is because dating leads to marriage and marriage leads to children, and if you don't want the end result you shouldn't even start along that path. (I have Orthodox friends and they are all married and have big families so I do get that if you don't want that there's not much of a model for a way to be otherwise in your faith.)

I think umwhat has some wise here. What you have with your friend really isn't sustainable, but you've been using it as a way to avoid the central question of what gives life (and specifically your life) meaning. The work you need to do here is to decide, if the path of marriage and children is not for you, what is for you? Because as much as this friendship has done for you, I think you've really done yourself a disservice in letting this go on for so long. It's allowed you to experience something important and profound, but you based it on a technical loophole of it not being a sexual relationship (I would definitely call it romantic-- re-read what you wrote above and imagine someone saying those things to you about another person). It has allowed you to ignore some really basic, central existential questions that otherwise would have arisen a long time ago.

So, I'm going to dissent a bit and say that dating or no dating, you still have unresolved questions about what you're on this planet for, and you'll keep having those until you figure it out.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:08 AM on November 26, 2018 [28 favorites]


I know how restrictive the Orthodox Church is about marriage. However, if you haven't tried dating any other Orthodox single women, you don't know for sure whether or not there are liberal-minded, non-child-desiring partners out there that have been baptized in the Church and are being sneaky about it. And if you're 30, here's some bonus information: your religion permits divorce in some situations, so there may be a second crop of potential partners ending their first marriages soon who are your contemporaries. So that's one approach.

I don't know as much about the Orthodox Church as the Catholic but I can tell you that there are both lay and religious communities in the Catholic Church which seek to find a "third way" for people who want to be celibate and to live in community. Maybe that's something you can look into?

Another way is to cultivate more friendships in your life, so that you have the joys in your life that you want. If what you love is cuddling under blankets with someone watching movies, you can start building ties to people who might be into that. Find some activities that bring you into regular contact with people, and be open to those people...if your faith is a big part of your life, maybe that's the best place to start? A dog also can lie on the couch with you.

About your fears... I've been married almost 25 years and have two kids, and here's a secret for you: I still worry I will die alone with my cats, because nothing in life is guaranteed. I've lost a child, so I know kids can die first. My husband's older than I am and statistically also likely to die first, and I'm raising my kids to be good decent people who also have their own independent lives and so maybe they'll be off living their lives the week I fall down and break my hip. Maybe I'll get dementia and wander off. I cannot predict the future. What I can do is focus on loving my life today.

You are really lucky to have gotten all this information! Go seek more of what makes you happy.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:11 AM on November 26, 2018 [18 favorites]


I'm an asexual, aromantic person who will probably die alone with her cats - well, at that point I hope I don't have cats so I have nothing that relies on me.

Coming to terms with the fact that you might spend the rest of your life alone is something that everyone has to do. Many people who are looking for partners don't find one. Many who do find partners lose them - unless you both die at the same time, one of you will go first.

I think you need to do the following things:

(a) Find a community that you can be in. Some people do this by getting involved in their religion - I know this might be difficult for you if you feel like fellow Orthodox Christians aren't struggling like you, so, it doesn't have to be religion. Perhaps it can be volunteering, or crafting, or a club for some activity.

Most human beings need social contact. We're social animals. If you have more outlets for social contact and bonding, your desperation for contact with this one person might lessen.

You say you're an introvert and it's hard to make friends. Here's something someone else said on Ask MeFi that's stuck with me: It's been shown that the best way to make friends is repeated contact over a period of time. (Or something like that.) Friends don't just happen because you feel a spark. They happen as you grow accustomed to each other and a bond grows. You can become friends with people who, at first, might not even seem that particularly interesting to you. This does require you to make an effort to be social with people in your orbit, but even as an introvert you can do that.

(b) Be honest about what you want and what you can do about it. It's completely normal to want a partner. You might not find one, but you can look. So, how can you meet people you're compatible with? Which of your preconceptions about who would make a good partner are absolutely true, and which can you be more flexible on?

