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How can I recover a friendship once I've caught feelings?
In 2013, when I was in college, I transferred schools. At orientation I saw a cute girl. I did something out of character and sat next to her, striking up conversation. She was witty, confident, and wonderfully sarcastic. We got along great and exchanged info. We had a date and even signed up for a class together, during which she would often flirt with me. I was inexperienced and insecure, whereas she was confident.
This was short-lived, as she soon started seeing another guy. I saw less and less of her as they began dating, and after our class together ended, we didn't really talk at all anymore. About two to three years later, she reached out to see how I was doing and invited me to an event. I assumed she might be single, but I was mistaken. I took on a platonic role and we would chat every now and then as friends. Her boyfriend, that same guy from before, was living five hours away.
When she graduated, she moved out there with him. They got married. Funnily enough, I found myself relocating to that same city. We reconnected and began getting coffee together. She's refreshingly different from most of my friends so I enjoyed seeing her. This worked well for quite a while, and I often talked to her about my failures in the dating world. I even met her husband and helped him with some work. I'd only see her once every month or so, but it was nice.
At some point, my dynamic with her changed. She was more vocal about how I shouldn't be single – about how much of a catch I am. She messaged me more often, and would sometimes touch my arm when we were together. Our hangouts began to feel more like dates. All of this would become increasingly apparent if I’d mention a Tinder date I had. She's generally very open when it comes to talking about sex, but this became a bit more involved in our conversations.
She was always aware I was attracted to her, and she'd tease me about it. This attention from her ignited something in me, and I really fell for her. I couldn't stop thinking about her. I knew she was married, and I knew these thoughts were pointless. At 26, without any notable romantic prospects to distract me (I’ve still never had a real romantic partner), I found myself obsessed, maybe in love.
After a few months of this, this woman moved with her husband. I hadn't seen her in a couple of months and decided, perhaps against my better judgment, to message her. I told her I'd felt like she'd been flirting with me, and asked if there was any weight to that. She didn't take this well. She felt that I'd betrayed our friendship and assured me that whatever I was seeing wasn't there. She'd confided in me about private matters, and she said that by twisting that in romantic way, I'd failed her as a friend. I didn't know how to reply at first. Eventually I apologized for letting my feelings get in the way of a good friendship, assuring her I wouldn't let my own delusions get the better of me again. She accepted it and we've since chatted a few times, at surface level, back to normal.
Since I don't really see her in person anymore, it's been easier to move on. However, whenever I do talk to her now, I get a temporary pang of those same feelings, sometimes lingering for days. Seeing her in person again would likely ruin me for days, maybe weeks. She's genuinely a great person and it saddens me to think that a wholesome friendship has been tainted. Without any romantic prospects of my own, is it possible for me to move on from this? Can you resume a normal friendship with someone you've fallen so hard for? I haven't seen her in over six months but still find myself wasting time thinking about this.
– Caught feelings
You didn't really fall for a friend. You had a crush on this woman the day you met her, and then tried to grow a friendship where there might have been more. You had big, unrequited romantic feelings that you did your best to ignore. They informed every decision you made, how you interacted with this woman, and why you gave her so much attention.
There's more potential for friendship now because you can finally call this what it is. Meanwhile, she now knows that you're someone who can ask questions, listen, and give a genuine apology.
But here’s the thing – you don’t have to force yourself to be all-in with this friendship right now. Relationships are always evolving, especially with distance. If it hurts to be near her, if you're feeling sad when you think about her, you do not have to reach out. You can take space. You can mute her on social media. It sounds like she'll follow your lead.
That's what you require – space and lots of it. You need companions who aren't connected to this woman. You need time to get over the fantasy.
Feeling sad is part of the process. It's part of getting to the next healthy step.
Readers? Should the letter writer work to preserve this friendship?