Navigating relationship with crush/friend after rejection
April 14, 2019 10:31 PM   Subscribe

After telling my feelings to and being rejected by a crush / friend at the end of last year, I'm having trouble moving on from the situation while still seeing him every week. Looking for perspectives/wisdom. Details inside.

At the end of last year, I told a friend that I had feelings for him and was rejected. I am a woman in my senior year of college and I've know this guy since freshman year - he was two years older than me in a club I am very involved in. I liked him a bit sophomore year because I really appreciated his support when I was going through a rough time emotionally, but those feelings faded after a while until this past summer, when I saw him more often (though he's graduated, we still go to the same church every week) and started liking him again. After a few months of pining after him, I told him how I felt and he rejected me. While obviously disheartened, I was more upset when we had a follow-up convo in which he said things that caused me to feel like he did not value our friendship. I know I'm not one of his closest friends, and I wouldn't say that he is one of my closest friends, but I'm still grateful for his support through the years and admire a lot of his personal qualities.

We talked about it and he apologized, and I eventually was able to forgive him (this all happened in January). But even afterward, it was stressful to see him every week at church, not knowing if I should go to talk to him or not - mostly because of feeling insecure about our relationship (feeling like it was more important to me than to him), and also not being sure if he felt comfortable talking to someone who has had feelings for him. We've had a couple of convos about it since, and I think we were able to communicate relatively well / I understand his side of the situation more. I've been able to have a few more comfortable / "normal" / friend-type conversations with him since, and generally feel less stressed/anxious about interacting with him than before.

I've never been in a relationship that lasted more than a month, and I've never told someone I liked them, been rejected, and then had to continue seeing them regularly afterward. So a lot of this is pretty new to me (and to him).

I've been dealing with a few issues throughout this whole experience:
a) I am having trouble fully extinguishing the hope that he might someday like me. This hope has definitely been diminishing over time, as I get more and more convinced that that will not happen, as well as that we may not even necessarily be that compatible. I've recently been able to have a fleeting attraction to someone else, which was previously not possible. But even now, I know that if he were ever to say he were interested in me, it would still make me happy, at least momentarily. I feel like I would still feel pained if I learned he were dating someone.

b) It's hard to be okay with not being as good/close friends with him as I might like to be, and sometimes feeling like he might not be as interested in being friends with me as I am with him. He has told me in our convos that he is okay with/welcomes me talking to him, and he has interacted in caring ways with me recently, but a couple of times I find myself doubting how much he likes me as a friend/wants to be friends - for instance, I talked to him briefly today asking how he was, and his response felt kind of stilted/like he was not willing to be open. Even though it was such a small interaction, that actually made me feel pretty upset afterward/really dampened my mood, and it made me realize how much expectation/hope I still have for this friendship. He's said himself that he sometimes doesn't have that much to say in response to that question, so I do think it is likely that that may have been why he responded in that way, but my immediate reaction was still to feel disappointed at his lack of openness. I guess some questions are - how do I think about/approach this relationship in a healthy way? How do I not overthink every interaction we have and how do I let go of being overly insecure about whether or not he cares about me? How do I figure out whether or not this friendship is actually worth investing in, or whether it is more trouble than it's worth? And if it is not worth it, how do I become okay with that?

I imagine it may seem like I should just try to put some space between me and him, but seeing him at church makes that hard (and going to a different church is not something I really want to consider). I've tried not initiating convos with him for a time, but ultimately found that to be more upsetting than helpful, and more recently I've found it more helpful for moving past the situation to act like nothing has happened/like we're normal friends (in the sense of not fixating so much on what the right/wrong course of behavior is).

Thanks for reading, and any thoughts are appreciated.
posted by Eleutheramina to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had a number of experiences like this when I was about your age and had only had a few dating relationships. Kind of similarly, the first person I told in an outright manner that I was into did not return the feelings on a romantic level although we maintained a relationship (and actually grew closer in a way) after that largely through the fact that we were in shared activities together but also through my own initiative. Same thing with the first guy who kissed me - a short term summer thing that I wanted to last but didn't, and who I kept in contact with for over a year after that.

