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Unrequited Love (Part 2 of 2): Stuck Between Friend and Friendlier

The article below is continued from Unrequited Love (Part 1): Crushin’ on or Crushed by You? Click here if you missed it.

In Part 1, my teenaged self confessed a long-time crush to a friend. Sometimes these situations can blossom into satisfying romantic relationships if both friends are harboring feelings for each other, but if the person who wants more (confessor) admits this to a desired friend who is uninterested (rejector), the two friends must deal with the resulting emotional fallout in their friendship.

The same researchers did a new follow-up study to uncover the specifics of how these friends behaved toward each other after the confessor had been rejected.1 It turns out that particular types of verbal and nonverbal behaviors in the friends’ interactions were indeed linked to whether or not the friendship ended.

Thus, would a confessor be left doggedly singing, “Hopelessly, I'll love you endlessly...but I won't give you up,” like in the Muse song “Endlessly,” or would a confessor take a more final cue from Garbage’s song “Cup of Coffee” with “No, of course we can’t be friends, not while I’m still this obsessed...this is how our story ends”? 

One can’t force rejectors to change their feelings, just as confessors can’t simply turn off their ill-fated attraction.  For anyone asking “What do I do now?” we present some helpful tips below.

Five Ways to Save Your Friendship after a Romantic Confession (for both rejectors and confessors):

  1. Verbally affirm that the friendship is important and you want to stay friends.
  2. Say that you are okay with the confession/rejection and you accept that the other person doesn’t feel the same.
  3. Return to your previous patterns of social contact sooner rather than later – this demonstrates acceptance of the outcome and you won’t appear to be avoiding the other.
  4. Talk about new romantic interests that you develop in other people. This way, the confessor takes pressure off the rejector, and the rejector avoids building false hope in the confessor.
  5. Decrease (or not increase) previous levels of flirting, innuendo, and touching.

Additionally, the confessor can avoid talking about how the rejector doesn’t feel the same and accept the rejector’s future romantic partners, while the rejector can show understanding for the confessor’s feelings.

A friendship is more likely to end if:

  • The two friends avoid social contact with each other. (It’s hard to be friends with no contact, right?)
  • The confessor complains about or doesn’t accept the rejector’s decision.
  • The rejector suggests that mutual romantic feelings could develop someday or that a relationship isn’t possible because the rejector is already interested in someone else.
  • The rejector tells others about the confessor’s feelings and the confessor finds out.

Let’s say Sam confesses his undeniable attraction to Pat. Pat, who has never had anything beyond platonic feelings for Sam, tries to let him down nicely with, “I’m sorry, Sam. I like someone else right now, but maybe someday I might feel the same.” Sam is hurt, of course, and can’t help bringing the subject up again and again.  Feeling uncomfortable, Pat begins ignoring Sam’s calls and avoiding events that Sam might attend. Pat even asks their mutual friend, “Is Sam going to be there? I’ve felt really awkward around him since he told me he liked me.” This tidbit circulates among their group of friends, and Sam feels embarrassed and betrayed when he hears about it. Based on this research, Pat and Sam would have a slim chance of continuing their friendship in the future.

Readers should be aware that the above tips are just suggestions and that results may vary. Individual situations call for individual solutions.

So, what was my crush’s reply as I waited, heart palpitating, for his response? Well, I guess they call it a “crush” for a reason. Heartbreak is never, ever easy.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed. 

1Motley, M.T., Reeder, H., & Faulkner, L.J. (2008). Behaviors that determine the fate of friendships after unrequited romantic disclosures. In M.T. Motley (Ed.), Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication (pp. 71-95). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dr. Helen Lee Lin - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen's past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects.

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