Don't expect having a partner to fill this hole you feel. It's not generally good for your partner to be your only friend, as you're finding out now. You essentially had a non-romantic partner, and look: This person might be reducing their role in your life. Partners leave, or die, or you can drift apart. Lives change. Become resilient to change by not putting all your social eggs in one basket.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:30 AM on November 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


we drew clear boundaries over time and there are no romantic feelings between us anymore.

I just don't think that's true. I think you've been in a long-term romantic relationship for many years and that relationship looks to be ending and you are feeling exactly what we all feel when that happens.

Most relationships like that have a sexual component, but not all do. Yours didn't. That doesn't make it any less worth mourning.

30-year-olds whose spouse falls in love with someone else and divorces them, even when it's amicable, feel really really bad. Just like you do. And those 30-year-olds also very often find romantic happiness in life again, especially if they are kind, decent people, as you seem to be.

You have a challenge most people don't, which means that (if I understand correctly) your religious beliefs mean you are looking for true love and companionship without sex. That doesn't make you asexual. But it does mean that you might look to people who identify as asexuals when you seek out people you can be in a relationship with for the long term.
posted by escabeche at 7:34 AM on November 26, 2018 [45 favorites]


Like you, I had a super-extra-close female friend all the way through my 20s (I'm male). Each of us was a little bit (or sometimes maybe a lot) in love with the other at various times (although never quite at the same time). Whenever each of us was in a relationship with others, it got a bit weird & awkward, until we got used to that.

Now, decades later, we're both in long-term stable relationships with others, with children. That transition can work. But it's challenging. We're still friends, though. She's still very very important to me.

You have a great headstart here because you can already talk about this with your friend. Keep doing that. Tell her that you're scared about the future & how things might change & what you'd miss if they did. She'll have her version of similar feelings too, I guess. Only the two of you can figure out how it will work out for you both.

How that all plays into your religion & position on dating etc is... yeah, obviously quite complicated. Probably more so that for a lot of people, and these things are already complicated for a lot of people. But what can you do? You can only live your life in good faith with whatever authenticity is available to you at the time. Talk to the people you love & be honest with them. None of us is guaranteed a happy ending, unfortunately. But we can give it a fair & honest shot & see what happens.

Good luck.
posted by rd45 at 7:44 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I just don't form bonds with people, even ones who I've known for decades. This friend is the single exception to the rule. By freak chance, she actually managed to get inside my bubble, which no one before or since had managed to do.

This, believe it or not, is a choice. I say this as someone who regularly feels "left out", lonely, and doesn't have many friends.

If you want friendships in your life, you have to acknowledge that it's not other people's job to try to "get inside your bubble" and work on making that bubble more permeable so it's easier to penetrate. That means taking an active role to facilitate different types of friendships. Not all of them will be the type of deep and close friendship you have with this woman. Some will be more like aquaintences. Some you'll talk about politics and others you'll talk about your hopes and dreams and others you'll talk about work... Nobody is going to fill all of your social needs and it's not fair to expect anyone to, including your future spouse. This is less satisfying and more work than what you have had with this woman, but you will just have to live with it. Not every friendship needs to be, or should be, a ten-course meal. Some start as a snack. Work on developing more social relationships. You need them.

I certainly want companionship, but I don't think I want children I'm sure there are cathodox women out there who are infertile or asexual. I'm sure there are lay communities where you can live in companionship with other humans. However, the big thing about BC is that it seperates the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, right? So it sounds like you're just looking for a workaround to get the unitive without the procreative, but without technically breaking any rules, which is kind of not the point. Is it possible that you are called to monastic life rather than married life? Have you talked to a priest about this?


I can't reconcile my two disparate value systems, and I don't think I could ever be with someone who didn't feel the same kind of insurmountable internal conflict

My friend, I say this with compassion: this is disordered. Being unable to integrate your faith and values and living with constant internal conflict is seriously unhealthy. Wanting that same dysfunction from a partner is... Awful, really horrid. You might not see it because you think there is some kind of nobility or depth in this internal struggle, but if it doesn't lead to a resolution, there's no valor in it. Just neuroses.

