Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about what to do if you’re in love with a man but he just wants to be friends. In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this issue, including specific scenarios in which a friendship with your ex could work, and scenarios for when it won’t. I also provide guidance on how to assess the odds of whether a romantic relationship will really last.
I really need some advice. I have been talking and kind of dating a divorced guy with two kids for seven months. He has just decided to pull away. He says that there is a lot going on with the kids and feels torn between me and his kids. We have only been on three dates because he works five hours away.
We really connected and are close. His kids live eight hours away and he feels they need him more now. Kids are 14 and 16. He has been married twice. The second marriage he says was a mistake. He has healed some emotionally and mentally but I do agree he needs more time to heal.
I told him that I do not want to be the one to heal him. I want to be the one he wants to share life with.
Every time we get close, he pulls away. He said that he has this wall built up and he wants to let me in but he just can’t. He has decided that he can’t be in a relationship right now and wants us to be friends.
I think this is best for right now but it is hard. He has gone back and forth for the past three months. His kids miss him a lot and he is thinking about moving back to where they live but does not want too. He says “you deserve better and you will be happier with someone else.”
I don’t like being in the friends zone but I guess that is better than nothing.
Please help. Is this a lost cause? Oh yea, we have been a constant in each other’s lives for one and half years. We have a great friendship and chemistry. I don’t want to be his therapist. I want to be the one.
Any suggestions on how to get out of the friend zone and let him know this can work. I’m very patient. I do think space and time away from each other is what we both need.
We are keeping the line of communication open. However, he has said now that I will “be happier with someone else, trust me.” Maybe I need to move on, don’t wait for him but we can be friends for now.
I’m ok with being friends. It is going to be hard but I care enough about him and us to do that. However, I think since he is so confused and has so much going on that it would good for us to not have any contact for at least one to two months and he initiate most of the contact.
During this time, I focus on me and I can give him time and space to heal and maybe miss me.
What do you think? Do you think there is still a chance? Any suggestions?
Dear A. N.,
Thanks so much for reaching out. I’m glad you’re finding the website content helpful!
I feel your frustration. I know this is a hard situation to be in…when he pulls away every time you both get close.
However, as you said, it sounds like he has some healing to do.
And you’re right, that healing has to come from within himself and his own resources—not from you.
Because if you try to “rescue” him, then you risk becoming a crutch.
You risk getting into a relationship where he’s with you because of what you can do for him (soothe his wounds, perhaps), instead of because of who you are.
Why He Says “You Deserve Better”
His desire to work on some things with his teenage kids, instead of working on a relationship with you, speaks to his relationship readiness: he’s not ready for a new relationship right now.
He’s saying that he’s not ready for a romantic relationship; he’s saying there are other issues that he wants to work on.
And it sounds like he’s aware that if he got into a relationship with you right now, he wouldn’t be able to give you and the relationship the attention it deserves.
His lack of readiness would undermine his ability to be truly present and available for the kind of relationship that you really want, which is why he’s saying things like “you deserve better…”.
When he says “you deserve better,” it’s because he knows you’re not getting your needs met and that you’re not having the relationship that you really want with him.
He knows that he can’t meet your needs the way that you want him to.
And he knows that you are more invested in making this romantic relationship work than he is able or willing to be.
And so he says “you deserve better.”
In other words, he’s saying “if you choose me, you’re not going to get the relationship you really want. You deserve the relationship that you really want. But I can only offer you friendship…”
So now that you know where he stands, the question is…where do you want to go from here?
When He Just Wants to Be Friends
I hear you. In your heart of hearts, you don’t want to be friends.
What you really want is to make it work.
What you really want is to spend Friday night holding each other, dreaming aloud of your future together.
The truth is, if he doesn’t want to be in a romantic relationship right now or if he doesn’t feel ready, it’s not going to work.
It takes two to tango. And if he’s not willing to dance, you can’t force him.
He has to take down the wall, but only he can do that. He is responsible for his own relationship readiness.
So what choices does this leave you with?
You can stay in the relationship and not get your needs met, or you can let go of those needs and settle for having less than the kind of relationship that you really want.
Or you can move on.
All choices have their own costs and benefits.
Or you can be friends, as he mentioned.
But what does being friends really mean? And is it going to work?
Can You Be Really Just Be Friends?
Yes, you could, in theory. But there are some very specific scenarios for when it can work and when it can’t.
