I fell in love with a friend who didn't love me back

It was a miserable cold winter’s night at the bar in a busy pub when I saw her first. A wide eyed fawn haired woman. All clavicles, effortless grace and beauty – even as she sat, bored in a carpeted boozer, munching a pickled egg.

Feeling uncharacteristically brave, I chose to follow the butterflies doing loop-the-loops in my gut and went to spark up a conversation. In 10 minutes, we ruminated on her unusual snack combination (pickled egg and dry roasted peanuts) and sussed we had writing in common.

At that time, I was six months into a very brutal and unexpected heartache, the fourth in a series that could only be described as ‘from bad to worse.’ I never meant to become so good at being lonely, but at the dawn of my thirties, I’d become a dab hand. Meeting a woman whose very being sent my heart racing within seconds was euphoric.

We were allies in otherness, in a pub where everyone else seemed to be part of the same team. It was the most fulfilling conversation I’d had in months.

Yet with every high there comes a low, and that was her telling me about her loser boyfriend – who was treating her dreadfully.

In that moment, I realised that I’d just met a woman I had enormously strong feelings for, who was brilliantly smart, immeasurably kind and potentially the most beautiful person I’d ever seen – but who not only had a different sexual orientation to mine but was in a relationship with a man who didn’t deserve one iota of the love and understanding she gave him.

Human connections never fail to mystify me and despite my obvious frustrations, we got on so well that we exchanged numbers and became friends.

We had drinks. She suggested books I might enjoy. She sent me music that reminded her of me.

I tried not to overthink every piece of prose, every lyric – not to keep any shred of hope that compositions filled with aching for another’s closeness were aimed at me. 

I sent songs back, always terrified that their lovey-dovey sentiments might give me away – or scarier still (in terms of my ego, anyway), that she might think my taste in music was slightly gauche.

Six months on, keeping schtum about my feelings really began to eat away at me, but not in the way you might expect. No part of me ever believed I’d have a real shot with her, nor that she’d want to have a romantic relationship with me.

She’s straight and if that wasn’t enough, she out of my league. In fact she’s out of my universe. Too bright, too brilliant, too pretty.

What really got to me was keeping something from someone I really cared about, a friend who shared so many private thoughts and emotions with me. A friend who I spoke to about everything going on in my life but from whom I was hiding my biggest secret.

It felt like lying to her and that stung far more than longing to be her person. 

So I told her, in the only way I knew how: by getting white-girl wasted on a night out and making an utter fool of myself as we sat close together on a cold metal bench. Tears, apologies, the works.

Umpteen actors would nail my character in this movie, and it would have a happy ending. Sadly, life’s not a romcom.

She didn’t say she felt the same. She didn’t say anything really because I didn’t give her a chance to handle the grim responsibility of rejecting a friend so dear to her.

I launched into a soliloquy about how I’d never disrespect her boundaries, how soulmates come in all shapes and sizes, that platonic love is forever and how I was sure the romantic feelings would fade. A hopeful diminuendo.

We hugged and she thanked me for being honest. We both promised nothing in our friendship would change.

Life trudged mercifully on, as it tends to. Today, we’re still very close and as we’re both currently single, we get to enjoy each other’s company and make plans and support each other.

Neither of us have delved back into that night since in the mutual, unspoken understanding that should we ever want to, we could be as open and honest as with every other part of our relationship.

As time has passed, my previous feelings have evolved into platonic ones and – as a hopeless romantic – honestly makes me feel a bit sad. Because if those initial feelings had been reciprocated, they would have lasted forever, at least on my part.

Unrequited love gave me all the fun parts of falling for someone. Butterflies, thinking about her all the time, spoiling her with small thoughtful gifts, the immeasurable satisfaction of her laughing at my jokes. Feeling like somebody. Being seen.

Romantic feelings for my friend were a beautiful shield from the potential of losing myself in a relationship all over again, and they stepped in during a time in my life when it seemed like pain would never go away. The mere idea of falling in love with someone who could love me back only to smash me to smithereens was, and remains, utterly nightmarish.

I’m not saying unrequited love has been an easy ride but it’s not even close to the shadow some of my previous romantic relationships have left on my heart.

At times, they have blocked out the light completely – falling in love with my friend was like all of the lights being turned back on, even if she never felt the same. 

Apart from feeling a bit of an eejit, nothing changed in our friendship and in all sincerity, I’m now speaking up in defence of unrequited love. It isn’t risky, nor redundant. It is valid, important, and a comforting half-way for when you’re not ready to be in love again.

Being vulnerable and open about your feelings, even if you know that things aren’t going to go your way, is important. It closes a chapter, leaving you open to the rest of your life and the day when things will get better and you know you’re brave enough to say how you feel.

Love, in its truest form, is all around us. In the romantic sense, it is mutual respect and adoration. Always being excited to see each other. Never tiring of each other’s jokes.

Maybe one day I’ll find that but for now I’m satisfied and enjoying emotional stillness in all the platonic love I’m lucky enough to have. It’s marvellous.

Last week, in Love, Or Something Like It: I manifested my husband

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Love, Or Something Like It is a new series for Metro.co.uk, covering everything from mating and dating to lust and loss, to find out what love is and how to find it in the present day. If you have a love story to share, email [email protected]

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