Here's the Thing: Feelings for Your Friend

A BIG SWEETIE PIE:

I, a 24-year-old straight girl, have a crush on my very close friend. She is queer and out. I’ve never had romantic feelings for another lady, and this isn’t making me question my sexuality in any existential kind of way. I’m fine with it! It’s fun! But for the last seven or eight months, we’ve been spending a LOT of one-on-one time together, and it’s making me feel feelings.

To me, there’s some kind of really obvious tension—sexual or crush-y. For example, sitting really really up-close and cuddly when we don’t have to be, brief hand-holding, close face-to-face eye contact, watching movies in bed, etc. These could all be super platonic, but they don’t feel that way to me. She also tends to be a little bit less physically affectionate with her friends than this. And she’s super private about her love life, so it’s hard for me to read. I’ve been in really similar situations to this before, only ever with men, and it’s always been more than platonic.

The bottom line is, I always want to be around her. It makes me especially happy to spend time together, and makes me feel good, in a way that’s different from hanging out with my other good friends.

I really want to say something to see if she feels the same way, but I’m hyperaware of all the weird power dynamics that come with the straight friend suddenly wanting to make out with the gay one. It’s not just that I’m scared of rejection—I’m generally pretty comfortable being forward in situations like this with men. But I really don’t want her to feel like I’m experimenting with her because it’s convenient, and I don’t want to make it seem like I assume she’s interested just because she’s gay. And I’m really afraid of a situation in which we both admit having feelings for each other, and then a month in, I decide it’s not what I want, whether or not it’s because I’m not actually into girls. That would be, obviously, SUPER shitty.

To make things more complicated, I’m also seeing a guy from an app that I like a lot right now. Something about that makes all this feel even weirder. If my friend and I were to mutually blurt out our love for each other, I’d totally dump him, but for now, it seems like I’ve got a good thing going.

All these things are making me hesitate about telling my friend I like her as more than a friend, but I feel like sooner or later, it’s all going to come out (ha ha). Would it be wrong for me to tell her how I feel, and if I do, how do I handle the delicate sexuality dynamics? I do really want to say something, because the uncertainty and the tension are weighing on me, and because I don’t want to miss out on what could be a great relationship.

SOPHIA:

First of all, what a sheer thrill to have two crushes at once! I’m endlessly envious of this. Nothing on earth is as delightfully agonizing as this!!!

I think the way you’ve laid this out is fantastic; it is both self-aware and compassionate—two things that will help you immensely in whatever comes next. I want you to take a really deep breath or five or six and then let it out and remind yourself that at the end of the day she is a person you have a crush on, and it is about 90% the same as all the other crushes you’ve ever had. There is the same capacity for both of you to be horny and hurt, interested or indifferent. And, as I’m sure you’re VERY aware of right now, ultimately, you fall for who a person is and how it feels to be around them.

The 10% difference obviously comes from what you laid out so well in your letter: the social dynamics of being a straight woman who has a crush on another woman.

I think it bodes extremely well that you’re already thinking about these factors (what if I’m not interested after we hook up for a while?, I don’t want her to feel like I’m experimenting, am I assuming interest?, etc.) well before having any conversation with her. Having already considered these facets of this specific crush means that you’re a thoughtful, caring person. Will you be able to anticipate and mitigate every single unique concern of having a potential relationship with this person? Nope. You very well may bungle something from the years you’ve spent being heterosexual in a heterosexual sexual world.

Despite that (and the dude you have on the side who is perfectly fine) I think you should still go for it. I can imagine that if she does happen to like you/have a crush on you that she in no way has prepared herself for the possibility that you like her back since, as far as she knows, you’ve never had any demonstrable interest in dating women. In fact, should you express your interest to her, she may rightly be SHOCKED considering that you self-identify as straight. It may take her a while to process that you’ve considered her romantically at all. Not that I think you would forget this, but remember to give her some time and space to process. Her reaction to your attraction may not be consistent or last forever. She may be into the idea up front but then start thinking of implications and complications and realize that the idea of being with you non-platonically doesn’t really work for her. You’ve had quite a while to get used to the idea of you and her as a real possibility, she has not.

Now, as for how to bring it up, I wouldn’t do the whole, drink-some-tequila-and-make-out plan that normally works so well for crushes in your 20s. I would invite her over to hang out and let her in on your thoughts/feelings AND lay out what you said here, while acknowledging that there are probably a lot of things that you haven’t even thought of. The script might go something like this (you’re brilliant, you know what you’re doing, I’m sure you’ll say something better than what I’ve written):

“I want to talk with you about how I’ve been feeling, but if at any point this conversation makes you feel uncomfortable, let me know because I understand you and I are coming at this from different perspectives and I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. I’m into you, as more than friends. I love spending time with you, and I would love to explore this further. That said, I’ve obviously never dated a woman and I’ve been reluctant to bring this up because I don’t want this to feel like I’m using you to experiment. I’m really into you and how you and I feel when we’re together. Obviously, that’s nice in theory, but there are more aspects of this to talk about, and if you’re interested—which you very well might not be—I’d like for us to start talking about it. If you’re not, I completely understand and will remain your friend and I hope this conversation will not change much for either of us except when you tease me about it in 18 months and we have a big laugh about it.”

If she is interested and the two of you decide to smooch/date/fuck/snuggle/emotionally support one another or whatever other level of intimacy you guys decide works for you beyond pure platonic friendship, you will have a lot more conversations. I guarantee that. I don’t think that a month in you will decide you aren’t into women because you clearly are into one woman, and that’s the woman you’re talking about. Will you be into her forever? I don’t know. When you like a guy that doesn’t mean you’ll be into him forever either. That is always a risk of dating. But again, the big thing here is not making her have to do extra emotional labor or social negotiating around your sexuality. She should not have to be there to validate you as you explore your sexuality, which even if you identify as straight, you will be wading into.

If I had to guess, I would imagine the fact that you identify as straight will become a conversation. I don’t know that it will necessarily become an issue, but I don’t know that you can be dating and potentially in love with an out woman and keep identifying as straight without a conversation kicking up. If I were her I would have a lot of questions like, “Are you going to tell people we’re dating? Are you going to tell your parents? How are you going to handle it when people ask, ‘Oh, so you’re lesbian/gay/queer now?’ Are you going to insist on calling yourself straight?” Because while there may be queer women who would be perfectly fine with you continuing to identify as straight while dating them, there are plenty more who I can imagine feeling invalidated by that, as if they are a fluke, an aberration, or an experiment.

But all that comes after the first conversation. The terrifying, wonderful, sweet, horrific conversation that really is about the same as all the other times you’ve ever told someone that you’ve liked them as more than a friend.

Be kind. Be patient. Give her space. Check in with each other no matter what happens. Explicit, honest communication is your best friend in a situation like this. There are going to be feelings and experiences neither of you can possibly imagine that come up if you two do start dating, and the only way through them is being super vulnerable.

I know you know this but if she isn’t into it, process the feelings of rejection that may come away from her not with her. It is not her job to like you back. (YOU KNOW THIS, I KNOW YOU KNOW THIS). In the meantime, there is no need to break things off with that guy, unless you and he have an agreement to be monogamous. You aren’t obligated to be dating no one else when you tell her how you feel. If you and she start getting more serious, go from there. As long as you genuinely like him and you’re not using him as a back up plan, I think you’re ok.

It’s going to be good no matter what. You have TWO crushes! What a dream!

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Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at 1followernodad@substack.com.