When Being Friends with Your Ex Can Work
Being friends with your ex-boyfriend or ex-lover can work when:
The Breakup Is Mutual
If you’re both in agreement that it’s not a good fit and that you shouldn’t be a couple, it’s easier to transition to being friends because then one or both of you isn’t feeling like they settled.
And even if he broke up with you or you broke up with him, there likely isn’t going to be a lot of awkwardness or bitterness if the feeling is mutual.
In other words, you’re both in agreement with how things turned out, even if you’re not entirely happy with it.
You Can Consciously Let Him Go as a Lover/Boyfriend and Can Embrace Him as Friend
This is a conscious choice to not pursue him as a boyfriend or a lover, and to invite him into your life as a friend.
This is an attitude and an energy—the energy of platonic friendship rather than romantic love.
Chances are, if there isn’t a lot of anger, resentment or drama between the two of you, and you’re not attached to having him as a romantic partner, it might be easier for you to embrace him in your life as a friend if you choose to.
You have to be able to see yourself being friends with him and be able to let go and move on emotionally so that your relationship can evolve into a friendship.
If you can’t see yourself being friends or you’re still holding a torch for him, trying to be friends after your breakup is going to be really painful for you because you’re denying what’s true for you.
You and He Have Strong Emotional and Physical Boundaries
Being able to see yourself as friends and being able to move on emotionally also means resisting any contact or emotional and physical intimacy that you wouldn’t do in a platonic friendship.
So when you were lovers, there might have been some things that only the two of you shared together.
But now that you’re friends, your relationship takes a different form.
Sure, your ex may be hot and maybe sometimes you find yourself thinking about “What if….”
But when you have strong physical and emotional boundaries, you don’t let yourself stray too far into those desires.
You’ve established and communicated, either explicitly or through the way that you conduct yourself, how you’re going to show up in your friendship with him and how you expect to be treated.
You don’t let yourself be his booty call and he doesn’t treat you like his “fallback girl.”
You treat and respect each other as friends.
When Being Friends with Your Ex Will NOT Work
If you or he is saying “let’s be friends,” but one or more of the following things happened (or is happening), you’re better off not trying to forge a friendship.
Trying to be friends after a breakup is just going to cause you more pain if:
It Wasn’t a Mutual Breakup, Especially If One of You Is Still Really Hurting
If he broke up with you and you are really angry, resentful or sad, especially if you have strong feelings to the point where you find it preoccupying your thoughts (you’re thinking about him and break up ALL the time, replaying the story over and over in your mind) or it’s interfering with your normal functioning (you’re losing sleep or appetite), or if you broke up with him and these same issues are happening with him, being friends is not going to work because the unresolved emotional baggage—the hurt, anger, or sadness—is going to interfere with your friendship.
Both of you would need to heal and resolve the emotional baggage first before attempting to be friends.
If only one of you does the inner work to heal and the other person is still stuck in the past or if they have unresolved baggage or emotional issues, especially if you’re the target of blame or abuse, trying to be friends in this scenario is just going to create a highly toxic relationship.
You or He REALLY Want to Date and/or Be Lovers
If you broke up but you’re really pining for him and you really want to be together, trying to be friends is going to be especially painful and emotionally exhausting for you because you’ll be denying your true desires, which is to be in a romantic relationship with him.
Or for example, if he really wants to be with you but he settles for a friendship, and you go to dinner or a movie together “as friends,” it’s going to be really awkward and uncomfortable for the both of you because he’ll be putting up a front while denying what he truly wants.
If you try to pretend to be friends when one or both of you really wants to be together in a romantic relationship not a friendship, it’s extremely exhausting and just ends up building resentment when you are always trying to do something that you don’t really want to do.
You and He Struggle with Physical and Emotional Boundaries
When your relationship transitions to a friendship, there has to be a clear line between what it meant to be lovers and what it now means to be friends.
You wouldn’t sext or sleep with a platonic friend, would you? Maybe. If you are recreationally dating and have a mutual no-strings kind of relationship.
But if you are trying to move on emotionally from a break up, sleeping together or any intimate contact, even via text or phone, will make it really difficult and painful to move on. Seeing a lover soon after you’ve broken up can send you back on an emotional roller coaster because it’s like reopening a wound; research has shown that contact can fuel our desire for the other person.
So, if you agree to be friends, you have to define what that means to you.
Where is your line in the sand?
Get really clear in your mind and heart, what does being friends mean, and how is that different from being lovers?
What boundaries do you want to have and want to honor?
What does friendship with him mean?
What does it look like and feel like?
What are the “rules of engagement”?
What does it mean to relate to him as a friend versus a girlfriend/lover?
