Ask Dr. NerdLove: Help, I've Fallen For My Roommate

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Hello, you sexy pheromone ghosts, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to come to you from dingy bars on the Outer Rim.

This week, we’re asking hard questions and facing harder consequences. What happens when it feels like your roommate might also be your soulmate? What do you do when it seems like your ex got all of your friends in the break up?

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It’s time to flip some tables and collect some bounties.

Let’s do this.

Hey Doc,

So, I (22M) have seriously fallen for my roommate. (21F)

She has been one of my best friends for around 4 years now. We met in college, we were both on the same athletics team. We quickly became super close all through the years, and pretty much our entire super close friend circle is mutual. In fact, our entire social life is pretty much mutual. We (me and the roommate) spent the college years partying, drinking, and messing around with other people, and we pretty much always told each other about our crazy stories and secrets. We even lived together previously with a couple other people before we all moved apart for a little bit. I won’t go into more detail about our past, just know that we’re incredibly close to each other, and always have been.

But, circumstances change, so me and my roommate moved back in with each other at a new place earlier this spring, except now it’s just us. And we’re now closer than ever before, which is great, except for the fact that I caught feelings. My best friend tells me it was inevitable that I would, and I almost agree. We do EVERYTHING together. We go on walks and just talk about our days, every day. We go on late night adventures to the park, or run errands together. We make dinner and drinks with each other at home like twice a week, and we watch movies together almost every night too. We go out to eat and to events 1 on 1 with each other very often too. I mean, just last week, me and her went out at night, found a secluded place and just looked at the stars and talked. She even commented about “how romantic” it was. A few weeks before that, we’d had a few drinks at home, and we sat down next to each other while playing a board game together, and we kinda stared into each other’s eyes for like 10 seconds… yet I didn’t pull the trigger.

Beyond that, I know almost everything about her. We talk about our emotions and feelings with each other very openly. We talk about sex A LOT. I’d go as far to say that 90% of our convos end up with us talking about our fetishes, kinks, past sexual encounters, current flings, you name it. We flirt and play tease each other, constantly. We dance around and goof off. Not to mention that whenever she brings up exes and what not, she always complains about the toxic traits they have/had, etc. Her ideal guy is basically a description of well, me, minus the fact that I’m a teeny bit shorter and less built than the kind of guy I’ve always seen her date. All in all, I know more about this girl emotionally and sexually than any other girl (with the exception of my ex-GF, who my roommate never really liked at that.)

However, the really strange thing at this moment is that she’s seeing somebody. They aren’t official at time of writing, but they’ve been casually seeing each other for about a month or so. Met the guy a few times, and he’s a pretty cool guy. But whenever she talks about him to me, she’s never super excited to actually go out with him, but she likes to kinda flaunt or brag about the sex to me, because apparently he’s well endowed. This is one of the stranger parts of the picture to me.

I personally feel as if there’s a lot of sexual tension between us that’s been building recently, but I really want to hear your thoughts on this, because if there is one thing I don’t want to do, it’s make things awkward. Personally, I can handle rejection, and I can handle her being with other guys, so it doesn’t really change my living experience or anything. I wouldn’t want to make her feel weird though.

Am I crazy for feeling this way? Does this sound like anything? Or am I basically just her guy BFF? (If so, that’s fine!)

Thanks for reading,

Uniquely Generic Guy

So there are two things to consider here, UGG. The first is whether or not you’re actually feeling the sexual tension with your roommate or if this is a combination of your attraction with a more emotionally intimate and demonstrative friendship.

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So let me start by asking, in all seriousness: do you have many female friends besides your roommate?

This isn’t an idle or random question; there’s an actual point to it. Stick with me.

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If you’re a regular reader of my column, you may have noticed how often The Friend Zone comes up and why it so often seems to be a male phenomenon.

(Standard disclaimer: there is no Friend Zone, there are just people who don’t want to date or sleep with you.)

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While there are women who get caught in similar situations, one reason why it seems that men fall for female friends so regularly is because of the differences in the ways that men and women conduct their friendships. Male friendships are often referred to as being “side by side”—that is, male friendships are often based around shared activities and events that allow bonding to occur. Female friendships, on the other hand, are often referred to as being “face to face,” where women get together specifically to talk, share and generally bond with one another emotionally. Women will get together just to enjoy one another’s company, while men frequently need the excuse of an activity to see their friends.

