Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Do I Need To Friend-Zone An Inconvenient Crush?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in my late twenties, married, and very happy with my relationship. Both my spouse and I have a best friend we’ll call Keith. Keith has been our BFF for over 10 years, and I love him so very much. He’s befriended my spouse and I right after we started dating – so I’ve never been single around him, and he’s witnessed the whole gamut of my spouse’s and my relationship: falling in love, having arguments, making up, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house, etc. He’s a big part of our life: he hangs out with us almost every day, we go on vacations and trips together occasionally, we’ve leaned on each other for emotional support though job losses and family deaths, etc. Point is, he’s a REALLY important friend to both my spouse and me.

The “problem” is… I’m pretty sure Keith is in love with me. Like, for real in love. He’s basically admitted it, in a long round-about way. He doesn’t date, he hasn’t had a significant relationship (more than 2 weeks or so) in the 10+ years I’ve known him. He’s open about how attractive he finds me, and that I’m the “kind of” woman he wants. And while he is just as kind and close to my spouse, he has told me privately many times that he thinks I’m just the bees knees.

Now, let me be clear that my spouse and I have no problem with poly relationships and we’ve even discussed the fact that both of us would be OPEN to it if the right person came along (we’re both bisexual, if it matters). But neither of us are attracted, sexually, to Keith at all.

I don’t know if there’s a “problem” here – Keith isn’t pressuring me to leave my spouse nor has he explicitly asked to be romantic with him (with or without my spouse’s approval). But I’m beginning to worry he’s hung up on me and won’t move on to someone else. Every time he tries to date, it never seems to work out. A lot of times it seems like the other girl’s fault, but I’m only hearing one side of the story. From my perspective it doesn’t seem like he spends much time on grooming or pursuing them because he’s far more interested in hanging out with us. He compares all other women in his life to me, I’m afraid.

(And I just have to point out, I have no idea why. I’m trying to not come across as conceited)

I know he’s not asexual. I know he wants a girlfriend or boyfriend. I know he’s lonely (he talks about!) I KNOW he would want a partner if the right one came along. But I know firsthand how hard it is to move on when you’re REALLY hung up on someone else.

I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping him “on the hook” – I’ve never tried to give him any signals that we’ll ever be more than friends. But I’m just worried sick he’ll never be happy with someone else if he’s pining over me.

Part of me thinks I should try to distance myself from him, you know, “be cruel to be kind” and all that, but I love him (platonically) so much!!! He’s my best friend, and I know I’m his. Should I just… let him deal with it and stay out of it?


Putting the ‘Friend’ in Friend Zone

DEAR PUTTING THE ‘FRIEND’ IN FRIEND ZONE: I picked your letter PTFFZ because, for all the times we hear about dudes complaining about being Friend Zone’d (which, as I like to point out, doesn’t exist), we don’t often hear from the perspective of someone who’s been “girlfriend-zoned”.

So you’re providing a much-needed look into what it’s like to be on the other side of somebody’s inconvenient crush – you genuinely like the guy, but you don’t LIKE-like him. You’re legitimately worried that you’re somehow encouraging him to keep on hoping, knowing full well that it’s just never going to happen.

For all of my readers who’ve been friend-zoned… this is what your crush’s been going through. This isn’t a malicious “ha ha, dance on my string, puppet” issue or some bulls

t “ladder theory”, it’s a friend worried about another friend’s well-being.

With that out of the way, PTFFZ, let’s get to your situation.

It says a lot about you and your connection with Keith that you’re this concerned about him and the possibility that he’s holding out hope that maybe you’re going to come around on him. It’s very sweet of you to be concerned… but ultimately it’s ALSO not your responsibility.

The thing is, Keith’s a grown-ass man. He’s making his own choices. If he does have a nasty case of Oneitis for you, there’s really not anything you can do. I can tell you from bitter personal experience: Oneitis is not rational. It’s not logical. It’s not that they can’t let go, it’s that they WON’T. Somebody with Oneitis will take anything as reason to believe that if they just hold out long enough, the universe will reward their heroic devotion. They will pass up on other relationships because it would be a “betrayal” of their love.

It could be that he’s hung up on you. It could also be that he’s hung up on you and your husband. Some people get crushes of a sort on couples and see their relationship as a sort of surrogate for the one they want. And with all the time he spends with the two of you… well, it’s like he’s an unofficial third, no?

Are you keeping him on the hook? To be honest… probably not. It certainly can be worth interrogating your behavior with Keith, and examine whether you’re, say, being physical with him in ways that you might not otherwise be with other male friends. But really, unless you’re actually flirting with him or saying things like “you know, in another life, we’d probably be a scorching couple”, then odds are that he’s keeping himself on the hook.

9 times out of 10, the issue is that the guy in question is taking perfectly ordinary behavior – even friendly physical affection – and treating it as a sign of potential interest. And while it’s true that a lot of guys can be touch-starved or aren’t used to physically affectionate friendships, it’s ultimately on them to manage their expectations or emotions. He’s not your child. He’s an adult with agency and responsibilities and it’s not on you to do his emotional labor for him.

It’s good that you care for him and that you worry, but you can’t force him to not want you and you can’t force him to be interested in other people. That’s all on him. You can gently nudge him in the right direction. Hell, you can get him copies of some of my books in hopes that it’d help him develop the skills he needs. But you can’t make him do anything.

Honestly, the only thing you could do is dial back the level of emotional and physical intimacy you have with him in hopes that things will taper off. If he’s using you – or your husband, or both of you – to be his surrogate relationship, then this will pull back his emotional safety blanket.

In practice however, I suspect that this will be more likely to trigger a confrontation and conversation about his feelings for you.

Maybe that needs to happen… if you’re right and he’s hung up on you. But at the end of the day: any progress he makes is going to have to be his choice. You can’t live his life for him.

Wish I could give you a more clear-cut “this is what you need to do,” but like I said: dude’s a grown-ass man. The only person who can make him move on is him.

Good luck.

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