Ask Richard: I’m In Love With My Friend November 10, 2009

Ask Richard: I’m In Love With My Friend


I will try to make this succinct.

I am 28 years old. In the last year, I have admitted to myself both that I was an atheist and that my wife and I were no longer in love. We have been separated for about seven months now with a divorce in process. There have been many new things for me to get used to. We married young, so I’ve never really lived alone, and I’ve never been single as an adult. Any emotional issues I may have had were met with lots of prayer and scripture, and convincing myself that God was taking care of everything. Obviously I no longer have those options available to me, and in hindsight I realize that they only masked the problems and didn’t solve them.

So that’s the background, and here is my problem: Over the last three months or so, I have slowly come to realize that I am in love with a woman who has been my friend since 2006. We have more things in common than anyone else I know, and the things she doesn’t have in common with me absolutely fascinate me, and I want to learn everything I can about her. She is every bit as fascinating to me as nature, and even the thought of holding her hand makes me too happy to sleep at night. Unfortunately, she does not have any romantic feelings for me. We are very good friends. She is one of my best friends, and she loves me, just not in that way. She allows for the possibility that her feelings for me may change in the future, and we remain good friends. She does not want me to pursue her romantically, though, and we both agree that doing this would destroy our friendship.

But I can’t stop thinking about her and how much I want to be with her. I don’t think I ever felt this way about my ex-wife. I want her so much it hurts me, and knowing that she doesn’t reciprocate my feelings hurts even more. I am deeply concerned that I will do or say something to damage our friendship (which, sadly, may have already started to happen), and that is the last thing I want. I am hoping to be her friend for the rest of my life, and she hopes the same for me.

There are three possibilities that I can think of that would resolve this, ranked in order of what I want most (at the moment, anyway):

  1. She falls in love with me, and we live happily ever after, or for a few months or years, but at least we gave it a shot.
  2. She doesn’t fall in love with me right away, but my feelings become manageable and I’m able to concentrate on other things, like work and music, and she eventually realizes that I’m the guy for her.
  3. I stop having these feelings and things go on as they were before.

I really do not know how I should proceed. I don’t know how to stop feeling these things, or how to stop feeling them so strongly.

This is the short version. I hope you can help me.

Sad and A Little Pathetic in Seattle

Dear Sad,

I won’t call you “and A Little Pathetic” because you deserve more respect than that. You are in love. As painful or confusing as that can sometimes be, it is not something to be sneered at. Being in love is the beautiful, awful, tragic and splendid specialty of our species. It is the central part of what makes us human. We admire lovers, we feel sorry for them, we cheer them on to go forward, and we warn them to go back. They are the subject of comedies and tragedies. But we should never, ever look down our noses in scorn and contempt at those who are at the same moment lucky enough and unlucky enough to be in love.

You have never lived alone, you are new to your atheism, and up until recently, you have relied on prayer, scripture and God to deal with your emotional issues.

So inside, you are very young.

Not for all but for many people, living alone for an extended period, free from the distractions of an intimate relationship is necessary for them to come to understand themselves. I think this may be so in your case. You have only recently had the opportunity to begin to know yourself on levels deeper than those you reached while living with your parents and immediately later with your wife. In the months since separating from your wife you have begun to get glimpses of insight, such as seeing that your problems had only been masked and left unsolved. But now you have started another powerfully distracting love relationship, and your growing insight may once again be slowed.

Until recently, your main way of coping with emotional challenges was to rely on something intangible outside of yourself. Being convinced that God was taking care of everything hindered your developing self-reliance, self confidence and the skill of using friends for advice and support. Building these will take time, patience and work. If you don’t have friends with whom you can confide, find some. These must be friendships that you will not begin to romanticize or sexualize.

I agree with you that if you continue to pursue your friend romantically you will probably destroy the friendship, especially since she has specifically asked you to cease.

Your friend sounds like she is very level-headed, but even so, she may be experiencing a dilemma:

When a friend learns that their friend loves them romantically, but they don’t have that kind of love to return, they often feel a tension because of an odd quirk in our culture.

The healthiest response for the friend would be to feel sad about their love-struck friend, knowing that they are frustrated in their love. Unfortunately, in our culture people often take upon themselves the responsibility for other people’s feelings, thinking that they are supposed to somehow do something about or fix the other’s feelings. They confuse caring about someone’s feelings with taking care of someone’s feelings. So, being unable to return their friend’s romantic love, they might feel guilty. It is not rational or fair to themselves to take on that responsibility and the resultant guilt, but unfortunately it is all too common.

Also unfortunately, guilt is almost always accompanied by resentment. They don’t want this responsibility, but they don’t realize that it isn’t really theirs to take on. So they gradually begin to resent the source of their guilt. They think, “Oh why did my friend have to fall in love with me, making my life so complicated? Now I have to do something about it.” They cannot imagine themselves saying to their smitten friend, “I care about you, and I’m sad that you’re so frustrated, but there’s nothing I can do about it. My feelings are just not the same as yours. I hope that you can resolve your feelings.” They might consider such a response to be cold and uncaring, but it is not. It is the healthy, reasonable response of a caring friend who can only care, but who cannot be the manager of someone else’s emotions.

This is why your friend may at first have wished that your feelings would go away, and later may start wishing that you will go away. If she’s caught to any extent in that cultural false responsibility, the discomfort of guilt and resentment will take its toll on her friendship for you.

