Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I need help with a tricky situation.
We’re going to call my best friend Noel. Noel is a heterosexual woman, and I’m a heterosexual man, and we’re roommates. People think we’re a couple, and they have good reason to. We do everything together–dinner every night, coffee in the morning, tennis lessons, walking a mile to the Post Office whenever one of us needs to mail a package, etc. We have made plans for our future together. Whenever I see a Tumblr post about how friendships should be assigned as much value as romantic relationships, I feel like they’re talking about us.
You’re probably thinking this is the part where I want to confess my love to her, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have no feelings for her whatsoever. We click alarmingly well, we share a sense of humor and two cats, and she’s really cute, but I don’t get butterflies in my stomach whenever I see her or anything like that. I doubt she’s into me either (I’m not her type, and I’m a lot older than her).
She doesn’t have relationships with men that last longer than a night, and even those went away with the threat of COVID-19, but she did try about a year ago. This guy really did not like me. He was nothing short of cordial to me, but you can just tell. I tried to be social and engaging whenever he came around (which is especially hard when you’re a four-alarm introvert like I am), and I did find him interesting. The reason their relationship ended was because she had no time for him; meanwhile she had time to hang out and watch movies with me or for us to go on long walks or visit friends in a neighboring city.
Did they break up because of me? Probably not—she had set boundaries, and he crossed them too many times. But I will bet money that I did not help. I know she wants to get married and maybe have kids. And I fear that she will never get there if I’m in the picture. I mentioned her recent ex to a friend of mine, who stated that if she were dating me, Noel would absolutely be a problem. And now that she’s started dating again, where does that leave me? I’m not concerned that she won’t prioritize me anymore if she finds a guy who works, I’m worried that she will.
tl;dr: I’m worried that I’m going to make someone jealous and interfere with my best friend’s love life. I’m worried that the nature of our relationship will be discouraging to men she might be interested in. On the other side of that, I’m worried that, if she does find what she’s looking for, I won’t have a best friend anymore, and since I’m not interested in looking for romance, I’ll be alone.
Tell me, Doc, is it serious? Am I sitting around and freaking out over a problem that isn’t there? Is this relationship only fulfilling a need that she’d rather have fulfilled with someone she can have naked sweaty times with? Or will we remain besties until the end of time? Tell me I’m overthinking this, please. Thank you.
One of the things I tell my readers regularly is “don’t borrow trouble from the future”. That is: you don’t want to make the mistake of looking for problems that don’t exist yet but you can imagine coming to pass in the future. The point is, of course, that if you spend all your time worrying about what may happen, you miss what you have in the present. Today, I think I’m going to need to add another stock phrase: “don’t invent trouble where it doesn’t exist.”
It’s great that you and your best friend are so close, BFF. I’m a big proponent of the idea that platonic friendships can be just as important, just as fulfilling and just as meaningful as romantic relationships. I’m also a big proponent of the concept that men and women can be platonic friends without sex “getting in the way”. However, it seems like you may be having issues with the idea that romantic relationships are inherently more meaningful or important in someone’s life than their friendships.
There’re a few things going on here, and, honestly, they seem to all stem from the same place. This is going to sound harsh at first, and I promise this isn’t going to be about dunking on you; there will be a point to all of this that’s going to be very important for you. But here’s the thing: you’re making all of this more about you than about her. And to be blunt, this really isn’t about you at all. Not in in the way you think, anyway.
Since you brought up her recent relationships, let’s start there. You’re assuming a lot of facts that aren’t in evidence, starting with the idea that you’re somehow “holding her back” from dating other guys or that your presence in her life is interfering in her love life somehow. What you have is a lot of speculation and assumptions, but no actual evidence. Look at her most recent ex — this dude was an asshole. He thought that boundaries were things that happened to other people, he was threatened by her having people in her life that weren’t him and it’s pretty clear that Noel didn’t really like spending time with him that much. However, literally none of this had anything to do with you. Maybe he didn’t like you specifically; you say he was doing that “cold politeness” thing that some folks do, so we’ll assume you’re right. The thing is: while he he may not have liked you as an individual, I can promise you that he would’ve disliked anyone who was important to Noel. The individual didn’t matter so much as what they represented to him: someone who was an obstacle to being the only person in her life. The fact that it was you is, like as not, just a quirk of fate. Maybe he would’ve been slightly less shitty to her roommate if she were living with another woman… but ultimately it doesn’t matter. You were there, you got slotted into “him as what is getting in the way”. You didn’t contribute to their break-up, you were just the excuse he had to be upset.
Similarly, you’re assuming that your presence is keeping her from looking for longer term relationships instead of more casual encounters. But what I’m not hearing is that this is somehow a problem for her. Some folks just like having no-strings hook-ups and aren’t interested in having folks come back for a return engagement. If she’s cool with one night stands or a string of bootie calls for when she has an itch that needs scratching, more power to her. That sounds like how she likes to roll. Maybe that will change in time, maybe it won’t, but she’s a grown-ass woman and fully capable of managing her own affairs.
Er, as it were.
