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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

When a friend wants more than friendship

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It's not unusual for platonic relationships to turn into something different or something more. Whenever this happens, regardless of gender, it can lead to misunderstandings if both people aren't on the same page. When two female friends are involved, the potential awkwardness is compounded exponentially because the experience is less common and less talked about.

I was pleased when my colleague Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a regular contributor to Redbook Magazine who has developed a loyal following as Dr. Romance, agreed to share some practical advice for women who find themselves involved in such a situation. Tina is a psychotherapist, author of Gay Relationships: How To Find Them, How To Improve Them, How To Make Them Last, and has written twelve other books on relationships.

Q. THE FRIENDSHIP DOCTOR

What should a woman do if she begins having sexual feelings for a female friend who isn't gay and who is involved in a heterosexual relationship? Should she express her feelings or squelch them?

A. DR. ROMANCE

I would never recommend approaching someone who is already in a relationship. Even if she does reciprocate your feelings, let her get disentangled from her current relationship (straight or gay) first. It's not a good idea, at any time, to begin a relationship with someone who is 'taken' - if that person would leave her partner to be with you, what do you think she'd do if she were in a relationship with you? You'll never be comfortable with that. Instead, find a coming out group, a counselor, or another gay person to talk to. You need to sort out your feelings before any relationship will work.

Q. THE FRIENDSHIP DOCTOR

If two women have been involved sexually, is it possible to downgrade the relationship to a friendship without sex? Under what circumstances?

A. DR. ROMANCE

It's just as possible to convert from sexual relationship to friendship with same-sex pairings as it is with opposite sex pairings. It's complicated, it only goes smoothly if both parties want to cool it (which is not the usual case) and it takes a lot of talking and patience on the part of both people. Some couples need to break completely and wait a while, months or years, before they can be friends.

Q. THE FRIENDSHIP DOCTOR

What if a girlfriend begins to say and do things that make a woman feel uncomfortable (e.g. touching her in suggestive ways, acting extremely jealous of her relationships with men)? How should the straight woman handle it?

A. DR. ROMANCE

Tell her she is making you uncomfortable. If she won't respect your feelings, give her an 'adult time out.' That is, retreat to a polite (be polite, or it won't have impact) distance, not sharing any emotional closeness or friendship with her. When she asks you why, you can repeat that her advances are unwelcome. If that doesn't work, drop her as a friend. You can't be close with someone who doesn't respect your feelings.

On the other hand, if you feel a positive response to her, and what's making you uncomfortable is the idea of being lesbian, then it's important for you to sort out your homophobia first, with a counselor or coming out group.

Q. THE FRIENDSHIP DOCTOR

What other problems might arise between two female friends, one gay and the other not?

A. DR. ROMANCE

If one is homophobic, and doesn't accept the other friend's sexual orientation, that is bound to be a problem between them. Otherwise, the only problems that will arise are the usual problems between any two female friends. That is, you might hurt each other's feelings, get caught in a lie, or be jealous of each other's happiness. Any time one of you treats the other badly, drops an appointment because of a 'better offer' or borrows money irresponsibly, there could be trouble. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, you might be worried about her. Many things can go wrong in any friendship. At least, the two of you won't be competitive over the same man!

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-friendship-doctor">PsychologyToday.com.

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