DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: You could very well say that I (21m straight) am in a bit of a friendship problem type situation. I find myself to be incredibly physically (but not romantically) attracted to my best friend of 14 years (21f straight) and it’s making me incredibly uncomfortable. She and I became best friends in year 2 after sitting down next to each other and stabbing each other with pencils (don’t ask me why we became friends after that moment because I don’t know). We were both bullied in primary school for being quirky and different and we both stood up to each other when we were being bullied. To this day even though we’ve gone to different schools we still remain loyal best friends, and she is the only friend I’ve kept since childhood.
Recently however, I’ve begun to become very physically attracted to her and I don’t know how to deal with this without ruining a friendship. I am not romantically attracted to her, our personalities are way too different for us to date and I don’t see her in a romantic sense. Her personality is that of an overly enthusiastic golden retriever puppy with no boundaries whereas I am extremely quiet and introverted like a cat (I have Aspergers, she doesn’t). I am not worried about being “friendzoned” but I’ve been having a lot of vivid dreams about me and her “getting it on” and I’m not sure how to deal with these feelings without potentially ruining a friendship. I really value her as a friend and I don’t want to ruin a friendship just because I admittedly have dirty and shameful feelings about her. Do you have any tips for me?
The Ashamed Friend
DEAR THE ASHAMED FRIEND: First things first, TAF: good on you for recognizing that while you and your BFF are close, you aren’t romantically compatible. That’s actually very emotionally self-aware, and you should be proud of that; a lot of neurotypical people don’t have that level of maturity or emotional intelligence.
By that same token: there’s nothing shameful about being attracted to her. Being attracted to someone isn’t inherently good or bad, it just is. The fact that you find her attractive is just that: a fact about you. It’s not the totality of who you are, it’s not a marker of poor moral character or anything else. It’s just attraction and feeling attracted to her just means that you’re a straight male with a sex drive. It’s all about what you do with those feelings that makes all the difference.
So what do you do about it? Well, if we’re being honest, this is actually simpler than you realize.
There’s a lot of hue and cry about whether men and women can “just be friends”. The hoary chestnut — one perfectly encapsulated by When Harry Met Sally — is that men and women can’t be friends because sex and sexual attraction will “inevitably” come between them and ruin things.
Nobody ever really says how, just that it does.
They also never address questions like “ok but why does nobody say this about gay men and women” or “if sex always gets in the way, then who are bi and pansexual people supposed to be friends with”. Which, honestly, is kind of the clue right there; the implication is that men can’t be authentically friends with women because if they’re attracted to her than either they’re trying to get in her pants via the Platonic Best Friend Back Door Gambit or because they’re going to try to get into her pants and their behavior is going to ruin everything because she isn’t into them.
The problem with… well, pretty much all of this is that it makes a lot of incorrect assumptions about people in general and men in particular. The first false assumption, of course is that that sex and friendship are mutually exclusive. The second — and far more relevant to your situation — assumption is that sexual attraction is synonymous with a call to action. And it’s not.
So, as I said: this is actually very simple, TAF. Let’s pull it apart for a second and you’ll see.
Here are the facts: you find your friend sexually attractive. You know that you and she aren’t romantically compatible, nor are you interested in pursuing something with her. So the obvious answer to your question of what to do is… nothing.
No, I’m not being sarcastic; you really should do nothing. Because here’s the thing: what you’re feeling is just that: feelings. They’re not a mandate, they’re not an indication that things have changed between you and — again — they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Whether these feelings are a problem or not comes down to your actions. While you can’t control your feelings, you can control what you do about them. And in this case, doing nothing is, in fact, the best course of action.
If you’ll forgive an awkward metaphor, feelings — like sexual attraction — are like running water. The more you try to affect it, the more you get results you won’t necessarily want. Trying to repress it by, say, damming it up, the more you cause pressure to build until the pressure and volume of the water becomes greater than the strength and height of the dam. At that point, the dam overflows or bursts and everything around it gets flooded and ruined. But simply let it flow, without trying to control it, direct it or stop it… and it just goes its own way.
When it comes to attraction — say, an inconvenient crush on a friend — trying to force it away or repress it inevitably backfires. Trying to force those feelings down or away just compresses and intensifies them and makes them feel stronger. Consciously trying to will it away, distract yourself from it or otherwise push it out of your mind only serves to focus more of your attention on it, making it more and more present in your consciousness. You won’t be able to stop thinking about those feelings because you’re constantly devoting time to trying to not think about them.
But if you just note those feelings, name them and just let them be, then nothing happens… and nothing is what you want. When you have those sweaty dreams or thoughts, mentally note and name them — “ah, yes, that’s the attraction I’m feeling for $BEST_FRIEND” — and then just carry on as normal. By noticing that you’re feeling this way and naming it, you are taking away its power to fuck with you. You are acknowledging its existence, labeling it for exactly what it is, and then just letting it fade into the background instead of letting its presence in your mind interfere with everything else.
Now, please notice very carefully the framing of this: “I am feeling X” or “that’s the Y I am feeling“. This is important. By naming it as a thing that you’re feeling, you are framing this as an emotion, not as a state of being or something definitional to who you are. By saying “I’m feeling attracted to $BEST_FRIEND,” rather than “I’m attracted to”, you’re giving yourself a conscious reminder that this is just a thing that you feel in that moment, not something that is a permanent part of you. You are saying that this is a feeling, something that ebbs and flows, not something that defines you and everything you do. And when you treat it that way, you take away its power to dominate you and control you. You can feel it and just let it flow past you because that’s all it is: a feeling. And feelings are transitory things; you aren’t happy all the time, nor are you sad all the time. You aren’t scared all the time, nor are you angry all the time. Sometimes feelings can come on incredibly strongly, sometimes you don’t feel them at all… and attraction acts that way too. Being mindful and just letting it be means that it’ll fade on its own, without your needing to do anything about it.
When you can accept that being attracted to someone isn’t a mandate, and that its just a feeling that will fade, then you are able to continue your friendship with your BFF without fear. Because it’s not attraction that ruins friendships. Hell, it’s not even acting on that attraction that’s the problem. It’s being an asshole about it.
If this were a different friend — someone you were compatible with, someone you could see yourself pursuing a relationship with — and you said “hey, I really value our friendship and I would never want that to change, but I find you attractive and I’d be interested in seeing if there’s more if you’re interested too…” then that’s not going to end your friendship. The thing that would end your friendship would be not taking a “no, thank you” with good grace, or letting your attraction change how you behave towards them. If everything about your friendship became about trying to get them into bed or throwing temper tantrums because they didn’t like you back, that would ruin things. But continuing to genuinely be their friend and treat them like a friend, the same as you did before? Then your friendship will survive just fine. There may be a brief period of awkwardness, but friends hit awkward patches all the time. You both resolve to grit your teeth and get through it and things return to normal sooner than you realize.
But that’s not your scenario. You want this friendship to stay a friendship. So… stay her friend. Continue to be her friend. Go on exactly as you have been doing before because, frankly, nothing has changed. You’re feeling something, that feeling will ebb and flow and fade and ultimately be just one small detail in your overall relationship with your friend… and not even a terribly important one.
Let the feeling just flow through you, without needing to do anything about it one way or the other, and this crisis-that-isn’t-actually-a-crisis will pass without incident.
You’ll both be ok. I promise.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org