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
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, daming 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 it’s 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.
I’m a guy soon turning 26. I’ve been reading your blog for some years and it has really helped me improve, going from having had no relationship and very little dating experience to having my first girlfriend. Especially your piece on neediness and external validation. That really changed my life, set me up to be a happier person, and the insight played a large part in being able to get into my first relationship. I’m currently “back on the market”, and my long term goal is finding a serious committed relationship. I just need some advice.
After years of reading your blog but not really putting what I read into action, because I was too afraid to date and the shadow of high school still looming over me, I jump started my life by moving out into my own flat, joining Tinder, and taking up an old hobby, as I began a new university programme in my favourite town. This was preceded by an event which made me understand that my inexperience with dating, relationships and just the opposite sex in general, had become problematic. It was a situation in which two of my closest friends at the time started a relationship and I felt seriously hurt and left out, to the extent that I became depressed and lost both friends. Truth is, which I did not understand until some time later after running into the same problem again while dating, I was extremely needy and craved validation. It was just an unaddressed aspect of my personality that lay dormant (because I had avoided women and dating) but came out when it was triggered by this event. It wasn’t until I read your piece about neediness and external validation that I understood it, combined with my recent experience. When I read it, it literally felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. A few days later I lost my virginity. Coincidence? I think not!
But on to my current problems. That was back in 2019. Now I’ve had my first relationship . It never really reached a serious stage, because I didn’t feel she was right for me, and she had other priorities in life at the moment. Nothing wrong with that at all. I really enjoyed and grew during our fun time together, but I wanted to take the next step and have a committed relationship.
The thing with relationships are that they are both incredibly difficult and at the same time incredibly easy to find. Difficult, because you may have to spend hours and hours of your time spread over months if not years on doing menial things like swiping, chatting, and going on first-dates. Things that honestly can feel like a waste of time when it’s leading nowhere. Not that it is a waste, after all it is a filtering process and dating is a numbers game. And dating is a skill, where practice makes perfect (or at least better). Rejections don’t sting anymore, and I have become more outcome-independent in dating. But then, when you actually meet someone where that mutual attraction exists, and where you are compatible in other aspects, it will feel incredibly easy (in the early stages at least). It will feel as though you’re in cruise control and everything just seems to flow on naturally. It’s really deceiving.
Perhaps that’s why I feel dating is so frustrating. When I had my first and only relationship thus far, it felt easy in the beginning. I didn’t even know what I was doing right to make it just roll on. Truth is, I was probably doing a lot of things right that I hadn’t done before, things I had learnt from my recent dating experience and from reading your blog. Going back to actively dating after my first relationship ended, I was excited because I thought I had turned a corner, gained more maturity and experience and wanted that I could put to work. But I made the mistake of thinking dating would be easier. Fact of the matter is, it was just as hard as before, and I gave up on Tinder without even getting a single reply back from any of my two matches, during my first time around back on the app. I never found a rebound elsewhere either and still think I haven’t gotten over my ex fully.
I think you will sniff out a certain obsession with Tinder here. I wouldn’t really call it an obsession. It’s just I don’t know any other routes to dating really. It was through Tinder that I began actively dating, and I know no other way. And yet I never succeeded substantially with anyone I met from there. I’ve never gotten beyond three dates or had sex with anyone from Tinder, even though I felt more compatible with some of them than I was with my ex. My ex and I didn’t meet online, we met at one of my student clubs. But then again our relationship began with an impulsive one night stand after a late night at the pub, following one of our regular meetings. She kept coming back however, and that turned into a regular FwB-situation that turned into a short period of exclusivity before we went our separate ways. Over a period of about 8 months. We never really dated. I’ve never made dating work. And that’s not because there is a lack of other women in my life. I would say most of my friends and acquaintances are actually girls my age and life situation. True platonic friends that I really appreciate and which have helped me grow as a person.
I would not call that a problem, it’s actually a gift, a resource in my life. I have actively been working on making friends with girls, without seeing them as potential partners, because before in time I had no friends who were girls and I think that was hurting my social and personal development. Also, I have never intended to “headshot” a girlfriend, I realised that the first step was creating a single life I genuinely enjoyed, as well as a community of friends.
