How do I save this friendship?
June 6, 2008 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I save this friendship?

I met Josh two years ago and he has been one of my best friends ever since. A month or so after we
started hanging out, we had a talk that was very awkward, and ended with me saying "let's stay
friends." After the talk, he denied that he ever really felt like that and I just tried to forget about it

Over the past two years there were a handful of moments that made me slightly uncomfortable because
of things he said or did, but since we both dated and had relationships with other people over that
period of time and discussed these relationships with each other openly I was confident he was over me
and forgot about it.

Three weeks ago, late one night while we were hanging out, he told me that he has never been in love
with anyone else and I was the only person he could ever be in love with and wanted to know if I was
open to try dating. I said that I couldn't because I had started recently dating someone else (only kind
of true)

The truth is I don't think I could ever date Josh. We would be very compatible in so many ways it
makes me very sad that I don’t feel any of the lust or romantic attraction that one needs to date
someone else. We’re so compatible that maybe someday I’d suddenly feel lust or whatever for him,
but since its been two years already and it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not fair to lead him on or give him
any hopes.

After the awkward talk we just had, I tentatively held out an olive branch but let him know it was cool if
he needed time apart, and then we immediately went back to being just friends and pretending we’d
never had that talk. But now I feel weird (and I think he might too).

1. I’m worried that he may be neglecting other things, people, or opportunities in his life to spend
more time with me. I like spending time with him and love to do it whenever we both can, and
I can’t really call him out on maybe not doing stuff because he’s maybe still carrying a torch for
2. I know exactly how he feels, I was once madly in love with a male friend and I told him of my
feelings and got shut down. (I guess what goes around...) I’m not in love with said male friend
anymore, but I know that I’ll always carry a little bit of a torch for him, and if he ever came to
me feeling the same, if I weren’t in love with someone else I’d definitely give it a go.
3. Spending time with him is not as fun as it used to be, because now I feel like every thing I say,
my body language, and every action has to be guarded and second guessed so I don’t give him
the wrong impression.
4. I get really mad sometimes when I think about the whole situation. I wish my life was one of
those romantic comedies and I’d wake up tomorrow and be madly in love with him. I get angry
at him (not fair I know) for making me feel all bizarre and queasy about our relationship when
he is really one of the best friends I ever had.

I won’t end my friendship with him and I wont reopen the wound by bringing up the subject again only
to shut him down. I need help and ideas on what the best things to do so that a)we stay really good
friends b) he moves on and finds a girl who is crazy about him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him the truth. If he sticks around, do not ever let yourself "suddenly feel lust or whatever for him" unless you really think you'd be ready to commit to trying out a relationship with him rather than just acting on momentary urges.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:16 AM on June 6, 2008

I'll second that. Over time he'll (hopefully) move on, as you have from your fella. In order to help him on his way, you need to never give him any sign that you might be thinking about him in a romantic way. Just a whiff of that equates to several months more of him longing for you.
posted by twirlypen at 6:21 AM on June 6, 2008

How did you get over your male friend? Josh is obviously not the same person as you, and will not deal the same ways, but some of the basics may be the same. I think you probably need to spend less time with him. Or rather, he needs to spend less time with you. From your account, he seems unwilling to do that, so you may need to take the lead. It's not your responsibility per se, but as a friend, it may be the right thing to do.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:37 AM on June 6, 2008

i had a friend develop a crush on me. we spent about three months not hanging out, and then gradually started spending more time together. it worked for us.

i would just tell him that you really like him, but don't share his feelings, and that you propose a break. if you happen to be at the same party, fine, be polite, but don't hang out. in three months reevaluate.

make it clear that you are not taking the time off so -you- can examine your feelings. you're taking the time off to help him shrug off the crush.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:54 AM on June 6, 2008

No matter how difficult it may be for you, the absolute right thing to do here is to be blunt and honest with him. In time he'll accept it and you two can be friends, if that was meant to be. It may take 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years, 2 decades, but eventually it will work out.

