In a perfect world, the person you're in love with would feel the same way. Sadly, that's not always the case. Dealing with unrequited love can be really tough. But what do you do when you have unrequited feelings for a friend? According to experts, it may be tough at first. But it is possible to have a friendship with someone you have feelings for.
"The trickiest part of maintaining a friendship with someone you're in love with is that it absolutely requires you to accept this person exactly as they are," Dr. Mark Borg Jr, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. That means you have to accept this person as a friend who doesn't feel the same way.
It may seem obvious. But due to the way people are wired, it's a lot easier said than done. "Because of our own psychological defense system that serves to protect us from emotional pain and being overwhelmed by anxiety, it's not always possible to know for sure that we accept the fact that this person doesn't love us back," Borg says.
According to Borg, time, a commitment to friendship, and a willingness to be honest with yourself, are "the necessary ingredients" to maintaining a friendship with someone you're in love with.
So here's what you should do if you have unrequited love for your friend, according to experts.
1. Take Some Time To Heal
It can feel nearly impossible to be around a friend that you're in love with. As Dr. Deidra A. Sorrell, licensed professional counselor who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle, "The only way to heal from this is old-fashioned time and distance." If that means having to take a break from your mutual friend group in order to heal, you may need to do it. "Time with this person is like re-injuring a broken bone," Sorrell says. "You won't heal if you're constantly around them." It's important to know that you can't rush the healing process. Everyone does it at their own pace.
2. Put Yourself And Your Needs First
Loving someone who doesn't feel the same can be emotionally exhausting. When you're spending some time alone to heal, the main goal is to put yourself first. Practice self-care, and take the time to figure out what you really want in a partner. According to Sorrell, take inventory of all your strengths and weaknesses so you're more focused on your needs when you meet someone new. Therapy or just talking to a close friend can also help you gain perspective on what you may need to do differently in the future.
3. Pursue Other Relationships When You're Ready
"Unrequited love hurts, but time heals all wounds," Grace Lee, dating coach and CEO of A Good First Date, tells Bustle. "Maybe even pursue some other relationships." You don't have to look for a serious relationship right away. But if you're spending time away from your usual friend group, don't be afraid to meet new people. It doesn't have to be people you're attracted to or romantically interested in — you can aim to meet new friends. For instance, if you take a class, introduce yourself to the person next to you. Start conversations and make connections. Once you feel ready to go back to your old friend group, you can. According to Lee, you may want to start with a group hangout. "You'll know right away if you can tolerate being around that person without feeling extreme pain," she says.
4. Commit To Seeing Them As Just a Friend
You don't ever need to write someone off completely. As Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, licensed clinical counselor who specializes in relationships and author, tells Bustle, you just need to put them in another category. "You can remain friends with them by moving them to a less personal category," Mills says. "For example, in this case, put them in the Acquaintance Category. This allows you to still connect without expectations of becoming besties. It also gives both of you the option to become closer in the future." When you do this, it's important to let go of any feelings of hurt and bitterness. If you can't, it may not be the right time to have a friendship.
5. Figure Out If Maintaining A Friendship Is Worth It
When you have a strong connection with someone, it can be easy to fall in love with them. It's natural to want to keep them in your life, even if they don't feel the same way. But it can do a number on your self-esteem if you're not careful. According to Kim Egel, licensed therapist who specializes in relationships, you have to be honest with yourself about whether maintaining a friendship is worth it. "If this begins to chip away at your sense of self-worth or makes you miserable, it's just not worth it," Egel says. "If you can still enjoy and gain from the friendship without negative feelings getting in the way, then sounds like it's working for you for now. Just be mindful to stay honest with yourself and check in from time to time."
It's tough to deal with unrequited love in general, but it's even harder when it's someone you're friends with. The important thing here is to be honest with yourself. If it's too hard to be around them, it's OK to distance yourself for a bit. You may find that with time, a friendship with them can be possible.
Dr. Mark Borg Jr, PhD, psychologist and psychoanalyst, author of DON’T BE A D**K: Change Yourself, Change Your World
Dr. Deidra A. Sorrell, licensed professional counselor, owner of Synergy Wellness Therapeutic Services
Grace Lee, dating coach and CEO of A Good First Date
Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, licensed clinical counselor, author of The Friendship Bond
Kim Egel, licensed therapist