How do I tell my (girl) friend about my girlfriend?
February 8, 2008 4:04 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell my (girl) friend about my girlfriend?

At the beginning of January I started hanging out with a woman who is clearly interested in being in a relationship with me. At the time, I told her I wasn't looking for a relationship any time soon due to recent personal drama I was trying to put behind me. Since then we've gotten to be decent friends, doing friend-type things (watching football, bars, etc.), but I have the uncomfortable feeling that she's hoping for something more to happen. I certainly could have handled the initial conversation about just being friends better, since I think it implied that it would just be a matter of time before I was open to being together with her. She has tried to gently nudge things along a couple times, but I've been good about maintaining my "keep it friends" position (declining to kiss her when she asked me to, for example).

Although at the time I sincerely meant that I didn't want a relationship with anyone for the foreseeable future, it turns out I was mistaken. I met another woman I'm extremely attracted to, and it's been getting increasingly relationship-y. Not really something I had anticipated. It's getting very close to the time when I'm going to need to talk to the just-friends girl about this, and I'm at a loss as to how to do that. If I read the situation right, my friend is obviously going to be hurt about it. I do like her, and I'd prefer not to make her feel worse than is inevitable, and at the same time I feel like I'm partially at fault since the way I phrased it initially may have implied to her that at some point I'd have my emotional shit together and be ready to jump into a relationship with her.

So... what are some good strategies/tactics for talking to the friend about this which would minimize the hurt feelings? How do I approach or address the (possible) issue of her feeling like I led her on or somehow lied to her about my readiness to be in a relationship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I've been in this position on both [all three?] sides of this particular situation. I'm of the opinion that it's a workable situation, in case someone else tells you that you can't have a good female friend and a new girlfriend. It's not a great place to be, but keep it in perspective

- You gave your friend a good faith answer about where your head was at. Turns out you didn't totally predict your future self. That happens, it's not even a mistake so much as it was a guess that was incorrect. Don't beat yourelf up over this and don't let her do that either.
- You are dating a nice girl and are happy. That's cool. Your friend may be nervous especially that she will cease being your friend because she was just a platonic stand-in for the girlfriend. You may want to put her mind at ease about this. You may want to make an extra effort to not blow her off even though you have a new relationship.
- Your friend may be mad and want to back off for a while. I'd advise you to let her do this and not get all "no wait you are SO IMPORTANT to me...." because that is actually a mixed message in some ways. She's important as a friend. You also are dating someone. Hopefully everyone is cool with that, but if not you'll have to make it clearer how you are feeling.
- Tell the woman you are dating what the situation was and is, just so everyone is on the same page.
- Generally I have found what works is to explain things, give them time to ask questions, see how people are feeling and then try to move forward without spending a lot of time mulling over past events. Find some version of events that you are okay with "Yeah I know now that I should have been more up front about this, but those were my real feelings at the time. I'm sorry. I'd like us to still be friends if you would"

I think the easiest way for something like this to tank is

1. you let her "find out" because you can't muster up the courage to tell her. If you're a real frend you'll try to make sure this doesn't happen.
2. She decided to make an issue of this and be like "What about this time you said THIS... Can you see how that was leading me ON?!" and while I hope that is not the case, your best bet is to not turn it into a big thing and calmly restate your general assertion "I know that I should have been more up front..." and not get into a he said/she said thing with someone who is not your girlfriend.

Best of luck, sooner is better than later.
posted by jessamyn at 4:18 PM on February 8, 2008 [13 favorites]

I'd say: just tell her about your new girlfriend as a new thing that has happened in your personal life. Make sure it's at the end of a time of hanging out together.
You can't make it easy for her. So just state it plainly and give her space to either discuss her disappointment with you or save face and act as if she doesn't care. In the latter case she can take her leave if she wants and nurse her feelings in private.

