Dear Life Matters,

I have two very close friends. I used to have strong feelings for one of them and now they have started dating each other. I don’t want to withdraw from the friendship but I feel jealous and uncomfortable when I spend time with them.

Will these feelings go away if I spend more time with them or should I just tell them that I need to spend less time with them?

Thanks,

Uncomfortable

Dear Uncomfortable,

This does indeed sound very uncomfortable. I don’t know that there is any hard and fast rule on this.

You say that these are two very close friends so I would like to start there with how close they really are. Many people use the term friend to refer to anyone that they have socialized with or have just been affiliated with through work or a community that they share.

I tend toward conceptualizing “friends” into three circles. The first inner circle would consist of maybe three to five people depending on your age and your marital status. I say marital status because our partners usually become one of our best friends and if we have a family, which will take a lot of time and energy, we have less of it to go around. Truly close friends are those you can really be yourself with, share openly with and you know that they have your back. These friends that I call your inner circle require a lot of attention. We must keep them alive and well and most of us can only maintain a few at a time.

The second circle can be much larger because it consists of people we like and do things with on a regular basis but we do not have the same degree of closeness and do not share so intimately with them. Often friends move from the inner circle to the second or vice versa.

Then there is the third or outer circle, which consists of people we socialize with and enjoy, but do not necessarily open up with as much. These are the people we might invite to a birthday party or that we enjoy catching up with when we run into them or get together occasionally, but they are not our best friends.

Now using my conceptualization as a framework, where would you place these two friends? If they are in your inner circle you might just want to explain your feelings to them and then see how it feels. If it’s still uncomfortable, you might just have to move them to the second circle where you feel more at ease.

You might also want to consider moving them to a different circle until you resolve this. By resolve, I mean processing your feelings with either a friend from your inner circle who doesn’t have an opinion on the issue or talking with a completely neutral third party.

I am also wondering, as a psychologist, how deep do these feelings go and how long have you had them? Did you ever actually have a relationship with this friend or is it that you have these feelings on your own? If you had a relationship, however long or short, then it should be much easier to talk to them. Actually it’s probably already a question in the back of their minds.

But if it is the latter, perhaps you should ask yourself if you tend to be attracted to people who are unavailable or if this person maybe reminds you of someone else who has been important in your life. Not in every way but in their essence and in the way that they make you feel. If the answer is yes, then you probably have unresolved issues with the person(s) you are reminded of.

You say “used to have” strong feelings, but I wonder if it is truly past tense? I mean if it is truly in the past, why are you jealous now? Unless it’s your ego or insecurity in that you didn’t get what you wanted and someone else did.

I have more questions than answers, but I hope that they will lead you to finding some of your own answers. Really asking these questions seriously and mindfully reflecting on your answers should give you a big head start.

By the way, if you do decide to hang out with them more instead backing off, pay close attention to what feelings you have when you are around them and then answer these questions again.

The truth does tend to come to those who seek it and it can set us free. Listen carefully to what you already know.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters — because it does!