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Dating Advice #184 - Platonic Dead-End

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

He says she's the greatest woman in the world -- but he ain't getting' married!

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I hope you'll be able to help me through this predicament. My neighbor moved in one year ago, and immediately he and I enjoyed each other's company. We talked, shared laughs, and told stories for hours. We soon found out how much we had in common; however, he had just gotten out of a relationship where he was burned. I decided to lay low and let him have his timing.

After a few months of hanging out on a consistent basis, I told him that I had developed feelings for him. But he said, "You're special, but I still don't want a relationship." He says how important his alone time is and that being a bachelor is the best position for him. Then he adds something to the effect of "Women are the root of all evil -- but not you, of course."

I tried to pull away two months ago, explaining that my feelings were beyond platonic and we couldn't keep spending time together if nothing was to progress. But I didn't succeed in pulling away, and now I'm back in the same stuck position.

Do I just stop seeing him completely? I don't know how to turn off my feelings for him. I am so confused and need some direction. I hope you can help.


Dear Debbie,

You've experienced one of the risks of male-female friendship. Two people hit it off from the beginning and start hanging out occasionally, and gradually one of them starts to develop feelings for the other that go beyond mere friendship. It's wonderful when the second person also begins to feel the same way, even if that was not the reason the two of them got together in the first place. But, when feelings are not reciprocated, it is very painful for the person who has strong feelings and would like to see the friendship evolve into something more.

We know how confusing this is for you. You see your friend as giving you mixed messages, that you are attractive and special, but he doesn't want a courtship. You don't know what to believe. So you hope that maybe this means that he will change his mind in the future.

He likes you as a person, but the two of you have no future.

It is clear to us that this man doesn't want a courtship. When you first met, he made it clear that he had been badly burned and wasn't ready to get involved with anyone. Now, a year later, he's still sure that he wants to stay a bachelor. Perhaps he hasn't finished healing from the break-up, has unresolved issues with women, and is happier being uninvolved. You have to take him at his word that marriage is not part of his life-plan at this point in time, and may never be. He really isn't giving you mixed messages. He's telling you that he likes you as a person, but that the two of you have no future.

We know it will be hard for you to turn off your feelings for this man, but if you do not do so you will have a great deal of trouble moving on to something that wil genuinely lead to marriage. Your friend will always be on your mind. Maybe you'll wonder "what if" he changes his mind. Trust us, he won't. Even if he somehow decides to deal with his negative feelings toward women, you have no idea when this will happen, or whether he will ever look at you as more than a friend.

So how do you get over him?

First, we suggest that you admit to yourself that when the two of you first became friends, you harbored a secret hope that in time something more might develop between you. (You wrote: "I decided to lay low and let him have his timing.") Certainly, the fact that you started to see each other more frequently reinforced this hope. Admitting to that hope, and the fact that it didn't work out, is the first step to getting over him.

The next step is dealing with the sadness and sense of loss that you feel. These are all part of the mourning process that you have to go through.

While it would be wonderful for you to be able to move forward emotionally and nevertheless remain friends, we think it is an unlikely goal to accomplish.

A close platonic friendship means that you have less emotional energy to invest in a genuine courtship.

You can't fully deal with your sense of loss unless you change the nature of your friendship. You cannot have a platonic friendship -- an emotionally close but not physical relationship -- because it will prevent you from having closure. Without closure, you won't be able to move on. He'll always be at the back of your mind.

The easiest way to gain closure is to end your friendship. You should pick a calm time and explain why it has to be so. Things will be awkward at first, but the two of you will get accustomed to simply greeting each other and exchanging pleasantries. The problem with anything other than this, such as getting together once a week for dinner, is that you will still have an emotional investment in each other. You might compare future dates to him, or maintain a secret hope that he'll change his mind.

Even if you were able to really let go of your hope, the emotional energy you will continue to invest into a platonic friendship means that you'll have that much less emotional energy to invest in a genuine courtship that can lead to a lifetime of marital bliss. This, in fact, is a problem inherent in all close platonic friendships and is why we advice against them.

We hope that you will be able to get over this disappointment and move forward very soon. All the best,

Rosie & Sherry

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