Sage & Blunt Advice: Hopelessly Hurting


Cornelia Di Gioia

Graphic by Cornelia Di Gioia.

Sage & Blunt

Dear Sage & Blunt,

How do I become friends with someone I’m still in love with? I loved someone and left them at home. I will be going home soon. How do I interact with them? I still love but can’t.


Hopelessly Hurting


Dear Hopelessly Hurting,

Before I give you advice, I want to tell you something about myself: I fall in love with my friends. By that I mean I find a profound kind of romance in the feelings I have for dear intimate friends who I would never want to kiss on the lips, and I also mean that the people I have crushes on and fall in love with almost always start out as platonic companions. I love watching a friendship deepen and stretch and turn into something else. I love getting to know someone one way and then getting to know them again. I’ve never had feelings for someone I haven’t laughed with extensively. I have a very expansive definition of the word “soulmate.” The point is, I experience friendship romantically, and I tend to blur the lines.

If you can believe it, Hopelessly Hurting, this has gotten me into some trouble in the past! I truly don’t think I’ll ever be able to conceptualize love any differently or compartmentalize any more effectively, but this approach can certainly lead to considerable pain and confusion. Breakups in general are painful and confusing; having to interact with your ex while things are still delicate can make the mess of a breakup stickier and harder to climb out of. And as someone who is deeply uncomfortable with the idea of severing ties with anyone who was once significant in my life, I just want to acknowledge how tempting it can be to keep things sticky.

My advice would probably change depending on how close of a friendship you intend to carry on and whether you differentiate between being in love and wanting to create something mutual and romantic out of that feeling. But to make a long story short, I don’t think you can be friends with someone you’re still in love with. At least I can’t, not without intermittent periods of misery, not without trying to talk myself out of knowing what I know, wanting what I want. The truth is that I’ve never done it before — rebuilt a friendship with someone I was once in love with, that is. But in my experience, if you’re in love with someone who’s not in love with you, a friendship with them will just always be taxing in a way you don’t deserve. And if they’re looking for a friend, they deserve someone who honestly wants the same thing.

I have these questions for you: do you want to stay in love with this person? Are you waiting for them? I can’t tell from your letter whether you feel obligated to see each other or if you are earnestly looking to rekindle a connection but afraid of your feelings getting in the way. Regardless, take it one step at a time. Don’t worry about what your relationship with this person will look like in the future; for now, all you have to do is learn how to be around them again. See how that feels first. It might still be too intense, it might be much easier than you thought it could be or it might be totally anticlimactic. Act accordingly: if you find you still can’t exhale around them, step away to catch your breath. If I may gently suggest it, let go of the idea that you need to see this person or be their friend at all. You’re allowed to take your time apart from them and not interact with them. In fact, if you ever want to be in love again — with anyone — or be friends with this person again, I think putting off interaction until your feelings fade is the best, and maybe the only, way.

Let’s talk about the last sentence of your letter: “I still love but can’t.” Hopelessly Hurting, the love you have for this person, for the people who raised you, for your best friends, your dog, whoever is important in your life, is likely a big part of what makes you who you are. I hope you hold on to it and that it keeps you company as you move through the rest of your life. Heal from this heartbreak, meet new lovers and make new friends. I believe that being in love is just that, a state of being, an ethos which you can embody all on your own, and that is the most heartbreakingly gorgeous thing about being alive.

I’m so sorry you had to leave your love. I’m sorry that you can’t go home without thinking about having to see them. Do only what you can do. Be gentle with yourself. Go find out where else your love might take you.

With great affection, 

Sage & Blunt