You Need Help: Your Best Friend Has Feelings for You, Lives 1000s of Miles Away

Q:

I’m 16 and currently in a boarding school, far away from home. I’ve been out to anyone who asks for two years. My Straight Best Friend™ sent me a text yesterday morning telling me she’s had feelings for me for a while. I told her I had thought of her that way, but would have never made a move in fear of making her uncomfortable. She told me she doesn’t think she’s bisexual, she’s just trying to figure things out and wanted to get this off her chest. Then she closed with (and it’s a doozy) “Don’t tell anyone about this.”

On one hand, I was excited: if there’s something most lesbians have in common is that at some point or another we’ve fallen for a Straight Best Friend™, and I was lucky enough for mine to be fluid in her sexual orientation! Yay me! On another hand, there’s another sadly relatable thing lesbians have: the Bi-Curious Buddy™. I don’t think she’d use me like that, but there’s the looming fear that I might be just an experiment. The closing line of her text also aligns with this possibility, though I understand not wanting to be outed – especially when you’re still trying to explore out the wide spectrum that is human sexuality. Finally, on the mutated third hand, we have reality. And reality says it doesn’t matter whether she’s my Bi-Curious Buddy™ or my Gay Gal Pal™, because we’re so far apart.

I don’t know when I’ll see her next. Of course, it didn’t help that she told me Dodie Clark’s “She” made her think of me. I’ve listened to it at least 12 times today, trying to decipher every single word and how it applies to us. It’s hard for me to believe someone would feel for me what those lyrics say, but we’re not here to talk about my low self-esteem.

No, my question is simple: what do I do?

A:

Actually, dearest starfish, we ARE here to talk about low self-esteem. We are here to talk about self-esteem before we talk about Straight Best Friends™ and Bi-Curious Buddies™ and that’s because self-esteem often dictates what we decide to do (or not do) and how we move through life and how we navigate those sticky things we call Friendlationships™. Sometimes when our self-esteem is low, we let other people define the terms and dictate situations in ways that make us confused or totally beside ourselves and feeling like there’s nothing we can do about it. This is (maybe?) the first girl who is dedicating Dodie Clark’s “She” to you and sending you into a swirling spiral of longing for 39 hours, but she certainly will not be the last — regardless of what happens, today or tomorrow or whenever you see her for Christmas (soon!). So it’s best you figure out now how to move forward with your own heart helping to tell you the way.

She probably did not tell you this just because she wants to manipulate you into being the Swooning Friendsbian™ to her Straight Best Friend™, though if that’s the case then you should most definitely run in the other direction. I’m guessing the truth of it has more to do with this: she’s confused. She’s having feelings she hasn’t encountered yet, or is finally confronting them. These feelings might be that she’s bi, they might be that she’s curious, they might be that she’s turned on by something new, they might be that she’s experiencing the deep connectivity that intimate friendships bring, they might be that she ate too much Marshmallow Fluff before bed, they might be a few of these things at once. But the only core truth of these feelings is that she’s gonna have to figure them out, on her own terms — just as you’re gonna have to figure out, on your own terms, what kind of role you want to play in helping her. That’s where the self-esteem comes in.

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I suspect the reason for a lot of this coming up when it did — when you’re away from home — is precisely because there is a large amount of physical distance between you two. There is safety in distance, a whole lot of it; distance lets us be different version of ourselves, or to reveal parts of ourselves we haven’t shown to the light before. It allows us to be bold, and take risks. My guess is that, whatever she is struggling with, whether it’s liking you as an isolated thing, or feelings about her sexual identity in general, or all of the above, she’s not ready to expose it to the light yet. I would put a hundred gold galleons on the fact that if you were standing in the same room as her, she would not likely have been able to read that text out loud.

What I also suspect is that she feels comfortable talking to you about this because of how open you are about your sexuality. She’s testing the waters. They feel easier to test with you because of your confidence in your own identity — which, let me tell you, at the age of 16 is a FEAT. You are, in her eyes, a safe place to put the things she isn’t sure she wants anyone else to know yet (maybe even including you, but you’re her Lesbian Best Friend™ after all).

You asked, “What do I do?” but you already know there’s not a whole lot you CAN do, and not just because you’re far away. This one is on her. It’s her “secret,” it’s her feelings, it’s hers to decide what she wants to do. So we might shift this question to something like, “How do I prepare myself for what happens next?”

I don’t know what she’s going to end up doing, or being to you, sugar plum. I suspect that she doesn’t even probably know the answer to that question. I have been in this situation exactly three times in my life and every single time, it turned out differently, and beyond my wildest dreams in good and bad ways. Sometimes we have Straight Best Friends™ who turn into Official Girlfriends™. Sometimes we have Bi-Curious Buddies™ who turn into Gal Pals™ or Lifelong Platonic Besties™. Sometimes we have someone we never expected wander in from stage left and become the Always and Forever Soulmate. These are things we can’t prepare for in any measurable way. These are things we have to let unfold.

