Ways To Increase Your Chances Of Getting Into True Platonic Friendships With Guys
Many men and women want friendships with the opposite sex, but have trouble getting them to work. Things can get messy when your friends develop one-sided feelings for you, or you fall for them. This long, in-depth article will cover the first problem and go over some ways you can increase the chances you'll make friends that want to keep things platonic. It will also go over your options if a friend does confess they have feelings for you.
Having too many opposite-sex friends wanting to date you is mainly a problem women face
Of course women sometimes fall for their guy friends, which may put the relationship in an awkward place. However, it's primarily women who complain of wanting male buddies, but having guy friend after guy friend eventually try to date or sleep with them. There are guys who are wary and guarded because their female friends keep making passes at them, but they're much more rare. So this article will focus on the female perspective, though if you're a guy a lot of the ideas will work just as well for you.
What this article will and won't cover
This article will focus on friendships that start platonic and hopefully stay that way. It won't get into how to shift into a friendship with someone you used to date or hook up with. It also won't cover the issues that can crop up when you're trying to build opposite-sex friendships with gay guys. That's a different set of dynamics.
Stuff to know ahead of time
You may have already learned some of the following points the hard way, but I'll mention them for anyone who's newer to male-female friendships.
Have realistic expectations
Friendships with guys can be great, but they just have a built-in risk of him falling for you. That's especially true if you're attractive, whether it's because you're good-looking, have an awesome personality, or are into in-demand hobbies or interests. Even if you follow every precaution there's no way to guarantee some of your guy friends won't want to date you sooner or later. Why are these guys impossible to completely screen out? For one, some men may genuinely think of you as a friend for a long while, before their feelings suddenly change. Others are just really good at pretending to be a true friend when they want to date you the whole time.
Similarly, there's no way to pick any particular guy, go "I want to be friends with him", then get him to feel the same way. And if a friend reveals he's attracted to you, there isn't a sure-fire set of tactics that will keep his feelings platonic. If you want to have opposite-sex friends you've got to be at peace with the risks. The thing is every type of relationship has potential downsides. Like, no one swears off same-sex friendships because there's a chance you might have a falling out over someone you both want to date.
Be aware of the broad differences in how men and women approach opposite-sex friendships
This point isn't trying to make you pessimistic and cynical, or think all men are evil. It's just practical to approach male-female friendships knowing where the pitfalls are so you can work around them. Men and women can definitely be long-term friends. There are millions and millions of examples in the world. But obviously not every man can be friends with every woman. As a whole men have a bunch of tendencies that can cause cross-sex friendships to go wrong:
- Men are more likely to say they'd sleep with their female friends if they had a chance. Women tend to like their guy friends only on a platonic level.
- Men are more likely to have an attitude of, "If I'm attracted to a woman then I want to date or hook up with her, not be her friend." Women are more able to acknowledge a guy is attractive in some ways, but realize he'd work better as a buddy, and not become interested in him otherwise.
- Men are less choosy about who they're willing to sleep with. Often their criteria boils down to, "Do I think she's hot? Yes? Okay, then I'd hook up with her if she's down." Women are more selective. They may think a guy is physically attractive, but rule him out for any number of personality reasons. They see a bigger percentage of the opposite-sex as friends-only material.
- Men are more likely to see their friendships as a source of potential dating or sex partners. When they befriend a woman it's in the back of their minds that sometimes male and female buddies start dating.
- If a guy is attracted to a female friend he's more likely to mistakenly believe she feels the same way.
- If a man is attracted to his friend he'll be more willing to risk damaging the friendship to have a shot at sex or dating. Overall, women lean towards wanting protect the friendship, even if they're feeling some interest themselves.
- Even if a guy wasn't interested from the start, he's at a greater risk for developing feelings down the line. One reason is men are more likely to misinterpret friendly behaviors as having a romantic intent, especially if they already have feelings and are seeing what they want to see (e.g., "She added a winky face to the end of her text. She's starting to flirt with me!")
- Another reason is that men are more likely to see close-friend behaviors, like being able to have a deep, hours-long conversations or being able to tell each other anything, as a sign of romantic compatibility. Women mostly see these things as proof that they're compatible with the guy... as a close friend.
- Men are more likely to pretend to be friends with a woman as a strategy to hopefully date or get physical with them down the road. Sometimes this is a calculated, manipulative move, but just as often it's because the guy is unconfident or misguided. He may be too scared to be up front and risk rejection, but hopes if he hangs around for a while and shows what a good guy he is, that she'll fall for him. Younger guys in particular can fall into doing this because they're more shy and inexperienced, or just don't know any better.