There are many people who have found a way to reconcile their faith and their politics even if those are popularly opposed. That's part of the work of living your faith, is coming to that synthesis. You don't have to just "change religions", but if your religion is truly a cornerstone of your personhood, you need to change something. Wrestle with God until you are victorious or defeated, don't stay in this holding pattern and call it success or wish it on other people.

I'm not in love with my best friend,

I respectfully disagree, and I think you are especially in love with the imaginaryness of the relationship. You get your emotional needs met but with very low stakes and no real commitment or need to change. It's avoident.

What do I do with myself to ensure that I don't get eaten by cats, cold and alone, in a trash-littered apartment?

Go to a therapist about your avoidant tendancies and difficulty communicating with and connecting to other humans. Read some books about how to develop connections and feel loved. Read about social skills and work on them in various settings. Spend time actively building friendships and nurturing them. Do social activities. And clean your apartment. You can do this.
posted by windykites at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2018 [52 favorites]


One of the best pieces of advice I've gotten is, when someone sets a boundary with you, it's okay to think about the "no," but also think about what they're saying "yes" to.

It sounds like she's saying "yes" to a lifelong friendship where you continue to make room for each other even as your situations change. She's saying "yes" to making your friendship something adaptable and resilient. She's demonstrating a commitment to those things, by insisting that her new partner needs to know about and accept you. And if you have a friendship that can survive this change, odds are better that it can survive other changes too. If you get married, or if one of you gets sick, or moves, or has a career change, maybe you'll be more confident about weathering those changes because you weathered this one.

These aren't exactly the thing you want. And they don't take away the grief that you're currently going through. But once you're through that grief, they're things that could bring you both an incredible amount of joy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:12 AM on November 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


A sort of chain of thoughts here:

1) this relationship you've been in for 10 years, mixed blessing that it has been, has left you with important skills that not everyone learns even in a lifetime. Just the communication you've learned to do is more than many men ever achieve. Build on the good lessons you have learned, and find useful lessons to take away from the bad things. That's all any of us can do when a long-term relationship ends.

2) you have a massive reckoning coming when the numbness wears off, because you have been taken advantage of and also let yourself be taken advantage of and also gaslit yourself out of doing any work on your own behalf to prepare for your own future. You've been very passive, letting all this happen, because it was easy; you didn't realize you were incurring a difficulty debt that would come due one day. There will be grief and anger and epiphanies and waves of shock and new paths and opportunities opening up ahead of you.

3) because of these things that are about to happen, the person you are today is likely going to be nearly unrecognizable in 12, 18, 24 months. Don't make the mistake of assuming you won't change, nothing will change, and everything will be/feel/seem exactly like they do today, forever. It would take an enormous effort to not change, less effort than changing will take.

3a) it's unlikely your friendship with her will survive either your aftermath or her changed priorities (they HAVE to change, assuming this other person doesn't intend to have that close a relationship with you, and she is either lying or naive to say that you can continue to be first in her life), or at the very least it may need to end or be drastically diminished for a while before it can be reborn in its new form

3b) that's not an automatically bad thing, as painful as it will be in the interim, as any decades-long friendship is going to have to go through some forging.

3c) you will suffer less if you decide now that it can never go back to how it was before. I mean, you must be hoping deep down that this attempt to leave your cozy blanket fort will fail and you can go right back to what you had before, but that's just asking for a fool-me-twice situation you have to pay for later. In your head, if you absolutely must, give her 10 weeks to change her mind and come back ready to commit, change religions, and make it legal...but also give yourself 10 weeks to decide whether you could actually ever trust her again even if she did.

4) to that end, worry about aftermath and processing right now. Worry about the next year and two years right now, not the part where you get eaten by your cats as an old man. You are *so young*, you have time. Your more secular, partying peers mostly haven't even started grappling with all this yet (many never will), and a large wave of the more "settled" ones are about to come tumbling out of their first marriages absolutely baffled about why they ended. You're not late to the game, nowhere near it.

