I’ve fallen in love with the friend who saved my life
Mariella Frostrup tells a boy of 16 to bide his time before declaring his love to the girl who helped him through depression
The dilemma I am a 16-year-old boy and have been struggling with anxiety and depression, for which I have sought counselling and support. In my darkest moments, a friend of mine has been there for me unwaveringly and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she has saved my life. My dilemma is that I have fallen in love with her. I would love to tell her, but haven’t been able to because I worry that if she has to tell me she doesn’t feel the same, her help and support will go – and that is something I can’t lose at the moment. She has so far responded with amazing support to everything I have disclosed to her, but I am still very torn as to whether or not to speak to her.
Mariella replies Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear about your struggles but so pleased that you have sought professional help and are on the mend. Aren’t you the lucky one to have a friend who’s been so supportive and kind? Mates like her certainly don’t grow on trees. Yours is an example of how, at their best, platonic relationships between men and women are a beautifully balanced combination of yin and yang. We grow up expecting romance or adversity between the sexes, but in a brave new liberated world we should perhaps be celebrating how friendship is the best bridge for crossing our behavioural divides.
Naturally the fact that you are boy and girl has the potential to complicate matters. There’s always the possibility of confusing signals and acts of friendship being misread as acts of love. Then again, the opposite can also be true. Two of my best friends spent years as bosom buddies before they realised they were actually a perfect couple. I don’t want to fuel your passion so it’s worth mentioning they waited a decade before they mooted the possibility and even then they both had to get very drunk to summon up courage!
I mention it less for the romantic conclusion than the duration of their preceding friendship. At your age, time is definitely on your side. A hasty declaration of love might well hit the mark, though I wouldn’t offer enormous odds at the moment. There’s actually far more chance of a successful union if you take a more leisurely pace.
After your bout of depression the most important thing is to build up your resilience and putting your heart on a plate will make you more vulnerable. You don’t want to be forever cast as the patient to her nurse, even if your love for her is reciprocated. Equality in a relationship is paramount for its survival and that means that even if one of you is in a more vulnerable place when you get together, the ingredients must exist for that role to be reversed over time. She’s been nursing you back to health and I suspect she’d prefer a boyfriend to a patient – caring for a friend can be deeply rewarding, but it’s rarely sexy.
You wouldn’t want her to feel compelled to date you for pity’s sake. The best relationships enjoy a balance of power that tips from one partner to the other, but most frequently finds itself levelled out. You need to be sure you’ve found that perfect position before you declare your feelings. Putting yourself in an emotionally vulnerable position with someone you can ill afford to lose certainly won’t calm down your tendency toward anxiety.
You are both still very young and whatever happens now will be unlikely to last out your school days let alone your 20s. That’s why you have everything to gain by not rushing things. Naturally you have developed strong feelings for this girl, she’s been your saviour and anything less than elevated emotion would be verging on ungrateful. But if you really are meant to be together then time is your friend, not your enemy. You can afford to grow up, grow stronger and become emotionally independent, which is when you’ll have enough to offer her.
At the moment it feels a bit like you’re standing there empty handed and requesting further investment, which isn’t fair or likely to work out in the long run. Both you and she probably need to make some bad choices so you know how to recognise good ones, so don’t panic if she starts dating someone hopelessly unsuitable. She’s offered you the hand of friendship, accept it and appreciate it – don’t grasp it. Instead, enjoy her proximity, try taking the initiative outside your current comfort zone and when the moment comes that you are compelled to declare your feelings, make sure it’s because you really want her, not because you can’t imagine surviving on your own.
Help her see that you can thrive without her and I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before she slips willingly into your arms.