It has helped that my hobby, my true passion in life, is practiced by 99 % women, and I’m on the board of a student club that engage in activities for people who do this hobby, both competitions and activities as well as purely social events (and I’m the only guy, but I don’t feel any different actually, it’s great!). One problem though, I think, is that I’ve become very good and very comfortable at making friends with girls, to the point where I don’t really know how to introduce myself to girls as a potential date. And once someone sees you as only a friend from the very beginning, because that’s how I acted and presented myself, I think it can be very hard to break that image, both from my point of view and hers. When I began doing my hobby a couple of years back I was excited to both make female friends, as well as potentially picking up dates from the people I would meet through our shared hobby. The latter hasn’t happened, perhaps because I prioritised the former (which I think wasn’t even the wrong choice btw, it has really provided me with a community of friends, a “Team Me” and given me new insights through their sharing their perspective with me)
Hence why I think my first relationship could begin at least. It began with sex. It was obviously more-than-friendly from the beginning and we could proceed from there because the attraction was there and we knew it. But I don’t really know how to translate this insight into dating. I’ve never had sex with anyone I’ve dated. And that’s not because I haven’t taken a lot of your dating advice to heart; I’ve focused on improving my presentation (a lot), making those personal connections, on breaking the touch barrier, flirted through mischievous and light-hearted banter; I mean I’ve done my best. And I’ve had some fun and successful dates too, but honestly, how many people are you actually going to meet through Tinder before your matches dry up? The big difference between meeting girls on Tinder and in reality I think is the fact that it’s automatically framed as dating on Tinder. I just never get to that stage of having sex; I always get rejected before it happens. I keep coming back to how things started with my ex. Through sex. But I’m not having sex through dating. So my conclusion is that dating is useless if you want a relationship.
(And I’m not just treating sex as a functional device to get into relationships here. Sex should and can be a fun activity in and by it self without commitment, and I wouldn’t mind having more casual sex in my life. The pandemic has made this somewhat difficult though, but we’ll see what happens come summer when the clubs and bars begin open up again. I think I’m beyond having drunken one night stands though, since the sex is usually not very enjoyable. But, I think all relationships at some early stage go through an uncommitted, casual sexual phase, which again just seems to prove my point.)
Sorry for this long ramble. I know all this sounds ridiculous, hence why I’m writing to you. In the jungle that is online dating advice, you’re one of the good guys, and I want to be one of the good guys too in the dating world. I really feel as though I need a 3rd person perspective on how to view this differently or more accurately; some solid, concrete advice on what I should be doing differently; and just some words of encouragement if you can spare it, because right now dating feels hopeless. I feel like giving up. What does giving up look like in my case? The other day I realised that it looks like going back to Tinder, trying the same thing over and over, starting conversations that don’t lead anywhere, meeting perhaps one or two people maybe once, at most twice or thrice, before I get rejected. Then the algorithm decides I’m not having any more matches, and I give up again. And then the cycle starts over. Again. And again. And again.
Keep up the good work, Doc!
Stuck In First Gear
This reminds me of a joke:
A man is going for a walk when he sees another guy carefully inspecting the ground underneath a streetlight.
“What’re you doing?” he asks, watching this stranger seemingly check every square inch of illuminated pavement.
“Well, I lost my car keys, so I’m trying to find ’em.” the stranger says.
“Did you lose them around here?” the first man asks, trying to be helpful.
“Nope, lost ’em back over by my car,” the stranger says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder towards a vehicle parked further up the road.
“Wait, if you lost your keys over there, why are you looking for them over here?” says the first man, confused.
“Well, the light’s so much better over here!” the stranger replied.
In case this wasn’t obvious, SIFG… you’re the stranger looking for his keys in the wrong place.
Here’s the thing: you’re treating Tinder as the end-all, be-all of dating and meeting women. And yet, the way you’ve had significant success was… not through Tinder. In fact, it had absolutely nothing to do with Tinder. You met your ex in person, through shared interests (your club), you hooked up because there was significant chemistry and attraction, kept hooking up because you were into each other and hey wouldn’t you know it: you moved from a friends-with-benefits relationship to actually dating.
What this should tell you is both simple and obvious: you have the skillset to meet women in person and start a relationship with them after meeting them. Tinder, on the other hand, continues to frustrate you and you have little success there. And so, with this knowledge and experience under your belt you… continue to pour all of your effort into meeting women on Tinder, instead of in person. As with the joke, you lost your keys over by the car, but you’re continuing to look for them yards away because “the light’s better over here”.
I’m sure you see the problem here, yes?