5) Two years from now you may still feel strongly about a) remaining close to your faith and faith community b) not having children c) maybe not being interested in a sexual relationship, though surprising things may manifest there in the next two years (but if nothing else, after a 2-year period of active contemplation you should know much better how you feel about that). In any case, two years from now you'll have a better grip on what kinds of relationships (including friendship, community, professional, theological, romantic, and domestic) you want for yourself and also be starting to see how to have them. Whatever it is you decide to pursue for yourself, it's all possible if you are willing to do the work - and right now, just don't be UNwilling to do it. Leave the door open a while yet.

6) So start looking for a therapist to help guide you through doing this work. You've got a lot coming at you, it's going to be a wild ride. Just don't make any assumptions right now, don't think that any specific future is set in stone just yet.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:46 AM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was very good friends with one of my exes from years ago. We were together for 4 years and then best friends afterward. I always joked that he would give me away at my wedding. He was definitely like family to me. After we broke up, there was nothing sexual about our relationship (there was nothing sexual about it fullstop, which is why we broke up). Anyway, we continued like this for a good 4 or 5 years after our break up, until he got a new gf. When he was dating, he used to tell me all about the people he was dating and I encouraged him with this woman. After a while, they got serious, and a while after that she decided he couldn't be friends with me. I fought it for a long time, tried to show that I wasn't interested in him sexually, but she thought I was, and that was that. Now we message each other a few times a year.

I had to mourn that because it felt like a death. I still feel sad about it sometimes. This person was my one person from 18 to about 27. It was significant loss in my life. But I'm married now, and my husband is the most important person in my life, and I wouldn't change that.

I guess what I'm saying is: things change, and it happens to all of us. Relationships that we thought would stay the same forever fall apart. That's life. I'm not trying to diminish your pain but rather show that this is part of something: being human. So I think you have to accept this and allow yourself to grieve this change. I also agree with others that you need to allow yourself to change with it.
posted by thereader at 9:52 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


This isn't a situation that I have personal insight into, but I recently read Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, which I found a really beautiful and frank book on the loneliness, doubt, and fulfillment that the author found in choosing to be celibate. Maybe there's something in there for you.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:57 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think some of what you're telling yourself is beautiful, thoughtful, avoidant bunk.

"I just don't form bonds with people... This friend is the single exception to the rule. By freak chance, she actually managed to get inside my bubble, which no one before or since had managed to do. She's pretty much the only person I talk to outside my family and coworkers... people just don't seem to stick to me."

This lack of bonding in your life? Your fault. Your friend is not a magical unicorn who defied spacetime to puncture your bubble with her rainbow horn. You, just you, steadfastly refuse to make yourself emotionally vulnerable to other people. That's your problem, not her unique strength. Good news! You can work on it.

"In effect, I can't date. There's no premarital sex in our religion, and birth control is basically prohibited, so any dating is just a fast track to marriage and starting a family."

Uh, dating doesn't require sex? Many forms of erotic and sexual activity don't require birth control? These are illogical jumps. Plus, there are definitely asexual folks out there who would be happy to form a committed, companionate bond. Go meet some.

"The happiest I've ever been is when we would huddle under blankets and watch our favorite shows together... obviously, this is something that will go away with a long-term partner."

Why will it go away? It's your friendship. You two get to set the rules. Yes, your relationship will change. But you can still do cozy stuff like snug on the couch. Intimacy doesn't die just because someone new enters the mix. That's the biggest load of crap in all monogamy! Every human relationship involves intimate feeling. One person cannot meet all needs. Such an ugly, damaging lie.

"I'm not in love with my best friend..."

Not if "love" means emotional intimacy, romantic feeling and sex. But I think it's worthwhile to consider each of these strains separately, and reflect how each comprises love on its own. #1 - you have it. #2 - present in the past, arguably in the mix now...

"It would be easy to flip that switch, and I fear I'm going to spend my entire life wondering why I didn't shove all my religious wiring into a corner and ask her to be my girlfriend."