That list paints a gloomy picture, but again, there are lots of real-world examples of successful male-female friendships. There are even plenty of cases where the woman is clearly good-looking. So it's too simplistic to say all men are ruled by physical lust that will sabotage all their opposite-sex friendships. While men might have some broad tendencies, individuals they vary on how much they have the traits above:
- Men on one end of the scale aren't very capable of having female friends, at least at this point in their lives. They have an all-or-nothing approach to physical attractiveness. If they think a woman's cute they want to sleep with her. They either make a move soon after meeting, or fall into a pretend friendship and bide their time. They can be be friends with women they don't find physically attractive, but may not see the point. A subgroup of these guys are plain sexist and don't have any interest in being friends with women at all, except maybe as a means to an end ("Maybe I can bang one of her roommates.") They believe that if a woman isn't sleeping with them she doesn't have much else to offer.
- Other men have little trouble having platonic relationships with women. They're able to see all the ways women can be rewarding to know aside from as girlfriends or sex partners. They have less of a need to try to hook up with every hot woman they meet. They're pickier and consider factors other than looks when deciding how attracted they are to someone ("I realize she's pretty, but she's not the physical type I go for. She's fun as a friend, but doesn't have the personality I look for in a girlfriend.") This isn't say they can effortlessly be buddies with every woman they meet - sometimes the attraction is too strong - but they can have that kind of relationship with some of them.
These two general types of guys have trouble conceiving of each other's mentality. That's why if you ask men about their attitude toward having female friends you can get opposite responses. The second type will say, "Yeah, obviously men can have female friends without some hidden agenda. I've been friends with a bunch of women for years" The first type of guy will tell you, "Nah, men can never really be friends with women. I've tried to hook up with all the ones I've been friends with. That's just how we're wired."
Overall, don't assume potential guy friends are thinking about your relationship the same way you are
All this is to say, try to make guy friends, but don't assume they're on the same page as you. Some women have felt burned by their supposed guy buddies because they felt a certain way about the relationship, and unconsciously figured he must think the same way. For example, she have been eager to make some male friends, and met two guys at a party and had a fun conversation with them. She then thought, "Sweet! These guys are awesome. I've just made two new male friends!" She's then caught off guard when each guy asks her out over the next few days. Or a woman may know a guy and unconsciously think, "I like him as a friend, but I'd never date him. He's not my type at all. It's so blatantly obvious I'd never go for him, and that we'd only work as friends, that surely he feels the same way." The fact is he may totally believe he has a shot and is planning to make a move soon. Again, the idea isn't to be distrustful of men, just to have it on your radar that their thoughts about you may be in another place.
The question of whether male-female friendships are worth it if you have to take some measures to keep them on an even keel
Some of the suggestions below are about setting up boundaries and steering clear of some behaviors, to decrease the odds that your friend's feelings will get confused. When people read all of them a pretty common reaction is, "This seems so stifling. What's the point in being friends with someone if I have to hold myself back in so many ways? If a guy was a true friend I'd be able to act however I want and his feelings about me wouldn't change."
There's two ways to approach this thinking: The first is to agree with it and act however you'd normally act. If you go this route I think you should accept you're going to have more potential friends fall for you (and maybe you're okay with that trade off). The other option is to be pragmatic and realize that while opposite-sex friendships can be great, they do have the potential to go off the rails. Changing your behavior in some small ways is worth the sacrifice because it helps prevent even bigger hassles.
You could also find a middle ground and hold back in some ways, but not others. You can also use how much you feel you need to watch your behavior around someone as a gauge of the friendship. If you feel that unless you constantly censor yourself around a guy he'll fall for you, that's a big clue things may not be working.
Really, despite the vibe this article may give off, male-female friendships aren't that difficult
Since it's a collection of screening tips and precautions this article may give the impression that most male-female friendships are dead in the water, and that the ones that last are annoyingly high-maintenance. That's really not the case. No, not every cross-sex friendship is going to work out, but many do. All the dos and don'ts can seem overwhelming, but in practice you mostly get to just enjoy each other's company, and every so often you have a make a small, easy decision ("I'll reword what I wanted to say, so I don't give him the wrong idea.") You don't have to use every concept either. I've written a lot of them to give you plenty of options. If you really seem to have trouble making guy friends, use more of them. If you're mostly okay at it, use fewer.
