I have a big crush on a good friend I do a lot of important activism with. Should I tell them so?

Dear Bear,

I do a lot of activist work with someone I have developed a rather gigantic crush on. We’re close friends by now which is amazing, and our projects have had a lot of success, which is also really rewarding. We are both married to other people, lovely people. My person would be fine with us starting up A Thing of some kind, my crush’s relationship seems to allow for the possibility so no cheating would have to occur. There has been a lot of flirting, or at least conversation that often feels flirtatious to me, with a lot of circling the topic. This person clearly seeks out my company a lot, even when its clear that many other people would like to have time with them.

Here’s my problem: I am afraid that if I go for a bold declaration of liking this person Like That, it might jeopardize either the close friendship or the activist work and I would be gutted to lose either one. But also if it DID work out that we could also have this other thing it would be amazing, I think.

So. Do I tell them how I feel? Or do I just keep chickening out over and over and not saying what I really want to say?

 

Dear Brave Correspondent,

Well, yes. That is indeed a conundrum. And I understand in particular why it creates such a difficult balancing act – on the one hand, intimate friendship and effective activism are rare and important in this life. And yet, also and inescapably, the desire to embrace someone your skin wants to welcome, to kiss someone for whom your lips have been longing, never gets less powerful.

First, I would like to suggest that we recast your description of “chickening out” repeatedly about confessing your feelings to “being cautious.” This isn’t a minor matter – there actually are important things at stake, and it’s appropriate for an adult to be prudent and take a beat or two to assess whether this crush, as you put it, is worth possibly upsetting a pretty nice applecart over. The fact that you didn’t rush forward with your heart on your sleeve and/or your pants around your ankles at the first flutter of interest is actually a sign in favor of the idea that you might be able to navigate these tricky waters with enough finesse and thoughtfulness to make it so that you can have the friendship and the activism and also the swoony smooching. The ability to refrain from just saying whatever you think without regard to consequences is a good thing, actually, so let’s not call it chickening out. Let’s call it making time for a sober second thought.

(Perhaps you are already onto a third or fourth thought. That is also very fine. You are not the only risk-averse person in this conversation, is what I am saying.)

Can we also talk about the word “crush”? I’m bringing this up because it’s not a thing for which we have great language, do we? To describe that feeling of being so passionately interested in someone’s thoughts and doings, to think about them which we absolutely should be thinking of something else, to be distracted in the nicest and also awfullest way, to resist or succumb to the desire to make or buy or bring or send them things you know they would enjoy, to be inspired by them. Crush always seems to me like such a grade-school word, and I know for true and sure that humans develop crushes at all ages and of all sorts – the brain crush, the friend crush, the style crush and the platonic crush are all kinds of crushes besides the romantic crush. That’s not me trying to recategorize your crush, Brave Correspondent, it’s just me thinking out loud about crushes and how they sometimes take us as we consider this question.

(I would also just like to say, since you mention working together – have you given appropriate consideration to any power dynamics that might exist between you two and whether you are at risk of putting this person in an hard spot by discussing your feelings with them? Within the work you do together, do you have more power by position or social capital? Do you have the institutional or social power to harm them? Is there any reason they might feel that their continued participation in the work could be jeopardized if they decline your reasonably decent proposal? If so, you might need to have a meeting with yourself – and maybe even with another trusted colleague if you feel unclear –  about whether you should take a break from the work to neutralize the power issues so that they can respond authentically without any sense of coercion.)

If there aren’t serious power issues at play, then here’s my main thought, Brave Correspondent: I think that a real risk here is that you’ll try to keep your feelings in, and then one day you will just blurt them out at a questionable moment because your brain will have been screaming at you about it for so long that the pressure will get to be too much. Unspoken feelings have a way of finding their way out no matter what we do, and of course mainstream media valorizes this endlessly with one storyline after another of a person being so overcome with feelings that they make a big scene (and of course, in the end, it turns out to be just wonderful when in real life we know that’s not so). So finding a safe and volitional way to share this news seems like a worthwhile plan, because you’ve already said here that you want to tell and that at least on some level – even after some thought about what’s at stake – you have not ruled it out. And to be honest with you, the signs – making plans, flirting, seeking you out, and so on seem like positive signs that you are not barking up a totally wrong tree. I think your brain needs to be a good friend to your heart here, and make a plan to do this safely so that there’s no some sort of uncontrolled explosion of built-up pressure at some point down the line. Especially since, as you so encouragingly note, there has already been some flirtatious conversation.

How the revelation is accomplished is probably a highly specific matter to the nature of your person and you’ll know that better than me. Do you have a sense that they would rather receive potentially-startling news (by letter or email, say) and then have some time to sit with it before they respond or would that feel impersonal to them? Do you experience them as someone who values the construction of a moment or someone who prefers to be spontaneous?  How do you feel about the idea of confessing your feelings and waiting with whatever patience you can muster until they reply? Do you see in yourself the ability to sit in your feelings, whatever they are, and tell this story calmly to your crush? What I can say without asking too many more questions is that making sure it’s not hurried, that you have an un-busy moment but also ideally the rest of an evening – no immediate fixed-time issues or engagements – so that the story can unfold without needing to be hurried too much.

Because whatever the delivery method, I think there’s real value in telling the whole story here. Perhaps not a bold declaration but a sweet and complete one. To discuss, first, how you came to appreciate them as a friend and how you value their friendship; to touch on some of your co-created successes in activism and what specific ways you have valued this person’s contributions. I think the story should include them because whether any narrative is a comedy or a tragedy depends so much on where you end the story. Giving your crush an opportunity to reflect on everything you have together before you say “and also I really really want to kiss you on the mouth,” gives them a much easier way to simply leave off the last bit and carry on if it turns out (though sincerely, Brave Correspondent, I hope that it does not) that they don’t share this part of your many mutual and positive feelings. I think you can and should say that you are completely committed to the friendship and the work and that you hope and intend to continue both regardless of how they feel about the crush part and then… you hope for the best.

In a good world, to reveal that you have romantic feelings for someone should not have awful results. It should be allowable to disclose your crush and for the person on whom you’re crushing to say yes, please or no thanks or not now or not yet or we’ll see or whatever it is without making things weird or awkward between you. I find it useful to remember in these moments that the opposite of awkward is graceful, and that you can model grace by leaving a lot of room and time for reply, by being reassuring that any response is welcomed and that you value the person (and your connection) in ways that exist above and beyond the romantic. You don’t have to do a big dramatic performance of it if you’re not a big dramatic person, but in whatever way you do things also do that. Leave room for everything. And in that, also leave room for them to say yes, to choose you, to be rapturous with delight and hungry for you in the way that sometimes it turns out people can be.

I hope they are rapturous and hungry for you, Brave Correspondent. I hope you get to have the friendship and the work and the hot stuff, too, or at least that the good parts remain invigorated even if they decline to add more lobes to your connection. I hope you find a respect for yourself in taking this tender risk, too – it’s not an easy thing. But I think you can do it nonetheless.

 

love and courage,

Bear

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