Sad, I suggest that you assume that possibility number three in your list is the correct one. That is the only one that is supported by any evidence. Your friend has told you that she doesn’t love you that way. That’s very strong evidence. The other two possibilities are merely wishful thinking on your part, perhaps similar to the kind of wishful thinking that propped up your belief in God. You have seen through that clearly, now see through this clearly.

If you jump right into another love relationship, you will continue to delay becoming familiar and comfortable with yourself, and will continue to impede your emotional maturing. Sometimes people use such relationships in a similar way to alcohol or drugs to avoid encountering uncomfortable things inside themselves. You need much more time by yourself to confront your insecurities, and to see through them to the confident, self-esteeming man you can become who can then offer a mature love to someone who can love you in return.


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  • littlejohn

    I always advise people to ask themselves, What Would Littejohn Do (WWLJD)?
    Easy. Stalk her until she sees the light.
    You can break into her house and install miniature cameras and microphones. Leave gifts for her, like little dead animals. Women like little dead animals, such as rabbits. She’ll come around.
    You’re welcome.

  • Polly

    Unfortunately, she does not have any romantic feelings for me. We are very good friends. She is one of my best friends, and she loves me, just not in that way.

    AAAaack! She will NEVER develop those feelings. She’s not into you. For you to hang around like some Plan B is the WORST thing you can do. In fact, she will lose whatever respect she has for you now. And, more importantly, so will you.
    She will naturally continue to date and maintain a normal social life having a merry old time while you inexplicably feel guilty if you even do go out.

    FORGET IT, bud. Getting together is 99% chemistry – HER chemistry.

    Pick someone else for your rebound relationship – because that’s what this is. Unless she’s R.P.Feynman reincarnated, NO ONE is that fascinating. You are experiencing relationship withdrawl.

  • On one hand you are supposed to marry your best friend, on the other hand you get to the point where, “we should just be friends,” or the “I don’t feel that way about you.”

    What should you do, hell if I know, but good luck to ya.


  • Alan E.

    The closest any atheist can come to a religious person in terms of irrationality is the concept of love and relationships. Love is difficult to look at rationally, which is why it is difficult to tell a friend how you really feel about their love interests. Of course, we wouldn’t know all of the facts, but at least we could look at the facts we do have rationally. I don’t accept the phrase that “Love is blind” because it is only the lover that is blind.

    I support Richard 100% when he says to take some time to learn more about yourself. Your life, both personal and love, will be much richer and fulfilling if you are confident in who you are first. I do think that happening to find out that you love your friend for a few years only a few months after you started your separation is not coincidence. You don’t have any other idea how it is to live on your own, so you have subconsciously sought out another partner.

    I tell this to my friends all the time. Don’t look for love. Look for yourself and love will find you.

    As a side note that is sort of related:
    If you want to look at bad relationship decisions from an outsider’s POV, then watch an episode or 2 of Tool Academy. Those women have the choice to stay with their boyfriend if he was kicked off, only now she has loads of evidence as to why she shouldn’t stay with that guy. Many of those women could do a lot better too. Unfortunately, those women often chose to stay with the tool. Makes me want to scream.

  • ChrisZ

    I’d like to add that love and similar emotions can be very confusing. Although I have no basis on which to declare your feelings of love false or misinterpreted by you, I would be careful in your situation (and as Richard pointed out) of trying to get right back into a relationship. 7 months of separation may just not be enough time to get over being in a relationship you could count on being there all the time (even if it wasn’t very good at the end).

    I think it’s smart for anyone after leaving (for whatever reason) a very long relationship to take a lot of time off just to remember (or learn) that you can be okay being alone. After you’ve learned that, you can pursue important relationships without the risk that it’s more about you than about the other person.

    I’ve done a rebound relationship before. When you start it you don’t think that it’s just because you’re lonely or whatever, you think you really like the person, and there probably are things you like about them. But after a little while, you realize that the relationship is about you and how you felt after losing something really important, and it feels like shit. Again, I’m not saying that that is the case with you and your friend, but I would step back and consider it a possibility, and know that you probably won’t be able to tell until you are further removed from your marriage.

    I know that won’t make you feel any better, but this is a time for reason to overcome emotions.

    That’s all I’ve got to say. Number three is the only way to go if you respect your friendship with her. You might also need to meet her less for a couple of weeks, or not to meet her at all. Sorry.

  • Amber

    I agree absolutely with Richard. You need to take some time off for yourself and really learn who you are and what it is you truly want. I was once in a a very similar situation except I was on the receiving end of those unwanted feelings. It was very hard for me to remain a friend to a person who felt much more for me than I did for him. As Richard points out, there is a lot of guilt and confusion on her end. Eventually I asked him to stop hanging around and suggested we take some time away from each other. It was very hard to watch him go through the heartbreak and I still feel responsible for it, but in the end it’s what we needed. He spent a few years alone and now that he’s matured a lot, we’ve become even better friends.

    You owe it to yourself to leave this situation. It can only lead to more pain.

  • NewDark

    Thank you Richard for publishing this story. Your advice, although was aimed mainly toward helping this person, I couldn’t help but find eerie parallels to it in my life (minus the recently becoming an atheist part). Your advice is very sound, and this was an excellent column.

