Help! I've fallen in love and I can't get up.
May 14, 2006 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Lovefilter: how do I get over a girl while remaining close friends?

This is a long story, I'll try to confine it to an outline:
A few months before I graduated university, I met a hip, brilliant girl and we fell madly in love. It was like a shot for both of us. We'd never felt anything like this before with other people, though we'd both been in love several times. The summer went wonderfully and come September we decided to move in together. Over the course of the next six months, it became apparent that it was too early in the relationship to've done that. We still got on well as friends, but as lovers we became tense and eventually everything we did was so overloaded that the only thing that made sense was to break up. I moved out and LEFT THE COUNTRY for a couple of months.

In my time away we had frequent and satisfying contact by e-mail and instant messaging. Work called me back to her town, and when I arrived I hadn't begun to get over her. We met three times, and the physicality of our dynamic intensified with each meeting....never anything more than long, wet kisses, though. I kept asking if this was okay, she said "yes."

Today she tells me that, even though it feels natural to be affectionate with me, she doesn't love me romantically anymore and doesn't feel comfortable with the kissing. I take this very badly, as I had begun to believe we might get back together.

So, here is the issue: I love this person feverishly, and she is my best friend. She is more than up for a close friendship. I want that, too. But I don't know how to proceed, since when I spend time with her I feel an urge to be more romantically involved. Since this is the most important friendship in the world to me, I don't want to pull away completely--which is how I've gotten over relationships in the past. At the same time, I don't want to put on a happy face while harboring some hope that we might get back together down the line. That tack seems destined to hurt both of us.

Does anyone have any practical ideas for things we could do together to help make this transition easier? Also, can anyone list some things I might be able to tell her (or myself!) so that I feel honest with her but I am not hurting her (my current mode of expression is too heavy in the "I love you more than anything" area).

I am sorry this is so long, and yet somehow also so bereft of detail. I think also that what might not come across in this is the confusion we've both felt over the past few months: while she was pretty clear with me today, there has been a definite push/pull on both sides as to how to define our relatinoship. I'm happy to supply specifics if they'll help. Thank you!
posted by scarylarry to Human Relations (37 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Now that I look at my headline, I realize that I probably should have saved it for an erectile dysfunction post.
posted by scarylarry at 5:55 PM on May 14, 2006

Finally, I apologize for the stylistic inelegance of that post. I am not sure why it sounded well-written on preview. Maybe I was distracted by my heart dying.
posted by scarylarry at 6:00 PM on May 14, 2006

My experience is that the best thing to do is to take some more time apart while you get over her. That doesn't mean walking away from her friendship entirely, but it does mean taking some longer period of time without talking to her or seeing her. A good friendship will withstand a separation of a few months while you work on your healing.

In your mind, love is still the basis of your relationship with this woman, but in her mind it's friendship. You have to mentally rebase your relationship with her before you can be just her friend. If you try to be her friend while pretending you don't love her, you will hurt and it will spill over into your friendship. I've seen a lot more friendships end this way than due to a few months of post-breakup separation.
posted by rhiannon at 6:12 PM on May 14, 2006

As long as you want to get in her underpants, the odds are against it, sorry.

Find someone else as a romantic interest and you might have an easier time of it.
posted by porpoise at 6:33 PM on May 14, 2006

Sorry but I just don't think it works the way you want it to. You don't get to be in love with her romantically but just friends at the same time, at least not without inflicting deep pain on one or both parties. It's just not possible. You have to be completely over her in all romantic aspects before the "just close friends" phase can start. I don't think that's really what you want to hear but it's the way it is.

I think most people in this thread are going to tell you to completely distance yourself from her (or meet someone else) until the romantic feelings are all 100% dead, and then work on starting a friendship anew.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:45 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Rhomboid is correct on all counts.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:46 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

In my own experience both first- and third-person, friendships involving unrequited romantic feelings are doomed. I understand this is the last thing you want to hear, but the answer to "I'm in love, s/he is not; how can we stay friends?" is almost always "You can't." It's a shitty situation and I'm sorry for you, but that's how it is. Say goodbye and move on.

Realistically, you're not going to do that, so you can capitalize on the razor-thin chance of this working out by giving yourself a break from her in every sense. Don't contact her or let her contact you, don't spend time together, and don't let yourself dwell on it.