Anything less than being brutally honest leaves him with, however small, a glimmer of hope. By saying "no, 'cause I'm dating someone" he's hearing "if I were single, we could, so be patient till things end with the person I'm with now."
posted by xotis at 6:58 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

You don't explicitly say this, but it sounds like the problem is mainly a lack of basic physical attraction. I had this problem when I first met one of my closest friends. At the time, we were both single. We could finish each other's sentences after an hour of acquaintance, we have identical senses of humor, and we have nearly identical interests. She was really into me, but I cannot find her attractive; almost everything about her body falls outside of my attraction template. I struggled with this, blamed myself for not being able to reciprocate, and after a few weeks of waffling I came out with the truth. She was, naturally, incredibly hurt. We didn't talk for a few days until she called me just as I was picking up the phone to call her. Now, we're doing great as friends. This is one of those rare situations where it's actually useful to advise someone else on a relationship; be brutally honest with him. I hope it works out well for both of you.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 7:04 AM on June 6, 2008

You are his pedestal girl. He has probably put girls up on pedestals before, and been "friends" with them in the hope that they would eventually recognize that he was the right one for them ... and unfortunately while he silently adored them and while he silently adores you he is keeping his distance from perfectly nice (but not perfect) girls who are available to him.

It's not your job to save the friendship. As long as you continue being honest with him about your (lack of) feelings for him, then you are doing right by the friendship. What he does with that is his choice. Another thing to consider is that if you have made it clear that you are not attracted, and he continues to pretend you're just friends while hoping you'll become attracted, then he is not respecting your feelings on the matter. And mutual respect is fundamental to real friendships.
posted by headnsouth at 7:34 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

i did the same thing that josh did to you to my crush from college.. we hung out all the time in college and we both had g/f's, b/f's whenever the other was single so we were in the same kind of position...she's adorable and needed me around all the time, she made fun of everyone and i adore/d her.

i was talking to her over email almost everyday since college and since and with my current gf wanting to move in blah blah blah, i cant be with anyone else, i love you came out blah blah blah.. like josh did to you.. (she has a 3 year bf) .. anyways i regret it already!!!!! I wish i held out longer and showed up at her wedding, jk, or atleast showed up in the future and fell in love naturallly.. i know she has/had feelings for me (or i might just think it like josh hahah) but im pretty sure.

my problem is i fall in love with pretty girls (my crush is still modelling) and that's about it. i would be with her for the rest of my life im sure but not everything is story book and if anything i just regret what i've done now... we stopped emailing slowly and i feel like a josh now :P ...i still figure she will break up with him and come to me but who knows.. i figure i goofed up a good friendship over a pretty face :(
posted by 0.0.0 at 7:38 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Heh, I was this guy. If you're looking for a way to spare him pain, that's not really possible. You might be able to mitigate the pain by, say, surreptitiously setting him up with some cute girl that he'd dig or whatever (so that he doesn't know you were involved), but that would only work if you were out of the picture. Sorry to say, but the best thing for both of you might be to end the friendship. I speak from experience.
posted by mpls2 at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2008

the only thing you can do is tell him directly that you are not interested in him romantically. if you do not confront this head on he will continue to think that maybe just maybe if the stars line up and he say just the right things that you will fall in love with him. if he is not able to deal with this level of honesty there is nothing you can do about it.
posted by phil at 8:06 AM on June 6, 2008

How do I save this friendship?

I think you start dealing with this situation by realizing that it isn't your choice--that it is a decision that is made by both of you to decide what you want things to be.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:20 AM on June 6, 2008

also, you need to examine the "friendship." One of the things that might be hard to take is that it could be that the very things that you liked about the way he treated you sprung from the way he felt about you romantically. That is that what made this special wasn't a feeling of friendship at all.

I think that it is really, really hard to maintain a friendship that began as anything but a friendship.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:24 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

the only thing you can do is tell him directly that you are not interested in him romantically.

Agreed. He needs to learn not to be attracted to people who aren't attracted to him. If not number one, that's one of the top five most important things I've learned in my life.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:34 AM on June 6, 2008

I said that I couldn't because I had started recently dating someone else (only kind
of true).....

The truth is I don't think I could ever date Josh.

You need to speak plainly to Josh that you are not now, and will never be, physically attracted to him. It is difficult to be that honest, I know, but I've been in your situation and if you give any other reason and still hang out with him- he will always have a glimmer of hope and his behavior will illustrate this in subtle and, possibly, not so subtle, ways that will make both of you uncomfortable- and THIS will ruin the friendship.

For Josh's sake- you must not keep him as any kind of an open option in the back of your mind- if you are not physically attracted to him now- it is highly unlikely that you will be in the future.

