I’m a Hopeless Romantic Who Keeps Falling in Love With My Friends

Q:

I am a hopeless romantic, emphasis on the hopeless. I am in my thirties and have really struggled in my dating life to find someone who I feel both a sexual and intellectual/emotional connection to. I’m starting to wonder if I’m somehow asexual or demisexual because I don’t desire sex as much as I desire physical closeness. If I was someone else I think I would have just ended up with a sweet, nerdy cis guy by now but for some reason in queer dating I am finding this harder to communicate to potential matches. I desire sex with someone who knows me well and sees me clearly. I want a whole body experience. And I’m probably monogamous. Which leads me often to falling in love with my good friends.

Right now, I have strong sexual feelings for another good friend of mine. They have a partner already and are poly. I am friendly with their partner (even if I really, really don’t like them) and we are all three in the same, sprawling friend group. The mutual ties have led me to rule out the idea of just sleeping with my friend as it could potentially get too messy.

I really value the friend group we are all in, they are great people but my inability to express my desires is leading to some internal friction for me. My friend and their partner hit a rough spot last winter and almost broke up. Something bad went down, but she wouldn’t tell me. Still, I’ve never seen her so upset. I mean she was shaking as I walked them partway home. And they’re a fighter, so it was a big deal for me to see this side of her.

I guess I got too hopeful. I let myself linger in the crush, but knew better than to act on it. Even if she broke up with her partner, they would need space, right? It wouldn’t be my intention to swoop and proclaim them as mine. Well, they got back with their partner anyways. So it’s good I kept it all to myself.

So now I’m just, like, in hell. I don’t know how to crush these feelings and now that I’ve felt them our friendship has gotten tense. I can feel her flinching away from me in group settings. When I enter the room at parties their face makes a perfect “O” even though I’m in the group chat with her that made the plans. I might lead a conversation — ask if I’ve done anything that makes them uncomfortable — but I don’t know if that’s just putting too much pressure on her or will lead to too much of a reveal for me. And we still have moments of closeness. Our bodies curved toward each other as we watch fireworks in silence while two friends bicker next to us. Catching each other’s eyes in a crowded room throughout the night. I even got to protect her from some slight mean girl bullying at a dinner. That felt great.

My straight friend who is also a hopeless romantic said to either let her go or create some boundaries in interacting with them so I don’t smash my own heart again. Good advice, but I don’t know how to heed it. I want to smash my heart! I want to be alive! And I want to fall in love with my friend!

I know the reality is more complicated — even if we got together how would their desire to be poly play into my desire to be comfortable? Would we destroy a lovely friend group? And how would it feel for them to run into their ex repeatedly and at every birthday party? How would it feel for me?

I feel frustrated because I take so long in the build up to desire, it’s hard for me to just move on when it doesn’t work out. And lately it’s been feeling like it never works out. As I get older and my friends get more settled, I just have to wonder if I’m letting myself get left behind. Is there some childhood shit I still need to work out? Ugh! And I’ve just done so much fucking therapy already. I want to get outside my head and really live. But if the person I want to do all this living with is not available, where the hell do I go now?

A:

Your story reads like the way I feel whenever I’m single. You’re not wrong to have clearly thought-out desires and standards in a potential partner. It’s good to be discerning. But I know how hard it gets when you build a connection with someone and you start wondering about the what-ifs.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re asexual given how intense your sexual desires can be. Demisexuality may fit considering your need to form strong non-sexual connections to someone before sex. You’re also not alone in feeling disconnected from dating because your desires are different.

I do indeed wonder if some of your bad experiences have been due to the fact that dating often follows a sex-first pattern. That’s not bad for people who only want to be seen in public after a month of raucous sex, but it sets unfair expectations on those who don’t. Namely that by the time you’ve formed enough of a connection to feel comfortable about sex (or even sexual thoughts), you’ve already got a friendship that might be considered platonic. By then, the people involved have different expectations for the relationship. And more often than not, we’re left with a cracked heart and a lovely friend who we wish could be more. I know the feeling well.

I see in how you write about your friend that you care deeply for them. Her pain and distress become yours. The small moments of shared connection are deeply meaningful to you. You want better for them, even if you’re not in an ideal position to provide it. You like them a lot. Romantically. Some might call this unrequited love, which can be painful.

I won’t tell you to pursue her because I think you already know it’s not the right call. She’s in a relationship, and her need to be poly conflicts with your need for monogamy. There’s a shared friend group with existing relationships. Even though you’re close, I don’t think she’s put out definitive signs she’s interested in you. And pursuing it would infringe on her current — albeit complex — relationship. The pieces aren’t in place, and the risks are high.

Your straight friend is right. Their advice to let go or develop boundaries serve the same goal: protecting you from your feelings. This isn’t a call for you to change how you express love and desire. But rather a reminder that everyone has a way of loving. And it can backfire when circumstances aren’t right. The problem with compatibility is that nobody has a perfect grasp on it. Everyone’s personal approach has equally personal disadvantages.

Yours, like mine, can be paired with an intense longing for people we can’t have. People we know we can’t have, but want anyway. Because we’re close to them and care for them. Because we’ve formed a friendship worth talking about and, to many of us, friendship is just as important as sex in a relationship.

What I will add to your straight friend’s advice is the following: You don’t have to fear the sunk costs of a relationship that probably won’t happen.

