Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

What if I WANT To Be “Just Friends”?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a guy in my early 20’s and just finished my fifth term at university. This term I’ve began studying a new subject in a new class. We’re a small class – no more than 15 people – so everyone knows everyone, and we meet several times a week both during and outside of lectures. I’m really glad that I have begun this class, because for the first time in a long time I really feel a sense of community and belonging, something which you have pointed out the importance of before, and I’ve grown fond of my fellow classmates.

Now, as you may have guessed there is a girl in this class, whom I have taken to like. Of course, it’s hard not to, she is a wonderful person. Kind, funny, honest, social, considerate, interesting, trustworthy, emotionally deep, etc. Just this week, one morning we were both about an hour early for class and practically alone on campus because it was so early. We sat down with a cup of coffee and had a conversation on our own, which is a rare occurrence given us people in the class mostly meet each other in groups, we are a class after all. I felt like we had an understanding and made a connection during our chat. We spoke confidentially about some things, about life and about ourselves. I revealed to her some things about myself that I don’t really talk with most people about. Nothing extraordinary, just things about my past which I consider private and only reveal to friends I really trust. She revealed some things about her to me, and I felt honoured to be trusted. When we were interrupted by another classmate’s joining us, I felt like we had understood each other, which to me is rare, and that I had taken my connection with this girl to a new level. It felt good.

Now, so far I haven’t mentioned my problem. The problem is that I’m not sure about I how feel about her. To me, love is not just romantic, but also something much bigger than encompasses friendship, family, and even strangers to some degree (love thy neighbour, I think it’s a good principle, actually). And the thing is that as I’ve come to know her more, I also began liking her more and more, and now I like her quite a lot. But I’m not sure whether I like her only as friend or as something more, what I do know I don’t usually feel like this about friends. Which brings me to my next problem.

Which is, that I only want to love her as a friend, a good friend (because I treasure friendship heavily). There are a number of reasons for this; the main one would be that she already has a boyfriend. But even if she didn’t, I think I’d still just want to be friends with her. For one thing, we have lifestyle differences which are incompatible, like she’s at a very different stage of her career than me (I hope to graduate and move away soon, she just began studying at university) and other things. Another thing is the possibility of ruining the potential for a lifelong friendship with a very good person because of a relationship that may only last a few years so. Simply put, I don’t want to be anything else than a platonic friend with her, and it’s mutual (I’m guessing, since she has a boyfriend already).

So then we arrive at my real question and problem. Can I control my feelings? I think it would be very hard to have a crush on her and see her every day for maybe another year. It would be tough, even brutal. The last time I fell in love I landed hard on the ground and had to isolate myself from the girl that I loved in order to reset. But it was some time ago and I’m not sure how I would handle it now. In any case, I’m very unwilling to give up this class now, not only because it gives me a sense of community, but also because the subject is essential for my future career.

So in short my problem is that I am afraid that I will fall in love her (or have already) and that it will be painful and perhaps cost me a good friend. Is this a possible case of oneitis? Or am I merely worrying too much? Can I remain “just” friends with this person? I’m not sure any more and that’s why I’m writing to you for some external input and answers to these questions.

Best regards,

Furnishing The Friend Zone

DEAR FURNISHING THE FRIEND ZONE: I think you’re putting several carts before one very confused horse, FtFZ. Before you start worrying about whether you’re going to end up with a crush on her and unable to be friends and this is going to make you miserable… how’s about you deal with things as they are now. One of the problems I see fairly often are guys – and girls too, but mostly guys – who round up “woah, I met someone cool!” up into “THIS IS A LOVE TO LAST THE AGES” before you’ve they’ve so much as had a second cup of coffee together. Which is cute, I guess, in an excited puppy kind of way, but a little less so in grown-ass adults.

Now, this happens because of a couple of issues.

The first is that guys tend to raised to not handle or express their emotions – especially not around guys. It’s part and parcel of the toxic masculinity package; when you’re not allowed to be emotionally vulnerable to anyone, those emotions sit and fester inside you. When you’re finally able to let them out, it feels amazing and liberating. You feel connected with people in ways you hadn’t been before because there was this part of you you felt that you had to keep to yourself. And if you’re not used to feeling emotional intimacy and closeness with people, especially people who aren’t family, then it’s easy to mistake that feeling for romantic inclinations.

The other issue that tends to coexist within this particular milieu comes about when guys don’t often interact socially with women except in a primarily romantic context. Because guys often see women as potential sexual or romantic partners first and friends/colleagues/what-have-you second, you get a lot of confusion over what is otherwise basic social interaction. Politeness and niceness gets mistaken for flirting or interest because guys are using romance as the filter to view the interaction and make their assumptions accordingly. The problem here is that, frankly, platonic friendship between men and women tends to be devalued. You can see it everywhere – from terms like The Friend Zone1 to using the phrase “just” friends, as though friendship were inconsequential or less important than a romantic or sexual relationship.

And when you combine these with the social discouragement for guys to open up emotionally to other guys… well… now things get awkward.

Case in point: you, FtFZ. You’ve had a great, surprisingly open and intimate conversation with someone and you’re feeling pretty awesome about things. But because you had that conversation and you’re floating on the good feelings that came with it, you’re feeling as though this could be love instead of a potentially awesome friend. You’re rounding up based on a whole lot of assumptions and no real evidence and making an issue where there really isn’t one in the first place.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your friendship here is to slow your roll. You’re assuming love is inevitable when in reality, it may never even be a thing. Not if you keep your head and realize that feeling good around someone, even being attracted to them isn’t the same thing as love. Nor, for that matter, is it a mandate. You can be attracted to somebody and not do anything about it. You can just let those feelings exist without having to act on them, whether acting is in trying to get a date or trying to shove them away and pretend that you don’t feel the way you do.

What you need to do is to stop thinking “Oh god, what if I fall in love?” and start thinking “woah, she’s awesome, I made a new friend!” Stop telling yourself the story of your future hopeless crush and focus on the present of “awesome person and you may be close friends for a long time.”

Good luck.

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