So don't wonder. Ask! There is no conflict here. She will say no, and you will have to move on. Or she will say maybe... and you can talk about what that looks like, in accordance with your history and your faith.
posted by fritillary at 10:10 AM on November 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


My main question reading this: how compatible are you two really? This religious stuff sounds pretty hard-wired for you, and she doesn't seem to share your worldview. That basic comparability stuff is what makes or breaks an actual relationship. The reason I ask is because it's easier to let go of an idea that has some basis in reality than a pretty fantasy untested by real world Stuff. You've had ten years to date her, and you didn't do that. There are probably some good practical reasons for that.

You remind me a little of my best friend, who is asexual and has made no secret that they would love to date me. Every so often this causes weirdness in our relationship. But unlike them I have enough hands-on relationship experience to know that I would be completely miserable in an asexual relationship and to know that actually, Love Does Not Conquer All. I'd end up making them miserable in turn.

Cherish what you have with this woman-- a lot of people don't have an intimate platonic relationship like this-- and mourn for what is changing. But see if what you're mourning could have ever really worked out anyway.
posted by coffeeand at 10:25 AM on November 26, 2018


She's the only person I'm comfortable spending indefinite periods of time with. I've had roommates, lived in communal housing, and traveled through hostels, and it's all been the same: people just don't seem to stick to me. I've never had a significant other.

Reportedly, "it takes a full 50 hours to make the move from acquaintance to casual friend" and then 90 more hours to transition from casual friend to friend and 200 more hours than that to go from being a friend to a close friend.

I don't know if that is true, but I do know that having one friend only is not enough. You don't have to believe me: Go watch About a Boy all the way to the end (or read the book) to have this wisdom confirmed. Also, a strong hell yes to the advice above about finding a good therapist.

Do it for yourself and also do it for your friend. As it happens, I am best friends/only true friend (I am told) to someone whom I adore. It is wonderful to be friends with this person, but it is not wonderful only. It is kind of exhausting sometimes (YMMV).

My condolences for your loss; this shift will absolutely be a loss. By all means morn. But consider making the decision to also regard it as an opportunity to grow yourself and your support system and, potentially, romantic possibilities. Best of luck, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:54 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I agree that, without intending to, your friend has been the perfect placeholder for you. You've had most of the benefits of an LTR without having to face the reckoning you describe: you are either going to have to search hard for a person in your religion who shares your values, or come to terms with singledom, or dramatically change your idea of how your faith and your desire for a partner can meet. I would recommend both a therapist and speaking with trusted people in your religion about this.

It may - I don't know - it may help in therapy or even counseling in your church to ask for help thinking of this as a gift or act of service to your friend. To be frank, many potential romantic partners would balk at someone who is so deeply emotionally involved already.
If you're not going to be with her romantically, in a way she needs, then it's your gift to her to learn how to release some of the parts of your friendship that might actively interfere with her finding a partner.

PS. You don't make mention of it, so I assume your friend is not Orthodox. In which case - you've already essentially been in an LTR and have deep, superclosetoromantic feelings for a woman outside your faith. What is stopping you from doing that again? If the answer is "well technically we weren't Really Dating", you know and we know that that's a tiny technicality. You know you are capable of desiring a woman outside your religion. You know you are capable of imagining some future with a woman outside your religion. It's another thing to take to counseling: truly, are you more comfortable reconciling maybe being alone if that means strict adherence to your faith, or are you willing to cross that technicality line and see if there is room for your faith on the other side?
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:58 AM on November 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


If you're not going to be with her romantically, in a way she needs, then it's your gift to her to learn how to release some of the parts of your friendship that might actively interfere with her finding a partner.