Another significant difference between how men and women’s friendships operate is in the way we relate to one another. Male friendships tend to be reserved, while female friendships tend to be more open, affectionate and demonstrative. Women are often freer to express their affection for their friends in ways men aren’t. As children, boys are often as demonstrative and expressive as women in how they feel for their friends, but that changes as we age; we’re taught over and over again that emotional intimacy is equivalent to sexual or romantic intimacy, and that’s strictly for our girlfriends or wives. So if being emotionally open and intimate with someone is a precursor to sex…well, better not tell your buddy you love him or he might think you’re trying to get into his pants.

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(The irony, of course, is that this didn’t used to be true; men used to have incredibly affectionate friendships with other men. Homophobia and toxic masculinity ruin the party once again.)

But the fact that we refuse to have these kinds of relationships with our male friends doesn’t mean that we don’t still need that emotional intimacy. But when straight men are told that they’re only allowed to experience this from people they might conceivably fuck, then we find that we’re only capable of finding it with women. And when we’ve conflated emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy…well, it doesn’t take much to round a platonic friendship up to romantic attraction, simply because we’re not used to having this kind of relationship with someone.

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There’s also the fact that some folks just like flirting. Plenty of people will flirt for fun and sport but without intent because hey, flirting’s fun. I’ve got friends I flirt with where it’s mutually understood there’s no actual intent behind it; we just have that kind of friendship. We flirt, we have fun, we go back to our respective partners.

But if you’re someone who’s not used to that sort of flirting or friendship, it’s easy to confuse it for something more significant or impactful.

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Put all that with plain old-fashioned animal attraction and it’s entirely possible to round “got the horn + close friendship” to “She’s my soulmate.”

Now none of this means that your feelings for her can’t be real or legitimate or are definitely NOT love or something very much like it. What it does mean is that what you’re feeling as mutual attraction might be a close but otherwise platonic friendship from your roommate’s side of things.

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That’s why it’s a good idea for you to examine your relationship with her as best you can without the filter of “...and I also want to bang like a screen door in a hurricane.” Is it possible that you’re interpreting things through the filter of what might be dickful thinking and seeing moments that aren’t actually there

Again: you very well could be 100% correct in the idea that this is a mutual thing and the only thing standing in the way of the two of you getting together is the question of which one of you is going to be the first to get tired of this sitcom situation and actually spit it out. Taking the time to interrogate how you’re seeing things can make the difference between a scorching hot relationship and having an awkward conversation about how you’re better off as friends.

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But there’s a second issue to consider: the fact that you two are roommates. That throws a spanner in the works. It’s one thing if you’re close friends who spend every waking moment together but have separate spaces to retreat back to at the end of the day. It’s another entirely if your lives are intertwined together with shared bills and responsibilities.

In the former, it’s easier to get some much-needed space, especially in the event that things don’t work out. Whether it’s the sting of finding out your roommate may love you, just not in the way that you hoped, or the awkwardness of a morning after a whirlwind hookup, when you can’t get that distance…well, you’re gonna be soaking in the awkward like the washing machine exploded all over your apartment. If you both aren’t committed to clinging to the core of your friendship and powering through the awkward, you can end up in a situation where the complications overwhelm you and make it difficult to continue living together.

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Again, I want to stress that I’m not saying that any attempt to get together is doomed and you should never try it. Plenty of couples have started out as close friends and roommates. What I am saying is: shit’s complicated, and trying to thread that needle is varsity-level dating. And that’s without taking the guy in her life into consideration.

If, and I stress if, you’re willing to take that risk, then I suggest you proceed with caution. You would both be best served taking small steps—deciding if you’re attracted to one another, then deciding whether you want to do anything about it and, if so, planning for how you’ll handle things if it doesn’t work out.

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That can be a lot of discussions and a lot of moving parts to try to mesh together. But if it’s worth it to you and you two can figure out away to make it work, then it may very well be worth all the effort. And if you decide it’s not? That’s valid too; having a close friendship isn’t the consolation prize for failing at romance, it’s an incredible and worthwhile thing all of its own.