Yes, she might be resentful about being led on. I don't think you can do anything about that, from the way you tell it it might be a little bit true. You can say you're sorry and express that you wish her well.
posted by jouke at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2008

You already hurt her when you decided to be "just friends" with her while leading her on until you found something better. There's not much to do now but come right and tell her that you've met someone else and you hope she understands. Who knows what her feelings really are but just in case, make it clear that you want her to know and find out from you and, generally, just be honest. Then back off. If she forgives you and continues to want to be your friend that's great but if not, well you can certainly understand why.
posted by nixerman at 4:27 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

The next time she pushes the romantic aspect of your relationship, you should tell her that now you've known her for a while, that there is no fire, and as much as she may wish there to be, nothing is going to happen - the relationship will not evolve into a romantic one. Make it clear that this has nothing to do with your emotional baggage and everything to do with your incompatibility as romantic partners. It's chemistry and that's just the way you feel. Make this clear as soon as possible.

She will likely be hurt and she may no longer want to be your friend, or at least take some time to reflect and not have you around. To spare her feelings, don't bring up the other woman right away. Give her time to adjust and reflect on the new reality of the situation, so the blow to her feelings and self-esteem will be blunted. As I said, she may no longer want to be around you anyway, if you make it absolutely 100% crystal clear there is no chance for romance.

If she somehow understands and still wants to remain friends, you can later introduce the other woman who you DO have romantic chemistry with. If this is the case, and timelines get discussed, she'd understand why you didn't initially tell her.

If during the conversation you are cornered and asked if there is "somebody else", well you'll just have to be realistic about YOUR new reality and come clean.
posted by Blue Buddha at 4:30 PM on February 8, 2008

You just need to be straight with her. She's a big girl, she can probably take the fact that you're not into her.
posted by thisjax at 4:37 PM on February 8, 2008

It's usually a pretty awkward conversation. But it is worse when you really drop a bomb by doing something like showing up with your new girlfriend on your arm, no forewarning or anything. So don't do that.

Honestly, if you and her were really awesome friends, with no sexual tension or subtext, you would probably have been letting her know all along that something was developing -- hey I met this girl, hey we've started hanging out, woah she wants me to meet her parents. The problem comes because you have been keeping a secret and now need to let it out, but once you tell it you are letting her know you have been keeping a secret. Letting on that there was a secret is a way of making explicit that there have indeed been sexual tensions where you both have been pretending Uh-uh, just friends, nuthin more, uh uh.

So do what Jessamyn suggests, be direct and honest and give her the space to think about it. But do it ASAP. Delaying telling her has caused this problem, and more delay means more of a problem not less. My experience has been about 50/50 -- about half of the time we can stay friends, and the other half of the time the tenuous friendship just can't survive the revelation. One time what worked really well was saying, I've started seeing this girl and I've told her all about you and she really wants to meet you, and in the end all three of us were great friends. But that will only work, I think, when there is more friendship and less sexual tension, so don't go suggesting that if really the hormones hang heavy in the air.
posted by Forktine at 4:39 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, I'd just tell her about the girlfriend and not make a huge deal out of it. She needs to be told, and she needs to be told straight, but sitting her down for a Very Serious Talk may actually make her feel worse. It might embarrass her. Let her have some dignity.

I once developed feelings for a male friend of mine. I don't think he knew about those feelings, so this may be a bit different, but we were pretty close, and I would have - at the time - liked for it to be more. When he started seeing someone, he just started talking about her like he'd talk about anything else going on in his life. There was an initial feeling of "Ouch!" and I think I shed some tears privately, but he didn't embarrass me with a big sit-down, and I knew that his new girlfriend didn't mean we couldn't be friends anymore. I got over those feelings I had for him pretty quickly. He was off the market, and we'd never Gone There, so the pain was short-lived.
posted by katillathehun at 4:44 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm sitting here wondering how much you want to stress "I know you wanted something with me" versus playing it as "hey, there's something new in my life, I've actually started semi-seriously dating this person. Any dates in your future?" and then let her deal with her feelings about you on her own. She might feel stupid ("he said he wanted to just be friends and I've been throwing myself at him ever since, he must think I'm desperate...") and moreso if you act as though it's a big deal for the two of you. It might be better not to make explicit the implicit rejection ("I know I said you were in the running but now you've definitely lost to someone else, I hope I haven't been giving you false hope," anything that implies you kinda were dating and now you're ending that), and instead act as though this is more or less par for the course that you set out earlier.

