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How to be human: am I in love with my friend?

How to be human: am I in love with my friend?

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Leah Reich was one of the first internet advice columnists. Her column "Ask Leah" ran on IGN, where she gave advice to gamers for two and a half years. During the day, Leah is Slack’s user researcher, but her views here do not represent her employer. You can write to her at and read more How to be Human here.

Hey Leah,

I met this girl nearly three years ago and we became friends. Currently we are best friends and we got a really neat friendship, we enjoy each other's company, we love each other, all good.

I've wondered a few times so far, whether I have any other kind of feelings for her, whether I'm in love with her or something. A couple of times or so, I've come to believe I truly am, but it doesn't really last long and now I'm not sure again.

I certainly love her, she's the most precious thing in the world to me, and she's extremely special and stuff. Anyway long story short, nearly everything seems to point in that direction, it might even seem a little obvious sometimes. I gotta be in love with her. But nevertheless, I still have a fair amount of doubts lingering around my head.

So with the intention of clearing up one of the biggest doubts I'm having right now, I wanted to ask you this:

Could I be in love with her and yet not be jealous of her boyfriends? She's currently dating someone for instance, and yet I don't think I feel jealous of him, I mean all I want is for her to be happy and to have someone who makes her feel that way. I even met her boyfriend today and I got along pretty well with him without any problem. In fact, I've felt more jealous of her friends rather than of her boyfriends.

I still think though, it wouldn't be impossible for me to be repressing my feelings without even noticing because of fear, sense of righteousness, etc. But I still wonder if it's okay not to feel a thing about it, or at least nothing really big.

'Cause I love her in a way that's both deep and profound, but at the same time kinda "pure" maybe (?). But there's still things that would suggest I may be in love and stuff. Anyway though, leaving everything else behind, do you think it's possible for someone to be in love and yet not feel jealousy when that person's with somebody else?

Thanks in advance. :)

Just Friends

Hey JF,

Do I think you're in love with your friend? Yeah! I do.

Okay, glad we got that out of the way. Now let's move on to what this means.

Love is a hard thing to talk about. Not just because, you know, all those feelings, and how do you put everything into words, and sometimes it's not even a feeling at all, more like a recognition that you've found a piece of you that you didn't even know you'd lost. But also because love is one word that we use to describe a lot of things, and they're not exactly the same.

I'm not the first person to say this, not by a long shot. This is common knowledge. There's that old saw about the number of words for snow, so why do we only have one word for love? Or there's C.S. Lewis on this topic, or way, way back there were the Greeks who had plenty to say about it, or likely even farther back than that people were probably saying, "I mean, I love her, but I don't love love her."

Besides the issue of semantics, there are also the intriguing problems of human nature and society, and the ways they inform each other. Like how? Like the fact that we assume being in love is supposed to come with some specific attendant emotions, as you're trying to sort out here. Like jealousy. Or like some big huge KAPOW! LIGHTNING BOLTS! experience, where you look across the room at each other and suddenly everything gets blurry around the edges and you're gliding toward each other as if you're two swans, aware only of each other and of the furious paddling beneath the surface.

Okay, fine. That's a thing for sure. It's real, and it's made up of a bunch of smaller things. The elusive chemistry, weird physiological reactions, pheromones, what we think we want, what society tells us love is supposed to be like, what we associate with the feelings of BEING IN LOVE. But that love at first sight — which, yes, sometimes ends up in a real relationship that lasts for a long time — is often not love so much as something like being smitten or wishful thinking or being super-duper big-time in lust.

Same goes for the beginning of a relationship, when you're wandering around and you could swear the sky looks bluer and the fruit at the store more orange and red, like you're on drugs or something. That's because you are on a drug, kinda. You've got all these hormones coursing through your veins, and also you're infatuated as hell, so everything each of you does is perfect and magical and exactly right. Until one day it isn't, and maybe you have a big fight, or maybe one of you is too tired for sex, so suddenly you think, oh god what if this isn't real, what if we can't make it work. That could be the feeling of a lovely ephemeral magic settling into something deeper, or in some cases it's the universe giving you a warning that you're hot for each other but not right for each other.

Anyway, caught up in all this is the idea that being in love with someone is supposed to require a lot of giant, universe-swallowing feelings that make it seem like your entire being is turning itself inside out and, holy shit, are you upside down. And I mean, sure, that's a kind of in love.

