What Should You Do If the Person You Like Is Already Dating Someone?

justfriends1I was talking to a friend from back home recently about some love troubles he’s been having, and I didn’t have great advice for him at the time, so I wanted to talk out the situation here in the blog. For the purposes of this entry, I’m talking about a guy liking a girl, but this could apply to any kind of sexuality.

Here’s the situation: My friend is interested in a girl. He thinks she’s great, and he really likes her. He thinks they might be great together.

The problem: The girl is already dating someone else, and has been for a while. As far as I could tell, she’s been completely committed to her relationship and hasn’t been leading on my friend. The two of them are just friends.

What should my friend do? (I swear this is for a friend–this isn’t about me.)

The logical answer is that my friend should move on. Plenty of fish in the sea and all that. Plus, it’s standard relationship math: If you like someone and they don’t like you, move on. Stop liking them.

But that’s Robot Jamey talking. Human Jamey understand that feelings aren’t that easy. There are lots of other variables and options. The guy needs to decide if he should continue the friendship. After all, he really enjoys talking to her–why should he stop? He could also tell her how he feels. At least then she would know.

It just occurred to me that I’ve actually done that exact thing. I liked a girl, she was dating someone, and I told her I liked her. I didn’t make a move or anything–in fact, it was in a text–but it happened. In hindsight, I’m glad I told her. It felt good for her to know, and it felt right when she stuck with the other guy. I needed that rejection to move on.

So maybe that’s the answer. That’s unexpected–I didn’t think I’d have an answer to this one, but there it is. [Update: As you can see in the comments, I have no idea what I’m talking about. Don’t listen to me.]

That’s just my experience, though. What do you think? Have you been in this situation? What did you do, and how did it work out for you?


15 Responses to “What Should You Do If the Person You Like Is Already Dating Someone?”

  1. Nathan C says:

    Not sure I think this is the correct approach to take.

    Sure, it can help the smitten individual move on but what of the object of their affections?

    By telling them you have fallen for them when they are in a committed relationship you are putting some pretty uncomfortable expectations on them. In all liklihood they haven’t asked to be the subject of the other person’s affections but now they need to be the ones who are uncomfortable as a result of something they really had nothing to do with.

    What is the purpose of passing such information on? Is the person doing the asking expecting them to break up their current relationship to give them a chance? If so, then that’s quite a selfish request, and if not, why are you making the person feel wierd in the first place.

    Ultimately the issue I take with that approach is that the feelings or the opinions of the person being told are being ignored in favour of the teller’s need for closure and I don’t think that’s fair. Afterall, the object of the affections only crime here is falling for someone else.

    They are in a relationship. Unless that relationship is unhealthy, violent, etc then you have to just move on, even if it is hard.

    Even in the event the relationship they are currently in is an unhealthy one then you should help them get out but only for the purposes of getting them out – not for the purposes of replacing their previous significant other.

    It hurts and it sucks when you care for someone who is in a relationship already but at the end of the day that is your issue to deal with, not theirs.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I think that’s a great way to look at it. So you’ve told me why my idea won’t work–could you contribute a solution for my friend as well? What would you recommend to him? “Move on” has a lot of different meanings–are you suggesting that he end the friendship?

      Overall, I don’t think my idea is as harmful as you make it sound. Like, when I told the girl I liked her, sure, I was telling her more for me than her. But it wasn’t hurtful to her, nor was it confusing. She had complete clarity about who she wanted to be with. By telling her and being rejected, I was able to move on and actually just stay friends with her, which was better for both of us. I’m sure it doesn’t work out that way every time, from my experience, it was not harmful for her to hear that. I wasn’t asking her to leave the guy for me. It was more like a compliment–“I think you’re awesome,” essentially.

      • Nathan C says:

        Well I’m certainly no relationship counsellor but move on could mean two possible things depending on the person and this does require a fair bit of honest self-examination:

        a) Maintaining the friendship is certainly the best case scenario but it will only work in the following scenario: i) the person in question is genuinely able to put aside their feelings (harder said than done but not impossible) and ii) they are honest with themselves and can be sure they aren’t holding on to the friendship for the purposes of it becoming something more in the future. The last bit is especially important because a friendship should always be an end unto itself, it should never been seen as the stepping stone to something more intimate. If they are maintaining the friendship just for the chance of something more then the friendship being maintained is disingenuous which brings me to point b.

        b) Cut ties. If the person cannot honestly say they want the friendship for the friendship’s sake then they are doing neither themselves nor the person they have feeling for any favours. A friendship that comes with a price is not a real friendship.

        Now this isn’t an easy option because clearly the other person values the friendship and you can’t just cut them out of your life without them wanting to know what’s wrong.

        I would suggest they simply explain they have some personal stuff that needs sorting out and they won’t be around for a bit. It could be tempting to admit the reason for the friendship break but that puts the other person in the same situation in my original post.

        Option b) doesn’t have to be permanent. I once had a friendship that became something more and it didn’t work out. I took a break from my interactions with the lady in question, she was very understanding (obviously it is much easier to justify such a break off the back of a break up) and after many months we were able to resume our friendship. Ten years later and she is still my best friend and any romantic feelings I had towards her are past memories.

        Key is how much one values the core of that friendship. It has to stand on its own – if it can’t, well it probably wasn’t a good foundation for something more intimate in the first place.