Now leaving aside my usual advice for folks who are struggling on dating apps — make sure you’re on the right one, etc. — your issue is one of perception, not reality. A lot of first dates — even most of them — from dating apps are likely to fizzle because dating is a numbers game and there are a host of factors that affect who we are or aren’t attracted to that can only be determined in person. You can meet folks who seem perfect on paper and who you vibe with via text or even video chat… but discover that you don’t have that “oomf” in person. That’s normal; the only difference is that when we meet people in person, we pick up on those attraction factors without even realizing it and they dictate who we are and aren’t interested in trying to connect with.
But this is where the disconnect is hitting you. You’re putting your attention in the wrong area. The disconnect isn’t that sex needs to happen before dating can, it’s that you expressed interest in your ex and made a move. You and she hooked up and hey, it was a one-night stand that didn’t stick to just one night. Many relationships will start that way. Just as many will start because people meet, feel a spark — or a spark develops over time — and they decide to explore things and see how it goes. The key, especially when you’re meeting people in person, is to actually act like someone who’s interested in dating the other person.
The issue you’re facing isn’t that you don’t know how to present yourself as a potential date to someone, it’s that you’re choosing not to. You’re holding back on showing interest or acting like a potential lover — partially out of not trying to be the predatory horny guy at the event, but mostly (I strongly suspect) out of a fear of rejection or the Let’s Just Be Friends speech. And while yes, Tinder and dating apps do mean that the interactions are taking place in a sex/dating/relationship frame… meeting in person can as well. It’s a matter of how you go about making it happen.
You can talk with people you meet and, if you vibe with them, simply say “hey, I’m really enjoying talking to you. I’m doing $COOL_THING this weekend and I think you’d really enjoy it; I’d love to bring you, if you’re interested.” Or you could say “Hey, how do you feel about $COOL_THING and $OTHER_COOL_THING? There’s this place that does $BOTH_COOL_THINGS and I’d love to take you on a date.” If you’re not necessarily sure you’re feeling romantic or sexual chemistry at first, you can simply be the awesome and attractive guy she knows who’s part of this club or gathering and get to know each other over time. And then, later on if it feels like there’s a little more chemistry and attraction, then you can invite them on the date.
Because here’s the thing: the whole “ladder theory”, where there’s “dudes who are friends” and “dudes who are bangable” in separate lanes and neither the twain shall meet is bullshit. The vast majority of people don’t start a relationship with people they’ve literally just met. Most of the time, it’s a connection that’s built up over time — weeks, months, sometimes years. One of the reasons for this is because the more time you spend with someone, the more opportunities you have for positive, enjoyable interactions. The more of those you have together, the greater the odds of attraction developing because you enjoy spending time together.
But that requires being willing to flirt, to show interest and — importantly — risk rejection. Both early in the interaction and later on. The idea of “once a friend, never a lover” isn’t accurate. If we leave aside a lack of chemistry or mutual interest, the reason why guys who act like friends tend to never be seen as potential lovers is because they only ever act like friends. As a result, their friends assume, reasonably, that they’re not interested and interest or attraction fades or they go on to date someone who did make a move. The issue isn’t being a friend, it’s being passive, not expressing interest or acting contrary to how you actually feel.
Now let’s be clear: this doesn’t mean that you should go through your various clubs like a horny shark and try to treat get togethers and meet-ups like a sex ATM. But there’s nothing wrong with talking with folks, being charming and even a little flirty and asking them on a date if you catch a vibe. Just don’t cruise around hitting on everyone there; that’s not the primary reason people go to these.
Oh, and one more thing: that big group of friends you’ve made, especially your female friends? They may not be potential dates… they may well be able to introduce you to some. They clearly think you’re a great guy; otherwise they wouldn’t be friends with you. Tell them “hey, I’m single and looking; if you know someone you think I’d get on with, I’m down to meet ’em.” You can even host get-togethers yourself and encourage your friends to bring cool folks; that’ll not only increase the people you’re likely to meet and date, but increase the social network that will enable you to meet potential dates. And because your friends think you’re cool, they’ll talk you up to their friends.
Female friends, even ones who’re partnered, can be the best resource and wingperson you could ever ask for… as long as you. Y’know. Actually ask for help.
So, TL;DR: stop looking for your keys in the wrong place. Just because the light’s better over there doesn’t mean you’re gonna find ’em. Stop mistaking cause for effect; sex didn’t make your relationship possible, more attraction and action did. Take decisive action, risk rejection and you’ll start having more success, instead of hoping that it’ll just happen.