  • Joffan

    I recall some recent research that established that the kind of high-intensity feelings you have for your friend will last about two years, unless you fall in love with someone else before then. It’s a brain chemistry thing which I regret to say I didn’t absorb any details of. So if you can do a reasonable impersonation of “normal” for that long, you should be OK after that.

    Also, while you may do your best, your body language will not be under conscious control, so you may have to ask your friend to help you with the normality routine by not reacting to love-sick gazes etc. Either that or go on a world tour for two years.

  • David E

    Personally, I don’t think friendships with people you have strong romantic feelings for are viable. Its just a form of slow torture.

    The sensible thing to do is to break off contact with the woman and move on.

    Of course, this is advice that almost certainly won’t be followed.

    I foresee a long and painful road ahead for Sad In Seattle. Hopefully he’ll meet someone else he has feelings for sooner rather than later.

  • I was having this same issue a few months ago. loved her, but she didn’t love me.

  • It’s been very difficult for me to wade through all this tissue trying to find the keyboard so I could respond to Sad in Seattle. It’s like it’s catching or something…FSM forbid it affect the poor guy’s sleep because you all know what that would mean….(hint: He’d be Sleepless…in Seattle).
    Ok, all bad jokes aside, Sad, I think you need to GET OUT there – make new friends, get involved and figure out who YOU are. I think your “love” for this chick is actually just an attempt to clutch onto to something safe because you’re making so many changes right now. Believe in yourself and jump off the cliff – not literally though, because that would hurt and our tax dollars would have to pay to clean your mess up. A Venezuelan friend once told me to (excuse the bad Spanish)”rompe las cadenas que te hatan, Di le Si! a la vida” which translates (with enough liquor) to “Break the chains that bind you – say YES to life”. In other words, let it go….let EVERYTHING go and start anew. Trust me, you’ll be happier in the long run and find someone to reciprocate your fuzzy feelings. Pinky swear 😉
    Goood luck.

  • Chris

    Never really read this column much, but this isn’t bad advice. This is the key though – if you want her, the worst thing you can do is pine for her. Don’t be dramatic in any way. Maintain whatever emotional control you have left and move on. while doing this, do not do it for her. Stop complaining too. No matter how much you THINK it helps, it doesn’t in the long run.

    I’d stop being friends. I know you’re best friends etc. etc. I’ve been here and you are going to look back and wonder what happened to all that time you wasted hanging out with someone who wasn’t as great as you thought she was (they never are). Realize that you’re infatuated with her and that might have something to do with how fascinating you find her. I look back on some of the girls I was infatuated with, who I was totally crazy about, and I’m struck by how completely terrible some of them would have been for me.

    Unfortunately I’m 99% sure that you’re going to ignore this advice anyways, because I’ve never known anyone to ACTUALLY listen to anyone else in this type of situation.

  • Atheist Scumbag

    Sounds like you don’t have any game. Let me help.

    The friend zone is no joke, but I have conquered this obstacle before. I should say it ended badly, especially b/c real feelings were involved. Be forewarned.

    I would try dating some other people, if you are capable of managing that… (No easy task for an amateur, unless your good looking. If not, do what you gotta do…) Bring them around this friend you love, girls that are no good for you are perfect in this situation. You should be able to tell if she doesn’t like them, because a real friend won’t say anything bad but nothing good either. That is key. Just shit like she’s “happy for you” etc… When you end it with these girls, and you ask her what she thought about them, and she says they weren’t right for you or something along those lines, then you have a chance. If she shows genuine apathy, then I’m afraid you have no other choice than to get her and yourself drunk. Haha. I am not kidding. That works.

    You want to make her realize that she has feelings for you. Then you wanna lay on the flirting. The subtle kind. Progressive intimacy. Send her those signals, all the while having another girl. Make her think you don’t see her like that. Then she has to have you. Sleep over. Sex is the only ice-breaker I know of with a friend-zone issue. Make your move.

    You are clueless from what I can tell. Being the nice guy NEVER works. But let’s be real. Looks ARE a factor. Be realistic. And good luck!

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    She allows for the possibility that her feelings for me may change in the future, and we remain good friends.

    Ah, yes, the code for “I’m not even slightly interested, but I’m too nice to say so.” I had to learn that the hard way. The last girl to feed me that line of garbage is now marrying my close friend and roommate.

    Seriously, the girl’s not interested, and probably never will be; she just doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.

  • BlueRidgeLady (Formerly Anonymouse)

    Aw. 🙁

    I would suggest to not pursue someone who is not interested in you. Don’t ruin your friendship by making her feel uncomfortable, and give yourself enough credit to be loved *that way* for who you are by someone else when the time is right. You never know who you will meet. The world is full of people. You may also want to try dating sites when you are ready.

    I’ve been on both sides of this situation, and as flattering as it is, it’s not fun to be the one to say you aren’t interested. I would not count on her changing her feelings AT ALL. I would keep is as a friendship.

    I think you are going through a rough time. Give yourself time to heal from the divorce/separation. Even if you aren’t in love with your wife, it is the death of a relationship, and that’s ok to mourn. I would need time to process all those feelings. It’s wonderful you are confronting and solving the problems.

    Good luck and take care.

  • Sad,

    I went through something like that myself about 20 years ago.

    It is a brain chemistry thing. Concentrating and actively pinning for her will only make it take longer to get over her. You need to date other women. The only way to get over person A is to get on to person B. Richard may be right that you need some time to develop being by yourself, but I would suggest having some shallow relationships with other women to help with the brain chemistry thing. Then after a while, you might really find the right woman who has reciprocating feelings for you (and it won’t then be a re-bound relationship).

