Advice: When the friend zone isn't working

Last updated 05:00 23/05/2013

If a long-term friend who once rebuffed your romantic advances suddenly changes their mind when they see you in a new relationship, what do you do?

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About three years ago I approached a friend of mine and broached the possibility of the two of us entering into a relationship. The offer was gently, but firmly, rebuffed - they didn't see me that way, and wouldn't ever.

Throughout these three years we've remained friends, and incredibly close friends at that. I kept myself as a calm and steadfast presence in their life, a presence they desperately needed. They've been through several relationships in that time, for many of which I've provided help and advice, simply because it was asked of me.


Throughout that time, I've remained completely single, with no one even remotely on the radar, until just recently I started seeing a new and quite wonderful person. However, receiving the news that I am now dating has thrown my friend into chaos, with big outpourings of supposedly unrealised but deep and heartfelt emotion.

There was a time this person was everything I could have wanted in my life. I thought I had moved on from that, but the revelation they feel strongly for me has unsettled me a bit and made me question myself.

What do I do? I love this person, I didn't think romantically any more but I'm doubting myself. And I don't want to let myself be used as a Plan B, left in the friendzone while they had fun with anyone passing by who caught their fancy, until they were ready to come back and pick me up and settle down. My pride, my ego, my dignity, won't allow me to let myself be treated that way. But are they even treating me that way? Can I take them as genuine that they didn't realise it? Or should I just get over myself? Or should I just stay where I am, seeing this new person?

Doesn't life throw us some difficult predicaments? Now you are exploring a relationship with another person your longstanding friend is realising your significance to them in a more intimate way. Over time you have been there for them: a stable presence and providing them with support as they have moved through their relationships, and now there is a risk that you are becoming 'unavailable' (in the sense of primary relationship) they are experiencing distress.

You will ultimately have a choice to make, but in order to do this you will need to clarify the picture for yourself.

The dynamic you describe with your longstanding friend suggests that they may be conflicted about letting themselves get connected and close with one person. It is possible that they protect themselves by having a secure base with you while they have romantic involvements with others. If this is the case, it may be a challenge for them to commit to having have a romantic connection and a secure base with one and the same person.  Are they someone who moves from relationship to relationship? Do they struggle with forming a committed relationship with someone who is available to them? You will know quite well by now if this is actually the case or not. If this scenario is true, then they will have some personal work to do before they would be able to commit into a stable long term relationship with you. Otherwise it may be a case of here for now, but gone tomorrow.

This person is letting you know that you are a significant person in their life, and knowing what you know about your longstanding friend, is there a reasonable chance for the kind of relationship you want? Is there anything that you need to get clear about with them in order to work this out? What would you need to know in order to take you out of uncertainty about whether this person is really available for a committed relationship to you?

In terms of the new relationship you describe them as new and quite wonderful. You are still exploring and discovering who they are. You won't know them as well as you know your longstanding friend, and it may take some time to get to know their relationship style. Do you know enough about your new friend to know if there is a reasonable chance for the kind of relationship you want? What more would you want to know them in order to make a decision?

Once you have the answers to these questions you will be in a better position to make a clear decision for yourself.

Best wishes,

Chris

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.

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