On the other hand, if you do really feel you did wrong, and she does, too, having that go unsaid without owning up to it could leave a sense of hurt and accusation and guilt simmering between the two of you. So, I think it really depends. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's an awkward situation, sure, but the way I'd handle it, were I in your position, would be as follows.

You go to a bar together. Just the two of you. Don't make out like its a special occassion or that "you need to talk"; just arrange for the two of you to go out somewhere and share a few drinks like you usually do.

Let the night run its course. Have and share some drinks. Have a good time. You'll be able to gauge the right moment to ask her, plainly and openly, if she is happy with things the way they are between the two of you right now. She will probably say yes; maybe mention she wants more, but she'll certainly say that things between the two of you are nice. Ask her, once again plainly and openly, if she thinks you've been leading her on.

This is the key moment. If she says no, you're in the clear to tell her the good news in your life. Tell her about her, that you really like this new girl, and that you want her to meet her f she feels comfortable doing that. Tell her you still really want to be friends. After all, if she's said you haven't been leading her on, there should be no trouble in the two of you maintaining the friendship.

If she says that you have been leading her on... well I'm not sure what to do in that case. Others might be able to chime in there. Certainly apologise for doing so. Maybe guage be her mood if she'd be open to hearing about the new girl. If you think she's not, maybe hold off on telling her.

It's a messy situation either which way and a lot rides on how mature (emotionally) this female friend of yours is. Good luck, either way.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:00 PM on February 8, 2008

She needs to be told, and she needs to be told straight, but sitting her down for a Very Serious Talk may actually make her feel worse. It might embarrass her. Let her have some dignity.

Agreed. Put on some big show like the one set out by Effigy2000 and you'd probably find one of those drinks in your face.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:12 PM on February 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree with katillathehun -- you need to find a way to slip it into normal conversation. I've both delivered and received uncomfortable news this way, on many occasions. Anytime I've been on the receiving end of this method, the pain was less because I felt as though the other person was trying to save me some embarrassment. I preferred it to any Big Serious Discussions that could have taken place.

And, don't beat yourself up too much about how badly you may have phrased your previous explanations of unavailability. Really. Those conversations are tough, and it's easy to panic and mess it up a bit. And from there, it's perilously easy to get stuck in an uncomfortable, intimidating social predicament.

If you truly have stood firm with this girl since that talk, she must know on some level what's going on here. She doesn't need for you to have explicitly laid out your exact feelings. If she's even halfway perceptive, she knows that people soften up conversations like that, for mutually face-saving reasons.

Of course, that's assuming she's a fairly reasonable adult. If she's not, and she freaks out, at least you can always point out that you've tried your best to not reinforce her hopes. Good luck on all this.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2008

Don't do what Effigy2000 says. You'd be backing her into a corner, counting on her to lie to you about whether or not you've led her on, then using it against her if she gets mad. That's bullshit.

I'm with TPS and others who say, tell her quick, but in a casual way. I was your (girl)friend once, and he told me he was dating someone one night while we were walking outside. It was a casual but direct comment, no confusion about what he was saying. But it was dark out, so he didn't see the reaction on my face. I was able to play it off like I was happy for him, and pretend like he didn't know I was into him. Yeah, I went home and cried, but I got over it and I didn't have to feel mortified every time I saw him.
posted by clh at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2008

I agree with just mentioning it in a normal interaction...if you make a big deal out of it or hide it , you might make it a lot worse in terms of drama and hurt feelings. Your own guilt might drive you to either not tell her or try to tell her in a special way. Don't let it. She might still be upset and need some space, but that's just the way these things play out. This is a very common situation.

