Monday, October 1, 2012

But You Say I'm Just a Friend: From Friends to Romance (or Not)

Some people say that men and women are incapable of being friends, that at some point,  one will inevitably develop romantic feelings for the other which will alter the dynamic in the relationship. While I don’t agree with this completely, I will concede that falling for a friend is one of the most natural things in the world. It’s also one of the most complicated.

When we’re friends with someone, we already like them as people. We enjoy spending time with them, they make us laugh, we have fun when we’re around them, we’re comfortable with them and vice versa. When we’re friends with someone we’re not playing a game or putting on act, they know us, they understand us, they’ve seen us in both a positive and negative light and they like us anyway. With friends there is also a support system, in those friendships of the opposite sex also provide us with an insight to the other sex. I have spent countless hours with my male friends either supporting them through girl troubles or having them reiterate that I’m an incredible person who deserves a great guy. When our friends pay us compliments, we believe them, we know they’re coming from a genuine place with no ulterior motives. If we're going through a tough time  or feeling insecure and unattractive, having someone wonderful from the opposite sex remind us that we’re fabulous is a powerful morale booster. 

Sometimes we take these relationships and use them to lift us up, but sometimes, we look at the person we’re talking to and think, “Wait, why I am not with you? I like being around you a lot and you clearly like me, so why am I stressing about (insert name)?” We think about how much easier it would be to just date our friend.

Sometimes these feelings are legitimate, and we have, in fact, had a realization that the person we want to be with has been standing in front of us but sometimes these emotions stem from the confusion of the moment. The feelings we are suddenly overcome by can be misplaced and are perhaps generated more from the desire to feel accepted and loved for who we are. This is why it’s so confusing and, at times, precarious. We then have to decide whether or not we ACTUALLY like our friend or if it’s just a fleeting thing that we’ll get over and cringe over when looking back. And then we have to decide what we’re going to do about it. Do we tell them? Or do we just sit back and do nothing?

Rejection is never easy, there is never an instance where it feels good to have someone tell us that they don’t want us back, however it’s much worse when it’s a friend doing the rejection. If it’s someone we don’t know that well, we can move on, laugh at them for being stupid (while secretly feeling terrible) but if it’s our friend, not only do we have to see them again, frequently, but we also run the risk of losing them all together. Not only do we not get kissed but all of a sudden we’re down one friend, a double loss, one large enough that makes holding back an attractive option.

The first thing we need to do is think about it. 

Actual vs Circumstance:

Self Evaluation:  It’s impossible to be unbiased in our own lives, but we need to try and be as objective as possible. Take a few steps back and really look at what’s going on. Are we going through a tough time? Are we unhappy? Lonely? Any other type of feeling that makes us feel vulnerable that would make us more inclined to seek out the comfort of another person. What is it that we're feeling and looking for? 

Discretion: Most of us like to bounce ideas off of those around us, however in this situation, it’s not always the best idea. The more people who are involved, the bigger deal it becomes, and the greater the possible fallout. If we decide that we like our friend but aren’t sure how they feel about us, the natural gut reaction to seek validation, and we do that by asking others what they think of the situation. People who know the both of you, people who’ve seen interactions and know both personalities, but as tempting as this is to do, avoid it. It puts the third party in an awkward position and can end up complicating things on a whole new level.

Time: This could be the real deal, or it could just be a phase. While I don’t ever advocate denying oneself the chance at happiness, I do believe that time can be a powerful indicator in this situation. Don’t rush into any declarations, but rather wait and see if your feelings grow or subside. I’m not talking years, here, but a month, at least.

Them-Evaluation:  After we’ve looked into ourselves and figured out what our state of mind is, it’s time to look at our person of interest. Why do we think we like them? Do we like them for the same reasons that we like all of our other friends or is there something extra there? What exactly is it that has shifted our perception of them? It’s more than just suddenly realizing, "Wow, so-and-so is REALLY HOT" but more they way you feel when you’re with them. So, suddenly thinking someone’s cute and wanting to kiss them is very different than realizing that you’re at your happiest when you’re around someone.

Be realistic: Just because someone makes an incredible friend doesn’t mean that they’d make a good significant other. We are drawn to our friends romantically because we think about how easy it is with them, but in actuality, who they are as a friend and who they are as a partner are completely different. I count a lot of amazing men as my friends but I know that if we were together that certain things about them would make us incompatible. We have different expectations and needs from the person we’re dating then from our friends.

Be prepared: Be prepared for anything that will happen. Perhaps our friend will freak out and no longer want to speak to us. We must prepare for this. Perhaps we end up dating and it's a disaster and we lose them altogether. Perhaps we hook up and it's terrible. Perhaps it turns into an epic romance that has a happily ever after. We must be prepared for all situations.

After we’ve evaluated the above we should hopefully have a clearer picture of our feelings. So if we decide that we DO actually like them,  what then?

I asked a lot of people about this, if they’ve ever fallen for a friend, and what they did when they realized it. I am of the mindset that the best relationships are the ones that have the basis of friendship. We know that relationships are complicated, there are ups and downs and we need someone on our team that have a solid establishment with. 

