I am a 32-year-old gay man. I have a friend I'll call Harry who is 35. He has a blog and writes all the time about a man he calls Joe, with whom he is in love. Mutual friends keep telling me that I am Joe, and that Harry is totally besotted with me. I care about Harry very much, but my feelings are strictly platonic and can never be otherwise. I looked at his last blog post tonight and for the first time the blinders were off and yes it became clear to me that I am "Joe." I went back and read the other posts and really don't know what to do. Our mutual friends are correct -- Harry is completely in love with me. I'm flattered -- but I just don't feel the same. From what he says on his blog, he seems to know it's hopeless, but people keep leaving comments telling him to tell me how he feels -- that's the last thing I want. What should I do, Dr. Bill? Wish I Weren't Joe.
Well, I've been in this situation from both sides and it ain't ever easy. There are a few things to keep in mind.
1.) This is very awkward for you, yes, but his unrequited passion is probably killing Harry. I recognize he's a friend you care about and you don't want him to get hurt -- and that the last thing you want is to have that conversation where you have to let him down easy (and as I said it's never easy) -- but what you're going through is nothing compared to what he's going through. If you keep that in mind it will help you keep things in perspective.
2.) His feelings for you may be an intense infatuation but not true love. Still painful, but easier to get over. Even if it's the latter, your rejection of him won't ruin his life. He thinks it will, but more likely it won't.
3.) I would suggest not doing anything now. Even though he's posting his feelings on his blog -- maybe hoping you'll read it and tell him what he wants to hear -- that doesn't mean he wants you to confront him, especially if your feelings are not the same as his. Often people are able to work through these unrequited feelings on their own, or they realize they prefer you as a friend, or they meet and fall for somebody else. No action may be required at this point.
4.) If he does declare his feelings for you out in the open, don't freak out. Tell him how much you care about him and how much his friendship means to you. Don't give him false hope, but tell him all the things you admire about him. Say it's a shame that your feelings aren't quite the same as his, because you're probably losing out on something special. But that there's nothing you can do about chemistry or your feelings. Tell him he's attractive, but be careful not to patronize.
Some people in your situation try to keep from hurting people by saying they're not ready for a relationship, or they only like a certain type (whom they make as different from the person they're talking to as possible) or they don't want to screw up a perfect friendship and so on, but I think in the long run it's better to be honest and avoid the obfuscation.
However if you just can't bring yourself to be blunt with him, one thing you might say is that you've gotten so used to him as a friend that it would just be too strange and downright unsettling to have him for a lover. Now this might sound like pure b.s., but the fact remains that many friends who are attracted to one another don't want to take it to the next level for that very reason. It's not just that they might spoil a good friendship, but that being lovers engenders a whole new level of angst, jealousy and primal emotion. Couples who break up often think to themselves, "if only we'd just stayed friends -- or f--k buddies!"
Things may just play themselves out without your having to say anything, but if he does reveal his feelings to you, I hope I've given you some options. Remember, that he may need to end the friendship if he feels he just can't stand being around you once he realizes you'll never be lovers. People aren't being mean when they do this -- it's an acknowledgement that they can't get over you if they're around you all the time.
But maybe he'll be able to think of you just as a cherished friend, and find somebody else to share his life and bed with.