It’s a situation that, unfortunately, many of us know all too well. You caught some feelings for a friend and much to your disappointment, they just don’t reciprocate those feels. Now, you’re left scratching your head over whether you can salvage your friendship despite the unrequited love. Wondering how to move on if your friend doesn't like you back? The good news is, experts say it is possible to recover from this, no matter how impossible it may feel in the wake of rejection.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be challenging to cope with this scenario, of course. Dealing with the fact that someone doesn’t like you back is painful enough when it’s just some rando you met at a bar or on a dating app, but when it’s your friend — someone you trust, respect, and love — it can hurt on a deeper level. Not to mention, there's a good chance you may want to keep this friend in your life. With any other crush, the old “out of sight, out of mind” idea may help you to move on faster. But with a friend, you’ll have to face the person who didn’t return your feelings on a regular basis.
“Rejection is difficult to swallow in general,” says Pricilla Martinez, CEO of Regroop Online Life Coaching. “But when it comes from someone you want in your life or someone you’re close to, it brings out all of your insecurities.”
A friend is someone you expect to accept all of your so-called flaws, quirks, and mistakes, and love you no matter what. So, when they don’t like you back, you may feel extra vulnerable.
“You may have known each other for many years, or been open with them about your struggles in the past,” explains Amanda Ruiz, licensed professional counselor and founder of The Counseling Collective. “If a friend doesn't like you back, it can be more disappointing because they know you on a deeper level than someone you weren't friends with first.”
Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, adds that deep down, you may have wanted more than friendship from the get-go. If that's the case, then it may be extra difficult to accept that your friend doesn't like you back.
According to Ruiz, the first step toward moving on is being honest with yourself about your disappointment. It may be tempting to run and hide from this painful emotion, but ignoring it won’t make it go away. Once you’ve acknowledged that you feel let down, you’ll be able to work toward putting that behind you. Ruiz also suggests sharing your disappointment with your friend, if you feel comfortable enough to do so. If your friend knows what you’re going through, they’ll be far more equipped to be sympathetic if you need some time and space to sort through your feelings.
Speaking of which, Ruiz says the next step is to decide whether you need to take a break, or whether you can simply resume the friendship as is. This may depend on a number of factors, including the nature of your friendship and the depth of your feelings for them. It’s crucial to be realistic about what you’re capable of and remember, if you need to step away for a little while you heal, that’s totally OK. If you do decide to remain friends, Edwards notes that you'll want to do so without hanging any hopes on the possibility that their feelings will change.
"It all depends on whether or not you’re willing to accept the friendship knowing it won’t go any further than that," he adds. "If you’re not, then it’ll likely be the end of that friendship. If you are, chances are good you’ll end up having an even better friendship."
One of the most helpful strategies you can employ to help yourself move on from this situation is to set some boundaries. According to Ruiz, establishing boundaries is an effective way to make sure you protect yourself emotionally.
“Maybe meeting for your weekly lunch will be too difficult for you right now,” she tells Elite Daily. “Not saying ‘love ya’ every time you part, or crashing in bed with your friend may be important. Or, just not seeing each other as often is a boundary that you might need to put in place. Be honest with yourself and what you need and don't be afraid to ask for it. If they really are your friend, they will understand.”
It’s important to be patient with yourself during this process because it might take longer than you expect to bounce back from your hurt feelings. If you’re finding it exceedingly difficult to move on, and it’s negatively impacting your mental or emotional well-being, Ruiz recommends considering therapy. Talking to a licensed professional may help you to work through some of the complicated emotions attached to this situation, grieve the loss of the relationship you hoped for, and best of all, transform negative thought patterns that may be unnecessarily triggering your insecurities.
There’s no doubt that it can be quite the blow to your self-confidence when a friend doesn’t like you back. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? It may feel like the end of the world that your friend doesn’t share the same romantic feelings for you, but the important thing to remember is that it’s not necessarily the end of your friendship — nor is it the end of your potential for a happy, healthy love life.
Being rejected can leave you feeling powerless, which is why it’s extra imperative to remind yourself that how you choose to deal with the aftermath and resume the friendship is ultimately up to you. In other words, you have the power to decide whether or not this disappointment is going to break your bond with your bestie. Whether or not it does, know that one rejection does not define you — it only makes you more resilient so you can bounce back even quicker in future dating experiences.