    You can really only be friends with the girl you want now once you are romantically involved with someone else. That is the only way any plutonic friendship can be healthy.

    In my case, once I found someone else, I drifted away from the person I formally pinned after.

  • DemetriusOfPharos


    Ahh, XKCD, the Hallmark Card of the Internets (i.e., there is one for every occasion.)

  • JulietEcho

    As a girl who’s been on the other side of this situation in the past, I can tell you one thing: her feelings are not going to change any time remotely soon. Maybe you’ll grow apart and bump into one another again in twenty years and hit it off – but there’s no way this girl is going to fall for you in the near future.

    The chemistry, or the personal dynamic between you, or both just don’t do it for her. And she probably does value the friendship, but you owe it to her to back off in any situation where you’re not sure you’ll act appropriately.

    Women in our culture are often conditioned to consider it rude or mean to ever turn someone down. Even when they’re uncomfortable, many remain passive or even enable the interested party, because they’ve been taught that it’s wrong to be too blunt. Hence the, “She allows for the possibility that her feelings for me may change in the future,” part here.

    My advice: carefully reevaluate your attitude, expectations, and actions when you interact with this woman. Accept her refusal for what it was – a refusal – and lean on other friends (or make other friends) for awhile, while things are tough. If you two both care enough about the friendship, it can survive – but not if you make her feel uncomfortable or harbor any unrealistic hopes/expectations about the relationship.

    P.S. The xkcd is dead on. Don’t do that!

  • Vas

    I’ll preface this with a wild speculation disclaimer, with that out of the way… I have two words for you…Arrested Development! Sounds for all the world like your wife was your new mommy and now you are seeking yet another new mommy. Stop this, man up and get a grip. I’ve always thought it is insane to marry young and go straight from your parents house to a marriage. Go be a person for a while, it’s not so bad being a person, really you don’t need to be half of a couple for your entire life. With a little luck life is a pretty long thing and you will have time for romance before it is all over. Just relax and give yourself some time to grow up. Time can go by pretty quickly and before you know it you will at long last be a man. Here’s a hint women like men not boys, (well to be fair the cougar thing is all the rage but you don’t come off as wanting to be someones toy, then again it might fill the gap and seems like good fun but if you are going that route you had better get busy your cub clock is almost timed out) Until you man up you will be forever stuck in the dreaded “friend zone” I can’t believe that is what you want. Sure you are “a little pathetic” but that does not have to be a permanent condition, once you are secure in yourself the rest will fall into place just give it time. Or you could turn back to Jesus, return to church and be hooked up with a nice church girl in no time flat! Oh but there is the chance that you will never read any of these comments, you didn’t ask our advice, you asked Richards advice, not the same thing at all is it. Good luck with this, it’s hard work. In the mean time get a hobby or something to kill time, not collecting stamps is a popular choice for atheists.

  • What Richard said. I want to add:

    You have my empathy. It sucks to be in love with someone who doesn’t love you back. Especially when it’s a close friend, and “I’m just not going to see this person for a while” isn’t a good option. I’ve been there.

    But it does pass. I now have no regrets; I’m still very close friends with this person; and I’m in an amazing relationship that I wouldn’t give up for anything. (In retrospect, and with the perspective of not being in love, I can see that my friend and I would not have been a good match.)

    And I also want to second the “Get okay and happy about being on your own” sentiment. Especially since you never have been before. I know that for myself, learning to be not only okay but actually happy being single was hugely important. It got me knowing myself and being comfortable with myself. And paradoxically, it got me in a much better place when I was ready to get involved again.

    When we’re not okay being single, we tend to jump at the first relationship that offers itself. When we’re okay being single — when in fact we’re happy being single and can see some advantages to it over being involved — we’re more selective, and we can take our time to find someone who’s really right for us. Being happy about being single was what made it possible for me to break bad relationship habits and say, “I don’t want to do that again, I want to wait for someone who I really deserve.”

  • Emily

    thank you for this Richard

  • JJR

    To paraphrase Rick James, “Dopamine’s a helluva drug.”

    Or to quote Billy Bob Thornton in Bad News Bears: “Sometimes you love something but it doesn’t love you back…like German chicks.”

    Yeah; I don’t see things working out well for the friendship unless you back away for the time being.

    Now, I ended up marrying someone I was first friends with, but also got divorced, so there’s no “match made in heaven”. I do remember changing gears from friendship to romantic partner being a bit awkward at first. It took a few times before a kiss felt normal/natural. But I was lucky this friend had been harboring some of the same deeper feelings as me, too. You on the other hand are in the unenviable position of unrequited love…and not the unrequited love because you lack the nerve to declare it but because you’ve already been told “no”. Have some dignity and self-respect, man. Of course, I’ve spent most of my adult life living alone. Dude, enjoy the freedom that brings!

    On the other hand, look on the bright side, things could be worse–you could be caught in the middle of a love triangle, which sucks/hurts way way worse! (yes, I speak from personal experience here, too).
    Especially when you’re trying to break things off and the other person keeps reeling you back in by your heartstrings.

    DON’T watch any cheesy romantic comedies, etc. Romance novels, movies, etc. are fiction and often give bad advice. They’re an expression of our hopes and dreams, not reality.