I think this bears repeating and expansion. I say this as someone who has been in somewhat similar "surrogate relationships" when I was unready/unwilling to risk a true relationship - it's hard, so hard, to be a good friend to someone when your focus is on what that person means to you and what you'll lose if they disrupt the quasi-relationship the two of you have fallen into. With that in mind, it's kind of disturbing to read that your friend says that you will always by the most important person in her life; as her dear friend, please think about the position this puts her in. How is she supposed to form a genuine bond with a romantic partner if she's telling this other person that you will always be her #1? I'm having a hard time imagining this from the position of that other guy (whether this specific one or some future one) - if she really is being up-front and telling them you have to come first, why would they want to pursue anything with her?

Moreover, while it is good that the two of you can talk about your friendship and how you're feeling, there is a line out there where you go from being a good communicator to being someone who is holding her back, placing this burden of guilt and responsibility for you onto her when it's clear from the fact that she continues to date that she DOES want more than the stasis the two of you have.

I think there's a lot of good advice upthread about steps that could help you take action in your own life, but I wanted to add this as one other reason to do so. As this woman's close friend, you will be doing something very good for both you and her if you find ways to allow this friendship to change while you work on personal changes to enable you both to achieve the lives you want. Good luck to you.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:35 AM on November 26, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm also an Orthodox Christian, and this complicates my life substantially.

Talk to your priest, then. But childfree Orthodox marriages aren't that uncommon, and if you're in a parish where contraception within marriage is frowned upon, then you really do need to find yourself a new parish, because that's pretty far outside the mainstream.

I went to the funeral (cancer, mid-40s) of a friend recently, at one of the important Greek cathedrals in London. The friend was very much not straight, non-binary presenting, and very close to the church.

And the first thing the priest said in his (incredibly heartfelt) eulogy was that the first time the friend came to confession, he said to them “You have an incredibly strong faith and so much to give, but you will fail hugely if you are not true to yourself”. And the friend had such strong and important bonds with so many other people, and was completely supported in a traditional parish. There is a lot of variety in Orthodox life, and I'm not sure what tradition you're in, but really, you must find a parish which can support you properly and isn't all about families with 2.4 children.

FWIW, I am not in a parish like this at the moment, and I am suffering from it.
posted by ambrosen at 11:53 AM on November 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


My friend, this is a break-up. This is hard. Regardless of the lack of sex between you two, and regardless of labels, it sounds like you've been each others' partners for years.

She has also said that even though guys will come and go, I will always be the most important person in her life, and this has been proven time and time again for as long as I've known her.
I know she meant well, but this was not a healthy or helpful thing to say outside of the context of a romantic and exclusive partnership. Indeed, I suspect your relationship, while beautiful and supportive in many ways, has prevented you from seeking out other healthy, intimate relationships. She was clearly getting a lot of physical and emotional support from you, even while pursuing intimate relationships with other men. It sounds to me like she has used you a bit, and taken advantage of your deep affection for her.

She tells me that no matter what happens, I will never stop being an utmost priority to her, and she has even told her new boyfriend as much. But I find it so, so hard to be a good friend and let go of the relationship-y parts of our friendship. It's sad: I've had a lot of success and good fortune in my life, but I think the happiest I've ever been is when we would huddle under blankets and watch our favorite shows together. That trivial bit of physical companionship simply beats out every bit of career success, professional acclaim, and creative fulfillment. Obviously, this is something that will go away with a long-term partner. It's incredibly unfair to her that I feel this way, but I do.
So this sounds like the break-up where one person still really wants to be friends, even if the other person is struggling. I think your expectations for yourself--that you can scale back this relationship without jealousy or sadness--are unrealistic and belie the true nature of this intimate relationship.

How can I be the best friend she speaks of so lovingly, and be really, truly happy for her?
How do I have faith in the strength of our friendship and not feel jealous of her significant others?

You can't, I don't think. And I think you shouldn't keep trying. It sounds like you are prioritizing this friendship over your own mental health. You are saying it's for her, but it's really to keep you both attached and together.

If you really want to move forward, I think you should do the thing that's recommended in very difficult break-ups: go no contact. I realize it's awkward because it means acknowledging, in a way, the true nature of your relationship. But I don't think you're going to get over her if you keep in touch. It's going to be incredibly painful. You need some space and time to heal and move forward, and maybe sometime in the future you can be friends again, but that's a long way off, because you would need to re-build your friendship with healthier boundaries, where she doesn't take advantage of your emotional availability.