Tell him that you love him for his friendship but romance ain't gonna happen. The sooner you make this completely clear, the better. If he is truly your friend, he'll stick around (possibly after nursing some wounds in the short term)
posted by mistsandrain at 8:35 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is kind of uncanny because years ago I had the exact same situation, down to my friend's name being Josh.

I realized that by just hanging out as friends I was not only exposing him to a painful situation, but unwittingly and unintentionally keeping the possibility open that something might eventually happen between us. I mean, we got along great, we had a great time together, why not? I mean, I knew it wouldn't happen, but I can see how on his side, in the back of his mind it might seem possible that because of how well we got along I might eventually change my mind.

I didn't stop talking to him completely, but I did put some distance between us for a while. We had already had the talk, I had already been open and frank (which you seem to have been too), and it wasn't getting any less awkward or difficult. It was a bummer to have to put space between me and a good friend, but I think it was for the best because it facilitated his moving on. I just don't think that maintaining the status quo in terms of how often you hang out (if it is indeed often) is a good idea.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:17 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, hit enter before I was done yapping...I don't mean to imply that the friendship should end. I didn't end the friendship with my Josh, I just gave him some time on his own.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:20 AM on June 6, 2008

You need to tell him in an absolutely clear and unmistakable manner that you feel no desire to become romantically involved with him, that you have never felt such a desire in the past, and that you do not anticipate feeling such a desire in the future. I can only speak from my personal experience, of course. That experience has taught me that it is possible that your friendship with Josh is the result of his belief that he has a chance with you. If you want to have a friendship with him, you need to make sure that such a belief is not the basis for the friendship, and the sooner you do it the better. You really don't want him to figure it out in eight years and suddenly drop you from his life (heartbreaking).
posted by prefpara at 9:27 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't tell him you can't date him because you're seeing someone else. You need to make it clear that you don't want to date him, not because you can't, because you don't want to. You need to make him understand that you're just not interested in him in that way. If you give him excuses why you can't date him right now, thats still leaving things kinda open.

For example - a friend calls you and invites you out to the movies, you say sorry, I can't, I have another commitment that night - that leaves it open for the friend to invite you on a different night. If you say you don't like going to the movies, the friend knows not to invite you to the movies anymore.
posted by missmagenta at 10:01 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you care about your friend, you will no longer be his friend. Sounds fucked up, but it's true.

Making decisions for another competent adult "for their own good" is almost never a good idea. It's also disrespectful.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:34 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you care about your friend, you will no longer be his friend. Sounds fucked up, but it's true.

Making decisions for another competent adult "for their own good" is almost never a good idea. It's also disrespectful.

eh, the thing is, there are people who want to "just be friends" but somewhere in the back of their mind are thinking, "well, hm, I wonder, I mean, we really are so compatible in so many ways, and sex isn't the most important thing to me anyway, so maybe if I just have a few more fun wild-thing flings with hot sexy guys, then I can settle down with the sweet, teddy bear, boy next door who I know will always look after me... I'll 'just be friends' for a little while longer and then see where things are..."

If Josh is holding out hope that she'll fold eventually - which plenty of women do; I've seen it happen (and I've seen people end up very happy, fwiw), and not just in the movies (in the movies they usually say the girl suddenly feels attracted, but I doubt that attraction is equivalent to what she felt looking at brad pitt - it's more an acceptance that the feeling of "aw, he's such a sweetie" is a kind of attraction) - then his sticking around isn't making a decision to be facing endless unrequited love. It's a decision to wait a few years while she sows her wild oats, until she gives in. If she is certain that she does not want to allow for that possibility, then going separate ways is probably the best thing to do.
posted by mdn at 11:41 AM on June 6, 2008

I have been in this situation a few times. I've now absorbed the life lesson that drjimmy11 mentioned. Josh will have to learn the same lesson to achieve happiness.

You have 2 choices, facing with the irrational crush that exists within Josh. Don't fool yourself thinking there is something you can do to extinguish that crush. Crushes are powerful. Only time and maturity can overcome them.

A. You can be selfish, do what's best for you and continue navigating this disguised friendship. It can be quite comforting to have a person worshiping you. You will gain confidence, sooth his pain for the moment, and have a back up alternative. Who know, a few years down the line, you may even change your mind. Your attractiveness may decrease, or his may increase until the two of you match. This may not be the best for Josh, but he is staking his life on a slim chance, and is within his right to do so. You are also entitled to make your own choice.