If you meet the right male friend, whose mindset is truly in a platonic place, then it will all feel easy. It's kind of like having a car. There's a risk to getting behind the wheel, and lots of safety guidelines you should follow, but most of the time when you're driving along it's smooth and simple.
Measures you can take soon after meeting potential friends
Some prospective male-female friendships go south in the early days. Here are some steps you can take to tilt the odds in your favor:
Give new friendships a 'wait and see' period
Don't assume every friendly-seeming guy you've recently met actually wants to be friends:
- Some will be attracted from the start, but not work up the nerve to make a move until you've hung out as "friends" a few times.
- Some may not be sure how they feel about you for a week or two, and are hanging out in a neutral friendly way to get a better sense of things, but then quickly settle on wanting to date you.
- Some will genuinely think they just want to be friends at first, then have a change of heart and become attracted once they get to know you slightly better.
- Some will want to sleep with you, and deliberately pretend to want to be friends, with the plan of making a pass at you a few weeks down the line.
Don't be paranoid or cynical, but have some healthy skepticism and see how things play out. Hang out casually at first, get to know them, and try to figure out what they're looking for. Don't just listen to what he claims to want either - he may be lying or out of touch with himself. Let him gradually prove through his actions that he really wants to be friends. This won't prevent a man from falling for you farther down the road, or weed out deceptive or insecure guys who are playing a long game, but it will keep you from getting prematurely hopeful about some non-starters.
Consider how the friendship started
Guys you met through your social circle or hobbies: It's hardly a foolproof indicator, but in general these friendships have a better chance of succeeding if you first got to know each other in a gradual, almost accidental way. For example, a guy was a member of a club you joined, but didn't seem to take any particular notice of you at first. You only had a few short conversations here and there when you happened to be sitting near him. Eventually you got to know each other better and realized you got along, but even then you only hung out outside the club with the whole group for the first few months.
That's in contrast to situations where the guy more actively pursues you and wants to spend a lot of time alone right off the bat. E.g. You join a new club, and a guy makes a beeline for you and chats to you as much as possible, while ignoring the other members. Before you leave he invites you to get drinks later in the week, asks for your number, then keeps up a text conversation over the next few days. Odds are higher he had romantic interest from the second he saw you. This isn't to say platonic friendships can never start quickly. It's more that if you've just met someone and they're already trying to hang out a lot, you should get some of that sensible "let's see how this plays out..." cautiousness going.
Guys you met at work or in class: Be cautious here. It's hard to tell how work or school buddies really feel about you because the context can lead someone to act like a friend when they really want more. They may not reveal their feelings because they don't want to make their job or classes awkward if you turn them down.
Guys you met at bars or parties: Be cautious here too, especially if the guy was a stranger who approached you, rather than someone you met through your friends. Often if a guy goes up to a woman at a club or party, it's not because he's looking to make new pals. His M.O. may be to meet women in clubs, disarm them by saying he just wants to be friends, then try to make a move at a later meeting. Other guys work up just enough nerve to start a conversation, but chicken out of showing any further interest and give off a friendly vibe instead. Again, they hope to make a proper advance later on.
Guys you met by going on a few dates first: Some strong cross-sex friendships start when a man and woman meet, go on a handful of dates, then mutually agree that while they get along, there's no physical or romantic chemistry. There's no "What if?" mystery. They've already fooled around and realized it felt weird. That mutual agreement has to be there though. A one-sided lack of interest is a whole other story.
Men you rejected soon after they met you: An especially risky way for friendships to begin is when a guy clearly shows interest in you and you turn him down, but then one of you says you're still open to hanging out as friends. The guy's already shown he doesn't see you with platonic eyes, and if you start spending time together as buddies chances are on the high side he'll make another pass one day.
When a guy offers to be friends after getting shot down it's often because he thinks that he if can stay in your life you'll change your mind about him. He may also just want to be around you and unconsciously thinks that being friends is better than nothing. He may even convince himself he's fine with that arrangement for a while, but often his original feelings will resurface.
Some women offer friendships to guys they reject out of naivety. They think, "Well he knows I'm not interested, so if he keeps hanging out with me then it means he really does want to be buddies." If that describes you then aim to be more aware of how guys can think. Other women make these friendship offers as a blow-softening empty gesture. They may not even plan to say it in the moment, but don't want to hurt the guy's feelings so it just comes out. If you fall into that camp then realize you can turn a guy down without having to make any kind of peacekeeping counter offer. There's no need to unintentionally amass a bunch of pretend friends just because you're trying to seem nice.
