Nothing stings quite like knowing the object of your desire is in like with your bestie. The question often arises: If someone you like is drawn to someone you love, what is it that you lack? This dangerous thought pathway can hurt your friendship, not to mention your relationship with yourself.
“Recognize that attraction isn’t a choice,” says Josh Hudson, LMFT. This also helps highlight that your friend and your crush are in the same boat, and no one is innately choosing to hurt you. “Recognizing this as a fundamental fact will allow you to accept the situation and even be happy for your friend and your crush if they end up getting together.” That quote may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, because it is quite clearly easier said than done.
However, making a decision to allow other people to feel their feelings as naturally as you do yours is one of the most mature things you can do for everyone involved. You may be wondering, But how do I deal with the inevitable twinge of pain in my ego from allowing for this? When I was in high school, my best friend wound up dating my very first boyfriend two years after we broke up. It ended our friendship in a really sad and very ugly way.
They stayed together for 10 years. It took about three of those years for me to get over the loss of my friend, but what I learned from the situation is that they were obviously supposed to be together in a way that he and I never were. Could we have saved the friendship? Perhaps if I had a better idea how to navigate my emotions, things would be different.
Set limits for yourself.
“Having boundaries around the time you spend with your crush and best friend together as well as around how much time you spend thinking about your crush can be really helpful when processing your emotions,” says Jen McVeigh-Davis, LCSW. You don’t need to third-wheel their dates, and you don’t need to pretend to enjoy spending time with them together. Set clear intentions with your friend by saying that though you are happy for them and the person they’re dating, you need some time to shift your own feelings so that you can show up that way.
It may be hard to control compulsive thinking about the situation at first. Having one or two really trusted friends who you can talk it out with will help. Promise yourself you’ll dive deeply into the conversation with them so you can get it out of your system. Then set a boundary that will prevent you from reliving the situation by retelling the story to other people and revisiting your feelings about it over and over.
When Maya*, a 25-year-old living in New York City, first learned her best friend and her crush had gotten together, she found her feelings completely overwhelmed her any time she spoke about the situation. “Picking someone I could really word vomit my feelings too without judgment (my mom) and then promising not to obsess over it with other people helped me move on a lot more quickly,” she says.
Honor your feelings.
As the situation unfolds, you may find your emotions come in waves. Sometimes you may feel triggered with pangs of jealousy and anger, and sometimes you may feel just about over it. McVeigh notes that experiencing a wide range of emotions is normal. Allowing them to exist without judgement is the easiest and healthiest way to move through them. Give yourself permission to feel deeply wounded. You can cry, kick, and scream it out in a safe space, alone or with another friend available to be there with you.
Creating space to really feel your feelings calls you to remember that you are more than your anger and sadness. You may realize that though there is a dark cloud over your emotions, letting them free without doing something you may regret helps you make choices you can be proud of once the cloud clears. If you can let your feelings be without judgement in a way that is compassionate, you will eventually (even if it’s not anytime soon) let go of your questions and feelings of loss.
Work to move past your negative feelings and represent your best self.
While honoring your feelings is important, it’s also useful to recognize unhealthy feelings that might be holding you back. You may be tempted to criticize or compare yourself to your friend and wonder what makes them more desirable than you. McVeigh warns that this is a downward spiral with no upside. “Ultimately what is meant for you will find you,” she says. “Keep showing up authentically and as the best version of yourself, and it will come.” To help yourself move past the jealousy and comparisons, it may be helpful to think about what the best version of yourself really is and bring it forward.
Joey*, 23, who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, felt really diminished after his crush confessed her feelings for his best friend. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what he had that I didn’t,” he says. “Getting so wrapped up in comparing myself to my friend was making it even harder to act normally around both of them. I needed to step away from the situation for a bit to get my mojo back, and now I get that I can still be awesome, and my friend and his girl are also awesome together.”
Taking some time for yourself after an ego bruise is essential for showing up from a place of clarity and authenticity. Reconnecting to who you were before you got triggered by this situation will remind you how deserving you are of someone who reciprocates your feelings, making it easier for you to move on.
Expect consideration, not deference.
Hudson recommends being open about your feelings from the get-go, particularly to “lower the chance of a friend-firing.” But being honest with your friend about your crush doesn’t mean you can set arbitrary rules about how anyone should act in order to protect your feelings or prove their loyalty to you. The consideration they take can affirm the value of your friendship, which will hopefully empower you to reciprocate with the same level of respect.
“I initially really regretted coming clean to my friend and her girlfriend about my crush,” says Annie*, 36, of Brooklyn, New York. “Both of them were really nice about it, but [it was] also kind of uncomfortable.” When asked if she still feels regret, Annie was quick to say no. “It was eating me up inside. Getting it off my chest made it easier to get over, and [it] helped both of them be a lot more sensitive.”
Ultimately, there’s no magic cure for a bruised ego and the special breed of heartbreak that comes from a crush choosing a friend. But there are ways to move through the process with dignity and grace while even learning more about yourself, your friendship, and how you want to show up when attracting romantic partners in general. And if in the interim, if you need to have a good cry or eat a whole box of chocolate, well, there’s room for that too.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.