Here’s what I think will help: you take the time you still have before you see her, ok? You take it all for yourself. You use it to explore and angst and puzzle over and poke and prod and generally engage with your own wants and needs when it comes to friendships and romance and all the various toppings involved. Not just what you think you deserve, but what you really, truly want to have, what you dream about in quiet moments, what you’ve maybe never let yourself articulate to anyone else. I suspect this kind of reflection might already be something you do, based on the fact that you came out of the age of 14; that takes an immense amount of self-awareness, universes worth! Also, talk to people who make you feel good. Do things that make you feel like your best self. Enjoy the time you have, enjoy the tickle of anticipation however best you can. It can feel endless, waiting to see someone, waiting towards a future date that will come both too fast and too soon.

I find that sometimes it helps, when faced with uncertainty, to think of the best possible outcome and also the worst possible outcome and hold those two outcomes in mind and focus on them until they go all blurry, the way a word does when you say it over and over until it dissolves into meaninglessness. And then take both of those outcomes and throw them away because life has this way of making sure you’ll never even have thought to imagine what’s coming up next.

What do YOU want, in your heart of hearts? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Self-esteem means you know you truly deserve to have everything you desire, all of it, every last crumb. And it means that you can better recognize and move towards the people who want you to have it too. Do that. Go heart-first. It’s the most attractive quality of all.

Maree lives in Berlin and is usually carrying some sort of Tupperware product on her person. She's written for Marie Claire, The Rumpus, and Teen Vogue, but still has not fulfilled her lifelong dream of seeing a real blue-footed booby. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and probably the dance floor.

Maree has written 24 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. To weight in on the ‘bi-curious buddy’ thing: I think there’s a big stigma around that idea that needs to get broken down! A genuine queer can use you and use you just the same. 16 is already messy, pimply, and feels-y… so being curious is not something that should come with more punishment. The only thing that needs to be clear are the intentions on both sides, and whether or not you can accept that for the other person it might just be an experience (even a good one) in isolation, while for you it forms a significant part of your identity. And it’s still completely okay to feel like you don’t want to take part because it might be complicated or hurt you, it’s just less okay to invalidate the other person’s experience just because it doesn’t match your own. Even as an adult I hear the term get thrown around a lot, and I think it prevents people from exploring or expressing themselves for fear of being labelled – whether that is labelled bisexual when they are not sure yet that’s how they want to identify, or labelled as loose or some form of slut shaming that comes from both straight and queer communities.

    Personally I’ve dabbled in my fair share of of all of the above mentioned trademarks (wait for college – you can meet Platonic Sleepover Buddy™ and Drunken Make Out Friend™), and I think it just comes down to communication and boundaries… which inevitably is hard work and it might take a long long time to reach the right place with friends for whom the boundaries are blurred, especially if you are very close. Intense female friendships get more complicated when one of you openly identifies somewhere on the queer spectrum… I think we’ve all been there <3

  2. I’m not crying, but if I were crying it would NOT be because I can’t believe that I ever experienced unrequited love without that song playing on repeat in the background as I wrote dozens of letters to someone who would never read them. Maybe I stubbed my toe, “but it feels oddly good to ache.”

  3. I feel this a lot. I am married but have 3 long distance friendships. Each friendship has a different degree of love and meaning for my friends. One actually came out and loves me romantically but does not want to interfere with my marriage. Another is my birthday curious friend who knows that I love her but she loves me unconditionally as a friend, which I cherish deeply. My last friend just recently told me she loves me but as a friends, however I honestly feel like it is more since she fought her current fiancee to speak to me and I told her the same. She confuses me greatly with her declaration and her extreme excitement for mine but this feels right. Although confusing,This is an exciting friendship love. Even though that last one is the most distant friendship, it is the most special friendship because the distance allowed us to explore subjects that we could not divulge to others. We support each other In our respective relationships and push each other to be the best person we can. Honesty and love make these friends special and it took hard work for us to have such a deep and meaningful connection.

    My wife loves that I have these special women in my life because love brings out the best in all of us. She even wished they were closer and even talked about the possibility of me being polyamous for some reason. All I know is that you have to value yourself and know that you are loved as well. Enjoy knowing that feeling of love. It is very precious.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this experience, and pointing out that there is beauty and much learning that comes from grey-area friendlationships, confusing as they often are. You, and your wife, and your friends, are AWESOME and respectably feelings-literate.

  4. Well, as someone who was the Straight Best Friend™ and then came out (after realizing that I was queer in part because I developed a case of feelings for the Queer Best Friend™ in question) and *then* ended up dating and now engaged to The Girl Formerly Known as Queer Best Friend and Now Known as My Fiancée (!), I am here to tell everyone that it can indeed work out. Granted, I’m in my thirties, and I don’t think most people end up marrying the person they’re dating at sixteen, regardless of sexual orientation, but you never know.

  5. Just another shout out for all the frightened bi’s of the world who are scared that what they’re feeling doesn’t really count, that they’re too late… and also for all the long distancers, who have the stubborn strength to do this, even though it’s hard hard hard–but potentially so worth it.

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