Those love letters? Burn them, or put them in deep storage. Songs that you associate with your time together? Delete them from your iPod, put the CDs with the letters. If you start thinking about her, change the mental subject. Get out, be active, spend time with other friends. I wouldn't advise you date, as it would be unfair to whomever you take up with, even casually, if you're still pining for the original girl.

It will be best in the long run if you give up now, but of course you don't want to do that. So make yourself get over her, distract yourself from the situation until you naturally have some distance from it. If you're really committed to moving this relationship to a platonic arena, it will save you a lot of torture.
posted by Zozo at 6:53 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Rhomboid is very correct. I don't think you can have it both ways. That said, I think there are options. There is a good chance that she is deathly afraid of getting really hurt. It seems that your relationship thus far has had the emotional current of a class 5 white water river. It may be the safe choice to be 'best of friends' - as she gets to still have you in her life, but without the emotional current.

In this hopeless romatics opinion, I'd say you have two ways to go. Either put yourself out there 100% on the line and propose to her - tell her you want to spend your entire life with her and will grow old with her forever more.

Or, as Rhomboid suggested, remove yourself from the situation until the romantic feelings are 100% dead. Even when you think they are they probably won't be. It is doubtful that you will be able to maintain a succesful friendship under such circumstances. Not impossible mind you, but it is the difficult (albeit noble and masocistic road).
posted by JpMaxMan at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2006

In my own experience both first- and third-person, friendships involving unrequited romantic feelings are doomed.

not always, but ... it tends to work that way

my advice is to not see her so much and get involved with other people ... not necessarily as lovers, but friends

i would also be cautious ... if you decrease your time together and she continues to persue spending a lot of time with you, that's a very mixed message ... i think she should understand that you need to back away for awhile if she's really your friend ... if she doesn't give you room to back away a bit, that could be a sign of a game you don't want to play
posted by pyramid termite at 7:21 PM on May 14, 2006

Walk away. You can't be friends unless you're willing to be in constant, unending, unfixable emotional distress—and that's not a good plan.

It sucks, but it's life. People grow and change and discover that what they want is not what they wanted, how they feel is not how they felt. You're hoping to find some way to make everything cool despite having had your heart broken, and in doing so you are setting yourself up for nothing but hurt and bitterness.

Accept that your love/affection/desire for this girl is not requited, and move on. The rest of the world and the rest of your life are waiting.
posted by cortex at 7:21 PM on May 14, 2006

I wonder if someone's actually going to post anything other than variations of "You can't"?

Because ... you can't. It's like asking "I'm made of gasoline and my friend is a spark plug. How can we hang out together without me catching fire?"

Hopefully, she'll be sensitive enough to realise that too and not make it worse.

In the old days you would have joined the French Foreign Legion or run away to sea.

But don't do that.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:21 PM on May 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you start thinking about her, change the mental subject.

I think this point needs to be repeated, and amplified: don't fantasize about her. At all. Ever.
posted by aramaic at 7:31 PM on May 14, 2006

What the people before me said. Find yourself a new girl for now.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2006

In my experience, distance won't make it easier. With this kind of love, it'll just make your heart grow fonder. Also in my experience, you can be friends with her, but you have to put up with a lot of longing. It's essential that you don't hold out hope for being anything other than friends, or you'll never be able to accept the friendship. But if every time you think "geez, I would love to hold her right now" you firmly remind yourself that it's no longer the kind of relationship the two of you have, it will eventually get easier. It's the holding out and wishing and longing to be lovers again that makes it so painful. Also I think it's totally worth it to remain friends. Again from experience. It's up to you, but if she feels too special to let go, even if you know you'll just be friends, don't let go.
posted by nevers at 7:42 PM on May 14, 2006

OMG Abrose Chapel has it. You can't. It pretty much never works, 99.9999% of the time. Someone here will chime in with their story of having an LTR that failed and turned into a great friendship, but my money's on: 1) it took 10 or more years to become so, 2) they were never in love in the first place, or c) one of them was gay but didn't quite accept it while they were dating and now knows better.

Seriously - no. I have 20 years of dating experience telling you this. No, no, no and again, no
posted by tristeza at 7:58 PM on May 14, 2006

Find someone else.
posted by delmoi at 8:06 PM on May 14, 2006

I've been there and yes, it's hard. Despite what tristezza says, the woman in question and I did manage to get to a point where we really are "just friends" and I can be genuinely happy for her when she's dating a good guy (your reaction upon meeting your ex's current SO has got to be the litmus test of whether you're really over a relationship).

