You Need Help: Am I Her Best Friend or Am I Being Emotionally Manipulated?

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Q:

This is definitely a chaotic situation. I met a girl on a night out about 8 months ago, and we hooked up after some strong suggestion on her part. I am usually not a hookup person because I catch feels easily. After a few weeks of her saying first “let’s do it again” and later “she wasn’t ready for a serious relationship,” we settled into a friend pattern. We see each other all the time, both in groups and individually, as she’s started hanging out with people I know. Somewhere along the way, I caught heavy feels, but I also am trying to respect that she’s not in a place to seriously date, per that conversation we’ve had. I’ve tried to put up some solid boundaries in my behavior and expectations, but… We frequently spend all day and non-sexually all night together (the number of times I’ve ubered home when the sun is coming up…). She says that I am the person she trusts the most. A couple weeks ago, we hooked up again, which she initiated. She said some deeply wonderful things about a life with me, but then a few days later said again that she couldn’t do a serious relationship right now, and that she was scared of losing her best friend. About a week later, she started dating someone else (not particularly casually). I feel hurt, but am also cognizant of her telling me multiple times that she wasn’t ready for a relationship. We still also spend about 400% more time together than she does with her girlfriend. My friends are livid with her and insist I’m being manipulated and gaslighted. I’m confused and hurt and stuck. I know the answer is going to be me setting boundaries, and also I feel like I’m also at risk of losing a deep connection. Help?

A:

A chaotic situation indeed! But one I can also assure you is both common and, while challenging, ultimately manageable — even if it ends with you technically giving up some things that feel good.

I have to say that I’m not totally in agreement with your friends that there’s gaslighting happening here, at least from what I get in your letter. Perhaps bits are being left out! Manipulation, I can kind of see, but I don’t see it tilting all the way into gaslighting, and I actually don’t see her behaviors as outright nefarious either. It sounds to me like you two have very incompatible needs when it comes to intimacy and relationships — needs so incompatible that perhaps your entire viewpoints on what intimacy is could be quite different! The sex could mean something entirely different for her than it does for you.

Technically, it doesn’t really sound like she has lied to you. She has said repeatedly that she’s not ready for a relationship, and I know that her actions to you might not line up with that assertion, but I think you have to believe her when she says it. When she talked about envisioning a life with you, perhaps she meant a life that looks like this — a sort of nebulous friends who occasionally hook up situation while mostly sharing intense emotional intimacy in the form of late nights and deep talks. She spends more time with you than with her girlfriend, but sometimes those are just people’s priorities in life. It’s possible that she values friendship that sometimes skirts into sex more than she values more conventional romantic relationships. I know you write that her relationship with her girlfriend seems like the kind of serious relationship she told you she was avoiding, but it’s really difficult to know the actual contours of someone’s relationship structure when you’re not part of it.

I think you could ask her about a lot of this, especially since you two are so close. How does she define her relationship with you? How does she view intimacy? Do you know how she feels about monogamy/polyamory/etc? Is her situation with you the first time she has been in a situation like this? These conversations might be difficult to have, especially because you have to accept the outcome that the answers might not give you exactly what you want, but I do think it could lead to better understanding about what each of you want out of friendships and dating. This could help illuminate that you’re not the right fit for each other romantically, which I know would be heartbreaking, but it could at least lead to potential closure and allow you to figure out if you’d like to start a new friendship with stricter boundaries (like no sex) or take even more space from each other.

Again, I don’t have all the details! So if she was actually like “I can envision a life with you where we are in a serious relationship” and then afterward was like “jk,” then yes, that is a different story! But in that situation, I can’t say I’d recommend continuing to be friends with her, because that is indeed very unfair and manipulative!