  • Justin jm

    I recall some recent research that established that the kind of high-intensity feelings you have for your friend will last about two years, unless you fall in love with someone else before then.

    Joffan, do you have a link to this research? It sounds similar to my experience.

    I’ve been in the same situation as Sad in Seattle, (minus the religion, and I was really more like an acquaintance with the other person, not friends) and three years later I wish I knew what to say to SiS. I can definitely say that you should give some space to the other person, so they don’t think you’re stalking them. Unfortunately, there is no way to make bearing feelings of rejection easy.

  • AndyG

    You, my friend, are clearly located on the “friends” ladder. Any attempt to jump to the “good” ladder will almost certainly land you in the abyss.

  • Polly

    OK Sad,
    You’ve managed to get a UNANIMOUS opinion out of a bunch of atheists.

    Either the apocalypse is drawing nigh or this is a No-Brainer.

  • Everybody else has said what I would, here’s my $.02 extra. My ex and I separated in September 2007, spent the next 15 months trying to reconcile and save the marriage, and finalized the divorce in January of this year. I still have moments I break down. This was the end of a 7 year relationship, 4 of them married. It’s going to take a long time. I think it’s natural to want to share your love with someone, anyone at this point because you want to feel like you’re ok. Trust me, you’ll need good friends a lot more than you need romance. It’s probably ok to date, just go meet totally new people. And do all that stuff to be sure you know yourself and you are ok alone.

    I’ve heard that studies have shown divorce is more stressful than death. I buy that. Death is unquestionable, divorce leaves you feeling you could have fixed it.

    As for how much time it will take, who knows. Loss isn’t something you work through, get over, under or around. There isn’t a specific set of steps you need to do. Loss is something you get used to. Every day you get out of bed is a win.

  • Chris

    Confessions of love almost never, ever work. If a girl likes you sexually, you will probably be aware of it if you like her as well and you wont need the confession – things will more than likely end up progressing naturally. This means she will usually want to hang out with you, it will be easy to flirt with her, etc.

    If a girl is on the edge or doesn’t like you, the confession does nothing to persuade because it puts a huge burden on her to handle it correctly so she doesn’t hurt your feelings. If she’s on the edge, in fact, it’s going to push her away since she’d be unsure that she could return ALL those feelings, even though she might be attracted to you. It’s a huge commitment – you’re at step 10 of the relationship while she’s at step 1.

    Way too many guys use it as a last-ditch desperation move when all it ever accomplishes is throwing away the last shred of your dignity. If you find yourself wanting to confess, do NOT do it unless you’ve got a damn good reason.

  • medussa

    If you absolutely can’t bear the thought that she isn’t going to change her feelings for you, try this old Jedi mind trick:

    Tell yourself that if it’s really true love, really the real deal, then she’ll know it when you come back to visit and start calling again IN TWO YEARS!

    In other words, get out while you 2 are still friends, and you still have some dignity. Make friends, create a life, DON’T CALL HER, date if you can, keep it casual.
    And when you feel like you can’t live without her, remind yourself that you can reevaluate and pursue that relationship after a goodly amount of time. And one week doesn’t count.

    Better yet, tell her you need time to find yourself, and to sort through your feelings, and tell her to call you when and if her feelings for you change. And you can promise not to call her until your feelings change.

    I know you want to hear any of this. We’ve all been there, in one way or another, on the receiving end or the lovelorn end.
    Remember how you felt about your wife when you first fell in love? Looking back, you may now realize it wasn’t as real as you had hoped, but at the time, it felt all encompassing.
    Well, there you are again, and all of us here are telling you: you’ll look back at this and realize again, it’s not as real as it feels.

    You’ll get through it. Really. But no need to repeat past mistakes.

  • Adele

    Welcome to life. I went through the exact same thing a while back. All you can really do is wait.

    For me, the friendship fell apart on its own, not because I was in love with him. We had been best friends for six years, so for a while this just added to my pain – but in the end it was a good thing because I was able to forget him.

    It’ll take a lot longer than you think to get over her. But it’s really all you can do in this situation.

  • ddr

    I was in a very similar situation about 15 years ago. My wife and I got married very young and had been married for 20 years. No kids. She was a bit emotionally unstable and just did not feel she could deal with her own problems and those of a child as well. It was a good call.

    As the marriage ended, I started spending more and more time with a good female friend of mine. We had a great deal in common and truly enjoyed each others company. When the divorce was final, I tried to expand the relationship, but she declined, saying she was not interested in me “that way.”

    I spent 5 years being her friend. Taking care of her when she was sick, helping her move, doing what ever she needed. But her feelings never changed. And neither did mine. I still wanted more of the relationship and at some point I just had to just pull back and stop hanging out with her. It was painful, but the only way to go on with my life.

    In retrospect, yeah, we had a lot in common. But she also had a number of her own deep emotional problems. Some of the attraction may have been my need to save people. I had to face that and let her go on her own way.

    So it was painful for me. But it resulted in some personal growth for me too. Today I am married to a woman who does not need saving and can be a true equal partner. And the friend is still single with a host of male friends. Some of them are in the same spot I was back then. Spending precious years pursuing the unobtainable instead of getting on with life.

  • Atheist Scumbag

    Hardly “unanimous”… He could totally have this chick if he had any idea what he was doing. (And if he’s not a fat ass). Act like a man. It’s instictual for women to gravitate towards men who act like men. Not men who wear their feelings on their sleeves. That is NOT attractive.