Now is it possible that people would see you as a potential problem? Well, sure, there’re plenty of insecure folks out there who can’t grasp the concept of close, mixed-gender friendships. Your own friend told you that she would have similar qualms about Noel being in your life if you and your friend were dating. But again: that’s a them, problem, not a you problem. Their insecurities are their responsibility, not yours. The fact that they get jealous because you have the temerity to exist and be close with her — and vice versa — isn’t something you need to resolve. They can either sort their own shit out or kick rocks; your friendship with Noel is between the two of you. Someone who’s going to dictate who their partner can and can’t be friends with is someone who’s demonstrating why they should be single.
And while yes, it’s understandable that they would be upset that their partner’s BFF gets higher priority than they do, that seems more like a mismatch in expectations. They may feel one way about how relationships are supposed to work, but Noel clearly feels differently. If she prioritizes a platonic relationship with her bestie over the person she’s currently banging, that’s not an inherent flaw. It just means that she sees your relationship as being more important and meaningful than that one. And honestly, the fact that you’re bumping uglies with someone doesn’t mean you automatically jump the line. Sex is awesome, but it doesn’t automatically outrank years of friendship, and we devalue friendship when we assume it does.
Which brings us to the next issue: why are you assuming this is a problem? I would assume that, if Noel had issues with guys not wanting to date her because you’re in her life, she would have said something. Since you don’t say that she did, I have to work under the assumption that no, it’s not a problem. At the very least, it’s not a problem that she sees that needs to be brought up, never mind fixed. So we can safely assume one of two things: either she’s not finding you to be a hinderance to her love life, or she’s made her choice and she chose you. Either way: still not your problem.
So why are you making it your problem?
Well, I think you nail it right here: “I’m worried that, if she does find what she’s looking for, I won’t have a best friend anymore, and, since I’m not interested in looking for romance, I’ll be alone.”
This isn’t about her relationships with other dudes, it’s about you worrying about her leaving you. And, like so many other folks out there, you’re trying to control your anxiety in the most ass-backwards way possible: by looking for signs that shit’s about to fall apart.
Yes, I know that on the surface, this doesn’t make a lick of goddamn sense. It doesn’t have to, because it’s not about fixing things or looking for reassurance. It’s about dealing with the discomfort of the uncertainty. You can’t get the brainweasels to quit shitting anxiety all over your head, so rather than waiting for the Sword of Damocles to fall, you’re trying to get that string to fuckin’ snap already and get it over with.
Yes, I know this seems absurd; why in pluperfect fuckery would someone be eager for their nightmare to come true? The answer is simple: because then it will have happened and you can quit waiting for it and dealing with all the build-up and fear of “what if”. Think of it like a horror game where all the signs are pointing to a major scare coming. You keep hearing the encounter music that suggests something’s waiting in the wings, the level design seems to have an almost infinite number of opportunities for a primo jump scare… but it never happens.
So now you’re waiting and waiting and waiting and it just keeps getting worse because if there’s this much build up, how fuckin’ bad will this encounter be?
There comes a point where the tension gets so bad that you start looking for the tripwire that’s going to trigger the scare because COME ON LET’S GET IT OVER WITH ALREADY.
(This, incidentally, is why Gone Home was one of the scariest games of the past decade. Not because it was an actual horror game but because you have the constant sense of tension building and no relief because it just wasn’t that kinda game.)
Which brings us back to what I said at the top: you’re creating trouble where there isn’t any and making it all about you. Not because you’re inherently bad or self-involved but because you’re worried. Noel’s clearly an important person in your life and you’re terrified that she’s going to leave you. That anxiety may have started as a nagging little voice, but it’s grown and grown until it’s started to consume you. Now the anxiety’s gotten so bad that you can’t ignore it any more. You’ve become so worried that your platonic lifemate is about to leave that you’ve resorted to reading the tea leaves for proof that it’s already over.
Now the thing you don’t seem to have grasped is that Noel isn’t going anywhere. My dude, she has continually prioritized you and your friendship over other people, including her only foray into a long-term sexual relationship. She’s made it clear that you and she’ve got both history and a future together. You seem to have fallen for the same belief that a platonic relationship is inherently inferior or less desirable or important than a sexual one and that she — despite your entire history together — is going to choose sex. She hasn’t before, and she’s chosen you again and again… but WHAT IF?
That is the disconnect you’re having. Your anxiety has you so convinced that she’s going to choose getting dicked down over you that you’ve missed something obvious. Yes, she’s said she wants to get married some day and maybe have kids. But that doesn’t mean that you and she are gonna be quits. If her future does mean marriage and kids — something that may never come to pass — that doesn’t mean you get left in the cold, man. Leaving aside the part where she can get married and raise a family with you still there as the cool live-in uncle, there’s also the fact that you and she can get married too. Companionate marriages — where the marriage is based on respect, companionship and affection but not a sexual connection — are a thing. Co-parenting with your best friend instead of your husband or wife is also a thing.
Seriously my guy, you need to stop listening to those brainweasels and start listening to what Noel is telling you: she ain’t going anywhere. She’s demonstrated that she’s perfectly capable of stating her mind and letting you know if you’re beaver-daming her or if she’s looking for a traditional relationship instead of life with her best friend. But she’s also demonstrated that she likes her men like she likes her burgers: in-and-out. They come and go, but you’re still there and she’s made it pretty clear that’s where her priorities lie.
You’re fine. She’s fine. Everybody’s fine. You’ve got brainweasels that’re fucking you up, that’s all.
Sometimes you gotta just take “yes” for an answer.