Help! I have a crush on my friend, who is gay.
It doesn't change anything when we're together, but I think about it often when we're not.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A BIG SWEETIE:
My question/problem is pretty simple- I (straight woman) have a crush on my gay male friend. I don't think he has ever felt ambiguously about his sexuality so to be clear I'm not confused about what's possible or trying to interpret mixed signals or anything. And I'm not sure what happened to me- one day we were friends and the next day I had this crush. I guess I'm just A) Embarrassed because this seems somehow fundamentally embarrassing—I have only told my brother about this and, I guess, now you and the internet B) Bummed because I don't have crushes very often and how unfair is it that the one I do now have is on someone to whom it is completely irrelevant and C) Sad because I care about him more than anyone and what is one supposed to do with that kind of caring when I will always just be a close friend? I assume one day I'll get past this, and that when I do I will continue to do the same thing I do now and have always done—work to be the best friend I can to this person whom I care, and have always cared a lot about.
I hope you don't tell me we shouldn't be friends (if that's the conclusion you come to please don't answer this letter! I don't want to know...) because I really don't think this is getting in the way of our friendship. It doesn't change anything when we're together, but I think about it often when we're not. Anyway—your advice column is so lovely and compassionate I thought maybe you could help me find a better? more productive? way of thinking about this.
As you can maybe tell from me answering your letter, I don’t think you need to stop being friends with this guy at all! I don’t think you need to change much of anything. In fact, I think inaction is going to be one of your best tools as you move forward in this friendship.
You do not have to act on attraction. I wish, in fact, that more people (esp straight cis men) knew this truth. The same way you can see a hot person and not catcall them, you can have a crush on a friend and not act on it. If you see this person as a person first and not a sexual object (which you clearly do!!!) you should not have much trouble1 keeping the crush out of the friendship.
A lot of people, thousands of millions of people in history have had long, beautiful friendships with people who they are attracted to on some level. Truthfully, friendship and non-platonic love are not as dissimilar as I think society would like us to believe. There is a lot of overlap. I think it’s very, very common and therefore unsurprising that someone would develop a crush on a person they feel comfortable and safe around, someone whose company they enjoy. I think that seems incredibly normal, regardless of their availability status. It’s not all that different from developing a crush on someone who is dating another person. It’s not evil or immoral to have the crush. But it’s certainly inconvenient.
It is my strong recommendation, as it is with most things that fall somewhere along the intrusive thoughts spectrum—or thoughts/feelings you don’t particularly want to have that derail you a bit—that you give yourself a bit of a break. The more you beat yourself up for having this crush, for errant thoughts about how you find him attractive, the more your brain will think about the crush. Your brain starts doing this annoying meta-thing where you think about your crush and then you think about thinking about your crush and then you think about how much you want to stop thinking about thinking about your crush. It’s…not helpful. Instead, try your best to trust that this crush will wane over time. You don’t need to speed up the timeline—that is not your job. The job is simply to be a good friend and wait this out.
In the meantime, I think it’s very very fair to feel both sad and bummed about the situation, it’s fine to lament the “unfair”-ness of having a crush on an unavailable person. I would try my best not to get stuck in this feeling, to not make it the primary narrative of your romantic life. You can have crushes on multiple people! (Including this guy). You will have crushes on other people in the future. You are not doomed to a life of falling for unavailable people—a trope movies seem to think is A Thing. My suggestion is that while you can and should feel and label your feelings, you do not need to make a house out of them and then live in it.
As for feeling embarrassed, I hear you. Trust me, I hear you. But it is not embarassing or shameful to have a crush on a person! No one else is or would be judging you for this. I promise you. I know that me saying this isn’t going to magically make you feel totally shame-free. But I do want you to hear that. We have allllll had crushes on unavailable people. I mean, we think cartoon characters are hot! (Looking at you Li Shang). It’s not like crushes are logic-based. The more embarrassment you bathe yourself in, the bigger a deal this crush becomes.
The bigger deal you make this crush, the larger a role it will play in your life. A mantra/refrain of some kind might help you when you’re feeling stuck on it. Something like, “I’m going to focus on my friendship with Antoine, not my crush,” could help you remember your goal, which is, ultimately, friendship.
And for the sake of said friendship, I would personally not tell him about the crush. I think it’s very difficult to articulate the nuance of what you’re feeling to the subject of a crush without making it weird. I don’t think it will give you anything to “confess” this. (I put confess in quotes, because this isn’t some misdeed or anything; you aren’t doing anything wrong). Additionally, I think telling him about the crush makes it a bigger deal than it really is.
You have a crush on a friend. Ok. Not a big deal; happens all the time. Your job is only to do nothing, to continue on as you have, not letting it affect your friendship. Be a little extra careful to not bring your pain or anguish over your unrequited crush or your love life in general to your friend; it is not his problem or fault (of course) that he doesn’t like you back romantically. Outside of that, just be a friend and give yourself the twin gifts of time and grace. You’re human.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s not that this will always be easy all of the time, every minute of the day, but that the job is doable.