Dear Trish: How do I know I’ll love my new girlfriend as much as I loved that friend?
PROBLEM: I am a lesbian in my early 30s. I came out relatively late and have been extremely lucky to receive nothing but support and love from my friends and family. Recently, I met an incredible woman who (I believe) loves me and sees her long-term future being with me. I can also see a long-term future with her.
My problem is that I was deeply in love with my (heterosexual) best friend for many years. My best friend and I have never discussed my feelings, but I would not be surprised if she suspected them. Although I have made peace with the fact that my love for her can never be reciprocated in the way I might wish, to my own frustration I cannot stop myself comparing the love I felt for my best friend with the love I feel for my girlfriend. The love I felt for my best friend is so much more intense. Knowing myself how deeply I am capable of loving someone, do I end my relationship and hope that I meet someone else who I’ll love as deeply as my best friend, or do I continue in this relationship and hope that in time I will love my girlfriend as much as I loved my best friend?
I feel selfish, confused, and am terrified of ending up alone.
ADVICE: Unrequited love is very potent, and we have an abundance of literature and poetry to prove it, and your question is whether it is worth shutting off all other love for it. You know what it is like to have an intense close relationship with someone you find deeply attractive, but you can never quite be the number one person in their life. The danger here is that it is very seductive to have enough of a relationship to keep you hooked without ever quite knowing if you will get satisfaction or fulfilment. In other words, you will never know if disappointment awaits and so the dream of the prefect relationship continues.
Friendships can last a lifetime because they do not (generally) have to cope with jealousy, possessiveness or tantrums and we often accompany our friends through the best and worst time of our lives. When we are in a committed relationship we get into the thick of things with our partners and we take risks that may not happen in friendships.
What you require from your friend is their support in getting you to engage fully in a romantic relationship
Sex and attraction are important parts of romantic relationships (for asexuals it may be emotional attraction). You have an offer of this now with a woman who is willing to tell you of her interest in you and so is putting her cards on the table. The difficulty is that you are comparing your short time with her to a lifelong friendship and, of course, it does not stand up to such an unfair comparison. Your friendship has survived through many tests and trials and your new relationship is just starting out. What the new relationship does have is potential and some (powerful, I hope) sexual attraction. This should give it enough of a kick-start to keep it going until enough experience is had to properly understand its potential. For this to happen it will require two things of you.
Firstly, that you dedicate yourself to this current relationship rather than look for some future blow-your-mind one.
Secondly, that you begin to see how destructive comparison is to all involved.
You may need to slightly distance yourself from your best friend if this (or any future) relationship is to stand a chance of taking root. This will involve some discussion with your friend to explain the pulling back and this may have the unfortunate implication of creating even more intimacy between you. However, what you require from your friend is their support in getting you to engage fully in a romantic relationship and this means that they may need to withdraw a little from your field of vision for a while. Then you have to work on comparison: simply spot that you are doing it and stop.
You say you are worried about ending up alone, but all the evidence indicates you will have good relationships in your life
It is insulting to your current partner that they are being measured against a version of perfection and it is blocking the relationship from developing. Openly and intently focus on what is in front of you and stay interested and involved.
This is no guarantee that your current partner is the right one for you but at least this approach will give her a fighting chance to be accepted on her own terms and, with time, you might find your judgment becomes more nuanced. You say you are worried about ending up alone, but all the evidence indicates you will have good relationships in your life. You had to check out your support network by coming out to them and they are strongly in support of you; you have maintained a very close friendship and you have attracted an “incredible” partner.
Don’t be afraid but do see the blocks to the formation of an intimate relationship and tackle them now.