Ideally, in the situation of friends to lovers, the person feels the same way and the situation unfolds naturally. That one day/night/trip, things evolve and just happen. That we transition seamlessly. Sometimes though, it doesn’t and we need to take action.

Communicate: As difficult as it is, I do think if we care about someone then we should be honest with them.  (There are exceptions, certain no fly zones, in which case we should maybe just let it go) Talking about feelings is not an easy thing to do, but on the other hand, this person is our friend, which hopefully means they’re a good enough person to be gracious and kind when we are stumbling through our confession.  The worst that happens is that they reject us and stop being our friend, but frankly, if that happens then it wasn’t a real friendship anyway. Usually what will happen is: a) they feel the same way or b)they don’t, it’s a little awkward for a bit but you both get over it. However, I don’t believe that a friendship can be sustainable if these feelings last, it will eventually blow up.

Timing:  I’ve said this many times before, there is a time and place for everything. If you friend is telling you about her new boyfriend or that she just got engaged, blurting out, “No but I love you!” is probably not the best response. Neither is getting drunk to make your feelings known. A lot of people will dispute this, in fact over half the people I “surveyed” about this have said that they get a couple of drinks in them and then make their move. While I understand the need for liquid courage, I think it’s a cop out. Aside from the fact that no one can really take a drunken confession 100% seriously, it’s also a shield that we hide behind. If we’re rejected, we can blame the alcohol for what we’ve done or said, and pretend like we didn’t mean it. It’s easier, for sure, and less risk, but less reward as well. As terrifying as it is, we need to do it sober, and at an appropriate time.

Listen: Unless it's over email (WHICH IS A BIG NO) this is not a one sided conversation. The person on the receiving end is just as important as you, the initiator. You have to give them a chance to speak and say what they want. Don't put words in their mouth, don't make assumptions, and don't erect defense mechanisms to soften the blow. You've decided to do this so do it properly. A classic example is saying something like: "I know you don't feel the same way..." or "I know I'm not your type..." Doing this is wrong and bad and immature. Not to mention you'll leave the conversation unsatisfied because you never really got their response, just the one you prearranged for them. 

Accept: Whatever the outcome is we have to accept it. We made the conscious decision to lay ourselves on the line and the only adult and responsible thing to do is take what we’re given and behave with dignity.  Life isn’t like the movies, and there are very few instances where our declaration will be met with a fairytale response. The truth is, even if it IS mutual, things will be a little weird for a while. No transition is completely seamless, and we will have to tread slowly, to see what happens, let things just be. Also, our friend will (most likely) by thrown by what we’ve just said and may need time to work through it. Or they may tell us that, sorry, it just isn’t mutual, and as hurtful as that is, we have to deal with it. It’s not their fault. We don’t like everyone and can’t expect for everyone to like us. If we don’t like what we hear, we can’t get angry or vicious, or throw out ultimatums. We also have to be cognizant of the fact that the person may be uncomfortable with this newfound information and might need some space. We can’t get emotional and ask them why they don’t like us. We can’t change ourselves or the other person. We can’t keep bringing it up. Once you’ve said your piece, let it go. Have enough respect for yourself and other person. It is what it is.

On the Flip Side
Most of us have, at some point, been the recipient of a love confession, as I mentioned, it can be awkward or shocking. Regardless of our feelings, it throws us, but there are Do’s and Don’ts in handling the situation:

Be kind: It took a lot for this person to come to you and open up, and they’re probably nervous so you need to be kind and gentle in your response.

Be honest: Whatever it is you’re feeling, express it. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, say it. If you think it could work out, say it. If you’re just not into them, say it. It may not be easy to do, but if you care about your friend, which you do, then they deserve it.

Be normal but aware: There is no reason why we can’t maintain a friendship with someone who likes us (Unless they make it weird or are relentless in the pursuit) but we also need to be cognizant of the signals that we’re sending out. Most likely, initially, our friend will be hoping something will happen and will be reading into things more than they should, and while we shouldn’t change completely, we should make our stance clear. Hopefully, over time, our friend will get over it and it’ll be something we laugh about together, but in the meantime we have to be sensitive about not giving false hope.

Gossip/Use it against them:  We’re not five, so this should be obvious, but don’t make someone else's feelings your water cooler conversation. It’s insensitive and inconsiderate. Also, don’t make the person feel stupid for what they’ve told you. Keep it between the two of you and don't use it for your own personal entertainment. 

Play games:  When someone tells us they have feelings for us, it’s natural that we take it into consideration when we may not have previously done so. We may need time to figure out what it is that WE’RE feeling, but don’t use this as an excuse to experiment. It is wrong and mean to do something like kiss your friend and then turn around and say, "Actually no, I’m not into you like that after all." Any decision or moves made should be considered.

Be mean. Ever

*Thanks to:
Someone on the other side of the world who is dealing with this, I hope it goes well. 
Everyone who took part in the survey. ;)
MTV for the show "Friend Zone" which, by the way, is a terrible way to tell someone you like them.

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