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What To Do If You Think You're Falling In Love With A Friend

Julie Nguyen
Author:
January 12, 2023
Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach
By Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach
Julie Nguyen is a relationship coach, Enneagram educator, and former matchmaker based in New York. She has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from Purdue University.
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Image by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash
January 12, 2023
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There are few people in the world who can understand you like a good friend. From the deep belly laughs to the times they've been there for you, the connection can feel undeniably special. But what if you look over at them one day and feel something unexpected—like, maybe you're falling in love with your friend? 

Let's have "the talk" about how to navigate this precarious situation. 

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How to know if you're falling in love with a friend. 

Falling in love with a friend is the stuff of rom-coms. You already seek them out in group situations and adore each other, but a healthy and thriving romantic relationship needs more than physical attraction and a few shared interests.

For you to know you're truly in love with them, it's important to figure out if it's simply platonic love or the beginnings of a beautiful love story. That includes thinking through all of the possibilities that can happen. After you've honestly interrogated your feelings, the reflections will leave you well equipped to figure out what to do next. 

Licensed marriage and family therapist Farah Zerehi, LMFT, tells mbg the best way to process these feelings is confiding in someone you trust or journaling about it so you can gain a better perspective. You don't have to tell your friend about your feelings yet, but you do need to acknowledge emotionally what's happening. 

To begin the process of examining your feelings, Zerehi and psychotherapist Madison McCullough, LCSW, share some telltale signs that the friendship is something more. Look out for many, if not all, of these signs to be present in your relationship:

  1. You're sexually and physically attracted to them.
  2. You're thinking about your friend a lot, even when you're not around them.
  3. You always want to make yourself available in case they want to make plans.
  4. You find a reason to bring your best friend up in conversations when they're not around.
  5. You imagine what it would be like to kiss, cuddle, or date them.
  6. You want to spend your free time with them more than other friends.
  7. You're experiencing certain physiological symptoms like shakiness, sweating, dry mouth, or butterflies in your stomach.
  8. You go the extra mile whenever they need anything, much more than you would for other friends.
  9. You feel jealous of their romantic relationships.
  10. When they're near you, you want to physically touch them or move closer.
  11. You flirt and tease them constantly.
  12. You analyze your communications and text messages with them.
  13. You dress up during your hangouts.
  14. You do couple-y things together.
  15. You invite them on trips, preferably solo so it's just you two.
  16. You pay a lot of attention to their movements when they're around you.
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What to do when you're falling in love with a friend. 

When you know you're in love with your friend, it's time to decide what you want to do about it. Here are some next steps if you're in this situation:

1.

Don't deny how you feel. 

Because you don't want to change things, there might be a part of you that wants to avoid, dismiss, or deny your growing feelings. But McCollough advises honesty is the best policy. "Just because you notice these feelings does not mean you need to act on them, but it is important to acknowledge internally that the feelings are there so that you can access the emotional support you need," she says.

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2.

Know there are high stakes. 

There's a lot of measured reflection needed when you're in love with your friend because your connection is at stake. Handling the meaningful friendship with care is important so you can preserve your friendship in case they don't feel the same way. It's hard to consider the painful reality that your feelings could be unrequited, that they're not interested in a romantic relationship, or that you risk losing the friendship because the awkwardness is hard to recover from. But knowing there are high stakes will help you figure out the best way to respectfully have the conversation. 

3.

Be honest about what you're wanting from the connection.

Think about where you're currently at and why you're in love with them right now. Are you lonely and your friend is filling a void, which is why you're becoming interested in them? Are you fighting with your current romantic partner, which is making you consider someone else? Did they just get out of a relationship, and you want to finally tell them how you feel? Do you want to be with them to hook up or because you want a long-term relationship? 

Separate whether you're in love with them or whether your friend is a mirror into an undiscovered and underlying issue you might be desiring from the connection. Parsing through the subtleties of the attraction along with your intentions and expectations will help you ground your feelings in realism. 

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4.

Look for signs of whether they may feel the same way. 

Since they're your friend, it's likely you'll know how they behave when they like someone. Before you have the conversation, become objectively curious about their interpersonal behavior. Pay attention to how they act around you in subtle and obvious ways. If they're into you, they'll reciprocate flirtiness and you'll see some nerves on their side. If they're not into you, you'll notice they're not interested in cultivating intimate, flirty moments, and they're likely not jealous about your love life. They may support and champion it instead. 

One caveat: Sometimes it's hard to tell if they're interested in you because they're also afraid of ruining the friendship. "There is a spectrum of risk that initiating the conversation presents to the stability of the friendship moving forward," McCullough notes. "If there is a history of flirtation in the relationship, an acknowledgment of mutual attraction, or a gut feeling you have that this person might be falling in love with you, too, the risk is lower." 

(Still not sure? Here's how to interpret mixed signals for this tricky situation.)

5.

Consider whether it makes sense to simply let it go.

Let's say you've examined your feelings, and you've decided your friendship matters more than the possibility of something more. You love them, but perhaps you've realized they don't reciprocate your feelings, or they're not a viable romantic match long term. You don't want to risk what you already have for something that might not even work out later on.

With this route, it may be heartbreaking to move on, so give yourself support and compassion. "It may or may not be possible to stop having romantic feelings once they have developed," Zerehi says. "Some things that might be helpful to cool your feelings are to give the relationship a little bit of space, spend time with other friends or people you enjoy, or engage in hobbies and other activities that don't necessarily include the friend you have developed feelings for."