People like us often find it difficult to wean ourselves off someone we’re deeply interested in. We’ve put in the effort of forming a bond. We’ve put hours into daydreaming about that person’s beauty. We’ve built an archive of precious memories together and understandably want to make more. Pulling away is hard, even if it’s sometimes necessary to protect our hearts.

But the time we sink into the crush/infatuation/love we’ve cultivated for someone isn’t destroyed in a fire if we can’t have them. We still have the good memories and the view of how wonderful they are. Tapering down an interest isn’t the same as ending a relationship because mutual attraction never happened.

You don’t have to go cold-turkey on seeing the person you’re pining after. Doing that may just fracture the friendship and cost you even more than the feeling of lost romance. But I think you’d benefit from thinking about the future you don’t have with them alongside the one you do have. Would her poly desires have been compatible with you? Is she truly perfect, or flawed like the rest of us?

I think you’ve done well to work through your distress in therapy. And I don’t think you ‘need’ more unless you feel it. Being positively fed up with how much work we’ve done on ourselves is a pretty good signal to take a break from working on ourselves and appreciate what we’ve built.

It…somehow always comes back down to this. But I think you’d benefit from forgiving yourself for feeling like a ‘hopeless romantic’ who falls in love with your friends. Despite what our very independence-oriented society wants to tell us, it is okay to be someone who needs love. It’s fine to be someone who needs a strong friendship and an intellectual connection before pursuing a relationship. It’s fine to fall for our friends and live the tempest that follows.

You’re not being left behind just because you haven’t found the relationships you need. Upholding your needs so strongly that it sometimes breaks your heart isn’t a sign that you’re worse than anyone. It just means you’re your own person.

Your hopeless romantic friend is right to suggest protective measures. But protective measures exist to slow a downward spiral and prevent further harm. The next steps of growth beyond that lie in hard questions for you to work on:

  • Is this pattern of falling for friends hampering your ability to see goodness in new people?
  • If you were to support that friend you’re interested in, would you be able to engage as a helpful friend or would your desires hamper it?
  • When you know that a relationship is unlikely, what’s an emotionally safe pace for you to disengage from it?
  • Is there room in your life to meet someone and build a friendship while dating? Sex can be secondary, but dating-with-friendship is very possible.

These aren’t the only questions you’ll have to work on to climb out of this love-sick hole. Trying to answer them may even leave you with more questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Reflection and growth are built on questioning. You’ve done a lot already, and you’re capable of doing the rest.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 38 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. LW, if this is your main or only friendship group I suggest you attempt making other friends elsewhere. Not only will that give you natural space and time to guide your crush feelings to extinction and potentially save your friendship with this person, but it will also provide you with an opportunity to gain new friends that may actually be available for you in a romantic and sexual way.

    Your pining won’t serve you. Fixating on this love-that-can-never-be is already changing your friendship with this person as you described, and keeping your feelings to yourself while also attempting to remain platonically close only harms yourself and your friend.

    I also want to point out that most friendships don’t last! I think sometimes as a queer community we become so ride or die for our chosen family that we forget it is the nature of everything to change, and sometimes change involves loss. I have lost many friends for many reasons (including those I have had crushes on), and it is not the end of the world. If you do end up losing that closeness with your friend, you have others, and you also have the ability to make new friends. Please do not hang all your hopes and desires and happiness upon one person.

  2. This is extremely relatable to me, and after a particularly striking heartbreak along these lines, I decided to approach it differently. I was falling into intense friendships that became romantic for me (and somewhat for them, but not such that they actually wanted to date me) but I wasn’t actually seeking out someone looking for a relationship. In the aftermath of that heartbreak, I got on the apps and was very upfront about my priorities and needs (I identify as demisexual). I also started seeing a therapist with LGBT specialization (and in my case, knowledge/experience with the ace spectrum has also been helpful).

    I had some nice dating app conversations and made a friend, but 8 months in, I made a connection with another demi person (on Her) that felt notably different. I don’t know where it’ll go, but we’ve been dating for 2 months and it’s been healing for me. It’s a silly thing to say, but it’s profound for me to be dating someone who wants to be dating me, who isn’t giving mixed messages and confusion and where I don’t have to look for signs or read into things because the romantic interest is text, not subtext that might be wishful thinking. Instead we’re building a foundation of friendship as part of our approach to romance and communicating clearly. My romanticness doesn’t feel as hopeless as it has for like… 15 years.

    I have nothing but love for the friends I’ve fallen for in the past, but there’s a lot to be said for connecting with someone who knows they want a relationship and is considering you that way from the beginning. I still have a place in my heart that idealizes falling in love with my best friend, and I’m sure it happens for folks, but there are a lot of ways for amazing friendships to just not be aligned with that path. It’s easy to feel like that kind of connection can’t be found with someone else, without the existing friendship, but… it can. In those 8 months I wasn’t always optimistic, but hopefully if I have to look again I’ll believe it more.

  3. I have also lived entire love stories only in my head. When you’re that into someone without saying anything, you can misinterpret any sign they give you, because your mind want it so bad to be true while protecting yourself from rejection and well… reality

    …Maybe I’m over projecting, so if i am forget i said anything, BUT
    Do you think there’s a tiny possibility you project attraction on unavailable people for some unconscious reason, idk like protecting you from something ?…

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!