It took a few years to get there, though, and sometimes it was just plain gut-wrenching trying to be sociable with her. Dating widely (and eventually, re-marrying) helped a lot. So did the fact that each of us just kind of moved in different directions, so that the person I had been with once was a different person, and to some extent, so was I.

Finally, if there is any chance at all that you will be able to get back together with her romantically, you'll be a hell of a lot more attractive if you're living your own life than if you're mooning after her and living in the past.
posted by adamrice at 8:31 PM on May 14, 2006

You know, on the other hand, although I do agree that you can't remain friends with someone you're trying to fall out of love with, I'm not convinced (based on details provided) that you have to give this one up just this yet. She says she has no romantic feelings for you anymore- so romance her! Go balls out, like JpMaxMan reccommends. If the reasons you broke up were tied into circumstances, and you want to give things another shot at a slower pace, tell her so. What the heck.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:31 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I disagree. I am very good friends with the girl who I unintentionally and unfortunately devastated a few years ago. We help each other through our problems and everything. I'm still very attracted to her and she may feel the same way but nothing ever happens.

Here's some tips that worked for us:
1) Email is great. Lengthy, non-dramatic, engaging emails over the course of a few months are a great way of transitioning from sexual life to friendship life.
2) Get involved with other women. My friendship with my former girlfriend has improved greatly since she started dating someone else. I was a little hurt, which helped, because if both people have their vulnerabilities exposed, friendship occurs more easily.
3) Be calm. Don't succumb to drama.
posted by Aghast. at 8:42 PM on May 14, 2006

Find another girl.
posted by oddman at 8:58 PM on May 14, 2006

This is probably obvious, but I thought it worth pointing out that should you decide to break off contact, tell her that's what you want to do and talk about it with her. It can make it nearly impossible to pick up the friendship later if you don't tell her that you're breaking off contact and why.

If you guys talk about it, there's every likelihood she'll understand, even if she doesn't like it. She'll find it just as easy to understand if you just break things off without explaining things but there's a chance you'll destroy the relationship permanently.
posted by prettypretty at 9:02 PM on May 14, 2006

The 4 Step Guide to Getting over the Girl
  1. Turn off Phone
  2. Rent Swingers
  3. ????
  4. Profit!!!

posted by hatsix at 9:09 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Aghast is correct. This is hardly an Herculean task. If you want to continue to be friends with her at the same time, all you have to do is set strict rules for yourself and follow them. The rules should be pretty obvious. Stop kissing her. In fact, stop being near in the physical sense. Restrict your communication to email and telephone. No IM because IM has a way of pretending to me more than it really is. Limit how much you email her--try to cut it down to 2 or 3 times a week. You can friendly-flirt with her, but never let it go too far. Keep telling yourself the plain truth: she doesn't love you, she is your friend. This is your mantra. If she asks you why you're distancing yourself tell her the truth: you need some time alone to figure things out. And of course find another girl. You don't need to be in love with her, but it helps not to be alone. This is your standard rebound relationship. Lastly, get some perspective. Really. In two years (forget 10) you'll both look back on this period and laugh. Lovers are a dime a dozen, it's true friends that are difficult to find. Just take it one day at a time and things'll work out fine.
posted by nixerman at 10:31 PM on May 14, 2006

I think adamrice nailed it:

we really are "just friends" and I can be genuinely happy for her when she's dating a good guy (your reaction upon meeting your ex's current SO has got to be the litmus test of whether you're really over a relationship).

Take some time off, and don't spend time with her until you can also hang out with her SO.
posted by spiderskull at 10:47 PM on May 14, 2006

What everyone else said. I have been in exactly the same situation, and trying to square the circle didn't work. Take some time away and let the feelings fade (they will, eventually).
posted by greycap at 11:02 PM on May 14, 2006

The problem is, right now, you don't really want to be friends with her; you want your old relationship back. At least, that's how it's always been with me.

The only way to honestly be friends is to wait until you no longer want what you can't have. And that may take a while. But it will be worth it. If you try to force it now, you'll end up being sad when you hang around her, and jealous of who she's with when you're not around her. You have to wait.
posted by number9dream at 1:09 AM on May 15, 2006

Thank you everyone for your good and demolishing responses. The consensus here is pretty hard to avoid.