Look for traits that show he's likelier to be able to keep a pure friendship going
You can avoid so many future problems if you end up in the right friendship to begin with. Admittedly none of these are totally reliable signs he won't develop feelings for you, but the more of them the better:
- He already has some longtime female friends.
- His friendships with women have actually been that way the whole time. It's not that he's confessed his love to half of them, then begrudgingly stuck around after getting turned down.
- He's in a long-term relationship.
- He's single, but has plenty of options in his dating life - He's less likely to see you as his sole chance to break his dry spell or get a girlfriend.
- He talks about his dating life and prospects with you.
- He seems confident and straightforward with women, like someone who would have already asked you out if he was interested.
- The type of people he tends to date or hook up with are nothing like you.
- He's fairly picky about who he dates.
- He's specifically made comments that indicate you're not his type.
- He's much more attractive than you. It's not easy on the ego to admit someone's more desirable than you, but it does mean he's less likely to want to move in a non-platonic direction.
- He doesn't treat you that differently compared to his other friends (e.g., it's not that he see his other male and female buddies twice a week in a group, but wants to see you every second day one-on-one).
- He asks you about your dating life. If things are going well, he seems happy for you.
- He seems unphased by your talking to other guys and having other male friends. He gets along with the men in your life.
- He's fine with hanging out with you in groups. He doesn't always need your full attention. If you go to a party together and you spend most of the night talking to other people, he doesn't mind.
- He's older, say 25 and up, and is more likely to have grown out of believing pretending to be someone's friend is a good way to find a partner.
- He knew you a long time before you became friends, and so is more likely to see you as a quasi-relative than a shiny new romantic possibility.
- He works or study in a field where he's around lots of women. That is, his mind is probably in a place where he sees women as colleagues and possible friends, not a mysterious alien species that's only good for dating.
- He has opposite-sex siblings or lots of female relatives. This one's a bit of a stretch, but again, it can be a sign he's had life experience that's given him the attitude that women are regular people that he can have many types of relationships with, not just romantic ones.
A trait that's not a super-reliable signal is how nice or jerkish a guy seems. A nice-seeming man may be a truly good person, or someone who just acts nice on the surface because he's afraid to show his true feelings. A guy who seems a bit like a cocky player may actually be that way, or he could be a solid, down to earth dude who just happens to have a bro-ish air to him.
Actively try to screen out the guys who want to date you
There are two ways you can go about this. You can indirectly send out "I'm not interested in dating you" signals:
- If you're already with someone, bring up that you have a boyfriend or husband early and often.
- To drive the "I'm taken" point home even more, bring your partner with you to social events.
- If you're single, talk about people you're attracted to or trying to date. If those people are clearly nothing like your potential guy friend, even better.
- Subtly mention how you're not attracted to people with traits he has.
- Call attention to any dating incompatibilities you have with him (e.g., he says he doesn't want kids, and you reply that you want a big family one day).
- If you're single, flirt with other people when he's around.
- Generally talk about how you're in a place in your life where you're looking for platonic guy friends.
- Call him by friendly terms like "buddy" or "pal".
- Tell him he's like a brother to you.
If you do these types of things many of the guys with romantic intentions will fade away or get frustrated and confess their feelings before long. Either way, they've revealed themselves. Even if an interested guy doesn't leave or make a move his reaction to your screening behaviors may betray his intentions. Like if you flirt with another man in front of him, does he seem quiet and grouchy afterward, or does he cheerfully start teasing you about your new future husband?
One screening tactic that can backfire is trying to act unattractive on purpose, by being extra crude or gross, or by dressing really casually. This can just as easily make you seem endearingly down to earth as drive men away ("She burps a lot and dresses like a slob, just like one of the guys. She's... she's really special.").
The second, direct approach is to flat out tell guys that you're only looking for a friendship and that you don't see them as dating material. A pro of this approach is you get to be upfront rather than trying to manufacture all these indirect clues. If you strongly suspect a guy is into you it instantly sets the record straight. A con is it can come off as harsh and abrupt. The other thing is that if a guy is into you he can simply lie and go, "Uh... Oh yeah, for sure. I just want to be friends too", then go back to waiting for your feelings to change.