You know you’re not a casual hookups person, and yet you have ended up in a no-strings-attached hookup situation with her and have caught feelings. That’s all fine and normal! Especially because you already knew this tendency about yourself. The exact thing you thought might happen happened. But by letting her call all the shots, you’re taking away some of your own agency. If you know hooking up will make you feel sad and stuck after, you should really consider that before it gets to that point again. I don’t think it’s healthy or worthwhile to keep doing the same things with her and expect her to change her mind about what she wants. She seems pretty consistent in what she wants, even if it’s a bit confusing on your end.

You already knew the answer was going to be setting more boundaries, and that is indeed the best advice I can give. But I think you can talk to her first and figure out what exactly she means about not wanting a serious relationship and not wanting to lose her best friend. But most of all, listen to what you want. And if it’s something she can’t provide, you have to restructure the way you approach the relationship in a way that honors your own needs and desires. If that means a bit of a friendship breakup, that’ll be sad of course. But it doesn’t have to be forever. And there are plenty of in-between options, too. Try only hanging out in groups to see how that goes. Limiting one-on-one time and those late nights together could allow you to realize you connect in other ways that don’t feel quite as intimate but are still meaningful connections.

This all sucks, and my heart is totally with you. Who amongst us hasn’t ended up in the murky waters of a hard-to-define friendship/something more than friendship? You’re not alone in this hurt. But I think a reframing from your friends’ perspective of this person is actively trying to hurt you to realizing you have different needs and views when it comes to intimacy could actually release you in a way. I’m wishing you the best!


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 813 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. Hmmmm, I think the LW is being messed with by this person. Perhaps not intentionally but that is the result. Do reliable friends hook up, then say they just want to be friends cause they’re not ready for a relationship, then initiate a hookup again, then get a different girlfriend? I don’t think so. This doesn’t come across as consistent to me at all. This situation sucks for the LW, but notably, perhaps not for the other person. She’s getting what she wants out of the relationship but the LW clearly is not. It’s unbalanced. Definitely a honest conversation is in order to get some clarity, stop the hookups, and then some hard work for the LW to move those feelings into safe friendship territory. Go well LW.

  2. i think the lw and maybe more firmly lws friends are not encouraging lw to take responsibility for herself in her relationships. more “boundaries” are clearly needed here, but i think more importantly, lw could use support in her pursuit of self-reflection. really examining how she shows up in relationships (especially sexual ones, apparently, but also likely relationships where she has a crush on or admires the other party), and taking responsibility for her choices as an individual, regardless of other people’s behavior, could rlly be life changing for lw.

    does it suck to want more from someone u feel a strong pull towards? yes, totally, heartbreakingly yes. i’m honestly so sorry to lw for the pain i imagine this situation is causing. but didn’t lw say herself that she has a pattern of catching feelings easily? and so, isn’t her pattern the issue here and not the mismatched desires between her & her new bff?

    regardless of new best friends intentions, the lw chose to sleep w this person upon first meeting her & has chosen to continue to hook up with her on occasion now despite having caught feelings and despite being told that those feelings aren’t gonna be reciprocated. and more importantly 2 me, lw is actively choosing to spend huge amounts of time with the new bff on a regular basis, despite knowing from day 1 that she might (and was in fact likely to) fall for this unfortunately unavailable/uninterested person. nobody should hang out w anybody else that much, esp not if the relationship is somehow fraught. in fact, i suspect part of whats drawing lw to hang w this person till the sun comes up is the mixed emotional experience theyre going thru and trying to calm, and the unspoken desire during those hangs that the new bff will change her mind abt what she wants out of the relatioinship.

    to me,, its not manipulative to hang out with someone who wants to hang out with you, even if you dont want them to fall in love with you. its not wrong to want to fuck your friends sometimes, especially if ur friends haven’t explicitly said they can’t do casual. in fact, i’m reading the best friend’s intentions as honest, and there’s kindness in honesty even if the truth hurts. to me, manipulation is beside the point here, but for what it’s worth, imo, it’s more manipulative to fuck someone and see someone constantly who you know you want something from that they have explicitly said they’re not willing to give you.

    anyways, best wishes to lw in their friendship and on their journey to personal responsibility. i hope they take the pain of this relationship as an opportunity to break a personal pattern instead of blaming it on another person (as their friends are unfortunately encouraging them to do).