In response to the few of you who suggested the alternate route of romancing her: well, I don't know. I'm not convinced her feelings for me are as dead as she says; I've looked at this really hard, and I don't think I'm just deluding myself with hope. But I also think that any advances right now would make her run away. Certainly the proposition of marriage, even though I *could* see myself spending my life with her.

About a week before I moved out, when things were at their worst, we took a trip to Venice for which we'd bought tickets for long before. It was terribly romantic. Yesterday, when she said she didn't love me romantically, and suggested that she hadn't for a number of months, I asked her what Venice was. She changed her stance a bit...she couldn't say. I'm convinced that a lot of out breakup was circumstantial and moreover that circumstances have changed. The bad circumstances maybe led her to change the way she feels about me, but couldn't good circumstances do the opposite over time?

I guess this is where I stand. I think it's a very good idea for me to make a greater effort to have my own life independent of her. It's probably a good idea to limit contact with her. But I don't want to cut off contact completely for two reasons 1) she IS more important to me than anyone else. We really have fun together, even now, and 2) I haven't given up hope that if she feels more relaxed over time, she'll feel more inclined to give the relationship another try.

But is this just too foolhardy? I know it's not what most of you recommend. It will lead to a lot of pain whether or not it pans out in my favor. What it comes down to is this (and I'm a hopeless romantic): I cannot imagine my life without this woman. That's a cliche, and I have felt it countless times before in a cliched way after breakups, but I really, really can't imagine it here. I've tried. So isn't that reason enough to be foolhardy? Doesn't real love always entail making yourself vulnerable to huge pain? If I'm going out on a thin limb, but doing it because I'm so in love that there is no way I can conceive of NOT doing it, does that justify the potentially shattering results?
posted by scarylarry at 3:01 AM on May 15, 2006

I don't know, these are the kinds of questions that make me wonder about free will. I was in a similar situation once, and people told me to let it go, but I couldn't; I would always find a way to convince myself that it could still work out. Now I can see in hindsight that I was wrong and that I shouldn't have kept trying, but I wonder if I actually could've done things differently if I'd really been determned to.

However, I also learned a lot of things the hard way from that experience, and I can't say if I'd be the same person today had I not gone through it. Although I do think that if it happened again I'd know better and act differently, but it hasn't happened again so far, so I can't really be sure about that either.

So do what you're gonna do, I guess. But be careful, and try not to put on blinders, as is quite easy in these sorts of situations.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:51 AM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

2) I haven't given up hope that if she feels more relaxed over time, she'll feel more inclined to give the relationship another try.

Admirable, and I've been there, but I'm sticking to my guns—give up hope.

Here's the thing: your relationship is broken. Really, really broken. She may not be able to annunciate what her feelings are exactly, but she's working in "I don't love you" territory.

If you're going to have a healthy romantic relationship with her ever again, it pretty much needs to be a new one, which means time and distance enough that you two can start over. Trying to find some way to jimmy this current (broken) dynamic isn't good. Even if you Patch Things Up, how much are you going to trust that tenuous rehabilitation? Do you want to spend an indefinite amount of time wondering whether your relationship is really functioning, and when it's going to unceremoniously collapse?
posted by cortex at 6:28 AM on May 15, 2006

Someone needs to speak out against the crowd. If you and this girl love each other, and clearly you do, then there is a way to work it out. You said you can't imagine a life without her... well, you don't have to live a life without her.

I think what is important is that loving her may mean giving up the dream of living with her and being her lover for the rest of your life. If you do love her, and she really would be happier if she wasn't in a romantic relationship with you, then you should respect that, as hard as it may be. You should respect it because love is about being selfless, putting someone else before you. So, sacrifice the ideal world where she decides you're the only one for her. Sacrifice it because it will make her happier.

You shouldn't avoid contact with her completely. If this was as good as it sounds, then you just need to find a way to carry that goodness through to a friendship. It doesn't sound like it was only good because of sex.

It's not easy, but ask yourself what you want out of it- is it to have her back because you want her? Or is it because you think she'd be better off if she was with you again? If it's the first one, that's a pretty selfish (and very understandable) place to be. If it's the second one, maybe you're right. Talk to her about it. Maybe you'll see that she's right, and that it may indeed be best not to continue as lovers. If so, it's a hard road at first, but knowing that the decision was made together, and that it was made out of love, makes it much easier.