I have to say for me personally what I concluded in the end is that it was easiest and better for my own well being to keep my distance and minimize the more intimate conversations. Maybe it would be different for a different person, but I tend to be kind of sensitive, anxious and to form strong attachments to a select few people. Really, looking back I wish I had wasted less time and brain space on the people I pined after - maybe would have found people who were actually into me more quickly. And when I did eventually find people who were into me, it was pretty obvious and ultimately a lot more rewarding.

So I'd say to answer your question, keep your distance as much as you can. Don't be hard on yourself if you overanalyze things or interacting with him makes you feel insecure (because I think that is natural and some people have a tendency towards that more than others). Honestly, I recommend not really planning on investing much in the friendship and moving on. Find other things and people to invest your time in and if you are meant to be friends with this person again it may happen at a different time. Look for people who will value you and seek you out (they are out there!) and invest in those friendships. Put yourself out there with other guys in whatever way feels comfortable to you if you want to find someone for a romantic relationship.
posted by knownfossils at 10:56 PM on April 14 [24 favorites]

I agree with the advice knownfossils gives above. I, too, was rejected by a really close friend when we were in college, but we were actually best friends and hung out daily. I thought they were into me and misread the signs. After that, we ended up spending less time together, I eventually started spending time with other people, and once we graduated we lost touch.

It does not sound like your friend is that invested as you are in keeping up a friendship. Also, the interaction with him sounded anxiety producing for you. Because you still get anxious around him I would say, when you see him at church and he sees you, just smile and nod and say hi but nothing else and move on. He doesn't want to answer your questions it appears so there's no need to engage with him. If you can't go to a different church, just keep your interaction with him a minimum.

I know this is possible because I've worked with and gone to school with a friend who I wasn't speaking with for a period of time and we just ignored each other and just there was an unstated boundary that we went about our day and didn't need to talk to each other and we were fine with that.

You're still really attached to the idea of him. It'll get easier when you open yourself up to meet other people. I would spend time thinking about what things you like to do and do those activities and meet new people.
posted by jj's.mama at 11:04 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Honestly I think the best way for you to approach this friendship is to just end it. The interactions that you do have with him sound pretty meh, so what's the point in continuing to try to have a friendship with him? I understand that he was supportive of you in the past and you admire him a lot, but it just doesn't seem like a friendship is happening between you two. So for your own sake, I suggest ending it.

I know that's not the answer that you want to hear or that you may even feel ready to do right now so just take your time to think about it.

I recently met someone briefly who said that if there's someone that he's initially interested in and they're not interested in him he immediately loses interest. I think that shows good boundaries and good for him. Again you may not be in the same mindset as him right now and that's totally okay. Just wanted to give you an idea of what's possible.

If you do choose for yourself that ending the friendship would be better for you, and given that you have to see him once a week, I also suggest keeping your distance from him. At church, don't seek him out to talk to him, keep yourself busy with talking to other people, sit far away from him, etc.
posted by foxjacket at 11:17 PM on April 14 [10 favorites]

It's possible the dynamic here is different, but given that this is coming up in a church context: Even in a lot of churches that aren't super-super conservative, in my experience, there was a prevailing feeling that men and women are not meant to be close friends if it wasn't leading to something romantic, and that if one were considering pursuing romantic stuff with someone else, being closer friends to someone of the opposite sex would be frankly not okay. It's okay if you don't feel this way--it's not a thing I agree with, only a thing I saw come up repeatedly.

I point this out because honestly it doesn't seem like he's actually being a particularly good friend to you, he's just being... around, inconsistently, since that period several years ago where he was actually more openly supportive of you. It seems like there might have been a time where he at least entertained the possibility that he might be interested in you that way, but then decided he wasn't? The time when you were close, at any rate, has passed.

He's never going to be the friend you want him to be, at this point. He's eventually going to meet somebody else, more likely than not, and then get married and have kids and have a whole life that has nothing to do with you, because he hasn't created a place for close female friends in his life. Letting you be closer might just present an awkward thing he'd have to explain to his future wife--and that might have been true even if you'd never said you liked him romantically. I dislike those kinds of gender roles, but if you're both deliberately existing in that sort of space, it's a good idea to recognize that the other party may be playing by those rules.