  • medussa

    Wow, A. Scumbag, way to live up to your name.

    Quote your source at the very least for your very bizarre statement.

    Personally, I tend to have a lot more respect for men who argue like adults instead of just throwing strange undefined statements around.

  • @atheist scumbag – Dude. He admitted he’s never really been out there. Step one is admitting when you have a problem. Back up.

    @Sad – Good for you for doing the one thing all successful people do: ask for advice. Here’s mine.

    You have heard it said that if you regale her with gifts and praise that she will eventually see what a great guy you are and want to date you, but I say to you that there is only one way to gain her interest. You must date as many other women as you can.

    If you get out there, don’t take it so seriously, and just have fun with dating, two things will happen. One, she will wonder what all the fuss is about when all these other women are having such a great time enjoying your company. Two, you will forget her as you’ve got several other options for dates for the weekend.

    Works for me every time. Good luck.

  • Matt D

    if you love something set it free…
    if it comes back it’s yours, if it doesnt, hunt it down and kill it!

    Atheist Scumbag – you da man!

    you should have your own advice column. Kind of a completely non-PC, chauvinistic, phallus-centric version of Richard.

    Man, wish I’d had you as a friend when I was younger (maybe not…might of caught something)

  • Linda


    I feel for you. I think many of us have been there at one point or another in our lives. I know it must feel as though you will not be complete without this seemingly perfect person.

    I completely agree with Richard that you should become secure in yourself first before jumping into another relationship…with this or any other person. Unfortunately, if we expect someone else to make our lives complete, we will end up disappointed every time. And I guess this applies to all relationships, and not just romantic ones. Ah, but knowing this, why do we continue to struggle with letting go of our expectations?

    Feeling alone is scary, but you will be okay. Take a deep breath and learn to love yourself first.

    Thank you for having the courage to share your story here. You’ve certainly made me think about my own insecurities.

    I wish you the best.

  • Carol

    Your story could have been written by my good friend. I was on the receiving end of his: “I love you,” and my: “I love you too but not ‘that way’” line. He eventually asked for (and received) a cooling off period. He requested no contact from me for some unspecified time period (it ended up being about 5 years) while he went overseas to graduate school, and “got over” me.

    25 years later: He has been married almost 20 years to someone who seems to be a fabulous match for him. They see things the same way, work well together, really seem to have a strong solid happy marriage. I have been together with/married to a man (slightly less time) who is perfect for me – I can’t imagine being married to anyone else, or having any relationship that could be better. And I truly, in my heart of hearts, believe that if I’d somehow tried to make it work with this friend, it would have ended in disaster. It would have driven me crazy to spend day after day, night after night with him, much as I love him as a friend.

    I think he was in love with what he imagined our love affair would be; day-to-day life is different. If we’d entered into a relationship, I believe any marriage would have long since ended, as well as our entire friendship. Nothing good would have come from it. His backing off and finding someone else to truly love allowed us to stay friends these past 25 years. Today he’s still my friend.

    My advice (like everyone else’s): back off. Break off contact for a while and get over her. Find yourself, grow, live, find someone else. And then see if you and she can still be friends. But take care of yourself first.

  • Atheist Scumbag

    I love how people here tell eachother their sob stories, offer no advice (other than to walk away and get over it), and jump all over me when I explain to him how I have done this in the past and how he can do it now. An actual plan based on my experiences and observations of the behavior of women to get what he wants… HER. It’s rather unscientific to dismiss it offhand. Is it manipulation? Yes. So what? Most people do it subconciously. I and my scumbag brothers do it conciously. The rest of you are the ones being manipulated.

    you [scumbag] should have your own advice column. Kind of a completely non-PC, chauvinistic, phallus-centric version of Richard.

    Man, wish I’d had you as a friend when I was younger (maybe not…might of caught something)

    Great idea 10 years ago. Tucker Max anyone?

    You can be my wingman anytime. Always need one for the fat friends… lol

    Wow, A. Scumbag, way to live up to your name.

    You phrased that like an insult. But it’s lost on me… I actually laughed when I read that.

    Quote your source at the very least for your very bizarre statement.

    Ok, so I didn’t blockquote! This better? A quick word search would find exactly what comment to which I was referring.

    Personally, I tend to have a lot more respect for men who argue like adults instead of just throwing strange undefined statements around.

    And I bet you’re ugly and/or fat. So I don’t care.

    Medussa, I live a very common lifestyle for this day and age. Don’t really care if that doesn’t fit into yours.

    You must date as many other women as you can.

    If you get out there, don’t take it so seriously, and just have fun with dating, two things will happen. One, she will wonder what all the fuss is about when all these other women are having such a great time enjoying your company. Two, you will forget her as you’ve got several other options for dates for the weekend.

    Works for me every time. Good luck.

    That’s what I said without the polite subterfuge. Read the 13th comment.

  • Atheist Scumbag


    I honestly don’t see how atheism has anything to do with this situation other than the fact that Sad is one. There are these things I don’t know if you have heard about called assumptions. You made a few of those and then gave us well-written suppositions based on them.

    Love transcends race and culture. Our feelings may be rationalized to the point of neurons and chemicals, but that does not change the reality that they can be really powerful. Just as powerful for someone who acknowledges what they are scientifically as it is for someone who imagines they are cosmic/divine/mumbowhatever. I think he needs advice, not a lecture on his mental state.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Atheist Scumbag,
    Thank you sincerely for your thoughtful comment. It’s an opportunity for me to clarify some things.