Best of luck.
posted by twirlypen at 6:49 AM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

You don't.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:22 AM on May 15, 2006

I agree with adamrice. I've been in a similar situation, and if the friendship is worth it to both of you, it can work. However, it is not easy, and be prepared to feel a lot of heart-pain. Taking a break from her to clear your head might be a good idea.

The main important details, from my own experience, are these: absolutely, no-foolin' accept that the romance part is over and do not stick around hoping to rekindle it, regardless of your hopes or gut feelings; do not read between the lines -- take everything she says at face value; cultivate your own separate love life and make yourself ask her about hers; be very aware of your own emotional needs, and if you need space, take it -- but be honest with her about what's happening.
posted by tentacle at 10:46 AM on May 15, 2006

I'm going to go with the consensus and say it ain't gonna work, at least until you find somebody else to fixate on romantically. This is a classic example of the muddle love gets us into:

What it comes down to is this (and I'm a hopeless romantic): I cannot imagine my life without this woman. That's a cliche, and I have felt it countless times before in a cliched way after breakups, but I really, really can't imagine it here. I've tried. So isn't that reason enough to be foolhardy? Doesn't real love always entail making yourself vulnerable to huge pain? If I'm going out on a thin limb, but doing it because I'm so in love that there is no way I can conceive of NOT doing it, does that justify the potentially shattering results?

In other words, "I know this doesn't make any sense and I've been wrong every time I've felt it before, but I really feel it... so maybe I should go with it?"

No, you shouldn't. Your heart and lower parts are telling you one thing, your brain is telling you another (on those rare occasions it can get its voice heard; you know your brain is right, and so is the consensus here. We've all been there (well, most of us, anyway), we know how hard it is to be sensible, but if you want to avoid unnecessary pain, you're going to have to be sensible. If not, we'll still be here when you post the next anguished question!
posted by languagehat at 11:25 AM on May 15, 2006

If you try to stay friends with her while still in love with her, it won't end well. She won't fall into your arms. She'll go date other people and since you're "friends", you won't be allowed to be upset about it (but you sure as hell will be). And god knows, she will be aware that you are still madly in love, and it will get to her. Eventually, this psuedo-friendship will be doomed because she'll get fed up and want to no longer speak to you because you're not over her.

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. If I had to pick an episode in my life that I'd go back and tell my younger self not to do, that would be it for me. Not even because the ex was worth keeping around as a friend, but because it messed me up and made me a total idiot and irritating person to be around for the 2 years that I refused to get over my "friend" ex because I loooooooooved him and couldn't imagine my life without him in it. (Until, you know, he forced me to by refusing to speak to me any more.)

If you take a year (yes, I said a YEAR) off from having any contact with her, chances are that after THAT, (a) you'll be over the lovey feelings that will drive her away as a "friend" right now, and (b) if you're over said feelings, THEN you can be close friends. I don't think you want to be "friends", though. I think you just want her back. Fine, make an attempt at that instead and good luck, but it doesn't sound to us non-hopeless romantics like she's leaning in your direction now, even besides Venice being "romantic."
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:26 PM on May 15, 2006

I cannot imagine my life without this woman.

All right, so tell her. If what you really want is to be back together with her, you don't want to be friends. And if you don't want to be friends, it's kind of like lying to keep pretending you are one. So tell her you're still madly in love and lay it on the line.

Quite likely, she's not interested. But would you rather try for your chance or attempt friendship while watching her fall in love with someone else?
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:30 PM on May 15, 2006

Remember the bad times? When you fled a country to get away from her? If you do stay in contact with her, take some time to remember that you broke up because she had stinky feet/ slept with your brother/ made fun of your taste in music and literature/ refused to wash her dishes/ whatever it was she did to make you flee a country for three years. If they keep you from repeating your mistakes, then bitter memories are your friends.
posted by Sara Anne at 3:31 PM on May 16, 2006

I cannot imagine my life without this woman.

This is why the consensus here is to avoid contact for a while. Sometimes you need to experience life without someone again in order to be able to imagine it.
posted by heatherann at 5:00 PM on May 17, 2006

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