There's still a lot of people in this world who don't think that straight men and straight women can be friends without an intermediary spouse. It would be fine if you were friends with him and his hypothetical girlfriend/wife as a pair... but you won't be. Go find some proper friends of your own.
posted by Sequence at 12:12 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

more recently I've found it more helpful for moving past the situation to act like nothing has happened/like we're normal friends (in the sense of not fixating so much on what the right/wrong course of behavior is).

That's what I'd keep doing in your position. Fuck the "rules".

A thing happened, it upset you, you talked it through, it's upsetting you less intensely as time goes on, and you clearly still value the time you're spending with this person even if the relationship is not all you clearly still want it to be.

You're handling this about as well as these things ever get handled, so give yourself some points. And the longer you keep doing exactly what you're doing (i.e. acting like normal friends and not fixating on what some mythical "correct" course of behaviour might be) the more practice you will get at letting your desire for more intimacy be what it is without expecting or requiring reciprocation.

I've never been in a relationship that lasted more than a month, and I've never told someone I liked them, been rejected, and then had to continue seeing them regularly afterward. So a lot of this is pretty new to me (and to him).

Relationships are not all about you: they're about mutual intense attraction followed by mutual agreement to be vulnerable with each other. Your attraction to somebody else is a necessary, but not sufficient, step along the path to forming an intimate relationship with them. Nobody is under any obligation to feel for you what you feel for them just because you want them to, any more than you would be if the positions were reversed.

It follows from this that learning to deal with rejection is part and parcel of forming a mature approach to finding good relationships.

The experience of explicitly being rejected always feels fucking horrible. But what you can achieve is to make it hurt for less time each time. Live through this first big one, and you will find yourself in a place where it happened and you know you're OK with it having happened even if it's (obviously) not your preferred outcome.

From that place you'll be in a far better position to risk rejection from the next person you summon up the guts to disclose deeper feelings to, because you will know for sure that the result of rejection can be merely temporarily awkward and unpleasant and does not need to be a life changing, friendship destroying, big-drama disaster.

Once you do luck into finding somebody who responds to you as strongly and positively as you respond to them, and wants to keep doing that for as long as you remain open to it, I think you'll end up agreeing with me that the rejections you suffered along the way were nothing by comparison. A good intimate relationship is the best thing there is, and definitely worth putting up with the suckiness of repeated rejection to find.

But a good friendship is a fine thing as well, and in my book it's worth not throwing that away - especially if the person on the other side of it is showing as much willingness to work through having had to reject your offer of more intimacy as you are to work through having had it rejected.

It might help to remind yourself that what's been rejected here is not you, only a request for further boundary-lowering from your friend.

Even so, this kind of rejection is a genuine loss. What's lost is an imaginary future relationship rather than something real and present, but that loss still causes grieving and quite a lot of what you're feeling is fairly similar to what you'd feel if somebody close to you died. Which, again, there is fuck-all you can do about; it's just something you have to live through until it's all done swallowing you up.

Internet hugs in case they help.
posted by flabdablet at 1:04 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I know you don’t want to consider going to another church, but if I were you I’d reconsider it, or at least take a break of a month or two from this place. It seems this situation is making you extremely unhappy, beyond just the times when you’re actually at church, and you deserve to arrange your life in such a way that dealing with that is your top priority.

A couple of months away (from the church, but primarily from him), in which you start up some new social activities, might do you a power of good in resetting your pesky brain to have a healthier perspective that’s not so all-consuming.
posted by penguin pie at 1:25 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I was more upset when we had a follow-up convo in which he said things that caused me to feel like he did not value our friendship
We talked about it and he apologized, and I eventually was able to forgive him
I think he probably apologised for hurting you with his phrasing but you need to take him at his word that he doesn't think of you as a particularly close friend. I've been in your position before - where I wanted a relationship or strong friendship with people and have made it awkward and pushed them further away by trying to make it something it isn't.

Take some time away from him, and focus on other interests and friendships. You'll meet someone right for you in time and when you do, it'll be straightforward and mutually enthusiastic without any drama and doubt.
posted by JonB at 2:00 AM on April 15

One thing I have learned in my many, many crushes on guys when I was younger is that there is a great big divide between my fantasy of who they are, and who they are in reality.