Or, B. you can be an honorable friend, and do what is best for Josh: stay as far away as possible until you judge him mature enough to handle what you offer, platonic friendship. WCityMike had it right. The best thing Josh need right now is a heart break, so his life can unfold the way it's meant to be. This is the most honest, honorable sacrifice you can give to a good friend. A heartbreak is not the worst thing in the world. It can be a gift in disguise to help set a person on a life-long path to happiness.

I had a crush that is A; and I still dislike her (even though I still pine after her). And I'm proud and fortunate to have a few great friends who were B's. They are my friends now, and have earn my respect for their wisdom, and for not taking advantage of my momentary weakness and immaturity.
posted by curiousZ at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2008

I was in this same exact situation. It was hard for me, because I really valued my friendship with this guy. I really truly liked him and enjoyed his company--he's almost like a male version of me--but I had told him from the outset that I was only interested in friendship.

He kept holding out hope and eventually gave me an ultimatum. Our friendship is now on hold. I miss him. Like you, I get mad sometimes about this situation because if only I could be attracted to him, he would probably make me very happy. Also, I feel that I was honest from the outset so I was hurt to have our friendship end after a time, when from my perspective that's all it ever was (although I guess I can imagine how he might feel).

A guy whose opinion I really trust one told me that guys don't generally seek friendships from women they aren't interested in romantically because that's just not "how they think." A friendship might naturally happen if both parties happen to end up on the same page and decide that friendship is all that it is. But a guy is unlikely to seek friendship in a girl, at least initially. (Or so I've been told.)
posted by mintchip at 1:19 PM on June 6, 2008

What Josh needs to get over your is less---or no--- time with you. I know you said you will not quit hanging out with him. Realize that this makes you happy, but in the long run, is likely not the best thing for your friend. I know how totally painful it will be. I was head over heels in love with a friend who didn't feel the same. After almost two years, I said goodbye and cut off all contact. We both cried our eyes out---but it worked.
posted by lacedback at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2008

You blew the chance to tell him forthrightly that you don't have any romantic attraction to him (and if you ever do get the opportunity, for heaven's sake don't get into this we’re so compatible that maybe someday I’d suddenly feel lust or whatever for him business ever). Saying "I can't because I'm seeing someone now" is the same as saying "I could be available later" which might seem nicer than "I don't feel anything romantic for you, there's no chemistry for me at all" but really it's not. If it comes up again be more forthright.

You cannot keep someone from carrying the torch for you. Friendship may be impossible if they truly can't put these feelings behind them. You have to accept that, it's really not the act of a friend to maintain an intimate platonic relationship with someone who has fallen for you (and can't get up). Then again, failed relationships all seem pre-doomed in retrospect so if he is between relationships his "you've always been the only one" feelings might be somewhat manufactured (not that he could necessarily see it that way), and could fade back. Given the way he's talking and the history, I have to say I'm not that hopeful.

I don't think you can have the level of close friendship with a person who carries the torch for you. A really close but truly platonic friendship can have flirty elements, be a little physically intimate (not sexual or anything but touchy-feely huggy hand-holdy sort of thing), afford moments like long, thoughtful silences around some shared experience. This sort of stuff might as well be torture for someone with the goo goo eyes. If he's truly hung up he's basically helpless to dial back whatever intimacy is in your relationship so its up to you to maintain that distance. Please be mindful of getting into things like "oh current boyfriend has disappointed me, why can't he be more like you." The thing you describe about how you wish he could be the one could be sneaking through, make sure it doesn't because it will give him hope.

And since I'm feeling complicated I can think of examples from among my friends where an individual was convinced that, however nice so-and-so was, the va-voom just wasn't there, except when they finally succumbed to giving it a not very hopeful try it turned up after all. But if you're absolutely positive he's not dateable you need to be adamant and unambiguous that this is the way it is, including with yourself. That's about all you can do about a), and there's nothing in the world you can do about b).
posted by nanojath at 1:45 PM on June 6, 2008

guys don't generally seek friendships from women they aren't interested in romantically

That isn't true.
posted by nanojath at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2008

Your attractiveness may decrease, or his may increase until the two of you match.

