It’s not uncommon for someone to say that their romantic partner is their best friend, but—generally speaking—it’s not the case that the pair were best friends before they became romantically involved.
But what if happens if you find yourself in the sticky situation of having romantic feelings toward someone you’re already close friends with? One thing’s for sure: Whatever you do, it isn’t going to be easy.
Before you go any further, you’re going to need to be brutally honest with yourself.
Are the feelings that you’re having fleeting, or are they something that isn’t going to go away? While open and honest communication is rarely a bad course of action, it’s probably not worth jeopardizing an important and lasting friendship for feelings that will fall away in a matter of weeks.
If you decide that your feelings are more permanent, and you need to express them, you need to be aware that the friendship will—for better or worse—never be the same.
Counselor and author of website The Popular Man, Jonathan Bennet, told Insider, “You might find the love of your life, but chances are your friend doesn’t feel the same way.” He goes on to say, “Then, the friendship becomes very awkward. Even if there are feelings, if the romantic relationship eventually falls apart or doesn’t work, it’s hard to go back to a meaningful friendship.”
With that in mind, it’s probably a good idea to test the waters and get a feel for whether or not your friend would be receptive to taking the relationship to another level.
Of course, the surest way to know your friend’s thoughts and feelings is to ask outright, but there are subtler ways of going about things. If the two of you have a mutual friend who knows both of you well (and who you can trust to keep the conversation confidential) that might be a good place to start.
If not, you may want to talk to another trusted friend, or explain the situation to someone even further removed, like a therapist. The latter could be an especially good way to get an objective opinion on what’s almost certainly an emotionally charged situation.
From there, Bennett says, “Drop hints and look for signs the feelings are shared.” If your compliments don’t seem to have the desired effect or if you notice a shift in the dynamic toward awkwardness, it’s probably not meant to be.
On the other hand, Bennett says, “If you get the sense your friend shares your feelings, then start being more flirty and move the relationship in a more romantic direction. If your friend follows your lead, then you can start to discuss where you see your relationship going.”
It’s absolutely crucial that you be prepared to hear and respect whatever decision your friend makes.
Whether the reaction is reciprocity, rejection, or something between the two, you must be prepared to deal with it in a mature, adult way. For this reason, it’s important that both you and your friend be emotionally centered and of sound mind when the conversation occurs.
For your friend, make sure to communicate that the two of you need to have an important conversation, and that it might have a lasting impact on the relationship between the two of you.
On your side, make sure you’ve gotten a good night of sleep and enough nutritious food in the day or so prior to having the conversation. Keep in mind that, chances are, you’ve had much more time to deal with the fact that you have these feelings.
You might be met with confusion or even shock. They may ask questions that seem silly to you. Whatever happens, it’s important that you remain patient and respectful.
In the event that your friend doesn’t share your feelings, but they do want to continue to be close friends, you’ll need to learn to live with their decision. As much as you might want to, it’s unreasonable to punish your friend for feelings over which they have no control.
After the dust settles and you know where you stand, the next step is to move on with life.
Maybe your friend shares your feelings. If so, great! Now you’ll move on to the rewarding work of reshaping your relationship and your lives to fit the change in dynamic. While you may already feel like you know everything there is to know about your friend, chances are that the change in the nature of your relationship will show you another side of them.
Maybe your friend doesn’t share your feelings. If that’s the case, you’ll need to find a way to get over your feelings. “Some emotional distance might be necessary,” Bennett says. “This is especially true if you find yourself getting jealous of your friend when he or she pursues love with other people. For your own mental health, you might need to step back.”
Spend time alone. Date other people. Do whatever you need to do to feel emotionally stable. When you’ve gotten to the point that you feel ready, re-approach the friendship.
Whatever happens, just remember to take deep breaths! Life will go on.