Help! I’m in love with my (guy) best friend.
If this is you, then you probably understand how I’ve felt at some point in my life. Because I’m a girl, I really had to just sit and wait, hoping that my friend will wake up and realise he’s in love with me, too. I was stuck in the Friend Zone.
Back up a minute – how did things reach this point, anyway?
Perhaps you may have heard the phrase “guard your heart” a bazillion times. And if you’re anything like me, you’d be like – whuuuuuuut?
Proverbs 4:23 may be one of the most (mis)used Bible verses when it comes to dealing with male-female relationships. When I first encountered the phrase at the ripe old age of 32, I thought it was just some “Christianese” term my local church came up with. And like most modern Christianese terms, it comes heavily cloaked in vague definitions that people generally expect you to understand on a primal level. Typical definitions would be “Don’t let your emotions get ahead of you,” or “Keep your feelings in check.”
Many years later, I’ve grown to understand the nuances of this funny dance we do with members of the opposite sex. And whilst “guarding your heart” is good advice, there is more to learn about navigating human emotions and laws of attraction. Here’s what I mean.
How many of you have healthy friendships with Christian men? By healthy, I mean you can spend an afternoon together and there will be no crazy ideas floating around about the two of you becoming a couple (either in your mind or his). Of the people you consider your good friends, how many are Christian men? Do you have someone you can turn to outside of your family if you want to have a male perspective?
Here’s the thing – we have gotten so hung up on “guarding our hearts” that we don’t know how to be JUST REALLY GOOD FRIENDS with the members of the opposite sex. (I say this in a very general sense, though it mainly applies to the culture I’ve observed around churches within my radar.)
Guarding your heart doesn’t mean keeping away from a potentially good friend who happens to be a guy. It also doesn’t mean not developing affections for someone you have grown to trust. I’ve tried to not like or even un-like someone countless times. It doesn’t quite work that way. (If you, on the other hand, managed to succeed – I’d like to talk to you.)
But wait – shouldn’t you have avoided falling for your friend in the first place? Well, you’re already past that point of avoidance.
You could have done all the right things, but still fall for a guy friend who is not into you. You make sure you don’t spend too much time alone together. You keep conversations within certain “safe” topics. Maybe once in a while you turn to your guy friend for emotional support, but you don’t rely heavily on him for that – your girl friends got your back. You try not to read too much into what he does or what he says. But still, you end up liking him.
Here’s my advice – don’t kick yourself for it. Instead, own your feelings. Remember, you are not a plant. You are a human being with a sensual nature. Admit that you like him, to God and to people you trust (female only, please). Hold yourself accountable for your feelings.
OK, you’ve made peace with your emotions. Now what? It’s time to so some self-assessment on your friendship. Some questions to ask yourself –
- Why do you like this guy?
- Why do you choose to spend time with him?
- How deep, tight, or solid is your friendship?
- Does he view your friendship the same way? How does he view your relationship?
- Has he ever explicitly said anything about being interested in you?
- Has he said or done anything that can be misinterpreted as romantic interest by a hormonal woman with certain biases (i. e. you)?
- Is he aware that he has said or done anything that was cause for assuming some form of interest in you?
- How much emotional strain are you experiencing because of your unrequited love? Is it affecting your friendship with this guy? How about your other friendships?
The answers to these questions may be best reviewed with a good female friend who knows the both of you. Ideally, said friend will not hold any biases for or against any party involved. More importantly, she would have observed you two together as friends – have front row seats to the show, so to speak. If such friend does not exist, then you may have missed some principles of guarding your heart and relational accountability. It would be best to review your actions and put proper guardrails in place. Seek counsel from a mature Christian wife or a couple whom you trust, to gain a more balanced perspective.
Think your answers through. The next set of questions will determine how you respond to the situation.
- Are you able to park your feelings aside when you are with him, and treat him just as a friend? Do you value your friendship more than the possibility of romance?
- Yes – Stay friends, but manage your expectations.
- No – Distance yourself. You are a ticking time bomb.
- I don’t know – Ask someone else what they think. Proceed as advised above, based on whether their answer is a yes or a no.
- Have you told yourself that there is zero chance you will end up together?
- Yes – Allow your heart to accept reality. Keep the friendship, but know your limits. Open yourself to the possibility of dating other men.
- No – Ask other people if they hold the same view. Proceed with caution. Be realistic in your assessment of the situation.
- Are you willing to accept that your friendship may be strained or even end?
- Yes – Continue to grow and nurture the friendship. Healthy relationships recognise the possibility of loss. Enjoy it while it lasts. Let go when it doesn’t.
- No – Re-evaluate your feelings. How much of it comes from your selfish desires, and how much of it stems from genuine care for the other party? BONUS – Read 1 Corinthians 13.
- Are you OK with seeing this man date and end up with another woman?
- Yes – Good job. You’ll be fine.
- No – Seriously? You need to talk this through with a mature Christian lady. Chew on this thought : Love allows people to choose.
- I don’t know – Ask someone who can give you an honest answer to this question. Proceed based on answer.
- Can you keep yourself from telling him how you feel for an indeterminable amount of time (perhaps until rapture)?
- Yes – Will it cause unnecessary stress in the process? Especially if you keep spending time together? If you’re sure you can keep your feelings hidden, then decide whether you need to distance yourself or if you are able to keep the friendship warm. Keep yourself accountable to a female friend you trust.
- No – Proceed with caution. Pray and surrender your thoughts and feelings to God. Ask him (and other godly people, preferably more mature) what you ought to do. If you do decide to speak with your friend, think about how you should say it and what it means for your friendship.
- I don’t know – Wait. When in doubt, don’t act.
Before I close, I need to put a disclaimer. There is not sure-fire, foolproof way to resolve your Friend Zone status. Women will often be tempted to take the reins and steer the relationship a certain way. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The bigger question is – why is your heart restless? I’ve found that in my life, it boils down to my willingness (or unwillingness) to surrender my heart to God’s care.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering – yes, I’m still friends with the guy I like. And yes, I am happy to keep it that way. What was once a crush has grown into something better – mutual love and respect between a brother and sister in Christ. It takes time, understanding, and a big dose of self-awareness plus self-control. But it IS possible to stay in the Friend Zone, and not incur any collateral damage aside from a bruised ego.
Choose to let Christian love be bigger than your relational preferences.