    Atheism doesn’t have much to do with the situation described here other than the fact that Sad was accustomed to relying on prayer, scripture and God to solve his emotional issues, and only recently, now he does not have that. That simply adds to his challenges and stress, because he’s facing so many changes at once, and it may be that his reliance on religion has left him unpracticed in other ways of coping.

    Not all the letters I receive pivot around a person’s atheism, and not all my responses need to either. Some Christians have sent me letters asking for advice. The point of having this column on Friendly Atheist is to offer people with any belief or viewpoint advice from someone with an atheist or humanist perspective, but those are not the only things that I draw upon when I try to give them a response that will help. Like you, I’m sure, there is much more to me than my atheism. There’s also much more to life than religion versus atheism, and I try my best to help people with all sorts of issues.

    Yes, of course I’m making assumptions. I’m responding to brief letters that omit all sorts of information that would take hours of careful back-and-forth interviewing to obtain. I go to great pains to make clear what assumptions I’m making. My posts are filled with qualifiers like, “it may be this, perhaps that, if this, I think you might be such and such.” If my well-labeled assumptions are off the mark, I am confident that the letter writers can sort out what is useful, and shrug off the rest.

    Love transcends race and culture. Our feelings may be rationalized to the point of neurons and chemicals, but that does not change the reality that they can be really powerful. Just as powerful for someone who acknowledges what they are scientifically as it is for someone who imagines they are cosmic/divine/mumbowhatever. I think he needs advice, not a lecture on his mental state.

    I completely agree with you, and I have done my best to acknowledge Sad’s very powerful feelings with both compassion and honesty, and to offer him guidance toward understanding his feelings more deeply, and developing better skills for handling them.

    I don’t know what you mean by “a lecture on his mental state.” That kind of sounds like an unsympathetic judgment or evaluation of him. I don’t think I’ve done that, but only he knows if it feels like that to him. I hope he tells me.

    People often ask me “Should I do A or B?” If I just give the advice, “Oh, definitely do A,” then all they have is just one more person’s opinion. What I try to give them instead is some insight into the choice that they have laid out. Maybe there are many other options they haven’t considered, or maybe they should step back and question the very idea of putting it to any kind of choice in the first place. This is why I focused on what I assumed might be Sad’s lack of understanding about himself that would need to be improved first, instead of getting entangled in another love relationship so soon after his separation.

  • Valhar2000

    All I can say from my limited experience with these matters is that it will pass. Once it does, you will find it curious, and even a little amusing, that you ever felt the way you do.

    However, that will take a while to happen, and until then… well… you’re in for a hard time.

    Sorry buddy.

  • Steven

    I was pretty “sad” myself about 20 years ago, with a bad habit of falling for my female friends. It never really got me anywhere and I think the gentleman in Seattle will experience the same thing. For the most part, only in the movies do best friends suddenly realize that “they loved each other all along”. Unrequited love might be fine in your teen years and early twenties (it can generate some good poetry) but at 28 it is time to move on to someone who can share your feelings. Otherwise, you’re just driving the wrong way down a one-way street. It was only when I made my intentions clear from the start that I avoided the “friend zone” and married, ironically enough, the woman who became my best friend.

  • Polly


    Weird that I didn’t notice your comment earlier.

    People don’t like to admit it, but the natural allure of the unobtainable is hardwired into our brains.

    Given his heavy emotions, though, I don’t think he’ll be able to pull it off. Given his circumstances, I don’t think getting her will end up well, anyway. So, I still think he’s better off avoiding her.

    But, seeing as he probably won’t take my and everyone else’s advice, he should definitely try what you’re saying if he wants to stand any chance.

  • absent sway

    That was great advice, Richard.
    Sad, I wish you luck. Unrequited love is such a confusing challenge but we all have been there, so take heart; you’re in good company and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or what you desire. You have been through your share of difficult changes recently, so take things slowly and be gentle with yourself. Now is a good time to channel all that newly-in-love energy into your music, for instance, if you can’t actually use it for a relationship. Maybe you could travel or take up some wacky hobby you’ve wanted to try since childhood but never got around to. It would probably be encouraging to have something new and exciting or soothing to try, something you could measure your progress at and be proud to show off, or bond with others about as you learn together.

  • Atheist Scumbag

    Thanks Richard. Do you speak like this in real life? I am almost overwhelmed by your civility…

    I just think you were beating a dead horse with the atheism angle. You’re not telling him anything he didn’t already know. Though you said it much more eloquently.

    Your advice was essentially to back off and grow up. Correct?

    My 2 cents is that most people never really grow up. I don’t know anyone in my entire life that is what I would accept as “completely” mature. The most emotionally mature, level-headed person I know is lazy. Lives off of Daddy’s money. I work in restaurant management (thanks to the economy it was either that or teach…). And I observe a lot of people from employees to customers. People are crazy, and they don’t really change. If anything, they get more set in their ways the older they get. My point is that Sad will always need to be with someone to feel safe and at ease. So he should be with someone. Stop wasting time being miserable trying to change something that he will end up just hiding from everyone and maybe even himself.

    I think people should discover who they are by exploring what makes them happy, and then go for it.

  • Linda

    My point is that Sad will always need to be with someone to feel safe and at ease.