Your brain can be really tricksy, and one little red flag is that he said things that hurt your feelings, instead of taking the high road and saying something nice, like, "I'm very flattered, I just don't have those feelings for you, and I wish you the best," or something like that. So if he said things that were hurtful, why in the heck should you have to forgive him? It was mean, and mean people suck.

If you think about living with someone longterm, being intimate with them, and experiencing this kind of hurt and rejection day after day of your life, would you still really want a relationship with someone who can hurt you at the drop of a hat, depending on their whims? I've done that, and it wasn't fun, being slowly torn down and dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

Consider that he is not so great after all, and you may have dodged a bullet, as he could have taken advantage of your infatuation, used you, and then dropped you, and you'd be much worse off than you are today.

It's natural to want things we can't have, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. The only way I've ever found to deal with it is to throw myself into some hobby, be with my friends more (i.e., have a party or dinner and invite my real friends, but not my crush), listen to music, and binge-watch my favorite shows and movies. Don't give your brain space to play tricks on you anymore.

Put a label on him in your head: "That Guy who hurt my feelings," or "Jerky Guy" or "Guy who is full of himself" or anything you can think of, to distance yourself from him mentally. Refrain from initiating any conversation with him. If he ever approaches you again, or asks how you are doing, just say, "I'm great!" and don't ask him how he is doing. This will be hard, but if you break the pattern of thinking about him and fill your brain up with other things, eventually you will get over it and find someone who is more deserving of your time and attention.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:38 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

I think maybe you are overloading this “will he / won’t he be my friend?” dynamic as a way of hanging onto the dream that he might like you romantically even though he told you he’s not interested. It seems like you haven’t fully processed that there is no chance of you being in a romantic relationship with him. The way you talk about the anticipation, nervousness of interaction, and disappointment of chatting with him at church is the way you’d talk about a crush, not someone you’re interested in being platonic friends with.

He’s been honest with you about his disinterest, so I think it’s time for you to use your boundaries in a healthy way as well. If you can’t interact with him without still thinking he might like you back someday, you should stop interacting with him.
posted by sallybrown at 4:10 AM on April 15 [14 favorites]

The only cure I've ever found for a broken heart: (1) time and space (2) filling the void with other things and people. Because you and he are both part of a community you don't want to lose, you might try to focus on (2). If you make some new friends at church, or join an interest group he isn't part of, you have a good chance of reclaiming the church space as not being about pining. (And I am guessing that pining is not what you want to get out of church!)
posted by eirias at 4:59 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I think maybe you are overloading this “will he / won’t he be my friend?” dynamic as a way of hanging onto the dream that he might like you romantically even though he told you he’s not interested.

This. You've had multiple (?) conversations with this guy about the state of your friendship and the reasons behind his rejection, when there's probably not all that much to discuss. If you dial back the contact, the weirdness will dissipate, and an honest friendship will have room to breathe -- or maybe, there'll be room for something else to step in.

Take it easy on yourself.
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:53 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

I'm going to take a different tack and say that I think a lot of your distress is caused by you trying to control or police your own feelings about this. You have a crush on this guy. It's futile. But you still have a crush. That's normal and okay. I think that my personal feeling about crushes is that if I have any hint of someone not reciprocating and/or feeling uncomfortable with it then I pull way way back and am friendly ("hi") but that's it. That doesn't mean the crush will go away (often it doesn't) but it does mean that I feel comfortable that I'm doing the right thing and behaving ethically. If I'm behaving ethically, then yeah, crushes can just keep on keepin' on. It's human to find people attractive. It's okay. It's okay to feel like you'd be happy if someone you find attractive were to express interest in you. Be okay with this! It doesn't have to be a big deal or a bad thing as long as you're not making him uncomfortable, and I think you should just accept that this might be a crush you just...have for a while until you either don't or until life naturally separates you from each other.

In my experience, forgiving yourself for not being 100% perfectly ONLY HAVING RATIONAL FEELINGS is the best way to move on from those feelings (or...not) or, at least, not make them take up any space in your head besides the sort of fleeting "yes, I'm attracted to him, I'm noticing this" kind of thing.

