What to Do When You Can’t Love Your Friend Back

What to Do When You Can’t Love Your Friend Back

Unrequited love seems like a cornerstone of human existence.  A study of high school and college students reported unrequited love was four times more common than reciprocated affection.  The pain one can feel after such rejection can be so profound it alters brain activity to cause symptoms of physical pain.  During moments of such pain we are called to turn to our friends for support.  However, what happens when a friend was the one that spurned you?  Why can they appreciate you at that level, but not share your feelings of romantic love?

It gets even tougher when you are the person that is the one unable to romantically love a friend.  It is important to be honest with yourself and your friend.  Understand what about the friendship you value and why you are not physically or sexually attracted to them.  By avoiding any deception you both will begin to heal and reframe your relationship boundaries with each other.

Reasons why friendship feelings turn romantic

Love is not a stagnant thing.  Strong friendship spanning years are the most likely to provide opportunities for intimacy.

  • Friendship’s role in love: It is important that lovers always genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Because a friend can become so important in a person’s life it’s natural to expect a potential love interest to arise.
  • Proximity: Close friend spent significant time together. Lives can become so intwined that not seeing each other can feel extremely difficult
  • Commonalities: Friends can bond over shared interests.  The more people have in common the more likely they are to view each other as ideal romantic partners.
  • Intimate behaviors: Some friendships share flirtatious jokes, ample physical affection or other hallmarks of romance.  Now matter how mixed the signals, you can’t manufacture sexual chemistry.  However, if a friend is acting intimately it can give the illusion of wanting a more physical relationship.
  • Unhealthy attachment: A 1998 study discover people who experienced an anxious or unstable childhood were more prone to fall into unrequited love. Having a caregiver that was sparse or unpredictable with affection or tangible support led to unhealthy pattern in adulthood, including forming deep feelings for people unlikely to reciprocate.

How to protect your friendship after rejection

After you tell your friend you aren’t able to love them back, how do you move forward.  You both agree your friendship is important, but might be both struggling with sadness and anxiety.  Begin by validating these feelings.  Space to grieve is okay so you both can process a slew of heavy emotions.  It’s important to not direct these feelings back at each other and maintain honest dialogue about feelings and needs.  When you both feel a bit healthier, work together to chart a course forward that is fair to you both and to your friendship.

Your friendship might look different now, and that’s okay.  Moments of feeling embarrassed or awkward are natural and nobody’s fault.  As you both heal, these moments will lessen.  Jealousy might also creep up on you, and acknowledging it when it arises is helpful for emotional management.  Keep open communication and maintain healthy personal boundaries.  Sometimes this might be as simple as a quick text, other times you might think about getting together for low key outting.  Let them know that asking for space is okay and you will be ready to talk when they want to connect. Be especially careful during moments when next loves enter the scene to avoid feelings of comparison, anger, or resentment.

Moving on

Begin by taking time apart to assess and attend to your hurts and needs.  Then gradually resume communication and work together to set boundaries going forward.  In particular, if you guys were once affectionate or flirty, agree to avoid this behavior for the foreseeable future.  This will prevent misunderstanding and create a potentially healthier dynamic.

Be kind to each other if you notice a dip in sense of self-worth or self-esteem following the rejection.  Enlist the help of other loved ones and professionals to separate this incident from your overall sense of self.  Consider meeting new people.  You don’t have to date, but find ways to increase your socialization.  Distraction is a grew way to heal from heartbreak.

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