I suspect she's long known of your feelings for you and has kept you around as a friend even though it was more emotionally complicated for you. I would strongly encourage you to go to therapy and really examine what you've been scared of, why you've remained in this relationship instead of pursuing other intimate relationships with more mutuality. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:29 PM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Complicating matters is the fact that while I try to stay true to my faith, I basically live in a state of perpetual doublethink from living in a liberal society. I can't reconcile my two disparate value systems, and I don't think I could ever be with someone who didn't feel the same kind of insurmountable internal conflict. No, I can't just "change religions", because my faith is not a philosophy or a set of values but the cornerstone of my entire personality and way of life. At this point, it's basically wired into my DNA.

Friend, I say this with a lot of compassion, but this is something you need to grab onto and dig deep. It is absolutely vital that you find out and really face why you’ve let such a blatant paradigm of self-harm run your life. Surely you can see that demanding agonizing “insurmountable internal conflict” from your potential partners and yourself is cruel? The language you use to glorify that irreconcilable wound between not only your sexuality, but your self that seeks love and intimacy and connection with others, and your faith, reminds me so much of the way closeted queer— LGBT and trans*— friends and I rationalized staying in the closet when we were aware but afraid of who we really were. It especially reminds me of our teen years, or older for a lot of trans people I know who came out as adults, when marinating in what seemed like “insurmountable” shame and inner conflict seemed like the only option because we were terrified of intimacy, of our true selves, of the way forward. The proxy relationships with friends we were in love with but too conflicted to pursue feels like those years too. I don’t know if you are part of the LGBT community or if this is just a common experience of repression, but please, let me tell you, keeping yourself in this state of suffering is not worth it, and it will cause so much pain for you in the future when you look back at the time you spent enshrining fear and shame as the central pillars of your identity, of your self as one of God’s creatures. There is a reason you’ve never sought to get into “the bubble” of other people, instead waiting for them to do the work to enter yours. There is a reason you’ve decided that your suffering and inner conflict is “hard wired.” You owe it to yourself and your lifelong friend to figure out what that reason is and face it head on. Good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2018 [15 favorites]


Wow, looks like I agreed so much with windykites’ comment I stole her first sentence. Really though, op, intimacy stuff is so hard, but I believe you (and hopefully your friendship) can make it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:15 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Others have said a lot above. I will just add that I noticed in the OP, for all the talk about being Orthodox and how it is a cornerstone of who OP is, prayer was not mentioned once.

Pray, fast, pray some more, prepare for Christmas/Epiphany.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:55 PM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I spend the night at her place and we cuddle and watch TV. (Trust me, it's not sexual.)

Yeah, sorry, you guys are in an intimate relationship. You have all of the trappings but you’ve convinced yourselves that as long as you’re not bumping uglies you’re not actually emotionally involved. Uh uh.

So, your intimate emotional partner yearns for something more than you (that’s gotta hurt), has enlisted you as her advisor about it (ouch) and one of these days will find something better than you and take her emotional intimacy elsewhere. In your shoes I would be hurt, resentful, and fearful about the future too.

Given what you’ve described I doubt she’ll be up for it (her loss) but you should probably stand up and tell her that she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you and that you would like to convert this into a more traditional boyfriend/girlfriend thing. At the very least you won’t be questioning yourself while the cats chomp away.