        P.S. I hope none of the above appears judgemental. It isn’t intended to be. I just think, when we or someone we are close to are in this situation we often forget the bigger picture and how the other person factors into any decisions that are made. I think it’s important to avoid such an ommission at all costs.

      • Nathan C says:

        Oh I should mention that some people will have no problem with being told someone is into them even if they are in a relationship but not everyone will react the same way. I have a friend who had this happen to them and it put a big question mark over their future interactions as they were worried they might be leading the other person on.

        Different strokes and all that.

        • Jess W says:

          I agree with Nathan. To me, it’s a respect thing. Respect that she’s in a relationship and don’t introduce anything that could result in emotional confusion for her. There’s no way to know for sure if she would get confused & uncomfortable over him revealing his feelings for her, but out of respect for her it’s better to be safe than sorry.

          And out of respect for himself, he deserves to distance himself at least a little from her in order to open himself up to the possibility of meeting & noticing someone great, who’s currently available.

          • Jamey Stegmaier says:

            Jess: That’s fair. If the guy truly considers her a friend, then he should be motivated by respect for her, so that makes sense (as well as the point about respecting himself).

  2. Joe Babbitt says:

    Nathan beat me to it. I wouldn’t have told her, whatever good feeling better about getting it off my chest would be swallowed by the uncomfortable position I have put the object of my misguided affections in. It’s not an easy situation, but as someone else mentioned, your friend needs to do a bit of soul-searching and decide if they can really honestly set aside their feelings for friendship. Friends are wonderful things, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but sometimes that’s not in the cards. When Julie and I first started talking, she’d started seeing someone (like 3 weeks earlier, which is a whole different story) and it was awkward. We eventually agreed that friendship without romance was simply not in the cards for us, and that’s okay. Things worked out well for me, but this is way more the exception than the rule.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Thanks Joe! I’m glad it worked out for you and Julie to have an adult conversation about it, but I can see how that may not work in most cases.

  3. JT says:

    I agree with what Nathan and Jor have suggested. Tell your friend to reframe hos relationship with her – and a friendship is a relationship – as purely that, a friendship. It is healthy for adults to have friendships with the opposite sex and they should expect changes. friendship means putting aside atttaction or couching it correctly in terms of “my friend is beautiful”. It also means befriending her significant other or knowing to step aside should they marry (and it is hard to be friends with only one spouse but not the other, the friendship usually loses).

    Your friend should ask himself, “how should I love her?”

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      That’s a GREAT question for him to ask. If he cares about her (and isn’t making this about himself), he’ll think of what’s best for her.

  4. Jasmin says:

    I agree with this very much. “Key is how much one values the core of that friendship. It has to stand on its own – if it can’t, well it probably wasn’t a good foundation for something more intimate in the first place.” If you are in the “friendship” just to get into someone’s pants, then you are just lusting after that person and whatever connection you got was not a true one.

    I won’t tell the other about my feelings and would stop hanging out with that person by myself for a good while if I was in his situation like other readers have commented. It’s not hard to stay away from someone you like unless you make it like that. Find a new hobby, go on long hikes, climb a mountain, and make some new friends along the way. When you go back to being a friend with that person, that person is so different you might ask yourself why you like them in the first place.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Well said, Jasmin. I particularly like this: “If you are in the “friendship” just to get into someone’s pants, then you are just lusting after that person and whatever connection you got was not a true one.”

  5. Chovak says:

    In my opinion, there’s only one answer. Say nothing. Until it really boils over.

    If your friend is asking because he really has no clue, then he needs to learn to read the air. Speaking up now robs him of the ability to catch her vibes. If he isn’t sure what is going on in her head, my advice is, listen more, listen objectively, and listen without any expectations or hope. She’s probably sent him several signals, and it’s his job as a human to learn how to understand if she’s interested, if she’s happy/unhappy in her relationship, if she just likes to knock back brews with him, or whatever. Say nothing until you are clear on what she is saying.

    If your friend is just checking to see if it’s okay to break up an established relationship, well, of course it’s okay. People aren’t property. And unless there are serious commitments between them, change is always possible for those with free will. But if she’s hinting that there is some potential, don’t say anything; just be there, be physically present but not forward. It’s best for these things to simmer, and it’s absolutely best that she make the first step. Say nothing until she practically straight up asks you if you’re into her.

    If your friend is just carrying a torch for a girl how’s happy with her own flashlight, say nothing and move on. I’m totally agreed with Nathan, Jess, and JT: cut ties, take up other hobbies, or double-down on the friendship without any hope of more. Saying something might work, if everybody’s got nice EQ. Or there might be no choice in the matter if your friend is very obvious about his affections; he might have to spit it out to help everyone move on. But the best would be to carry on without saying a word. It’s not the girl’s fault your torch got so big, so why should she get burned by it?

    My credentials: half of my important relationships have come about while my exes were with someone else, and I said nothing until we were on top of each other. On the other hand, I’ve become good friends with people on whom I’ve had unrequited crushes, and I’ve never spoken a word.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      This is brilliant! You all are way better at this than I am–I’m glad I have this wealth of advice to share with my friend. I particularly like this: “half of my important relationships have come about while my exes were with someone else, and I said nothing until we were on top of each other.” That’s great. 🙂

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