Being friends versus being a girlfriend mean different things and have different behaviors.
So if you are going to become friends, think about what boundaries are you going to put in place to protect yourself emotionally and honor the friendship role.
You said “I do not want to be the one to heal him. I [want] to be the one he would want to share a life with.”
You sound very clear on whether you’d like to be friends and how you would like to be in relationship with him.
I acknowledge that when you’re really attracted and connected to someone, it’s hard to figure out what to do when he doesn’t feel ready for a relationship. These decisions are not easy.
What’s important to focus on is what you feel is the best path for you.
If you’re doing something you don’t really want to do, then you’re settling.
When we take time to think about what really matters to us in a relationship, it helps us be intentional about finding and having the relationship that we truly want.
As I say in my article about relationship readiness, sometimes things come up in our life that could interfere with our ability to have a successful relationship, and so resolving those things and working on ourselves can really help set us up for greater success in our relationships.
Will Your Relationship with Him Eventually Work Out?
If you want to reconnect again sometime in the future to see if he is ready for a relationship, there are things you can do to evaluate whether there’s a chance that your relationship will work out.
However, that really depends not on chance, but on what you choose to do in this situation.
The likelihood of relationship success depends on several factors:
- your vision being realized,
- your needs and your relationship requirements being met, and
- how aligned you both are with those things.
For example, if you dream of having kids (if you don’t already have kids) and he says he is DONE with having kids, you have some big differences in the way that you envision your life.
And so, in in that instance, you would have to make the choice to let go of that dream if you want to stay together, or leave the relationship and find someone who wants to grow a family.
So think about…what really makes you happy?
What do you dream about when you envision the way you want to live your life?
What do you need and require in a relationship in order for you to be happy and fulfilled?
And then evaluate whether your relationship with him can fulfill your vision and meet your needs and relationship requirements.
And relationship success also depends on his desire and readiness to have a romantic relationship with you.
He has to be able to nurture the relationship, too.
And if he is not ready or is unwilling to do the inner work necessary to become ready, those issues will continue to undermine the relationship.
The bottom line is: he’s not available right now for the kind of relationship that you really want.
I encourage you to set a deadline for yourself because otherwise you run the risk of waiting around indefinitely – and all this time you’re not getting your needs met and not having the life and relationship that you really want.
Remember, you’re always in the driver’s seat when it comes to how you want to live your life.
The problem a lot of women experience (I’ve certainly experienced this, too) is that we hold on to someone who is not emotionally available…waiting for him to change…sometimes for months…maybe even years.
I’ve been there.
I’ve been stuck being hopeful about the mixed messages he was sending.
I kept telling myself that he’ll come around when he’s not in the middle of a divorce or not so slammed at work or not having a crisis.
But that day never came. I just kept waiting.
And meanwhile, I wasn’t living my life.
I was living my life for someone else.
Waiting…hoping…that he would choose me.
The thing is…sure, life happens, and that can certainly interfere with our relationship readiness.
But readiness isn’t just a status.
It’s also how you SHOW UP in a relationship.
It’s not like you check off all the boxes and then you’re READY.
Readiness is a mindset, too.
So if you find that in relationship after relationship, the guy is never ready, and if you find that you’re always waiting…chances are that there’s a pattern there that’s holding you back.
Rather than focus on waiting for him to get ready, I encourage you to turn inward and focus on YOU.
When we get stuck on someone, when we notice that we’re always waiting, in many cases it’s because we’re in attachment, which means we’re operating based on fear.
We need to ask ourselves the hard questions:
What am I clinging to?
What am I really afraid of?
What is missing in my life?
And then look to our SELF, not to him, to fulfill that missing piece.
Because when we look outside our self to complete that missing piece, we’ll ALWAYS be waiting.
We’ll ALWAYS feel scared because we’ll never feel in control.
If you notice yourself feeling that way, it’s because you’ve let him decide when you’ll be happy.
But when you look within, when you tap into your own powerful, creative, beautiful resourcefulness, when you know, feel and believe that you’re the chooser in your own life—that you get to choose who you want to be with, who meets your needs and relationship requirements, who you want to live your vision with—then that’s when you’re truly empowered.
You get to decide.
You’re in charge.
You’re the powerful creator of your human experience.
It’s inspiring, it’s miraculous, and it’s a lot of responsibility.
But sometimes it’s just the shift in perspective we need in order to truly break free.
I know these things take a lot of time and thought to consider, but I hope this helps provide some guidance.
Please feel free to reach out if you need any other support!
All the best,