Uh, what? The OP has not said that Josh is unattractive, she said she has no romantic feelings for him. Why would that change if she becomes physically less attractive? Not everyone bases their relationships on superficial characteristics.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:48 PM on June 6, 2008

Its not entirely a balanced friendship. You've got 2 years of platonic friendship and he's got 2 years of hoping you'll change your mind. You can't go another 2 years without sorting it out somehow. Maybe you have to kind of distract him from you. He's kind of stuck in a loop and can't see out. Like trying to persuade him to be interested in other women. Maybe pointing out females and asking if he thinks they're attractive. and then "hey you should go and talk to her" kind of thing. Whilst he may not believe there's anyone like you, its entirely possible if you can just get him to attempt it he may find that someone actually accessible is a better option.
posted by browolf at 2:02 PM on June 6, 2008

As someone who's been pretty heavily entrenched in Josh's position multiple times, I can tell you the only guy with whom I am still friends first made it clear that he respected and cared for me but was not romantically interested in me, and then gave me some space to recover. He later embraced me as a friend without making me feel awkward for what happened (basically pretending nothing had ever happened and resuming our friendship-as-normal after a year and a half of almost no communication), and now we're as good of friends as ever.

The friend who has hurt me the worst is the one who foolishly made excuses after we'd gotten romantically involved, telling me maybe we'd be in the right place to date each other someday, but not now. His insistence upon staying in my life right then and there, all the while casually dropping hints that he was seeing someone else hurt more than I can say. Don't be that person.

Give him a reason and time to get over you.
posted by amestar_runner at 2:25 PM on June 6, 2008

@oneirodynia, I meant attractiveness in the general sense, the inclusive total of all qualities that draw one to another. Physical attractiveness is only a part of attractiveness, albeit a common, superficial part.

You are right, I did overgeneralize. Romance is more than just mutual attraction. It is conceivable that a disease exists which wipe out all males on Earth except Josh and the OP would still have no feelings for him. I retract the statement and apologize.
posted by curiousZ at 3:10 PM on June 6, 2008

I have to second nanojath. I keep linking to this in Ask MeFi, but it still sums up the situation every time it comes up: you can't be friends with someone who wants to fuck you. And he does. And he's a long-term piner to boot.

This guy is not your friend. He is waiting until you give in. And while this bit may be controversial, I think your hanging out with him is leading him on. Not because you're secretly flirting with him, but the more you're around him being wonderful, the more he won't stop thinking how much he wants you.

I really do think this friendship needs to end. He wants more from you than you can give, and that never ends well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:55 PM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

A guy whose opinion I really trust one told me that guys don't generally seek friendships from women they aren't interested in romantically because that's just not "how they think."

Not true. It may be true for him and the bubble of friends he hangs out with, but it's myopic to generalize that to the male population.
posted by D.C. at 5:32 PM on June 6, 2008

Yes, be upfront (but go easy) and tell him nothing could ever happen, in order to prevent him from eternally clinging on to small shreds of hope. It's easy to fall into the trap of looking for any little sign as a reason for hope to re-emerge. It might also help to tell him you sympathize with him, and that you feel bad about it, but also that if he respects your friendship, he'll have to try to let the crush go if he wants it to continue as much as you do.

Just leaving him alone for a few weeks probably won't help, unless it's his idea. I'd think you should stay in contact as much as you always have, just to make him believe that you actually can stay friends. Stand by him. Maybe help him find other potential girlfriends. Don't be pushy, but do instill the notion that there are other girls out there. (A metaphor I like is the kid whose dog dies, and his parents offer to get another dog. Sure he'll insist he doesn't want another one, but once he gets it, he'll get over the first one eventually.)

Tell him that somewhere down the road, he'll be at a point where he finally finds someone with whom he can have a great two-way relationship. And that he'll be able to look back on this time and wonder why the heck he kept holding on to the notion of you + him = perfection. But the answer obviously is that an unrequited crushed can leave you caught up in a pretty deep hole where you just don't think straight. I don't think you can just tell him to change his way of thinking, you have to help him do it. Other people could try, but I don't think it'd be as effective as it would be from you.

And don't let him watch any romantic comedy-dramas for a while.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:44 AM on June 7, 2008

guys don't generally seek friendships from women they aren't interested in romantically

That isn't true.

Seconded. The problem is that he wasn't seeking a friendship from you.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:50 PM on June 8, 2008

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