Being in love doesn't have to involve Sturm und Drang

But being in love doesn't have to involve Sturm und Drang. It doesn't always have to be a big smack upside the head. It doesn't have to have lots of highs and lows that make you feel sick when the person doesn't text, and unable to talk about anything else when they do. It's tough to sort out because some of us are hardwired to feel that very intensely, or to want it, or maybe we're taught by society that we should. It's probably a nature / nurture combo.

The other night I was talking to a few friends about your letter, and about those huge powerful feelings. Two of those friends are very in love, and they've been nuts about each other since they very first met. This was a new thing for both of them, to get so swept up. But me? I joked that when I feel those intense holy moly THIS IS IT feelings, it's like an early warning system telling me I'm about to make a long series of poor choices. There are people who can't stop riding that rollercoaster of desire and doom. It's like they're living in a house on stilts on the Florida coast. Every year a hurricane knocks it down and every year they build it back up. "Why don't you move?" people ask. But they won't, not until they're ready. And when they do, when they settle somewhere calmer and less stormy, they'll often wonder if something isn't missing.

Being in love can also mean being swept off your feet very slowly, over time

Being in love can involve being swept off your feet in one go, but it can also involve being swept off your feet very slowly, over time. It can be exactly like the situation you describe, and I wish it did more often. You love your friend. You're in love with her, too. God, so many of us are in love with our friends. I've had love at first sight with friends! I've had friendships that developed into love, real strong in-love love, over a long time after a slow start. I've had friendships flare up and burn out. Man, friends can inspire intense feelings just like romantic partners can. We long for them, we're infatuated with them, sometimes we actually want to mash our faces onto their faces but then that weird moment passes and we get over it. Feelings are swirling around all the time, and love is love is love. You can love your friend very deeply and also sometimes want to kiss her face off. That doesn't have to mean you two should get married.

But should you date? I dunno. Let's talk about that, so you can answer this yourself.

If I haven't made it clear, I think it's incredibly special that you have this relationship with this girl. It sounds magical! It takes some people years to find a friendship like that, and some never do. It's not as rare between men and women as people think, but there is often the expectation that if you're close enough to someone to love her like you love this girl, then you're supposed to be together. Like somehow friendship isn't meaningful enough.

And look, I think the kind of friendship you have is the foundation for a truly wonderful, real, lasting romance. Maybe with this girl! But maybe with someone else. Maybe this friendship has shown you how possible it is to love someone and be loved in return, to build a foundation and to support one another. So perhaps you'll end up with someone about whom you feel similarly but also about whom you think, "I want to have a lot of sex with you." How do you figure that out? Well, I think you should set aside the idea that one kind of love or relationship is more "pure" than another. There's nothing "impure" about a romantic relationship. The fact that there's sex involved doesn't make it dirty or less than.

Truly loving someone means wanting their happiness above all

I also think you should talk to your best friend about it. Have a real conversation. Say something like, "This is really weird, but do you ever wonder if we should date given how amazing our friendship is? On one hand, I feel like the kind of relationship we have is exactly what I want in a love relationship, but on the other I don't know that we need to be romantic. Things are so great the way they are." Maybe she'll say, "I love us as friends," or maybe she'll say, "I've been waiting three years for you to figure this out!" Maybe she'll say, "Ugh this is awkward," but I doubt the last one will happen because real best friends can get vulnerable with each other and come out stronger on the other side.

Really, truly loving someone means wanting their happiness above all. It's taken me way too long to figure this out. I don't mean to say this means never getting your own needs met, or taking abuse, or putting up with someone who is selfish. But the sense that you want that person to be happy and safe, that their happiness brings you joy — that is so special and real. Having someone who loves you in the same way means you can look out for each other and make sure what each of you does is with the other's interest at heart. Sometimes you'll fumble this or do a weird job of it, but mostly you'll get it right. That's true love, true friendship.

Some people are hardwired to not feel much in the way of jealousy, whether with romantic partners or friends. Some people feel a lot. Some feel bits and pieces, like you do with her friends, which is another clue for me. Her friends fill a special role in her life, and while boyfriends are important, the version of herself she is with her friends is the version you see and love. That's special. It's okay to feel just this, this and the desire to see her happy and the joy of being around her. It's more than okay. It's wonderful. If it stays exactly like this for the rest of your lives, you are incredibly lucky people.

But maybe it's a romance staring you right in the face. Could be! And so I think this is one of those things you should talk to a best friend about. I know which one, too.