Good luck.

Dear Doctor NerdLove,

I’ve got a problem that has been going on for the last well, 2 years, since the break up of my last serious relationship.

Apologies in advance for the length of this. It’s a complicated thing that is hard to explain succinctly.

(Not at all) Quick relationship recap, we were together for about 2 years, it wasn’t my longest relationship, but in terms of the emotional depth of it, it was easily the most impactful and defining relationship of my life so far. We had known each other for a long time and were in the same friendship circle. I always thought that she was so cool and had a crush on her for ages. We bonded a lot over music and she started playing in my band. We both have some struggles with pretty severe depression and we connected a lot when we were both going through some dark times. This led to us hooking up and pretty quickly getting very emotionally connected. The love and emotional connection really flared up quick and we just seemed so in sync, the sex was easily the best I’ve ever had and we were just really in tune emotionally. It really seemed like I had found my partner in crime and playing music together was pretty magical.

But it wasn’t all great. Being that she was in our friendship group, I knew her history, and she had cheated on several previous partners. But I was blinded by love and stupid and really kind of idolised this girl. Also we had become very co-dependent due to both our needs for security and support.

She would pretty regularly do some hurtful stuff that really pushed against my trust and boundaries. Stuff that was not quite cheating, not totally over the line but was very very questionable. Already, I was a pretty insecure person with a pretty low opinion of myself, and this stuff would really just hit me in my most vulnerable spots. These things would happen, we would clash and fight about it. But I loved her and felt like I kind of needed her, so I would forgive, she would say she would try to change and then it would happen again.

All of this led to this relationship being both a wonderful thing in my life and also a huge stress. The love and sex and emotional connection was something I hugely needed and enjoyed, but I would be constantly living in a state of worry and fear that my feelings would be hurt again or that she would finally just cheat on me and I would lose her.

As you can imagine, this stress took a huge toll on me, I developed an anxiety disorder and had a break down that kind of derailed my life for about a year. We kept seeing each other through this time, we were still very in love, she took care of me for some of the time that I couldn’t take care of myself and was an essential support for me, but also still a huge source of stress. Our relationship suffered a lot as a result of my mental health issues. I couldn’t be there for her when she needed as I was struggling to function, but at the same time I needed more and more from her. After a while of this, and a lot of therapy, I was starting to get better, things were improving. I was feeling optimistic about things. But pretty much right at the point that I thought I was okay, she was on tour with another band and (surprise, surprise) cheated on me.

Needless to say, I did not take this well at all and even now, 2 years down the track, I’m still a bit fucked up about it.

The break up was not clean at all. We continued hooking up for a bit afterwards, which made me feel terrible. Some other pretty dark stuff happened that really just made this break up something way beyond the scope of a usual break up and the whole thing just one by one hit all of my insecurities and vulnerabilities and left me in one hell of a depressive episode.

About 2 months after, we agreed to cut all contact. We haven’t spoken since, save for some very cold greetings at the rare party I see her at.

There are a lot of things about this and break ups in general that I have trouble dealing with. Getting cheated on, when exes sleep with other people, jealousy, etc. But one in particular is still actively affecting my life quite a lot.

I really struggle sharing my friends with her and it feels like a lot of them have taken her side.

When we broke up, we were both pretty fucked up and needed a lot of support. I didn’t want anyone to pick sides. She got a lot of support and from what I have been told by a good friend of mine who was there, kinda played the victim in the situation.

I only had one friend who was really there for me. Which at the time I didn’t mind all that much as I didn’t really want to see anyone anyway. But this trend has continued.

These days, some of my closest friends I hardly see any more, and on the rare occasion that they respond to me asking what they’re up to that night, they always seem to be doing something with her. It drives me absolutely crazy and makes me feel incredibly isolated and neglected, to the point that when I finally do get invited to something, it gets me twisted up and pissed off.

I feel pissed at them for hanging out with her and for not responding to me that when they finally do hit me up, I desperately want to see them, but I also don’t want them to feel like they can neglect me and then have me back whenever they want.