    Whoa… How do you come to that conclusion based on the limited information we are given here?

    I think people should discover who they are by exploring what makes them happy, and then go for it.

    I would agree with that, as long as their happiness (in who they are) is not dependent on the approval/love/affection of another person.

  • Vas

    Linda, and other Scumbag challengers,
    How does Scumbag come to that conclusion!?! Really you need to ask that? Let’s take a look at what Sad and a little pathetic said himself…

    We married young, so I’ve never really lived alone, and I’ve never been single as an adult. Any emotional issues I may have had were met with lots of prayer and scripture, and convincing myself that God was taking care of everything.

    I think the use of imaginary friends to stave off feeling alone and a need to feel taken care of speaks volumes. This business of never being alone in his entire life is a good indicator that “Sad” has always in the past wanted or needed to be with someone, anyone, to feel at ease. Past action actions are the sole indicator we are presented with in this self description of “Sad” and I don’t think Scumbag is drawing any unreasonable conclusions based on the information he was provided, at least not any more than Richard or the other posters. “Sad’s” entire story is just beyond pathetic and frankly as others have rightly pointed out has next to nothing to do with atheism. I come to this site seeking distraction and amusement so I’m not particularly put off by the topic based on it’s lack of relevance to the subject this site regularly offers, but it really does come off as a pathetic tale of a broken tiny sick heart, a sob story by someone who has not yet managed to learn to deal with their emotions in a productive way but instead uses them to try to elicit pity for his oh so gut wrenching, self imposed, plight. “Sad” strikes me as an emotional coward and a manipulative little simp. This is in fact an informed observation, an impression based on available facts in evidence, not at all a conclusion. if we were only allowed to discuss things on this site for which all facts on the subject were presented then there would be no need for a comments section at all.This entire thread is full of wild speculations and unfounded assumptions and yet you only choose to chastise/challenge Scumbag, why is that? Are you irked by his blunt tone? Does he seem a safe target because other “compassionate” posters will have your back? Why single him out? I propose that Scumbag is offering as sound advice as anyone else here has offered, (and incidentally similar advice to some other posters) and that his abrasive tone is what some are taking issue with.
    Sad and Pathetic sounds delusional, he may be better served by Christianity than atheism and then he would never have to be alone, there would always be another set of footsteps in the sand next to him. Or if he just can no longer believe then by all means, back off and grow up, that seems to be the consensus.
    Sorry to be so snippy but this coddling is just disgusting and I don’t think it serves Sad and Pathetic one bit, I think he may benefit more from a call to action than a teary empathic hug and a soothing shoulder to cry on.

  • Atheist Scumbag


  • Linda

    How does Scumbag come to that conclusion!?! Really you need to ask that?

    I was objecting to the words “will always.” You don’t know what anyone will always do.

    “Sad’s” entire story is just beyond pathetic and frankly as others have rightly pointed out has next to nothing to do with atheism.

    I think it has more to do with atheism than you think. The purpose of this blog, unless I’m wrong, is to communicate that atheists do have human problems and human emotions, and that religion does not have a monopoly on compassion and charity.

  • AxeGrrl

    Alan E. wrote:

    Don’t look for love. Look for yourself and love will find you.

    Great advice Alan 🙂

    It will hit some ears as being ‘trite’, and it won’t feel especially helpful to someone who’s desperately lonely….

    but when it comes to finding someone who loves you for who you truly are, there’s no sager wisdom 🙂

  • AxeGrrl

    ChrisZ wrote:

    I think it’s smart for anyone after leaving (for whatever reason) a very long relationship to take a lot of time off just to remember (or learn) that you can be okay being alone.


    when I hear about people who have NEVER ‘been alone’ (meaning they’ve gone from relationship to relationship with virtually no time in between), it raises red flags with me…..

    Be very dubious of anyone who needs to be in a relationship all the time.

  • I was once on the woman’s side of this equation with a guy that I adored but not-in-that-way. Partly because I knew he was into me and made me feel so special. Eventually it became too hard for him and said that he needed to take a break from being around me. That put things into a new perspective and spending time without him made me realize that I did have stronger feelings for him. We dated for over a year and I was very much in love with him. (He did end up dumping me in the end!!! But that is beside the point) I’m not saying that you should do that but there is a reason that she loves being around you and I think it is because you accept her completely and make her feel so special. I also think that maybe you could give yourself a full year of “celibacy” and just take the romantic option off the table entirely. If you commit to it for your own reasons, you won’t feel like you are being rejected. Good luck, you sound like a great guy!

  • Holly

    AxeGrrl — EXACTLY!
    Sad — Right now you need friends more than relationships. Keep your friend and develop a relationship with yourself. My husband of 20 years left me and jumped into the arms of another. It was devastating because I had focused my life around him. I was faced with discovering who I was as someone alone in the world. Thank the FSM I didn’t get into another relationship right away because I could never have been as happy as I am now! It has been two years as a single, and now I am not so sure I even want someone else to be beholden to. (It may have helped that I have some teenagers in the house that genuinely like the “new me”, so I am not literally alone.)

    If you jump into another romantic relationship now you will miss out on finding out who you really are. Don’t put it off. It is not so painful and it can be downright exciting. This next suggestion may seem a bit wierd, but if you can’t find a friend to confide in, “buy one”; find a good therapist and start exploring you.

    And what’s more attractive than someone who is comfortable in their own skin?

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