Q: I’ve had a crush on my friend for years. I’m a lesbian and she is bisexual, but I think her experience with women is limited. Every time I think about talking to her about how I feel, I either chicken out, or we aren’t single at the same time. I don’t know if she feels the same way, but we have snuggled before after nights out and it always felt like it might turn into more, but I didn’t want to pressure her, and she would change the subject. I think she felt awkward or not sure what to do, so I always just left it. I feel like, as we get back into dating after all the lockdowns, this might be my chance to see if she feels the same way, as she has been mostly single during lockdown and has spoken about looking forward to getting back into dating. I would really like to build a relationship with her as I think our life together would be incredible. How do I finally talk to her, and how do I manage if she says she isn’t interested in me? I can hardly bear to think about that.
Dr West replies: Perhaps you haven’t spoken to her because, deep down, you think she isn’t interested? Her saying no will confirm that fear, and that’s a scary step to take for many people. It’s easier to wonder ‘what if’ rather than know a harsh truth that hurts us. You have harboured these feelings for years, and I assume this has also impacted your relationships as you date one person in real life and one in your head. The yearning for a relationship that isn’t (yet) real means it can be hard to live in the present and focus on the experiences that make you happy. You do need to reflect on why you have fixated on this person for so long without taking that step forward. Maybe it gave you an excuse not to truly commit to any of your recent relationships, or maybe your self-confidence needs to be nourished to go after the person you do truly care about.
Life is short, and if you do wish to see if this is a mutual feeling, then you have no choice but to ask her. For all you know, she might not know that you have feelings for her. However, there are some factors to bear in mind. This might result in a happy union of two like-minded souls, or you may get your feelings hurt if she doesn’t feel the same way.
Rejection is a normal part of everyday life. We can’t be appealing to all people at all times, so it is not necessarily any reflection on you if she isn’t interested in you romantically. If she declines your romantic offerings, you will need to manage this. It might be emotionally overwhelming to be around her so some time apart might be a good idea so that you can process your feelings. If this is the case, talk to her and tell her that you still value your friendship but need some time to process your feelings. It is important to explain this so that she doesn’t feel that you are punishing her or drawing a line under your friendship with her.
Is your friendship strong enough to cope with a romantic rejection? How would you feel if she did not want to continue the friendship or felt awkward around you? It can come across as a betrayal if we feel like our friends only hang around us in the hopes of eventually having sex with us. This is a valid response, and you will have to talk about it if she raises the issue.
If she is planning on dating again, this is a good time to raise the topic. She isn’t in a relationship and is in the mindset of being open to new relationships. Talk to her in a neutral location and be honest. You might be nervous, but a few drinks to calm those nerves might lead to drinking too much too quickly and botching things. Try not to expect too much from her as she processes this news. She might not feel comfortable discussing the topic straight away so give her the time to digest it in her own time.
If she does give you the answer that you want, take it slowly. There is an adjustment to be made from friends to lovers, and especially if one of you is more experienced than the other. It might not make any difference, but it can also be a stumbling block and impact her confidence. You write that she has limited experience with her bisexuality, so she might want to explore this side of her identity. You could suggest going to a workshop on female sexuality together or going to a community night in a pub together. Be mindful that she will want to explore on her terms so she may feel uncomfortable being at public events.
You have been dreaming about a relationship with this woman for years. Because of this, you run the risk of romanticising this person and imagining an ideal relationship. Real life will be different, and you must live in the reality of having arguments or her not acting the way you have dreamed about, because people don’t work like that. She will have faults and flaws, and the relationship might not resemble the one you have created by yourself. I hope your reality matches up with your dreams.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately