Dear Dr. George,
My close friend of many years confessed that he wants more than a platonic relationship. I enjoy spending time with him and I don't want to ruin our current bond. However, I'm not attracted to him in a romantic way. Since his revelation, things have been awkward. How can I let him know I'm not interested, but maintain our friendship?
--- Puzzled Pal, Minneapolis
Dear Puzzled Pal,
You don't have to tell him. He already knows. My guess is he's not going to be happy with the status quo. Once the cat is out of the bag, it is very difficult to put him back in.
First of all, he probably worked up a great deal of courage to let you know how he feels. Secondly, he now needs to deal with the shame and embarrassment of being rejected. If he had approached you in a bar, and had been similarly dismissed, he could disappear into the crowd and never see you again. In a short time, without the constant reminder of his failed efforts, he would have forgotten the incident and preserved his ego for another day. But as friends, you are always there. On Facebook, at dinner parties, on purely platonic dates to Whole Foods---always there, representing a constant reminder of his inadequacy. For most guys this is an intolerable situation.
From this position he can do one of two things. He can simply accept that you're not interested in him romantically and move on. He'll end the friendship and find another female friend to drink White Mocha Frappuccinos with at Starbucks.
Or, he can say he's fine with just being friends. In truth, however, he's waiting you out. He figures you'll come around someday and see beneath his Paul Giamatti friend facade to find his inner Brad Pitt.
Of course, your friend might be the anomaly; the guy who can roll over rejection like Reggie Bush on game day. The clues, though, say otherwise. That awkwardness you're picking up is most likely the tattered scraps of his self-esteem.
I would allow him room to make his own decision on the friendship. If, however, you're still uncomfortable, I would gently let him know how you feel. Tell him you're flattered that he's attracted to you, but that you don't see him in that way.
Let him know that you enjoyed his company as a friend but now that the cat is out of the bag, it's too awkward to continue hanging out. He'll get the hint and move on with a renewed sense of dignity, due largely to your honesty and willingness to speak your truth.
P.S. I encourage readers to offer their own thoughts on platonic friendships. Scroll to bottom of the page to give Puzzled Pal your comments.
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