Tl;dr: you're into this guy and there's no hope and that's okay! Hopeless crushes gonna hopeless crush! Go easy on yourself! We've all been there! Don't creep on the guy, but other than that...that's how life is and you are fine!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:46 AM on April 15 [3 favorites]

Although all that're not really friends at this point, right? Be honest with yourself. If you are then cool but if "friends" is more "mooning and stressing about the crush stuff" then I'd just put a pin on that in terms of your behavior. It's okay to still want to be friends, and to be really sad that it's not happening, but trying to chat with him and stuff is probably off the table.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:47 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

Also finally (I hope...) you gotta realize that the "crush" mechanism is one of the fundamental ways that humans evolved to perpetuate the species. You can fight it all you want, but physical/romantic attraction is way up there. It's right near hunger and being protective of babies in terms of its sheer persistence and tendency to make you do weird stuff. That's why odes and sonnets and books have been written about doomed, unreciprocated feelings since forever and ever. You are not alone or bad or silly for this; you're part of a big club of dopey humans who have been dopily mooning after the wrong people for millenia. Welcome to the club; we're all okay here, even you. <3
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:51 AM on April 15 [15 favorites]

Does your church have multiple services? Any chance you could be like “I’ll take the 8am service and you take the 10am one”?
posted by corb at 8:49 AM on April 15

I am friends with a lot of my exes and with someone whom I had a major crush on and still have a minor crush on despite them shooting me down a long time ago now. You can't control your feelings, but you can control your behavior. Don't talk to your friend about your feelings or the state of your friendship, do talk to them for a few minutes after the service about your respective weeks to mitigate the weirdness. You can feel sad about them dating someone else and also say "that's great, I'm happy for you." You can talk about your feelings to a friend not related to this church or social circle, if possible. It's okay that you hope he likes you (feeling) but don't feed that mindset, observe it and let it go (behavior).

Given my experiences, your friendship will probably be less close than it was, and it's fine to be sad about that, but it's also healthy and part of the normal order of things for friendships to wax and wane in importance. And good for you for telling your friend how you felt! You're doing great. Finding a way to meet some new people, for dating or not, can be a good way to remind yourself that there are lots of good folks out there to form various kinds of relationships with.
posted by momus_window at 10:43 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

If opposite-sex friendships are important to you, which it sounds like they are, then you may want to consider only dating outside of your church in the future. In my experience, even in less conservative religious circles, it's generally not acceptable, (but more often an unspoken rule) to have anything more than an extremely casual-friendly type acquaintance status with anyone of an opposite gender, nevermind maintaining a close friendship with someone who had expressed a romantic interest in them, so try not to take it too personally and possibly just be more aware of the social dynamics that exist within your church.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:56 AM on April 15

Just a thought... I know you don't want to leave this church and I totally get that, but do you necessarily need to attend every single week? Maybe cut down to every other week, and spend the alternate Sundays doing something else you enjoy or find uplifting. Maybe just start skipping a Sunday here and there, just to get a longer break from him from time to time.

You might even consider attending a different church on those alternate Sundays, if you really feel strongly about weekly church attendance. It would be a good way to meet new people, and be able to enjoy services without the distraction of being "aware" of him the whole time, while still maintaining the connection with your current church.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

In my experience time and distance are the only things that really help. I know it's very hard to think about changing churches but it could be a temporary thing. If they have multiple services you could change which service you go to. The more you see him, the longer it will take to re-orient yourself.

I have always found it hard to move on in these situations. Things I've found helpful:

* Therapy - so far I haven't found a therapist who can speed up the recovery time but it's still helpful to be able to talk to someone about how I'm feeling. Therapy is also a place to explore intrusive thoughts and attachment styles.

* Intense physical exercise that requires total focus - boxing works for me (to be clear, just the most amateur boxing with a trainer, no boxing with someone who is hitting back). I can't ruminate while I'm listening for the next punch to throw.

* Understanding that romantic feelings can be similar to heroin in their effect on the brain. This allows me to be kind to myself (I'm detoxing, of course I feel crappy) and ruthless (I cannot be friends any more than an addict could keep their substances in their home).

* Attachment style - reading Attached really helped me better understand myself and how I am when I fall for someone. Based on what you've written here you may have an anxious style of attachment.

* Some people seem to be able to throw their frustrated longing into creative projects, learning a new language, that sort of thing.

* Focus on those people in your life who are good, steadfast friends and nice to be around.
posted by bunderful at 5:32 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]

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