    • Out of curiosity: what exactly LW is trying to manipulate that girl to do??? How on Earth her behavior can be seen as manipulative? It is not wrong to fuck your friends sometimes?????? Not all people are like that. There are people who want to fuck people with whom they are in love. But okay. So, you think it is normal to initiate hooking up just because you are horny, and knowing pretty well that it will hurt your friend’s feelings? This whole comment is ugghhhh.

      • It’s unclear if LW has been honest about having feelings for this new friend, but it doesn’t sound like it. It seems like they’ve been passively going along with this woman’s preferences without stating their own. If the friend thinks they’re on the same page, but LW is secretly hoping they’ll end up in a serious romantic relationship despite the friend’s stated intentions, that’s manipulative, even if it’s not conscious.

        Manipulation has levels, some of which are quite passive. It’s what we do when we don’t know how to get our needs met. I don’t think cheesewiz is saying the LW is being nefarious.

  3. In my point of view, this girl seems to be very much in love with LW’s adoration for her. That’s all. She doesn’t seem like a good friend at all to me, and deep connection is not here, because she chooses to initiate sex with someone she knows she will hurt with it. It is not good. I feel like if LW will start dating someone, her “friend” will immediately initiate sex again to keep LW close to her. It is not a good friendship, it is not a friendship at all. The first commenter, KerrynP, is very much right. I would run away from this person as fast as I could, because they are like vampires feeding on other people’s genuine adoration and love for them. No honest conversation will never make this relationship healthy. Dear LW, run away from her.

    • I am in a very very similar situation to the LW, nearly identical, and it is very confusing, I definitely see my part in going along with something that deep down was making me very anxious and sad.

      I think maybe all of it can be true, like this person cares about me and liked the admiration and emotional support and was honest about where they were at but also their actions kept me hoping it could be more.

      I ended up telling them I needed space for an indeterminate amount of time while my feelings calmed down, but that I did want to come back together and be friends. That took about 6 weeks until I felt like maybe I was ready to try a different type of relationship with different boundaries. We are meeting up tomorrow, so we will see how it goes!

      I know how heartbreaking this can be! Imo you need to grieve this like a breakup and truly accept that your relationship is platonic. That includes going no contact for a while, if possible. Not that you won’t still have some crushy feels when you come back, but it doesn’t have to be so excruciating and angsty.

  4. Kayla’s advice was perfect!

    Use your words until you’re both clear and feel good about your mutual choices. LW’s friend might enjoy the affection and be “just not that into” LW, and may not even know it. (I’ve been there! “Am I into this friend, or just the brain sex?” Took me a few months to realize I was accidentally stringing them along, eek.)

    Or. Maybe they’re the “kiss your friends on the mouth!” type of person like the Best Mistakes podcast hosts. In which case maybe they think they’ve already been clear. Ask!

    Many hugs to LW ♡

  5. Ooof this Ask hit me in the feels. I can feel your pain through the page LW. And I’ve absolutely been there before…multiple times.

    When I was working on detaching myself from that same pattern I really gained a lot from a therapist that helped me identify the feeling I was chasing when I kept “falling into” situations like this one with murky friendships-turned-more-than-friendships. Personally for me it came from a desire to live in the gray area of a pseudo relationship so I couldn’t be outright rejected but could still feel like I had a special connection with someone. But breaking that pattern allowed me to finally find a partner who could be as open and committed to building the same thing as me and not leave me feeling inadequate or always second guessing.

    I truly feel for you LW! This one is gonna hurt but I think some space is the best remedy in this situation so you can have a little more perspective and open your heart to the right match for you! Good luck!

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