Also, if you keep this friendship, don't hide it from the girlfriend either. It makes you seem guilty.
posted by melissam at 7:30 PM on February 8, 2008

Please do not do what Effigy was suggesting. Halfway through that conversation? Where you ask if she's happy with the relationship and ask if she thinks you've been leading her on? That may give her the exact WRONG, the impression that you're about to say, "hey, you know, I think i'm ready for that relationship now". And then you'd lay on her the real news, and it would be a whiplash as well as an emotional slap.

I agree with mentioning in casual conversation. If you two hang out as friends, you tell each other what you're up to all the time. So, just mention in conversation that you've met this girl you really like. See how the conversation goes. If you have TOLD your friend that you're not looking for a relationship, then regardless of how she might have taken it (ie, "if i hang around he might be into me later!"), you have stated that you want to be FRIENDS. I really don't see it as you leading her on, unless you've been doing pseudo-romantic things with her. You've stated what you're willing to give to the relationship. If she's hoped it to turn into more, then that's her problem and not really your fault. Don't feel guilty about it.
posted by JustWandering at 8:28 PM on February 8, 2008

I definitely agree with the casual approach a number of people have suggested. Another thing I would suggest, if it's possible to do without looking contrived (important, that), is ensure she can have a few minutes on her own straight afterwards to compose herself and 'act fine' for the rest of the outing, if it really is going to be the bombshell you fear.
My guess is you might have a better chance of staying friends if she feels she has kept her dignity intact
posted by Marzipan at 5:53 AM on February 9, 2008

People of the world, for your future reference:
I'm not interested in a relationship right now" means "I am not interested in a relationship right now --with you."

I have said the first version before and thought I meant it at the time but I was really just trying to be nice. It would have been MUCH nicer of me to just say I wasn't interested in being more than friends.

I know it's too late for anonymous to change his awkward initial phrasing of feelings, but for the future, you know.
Now, I agree with the many others who advised to make it casual and straightforward. Don't leave it open to more interpretation. And then drop it, don't hassle/question her about her love life. Keep on doing the things you normally do in your friendly relationship but be prepared for the possibility that she might take a step back from the friendship.
posted by bobobox at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

While some people may disagree with me because they may think its a bit gutless, I would do it over the phone or over IM. If she gets really upset she can more easily hide it from you and by the same token get away from you without having to make awkward excuses or have to suffer through the rest of the evening with a big fake smile on her face. I think the key is to make the situation as unembaressing for her as possible and to give her the space she needs to get upset and then over you. I would slip it in casually as other people have suggested, but make it clear. Nothing wishy washy that makes it sound like things are casual/temporary with this girl i.e. that this is just a fling that you will soon get over and then come running back to her.
posted by whoaali at 1:10 PM on February 9, 2008

"You know what, the weirdest thing is happening...I swear to god I didn't want to get involved with anyone, I'm sure I'm still not over the last bit of drama so I'm kind of hesitant about this, but...I'm sort of maybe seeing someone right now, and I really like her...I'm sure I'm going headfirst into more drama but...maybe not, you know? What do you think, how long does it take to pick yourself up after a relationship?"

No need for a sit down conversation. Just tell her the truth. She's a friend, right? So tell her as though you were telling a friend. If she freaks out, she freaks out, told her no relationship. And who knows, she might just be flirting with you for fun. Maybe she'll turn out to be the best friend you've ever had.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:11 AM on September 21, 2008

Make sure to involve lots of liquor, a la the Effigy suggestion. Booze always helps me to make valid emotional judgments, and avoid drama!
posted by benzenedream at 5:40 PM on November 24, 2008

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