It’s really screwing up everything at the moment. I feel so angry that my ex could do that to me and then just walk back into our friendship group and have everyone act like nothing happened.

It’s not like I want my friends to exile her, but I just wish that at any point of this, someone had stood up for me or looked out for me. When we broke up, no one was there for me and I missed out on a lot of gatherings because she was going.

Shortly after we broke up, she started dating someone else in the friendship group. Everyone knew about it and kept it a secret from me and would regularly hang out with them. It was especially bad that when they would do that, I would unwittingly message a bunch of my friends asking if they wanted to hang out, just to have everyone ignore my messages. Invitations stopped rolling in, and when I finally knew about it, it turned out everyone was hanging out with them pretty regularly.

When I did see my friends, they would talk about all the wild parties that everyone had gone to with my ex and her partner that were never even mentioned to me. Every now and then I would get invited to something, but it started to feel like it was more of a token invite than a genuine interest to hang out with me.

This brings us to the situation now. All of my friends pretty much expect me to be fine with the situation and over it. They regularly talk about my ex and her partner and things they get up to with them and it hurts every time I hear it. They’re all great friends with her like always and sometimes we are even at the same party. But I hate this. I feel so angry at all of my friends and I feel like I can’t bring up the issues, because I should be mature enough to just accept the situation. And honestly, I feel like I could accept the way things are if at any point, someone had had my back. But the fact that someone could do that to me and all of my friends act like it is totally fine just makes me feel like this is a group that doesn’t care for me in the way friends should.

It makes me feel like all my friends just realised that her and her partner are more fun than me and so they’re going with them.

Which honestly, I can’t really blame them for. The break up, my worsening mental health afterwards and my inability to just accept the situation and act like everything is fine have made me a pretty boring and sad person to be around. I’ve spent the last 2 years in the worst headspace I’ve ever been in. I’ve been incredibly depressed and have had a lot of difficulty with suicidal thoughts, not necessarily connected to the break up. I’m on the medication rollercoaster, having tried about 6 different ADs and still not finding one that works. I can’t take drugs or party as hard as I used to, though I am totally fine being around that, which is a pretty big interest of my friendship group.

She on the other hand got to spend a lot of quality time with everyone, got into a new serious relationship and continued to participate in the wild parties as a more active participant.

So I find myself stuck. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time, but I feel like I can’t talk to my friends about it at all. They were friends with her before we got together, so of course they should be friends with her now.

But I just feel like I got a big kick in the gut and then my friends all walked away with the person who kicked me.

Maybe I should just walk away and find new friends, but these people have literally been my friends for my entire life, we all grew up together (with her joining the friendship group in adult life), so that feels like a big and terrifying step that I don’t know how to take. Maybe I’m being a big baby and need to just grow up and deal with it or maybe I am just imagining the whole issue. Honestly I would love to be told that I’m wrong about this whole thing and that what I think is happening isn’t actually happening.

I just really need some guidance and advice here and I don’t really have anyone I can spill it to.

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Feeling Cheated

So I can’t read minds, FC. I can’t read your friends’ minds and I can’t read your ex’s. But I don’t think you’re being abandoned. Not intentionally, in any case. I also don’t think it’s anything necessarily irreparable…but it’s gonna take some work.

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One of the things we often don’t talk about when it comes to break ups are the secondary effects, such as dealing with your friends afterwards. When the Venn diagram of you and your partner’s social circles is just a circle…well, it’s pretty much inevitable that friends are going to pick sides, especially when it’s a contentious break up. The problem is that sometimes things don’t split the way that we’d hope. Occasionally it’s just a matter of social loyalty; this group knew you better than that group. Other times, as much as I hate to say it, it’s a question of who tells your story and how much time you put in actually being there.

With the former, it’s often a question of which side of the story is being heard. If, for example, your ex is telling the story of “oh, times were hard and I slipped up and I’ve tried to get past things but Feeling Cheated is just being so stubborn,” then it’s not impossible for your friends to start feeling their sympathies align with her. It’s a compelling narrative; yeah she fucked up, but she’s taking ownership of it, and shouldn’t we be willing to forgive?