(We'll get to some more advice on how to release your feelings later in this article.)

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6.

If you want to let them know, prioritize the friendship as you do so.

If you've decided you can't hold back, it's still important to center your friendship when you're sharing your romantic feelings toward them. Instead of a bold romantic gesture, invite them to have a quiet moment with a simple and honest conversation about your feelings. Respect their feelings and how much time they might need to process your emotions, especially if it's a surprise. During the conversation, be sure to prioritize your friend by honoring their individual feelings and ability to choose, using both your actions and words. 

"The only way to know for sure whether your friend is falling in love with you is to ask." McCullough acknowledges. "If open and honest communication is at the foundation of your friendship, there might be room to have a direct—and also playful—conversation about how you're both feeling."

If your friend feels the same way, great! This is the first of many talks where you can shape your next steps together.

7.

Be prepared for some awkwardness if they don't feel the same way. 

If they don't feel the same way and want to remain friends only, meet the conversation with as much lightness and understanding as possible. Privately, you can process your disappointment later. Your reaction may play a part in how things proceed next. 

That said, it's inevitable things will be awkward for a while while you work on returning the friendship back to how it used to be—if that's what you're both wanting to do. Zerehi notes your friend could be uncomfortable by the change of your feelings toward them, so be prepared for anything to happen. 

"Even if you develop romantic feelings for a friend, it's possible that your friend does not reciprocate the feelings you have for them," Zerehi says. To move forward, she says it depends on how uncomfortable they are by the change of your feelings and if you honestly feel like you are able to navigate a platonic relationship with someone you have feelings for. There's also the potential that you may not remain friends with each other after the disclosure, so tread lightly. 

We've got a full guide on what to do when someone you like just wants to be friends.

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If you're falling for a friend who is the same gender as you.

McCullough notes it's especially common between two queer folks to question whether something more than friendship might be developing. "It's possible that the intimacy and emotional safety this friendship provides created a space for this aspect of your sexuality to come to the surface. If your friend is the same gender as you and also queer, it might be that they have modeled a kind of queerness that resonates with you," she says.

If you're straight and falling for a friend who is the same gender as you, it may feel confusing, but rest assured: McCullough assures that bisexual feelings are normal and completely valid.

"If you fall in love with a friend who is the same gender as you, and you've identified as straight up to this point, it might be worth exploring whether there might be more fluidity in your sexual identity than you thought," she says.

If you're in a relationship.

If you or your friend is in a monogamous relationship with other people, McCullough points out the high level of risk because of the potential to implicate and hurt other people. In this case, it's essential to be open with your partner about your growing feelings. 

"Falling in love with a friend while you're in a relationship could be an indication that you're not completely satisfied in your relationship," she says, though she adds, "If you love both your partner and your friend, you might be interested in learning more about alternative relationship styles, such as ethical nonmonogamy and polyamory."

Either way, know that it's common to get a crush even when you're in a serious relationship, and there are ways to handle the situation gracefully.

How to stop falling in love with a friend.

If you've told your friend you're in love with them, but the feelings aren't reciprocated, letting them know may bring you some relief from the what-ifs, which will help you move on. If you haven't told them but want to move on anyway, just know that letting go of your feelings won't happen overnight. So, be patient. 

To help move it along, remember your worth and that you deserve to be with someone who will take the risk of being with you at all costs because they care about you that much. It could also help to look at your friend and the connection realistically too. 

Maybe you two really get along but you don't have the same life goals, so a commitment doesn't work. Or they make you laugh, but you don't agree with their political ideologies. Keep those incompatibilities in your mind.

In the meantime, uphold clear and respectful boundaries and give each other space. This can look like limiting how often you spend time with each other, contacting them less, and restricting physical touch. After taking a break and you feel differently, you can rebuild the friendship to something clear and transparent. 

For more, read through our full guide on how to stop liking someone.

FAQ:

What do you do if you fall in love with a friend?

Examine your feelings by talking to someone you trust about your attraction to your friend. For the sake of your friendship, figure out the motivations behind your emotions so you can choose whether to take a risk and tell them or to move on. 

Is falling in love with a friend normal?

According to McCullough, falling in love with a friend is a really common experience–after all, studies have confirmed the "proximity principle," aka the mere effect of being around each other often can be a powerful driver in attraction. 

Love can be a mysterious thing, but psychology says when you hang out with someone enough, it breeds familiarity. And we like what we know. Plus, you already trust, love, and respect each other and have a strong emotional connection. So, it makes sense you might fall in love with them the more you spend time together. 

The takeaway. 

Falling in love can be one of the most turbulent, confusing experiences. But love requires courageous vulnerability and taking a chance on the things that really matter to you. If you want to know, open your heart and open the conversation to see what happens. Let them know how much you care about them and their friendship, and at the same time, you have these strong feelings and want to be honest with yourself and with them. You'll never know until you directly ask and make your affections known.

Julie Nguyen
Julie Nguyen
Relationship Coach

Julie Nguyen is a writer, certified relationship coach, Enneagram educator, and former matchmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. She has a degree in Communication and Public Relations from Purdue University. She previously worked as a matchmaker at LastFirst Matchmaking and the Modern Love Club, and she is currently training with the Family Constellations and Somatic Healing Institute in trauma-informed facilitation.