Aug 082010

It’s a long story how this came up yesterday, but look, if you have a friend who’s had a crush on someone for a long time, don’t, for the love of god, give them this advice:

“Just tell him how you feel.”

(I’m gonna use a masculine pronoun there for simplicity. I don’t intend to imply anything. It could be any pronoun.)

It is very occasionally the case that two people can have crushes on each other and not know about it. That is the one and only case when it’s a good idea to “just tell him how you feel.” Because he’ll be tickled pink and you’ll instantly move in together and adopt five dogs. That’s nice.

But unless you’ve got BOTH people coming to you to moan about how the other person doesn’t even know they’re alive, “Just tell him how you feel” might be the worst possible advice you could give a friend, unless your desired outcome is that your friend should feel some combination of humiliated, rejected, led on, or strung out.

What makes it bad advice?

First of all, if it were that easy, your friend would have done it already. There must be some important reason why they haven’t; barring simple problems like the crush-object is in a relationship or is demonstrably uninterested, the usual reason is fear of rejection. Your “Tell him how you feel” advice doesn’t help with that.

Second, what would they actually SAY, anyway? “I really like you; I’ve really liked you for a long time”? Creepy.

The absolute honest truth? That “I have a crush on you but I’ve been too afraid that you’ll reject me to say anything about it”?

Good. So your friend cuts open their ribcage, digs into their bleeding chest cavity, scoops out their still-beating heart, hands it over to the crush object, and says, “Here is my still beating heart. Please be nice to me.” Good plan. Good advice. NO!

Of all the things they could say to the crush object, telling him what they feel is just about the most risky option.

Third reason it’s bad advice: what options does the crush object have when confronted with the truth? Assuming they do not also have a crush (see above), they’ll probably be nice but reserved, because generally people are nice and appreciate the risk the other person has taken.

Even if the crush object is marginally interested and agrees to go out with your friend, it’s an invidious position to be in because the crush object and your friend both perceive themselves to be in unequal positions. Your friend is invested. The crush object is not. That STARTS the relationship with an emotional imbalance that makes it difficult to be getting on with.

I am not advocating cowardice or inaction, not by any means. Your friend should definitely DO SOMETHING.

But if your friend is going to do something, don’t we all want them to do something that might actually result in their getting to go out with their crush object? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

GOOD advice isn’t advice at all, but rather offers your friend an opportunity to think through what the barriers are. You can help.

Step 1. Brainstorm. Make a list of a grillion possible options, from “nothing at all” or “move to Zimbabwe,” to “strip naked, present yourself before them and say, ‘Fill me with your little babies,’ a la Emma Thompson in ‘Peters Friends’.” Include lots of genuinely impossible things and lots of marginally impossible things. The idea is to be creative and also silly.

Step 2. Narrow down the options to a handful that your friend might consider doing. Then for each, do a decisional balance: What are the good things about this option? What are the not so good things? What could I do the GET the good things and minimize the not so good things?

Step 3. Based on that, make a plan. A plan grounded in the principles of harm reduction, designed to maximize the perceived likelihood of the desired outcome, with reduction of risk to tolerable levels.

NB: Do not do this while drinking anything more than one or two alcoholic beverages. The result will not likely be practicable.

That’s good advice giving. That’s helping your friend find a way to move the crush forward without doing something destined to result in pain. If nothing else, your friend’s confidence in the plan they’ve chosen will improve the likelihood of a good outcome.

It will probably not result in a plan YOU would advise, but then you’re not the one handing over your still-beating heart.

EDIT: Apparently some of you haven’t seen Peter’s Friends!!