About the cat thing: speaking as pretty solid introvert who at this time has literally no reason to ever leave the house, I’ve found community service works really well. In particular I make food for the indigent every Saturday from 10 - 11:30 AM and since it’s a drop-in affair I can either go or not go depending on how I feel. I also have a standing shift at the library which can be difficult if I’m not feeling people-ly, but I think it’s important to push myself at least a little lest the kitties start breaking out the chopsticks. Either way it gets me out and interacting with other people from the safety of an assigned role. I know it will take a while but some of these people will become friends.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:12 PM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I’ve been thinking about this one a lot today, and my first impulse was to advise you to go ahead and flip that switch, tell your friend that you love her, and acknowledge the very real partnership you seem to have enjoyed together for the past several years. And just now, re-reading your question, I still think you should tell her that you love her. And I notice there’s a big lack of information about this other guy and what he might have going for him that you don’t. You don’t make much of a case for him; it doesn’t seem like a done deal from here. Really, rather than his being a total A+ Perfect Man, it seems like his existence is more of a wake-up call to you: that your friend might not hang around forever, that your friend might have other wants/needs, that you’ve been using this friendship/partnership in an avoidant way, that your current way of doing things isn’t working.

Maybe just for the sake of a thought experiment: think about how you would feel if you were married to your friend. Think about how you would feel in some variations of this scenario, or in a complete inverse of it (say, you never speak to your friend again). Try them on, see how they feel.
posted by witchen at 10:04 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ok, you are a pretty niche demographic. But this means you have option a) you blame everything on how unusual you are and how hopeless it is for you to fit in. This belief will be totally reinforced, cos you're probably not going to stumble upon orthodox child free life partners at the grocery store or at work or possibly even at church. or b) you use this to seek out the people that fit your little niche. Start a forum and a meet up ("orthodox discussion groups about the modern world", "orthodox democrats/tea partiers/insert subculture", whatever slice seems most interesting to you and is a wide enough net to catch a few people at least), and make an honest (but flattering) profile on a mainstream dating site and an orthodox dating site . Anyone you meet through these methods may not be a life partner, but they'll have an interesting and enriching take on being orthodox in a liberal world.

As noted above, you have big things a lot of conventionally successful people dont:
1)experience of intimate friendship and genuine connection
2)a steering faith
You can totally build of that for a rich, meaningful life and future connections, you've just got to carve that space out.
posted by hotcoroner at 12:56 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


You're a deeply religious man. Prayer is vitally important to you, it just has to be. My suggestion is that you pray that your emotional spouse doesn't go for the new guy after all, and then pray for the jam to step up into the fullness of what you have here. Look, I've been alone a long, long time, your description of what you share with this woman sound nothing short of fantastic -- I was actually sortof appalled that you didn't/don't see how lucky you are.

If you get the chance, if the wheel spins round and you get a chance to be with this woman, get ready for some real life change as you move from deep friendship into deeper friendship, and next time you're cuddling watching a movie turn the stupid movie off and look her dead in the eye and tell her that she's the best thing that's ever happened in your life and you want it to keep happening and you've got a switch you want to turn on and will she please, please, pretty please consider turning her own switch to "On." also?
posted by dancestoblue at 7:20 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think you've learned a lot from this relationship, and improved your relational skills, and had a lot of fun and support. But I also think it ultimately hasn't been healthy for you. You've ruled out a romantic relationship for her, but she's fulfilling that role in your life anyway.

Don't blame your religion... Christians manage to date and marry, and not everyone wants kids, and some people can't have kids. Find out what's making it so hard to approach romance; this may require a counselor, or someone from your church.

You obviously value a deep relationship far more than a shallow one. That's great, but it makes it depressing to start out, since you don't get that right away. I sympathize, it's frustrating, but you don't get to that goal if you don't try.
posted by zompist at 2:41 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm in my mid-30s and one of my best friends I met when I was 18 and he is a man (I am a woman). We were romantic and flirtatious in the beginning as well but in time created borders (i.e. dating other people, not talking every single day and / or expecting the other person to answer the phone all the time). We also never had sex but aren't against sleeping in the same bed if that's convenient.
I see him *very* differently than how I am reading how you see this woman. I am seeing that you are either in love with this person or you are pouring energy into this friendship to either avoid dating in the real world or just *really* enjoy the comfort of having a companion.

I am not religious at all and I have been dating someone who is also not religious for five months now and we have not had sex and we've grown closer and closer despite what I suppose our culture would predict. You can find that!
posted by hillabeans at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2018


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