Analyze This: Friends or More?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

You're great friends. You get along terrifically. What if . . .? Maybe we could be . . .? I mean, it kind of makes sense: She calls me all the time. He always greets me with a hug. That's got to mean something, right?

Trying to determine someone's interest in us is exhausting, and, experts say, we often mislead ourselves. "Human beings have an amazing capacity for denial," says Ellen Sue Stern, a relationship expert and author. "We convince ourselves that there's something there, even when deep down we know there isn't."

So, next time you find yourself analyzing a friendship -- and the potential of something more -- ask yourself these questions:

1 Do you find yourself constantly searching for cues of romantic interest?

If so, you've probably rounded the corner from a healthy friendship into something less healthy.

"It's certainly not your optimal relationship," Stern says. When you're eyeballing a friendship in terms of romance, "it's more about what isn't there," she says.

For instance, physical interaction: You throw your arms around each other, hug goodbye, give a squeeze on the neck and so forth. And yet, Stern says, "if there isn't that sort of lingering moment when you part ways where you feel, 'Oh, right now somebody could make a move,' then it probably isn't there."

Another clue: The person who wants more will make more eye contact.

2 Who's making the effort in the friendship?

You have a great time when you hang out, that much you're sure of. But if you're the main instigator of getting together, that may be a sign that your feelings aren't reciprocated.

"There's certain nuances people want to ignore," Stern says. "Like how much one person initiates the relationship versus the other." After all, you like the person, so you're thinking about them -- a lot. And if they're just thinking of you as a friend, they're happy to spend time with you, but it's probably not as top-of-mind.

3 Are you interested in your friend -- or the challenge?

Ah, the old want-what-you-can't-have syndrome. "There are people that fall in love with not getting what they want and choosing things that don't work as opposed to the simplicity of finding something better," says Greg Behrendt, author of "He's Just Not That Into You." "You're falling in love with a cause. We have an obsession in America with winning someone over or changing them. But human beings are unmovable."

In this way, hoping for romance with a friend is safe: You know you love spending time with the person, and liking your friend is more comfortable and less scary than putting yourself out there to meet someone new. But there's a cost to this approach. "Look what you're getting back," Behrendt says. "Is it worth wasting that time, not meeting somebody else?"

-- Julia Feldmeier


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