I am in love with my friend Jeremy. We have been friends for five years now. We met in high school and started to really talk to each other when he asked me to the Homecoming Dance sophomore year. I liked him a lot even then, but we never talked about the nature of our relationship. His best friend told my sister that Jeremy really liked me, but he was extremely shy back then and I know it was hard for him to call me.
I value our friendship very much, and I consider him to be one of my best friends. We both ended long-term relationships about a year ago, and lately he has been acting differently towards me. He invites me to stay the night when I visit him on his boat and no one else is there with us. He gives me spontaneous neck rubs, but then he still talks about his ex-girlfriend. I don't know if he has just gotten more comfortable with me, or if it is something else. I find myself avoiding him because I'm afraid of what I might say. Every time I am with him I forget about all my worries. I have always been supportive and impartial when he has a problem. But it has become increasingly difficult for me to be objective when he asks for advice about girls. I'm still just as supportive but I feel like a liar when I give him advice, even though I know it's the right thing to do. All I want to do is tell him how I feel, but I don't want to ruin our friendship or make him think that I can't be his friend.
Should I tell him how I feel, or keep it to myself? Should I ask him if he has ever thought of me as more than just a friend?
Rachel, 20-year-old woman
The obvious answer to your question is simply, "Do you want to tell him?" The fact that you have conflicts and cannot answer this question easily makes this interesting. Let's look at the conflicts...
There is a part of you which wants to tell Jeremy how you really feel, because you have known him a long time and have had plenty of opportunities to grapple with your true feelings. You love him! Of course you want to tell him! But there's another part of you which doesn't want to "ruin" the friendship, or make new demands upon a relationship which has developed and grown over time. You love having him as your friend, and don't want to risk losing that.
It's really understandable that you would have these conflicted feelings. I think it's also a measure of your maturity and emotional development that you have been able to tolerate the high levels of anxiety this has presented for you. You haven't felt compelled to rush into (or away from) anything yet, although you do mention that you avoid him at times, based on how uncomfortable this sometimes feels. Many persons would not have your composure in this type of situation. Lots of people need to see things as "all or nothing," or "black or white". You seem to be able to tolerate a lot of "gray," or ambiguity. This is a good thing!
It means that you have the capacity to appreciate and value complexity in relationships, situations and people. Life is complicated, so it's a distinct advantage you have over many other persons that you are able to negotiate and muddle through its complexities. This trait probably serves you well resolving job or school difficulties; it's likely that you've been able to overlook, say, personality clashes with co-workers or classmates, and focus instead, upon your own goals. Now, how has this capacity served you in this relationship with this young man?
You might take pen in hand and write down every fact you know about him, or everything you could make an educated guess about. Chances are good that you know Jeremy very well, since, five years of friendship will usually yield a lot of insight and awareness into a person. Now, write down all you've learned about yourself during this time, i.e., how you have witnessed your own change, growth and development. You probably have two very full pages!
It's safe to say that your relationship with Jeremy would not have yielded this body of information and awareness about yourself as well as him, if things had progressed differently. (You'd know, um..."other" things.) You have your self-awareness and this particular body of intimate knowledge of your friend, based on the slow and natural progression of this friendship. I'd recommend that you give yourself the opportunity to fully experience and celebrate what you've done. You've created a unique, and in many ways, intimate relationship. This is no small thing!
You might want to share with Jeremy what you discovered and wrote about on those two pages. He's worked with you to create this relationship, and deserves to know how valuable it is, and has been, to you. This simple act (of sharing with him what this friendship has meant to you), may open the door to other discussions. Completely honoring and owning this accomplishment, may allow you both to consensually agree on whether or not you should progress to a deeper level of intimacy - with romance and commitment, or whether you'd both prefer to maintain your status quo Platonic situation.
The only thing you have to lose is your confusion.
Margaret "Peg" Burr, MA, MFT