Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have a long-distance boyfriend whom I adore and plan on spending my life with (assuming things stay on track).
I’ve developed minor feelings for a friend of ours who I spend a lot of time with. I have ZERO plans of acting on these feelings, I just have noticed that I react to him more intensely than I do to most people. The “crush” is on the level of wanting to hang out a lot and sometimes wondering what it would be like to kiss him. We hang out alone and in groups that often include his sort-of girlfriend. When my boyfriend is in town, the three of us hang out quite a bit.
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Should I try to spend less time with this friend? Is it possible to have an intense friendship that provokes these kinds of feelings without threatening a relationship? Am I kidding myself in thinking this is harmless? I value the friendship quite a lot, but I value my relationship with my boyfriend more, and I don’t want to plant toxic seeds in our metaphorical garden.
— Extra-relationship Crush
DEAR EXTRA-RELATIONSHIP CRUSH: But what if the seeds are for peonies?
I can imagine a couple of paths leading you to the exact point you describe, each requiring a completely different answer.
Scenario A: If you’re young; didn’t spend time locally with the boyfriend before he became a long-distance one; have a love that’s heavily attraction vs. compatibility based (you know this, denial notwithstanding — it’s the one you felt first); and/or neither you nor your boyfriend wants to relocate so your long-distance days are indefinite, then setting “Make long-distance relationship work” as your goal is shortsighted and needlessly limiting.
Scenario B: If instead you’ve racked up some life miles; have a local history with your boyfriend that says you’re rock-solid and you prefer his company to anyone’s, including this friend’s; know yourself to be susceptible to proximity crushes and have no reason to believe this current one is any different; and/or have a clear and imminent end date to your living in separate places, then sticking to your “make it work” plan is the only rational way to think.
However, this is some fairly strong evidence you’re prime to shift affections:
“I react to him more intensely than I do to most people,” “wanting to hang out a lot,” “his sort-of girlfriend,” “wondering what it would be like to kiss him,” “intense … feelings.”
Either way, the sensible thing to do is limit your time around the friend until you’ve come to an honest, Scenario A vs. B assessment. As long as your feelings for the local friend are growing, you are kidding yourself that this is harmless, regardless of which Totally Contradictory Advice Scenario applies.
I think it also might be telling to think about how you feel about the crush when your boyfriend is in town, since you say the three of you hang out. Does your crush dissipate when your boyfriend is around, or do you find yourself wishing your boyfriend would leave the two of you alone?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Yes, thanks — or, if it’s not to that point yet, is it trending that way? (I said “trending.” Sorry.) Any discomfort here has something useful to say.