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It’s even more compelling if that’s all they’re hearing. It sounds like when things got bad for you, you holed up and went into hermit mode. Considering all the shit you went through, that’s completely understandable. When you’re dealing with depression or other mental health issues, it’s often hard to have the emotional bandwidth to do damn near anything, never mind be social or try to maintain connections with your friends. If it’s taking pretty much all of your energy to hold on by your fingernails, you’re not going to have any left over for literally anything else.

The problem is that this means that for two years, your friends aren’t hearing much from you. They are, however, hearing from your ex. So while she may not have set out to pull a charm offensive and box you out, that’s what effectively happened. Everyone heard her side of the situation, but not yours.

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And while I completely understand not wanting people to feel like they had to choose sides, there are times when noble intentions just mean you get stuck because you handicapped yourself and couldn’t keep up with the folks who didn’t share them.

So if you were keeping to yourself, out of a sense of not wanting to put people in the position of having to choose or just not being able to muster up the energy to reach out, then nobody was going to know what was going on with you or understand that you could have really used their help.

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This is why it’s important to advocate for your own needs and ASK for the support you require. If you weren’t reaching out to your friends and saying “yeah, my situation’s been all kinds of fucked lately and here’s why and I really need help,” then most folks aren’t gonna know that you’re not ok or just how messy this break up was. It’s easier for folks to think that you’re holding unreasonable grudges because they don’t know how fucked up you were and are over everything.

But the fact that you didn’t want to see anyone means that you more or less got lost in the churn that is life. Which happens more often than people realize, even among close friends.

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One of the things I see people say is “I feel like I’m doing all the work to stay connected with my friends.” This is an understandable frustration; we’d all like to think that if someone was really our friend, they’d reach out to us as often as we reach out to them. But in reality, life, uh, uh, gets in the way. Sometimes we’re swamped with work; other times we have our own personal dramas that are occupying all of our time. It’s very easy to get so caught up in your own stuff that you don’t stop to think about other people. It’s not malicious or intentional or even a sign that they don’t like you as much as you like them; it’s just that when everything is vying for your attention, it’s very easy to have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation. Doubly so if you’re the organizer or the initiator of your friend group. Triply so if you’re no longer interested in or able to do all the things you used to do.

You disappeared for a while and your ex didn’t. So she was more top of mind than other people were. She was spending more time with them while you were in hermit mode, and she was partying while you weren’t. And honestly, it sounds like you don’t actually want to DO the things that your friends (and your ex) are doing…which means that your friends are less likely to invite you to do them.

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What do you do now? Well, you could go out and find new friends—and I’d suggest you do that, if only to supplement your social circle—but you don’t need to actually write off your friends yet. The biggest conflict I’m seeing here is that you seem a little upset that your friends aren’t mind-readers. But unless you’re hanging with the X-Men, you can’t really expect people to divine how you’re feeling.

Before you write everyone off, consider trying to have some one on one time with your friends, not just to catch up but to share how things have been going for you and let them know how you’ve been feeling. The issue isn’t that you can’t tell them about how you’re feeling, it’s that you won’t. Until you decide to actually share how you’re feeling—maybe minus the “and I really resent all of you for being friends with her” part—they aren’t going to have any idea that you’re going through this. And to be perfectly blunt: there’s nothing good or noble about suffering in silence and hoping people notice.

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The only constant in life is change. You’ve changed and you’re not able, or interested, in doing the things that you and your friends used to do that solidified your bonds together. That means that if you want to maintain those friendships, then the nature of them is going to have to change as well. If you want to see where you stand with your friends and possibly repair some rifts, then you’re going to have to adjust how and when you spend time with them. You may not be able to get out and party with everyone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see folks on an individual basis, talk with them and generally have a lower-key but no less important hang out with them. That might help you feel less like you’ve been abandoned and help them see that you have been going through some shit. They probably won’t ditch your ex, but at least they’ll understand more about what you’re dealing with and why you haven’t been able to “just get over it.”

But none of that can happen unless you put in the work and make it clear that you want to see them and how you can see them. If you want to change the story of your life, then you’re gonna have to be the one who’s telling it.

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Good luck.


Have you romanced a roommate? Did you lose custody of your friends in the break up? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

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Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.

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