Ask your friends what they think his intentions are
They don't always get it right, but sometimes our friends see things we can't. You may be so excited at the thought of having a new guy friend that you overlook the signs that he actually wants to sleep with you. If you ask some friends for their opinion those same signs may jump out at them.
Stay away from riskier situations at first
When an opposite-sex friendship is getting off the ground some situations are more likely to send the wrong signal and cause the guy to have confused feelings. Everything may be platonic in your mind, but he may read it as, "Things are building towards a romance." This all goes double if he already wants to date you and is running everything through a wishful thinking filter.
Here are some situations you may want to steer clear of or try to limit until you've got a good sense that your new guy friend has only platonic feelings. Even further into the friendship you may want to be cautious with some of them. Also, if a guy really, really wants to do a lot of these things with you, and seems upset when you turn him down, it could be a sign he's already in a dating frame of mind:
- Hanging out one-on-one - Avoiding all one-on-one interactions is overkill in most cases, but all else being equal you can keep a potential friend at a more casual distance if you only see him in groups.
- Hanging out one-on-one, and doing date-like activities like seeing a movie, having dinner at a fancy restaurant, or watching TV on one of your couches late in the evening
- Having really deep, intimate, revealing conversations - Like I mentioned earlier, guys are especially prone to misreading this one. On average women have more experience with intimate discussions. They've had plenty with their friends and family, and don't automatically see them as romantic. Your stereotypical guy doesn't have them as often, and in the past may have only talked in depth with girlfriends. He's more likely to view them as a sign that you and he are forging a romantic bond.
- Drinking or doing drugs together, especially if it's just the two of you - A couple of drinks is probably fine, but getting really drunk or high can crater everyone's judgment.
- Any heavily touch-centric activities, like going to a drop-in partner dancing event - Maybe if you met because you're both experienced dancers, and are used to that kind of physical contact, it's okay, but otherwise the safe bet is to avoid it.
- Activities like going to the beach or lounging around by the pool, where you'll be lightly dressed - Letting him see your body is less risky way down the line, when he's more likely to think of you as a glorified sister and not be phased if he see's you in a bikini.
Thoughts on talking with guy buddies about problems with your boyfriend
There's one behavior that can go either way and be a powerful screening tool, or unintentionally send mixed messages. It's talking about any issues you're having with your boyfriend or husband. On one hand, it's the thing a guy who secretly likes you will have the least patience for, and is most likely to cause him to get exasperated and show his true feelings. If he has a crush the last thing he wants hear about is some other guy who gets to date you while he doesn't. Plus, you're talking about troubles in your relationship, so he'll get doubly annoyed by thinking, "Her boyfriend sounds like a jerk. Why is she staying with him when a great guy like me is right in front of her? Instead she's 'using' me to vent her feelings so she stick it out with him longer." On the other hand, talking about your relationship troubles may accidentally communicate to him "I'm not happy. I may be single soon. I'm looking for someone better... maybe someone like you."
Measures you can take throughout the friendship
As I said, successful male-female friendships aren't that much work, especially if you end up with guys who really do just want to be friends, but there are some steps you can take to maintain healthy boundaries:
Be careful with behaviors that may be misconstrued
Certain situations can send mixed signals. So can specific behaviors. It's definitely a good idea not to do these things in the first few months of the friendship, but being cautious with them longer-term can also help keep it clear in everyone's mind that the relationship will always just be a friendly one.
- Being flirty with each other, even if you feel like you're just goofing around - Some opposite-sex friendships do just fine with lots of funny, empty flirting, but for the most part this is playing with fire.
- Touching them a lot - Some guys will even see rougher touching, like a punch on the arm, as romantic, though that should be fine with most friends. What I'm talking about is more things like reflexively touching his shoulder after every joke he makes. The most risky type of touch is boyfriend/girlfriend-type stuff, like resting your head on his shoulder, or laying your head in his leg, while you watch a movie.
- Giving each other back massages or foot rubs - Be especially wary if he's offering the massage. Some guys think if they can touch you in a more intimate way, or show you how good they are with their hands, that you'll start thinking of them on a more sexual wavelength.
- Asking him to help with semi-intimate physical tasks like rubbing sunscreen on your back or helping you fit into a dress
- Cuddling, for any reason - Giant mistake. Cuddling is total couple territory.
- Complimenting him about his sexual or dating attractiveness - E.g., saying he's organized isn't a problem. Saying his chest has been looking good since he started working out is more dicey. Again, some friendships do just fine with this kind of familiar attitude, but in others it gets one person thinking, "Is this it!? Are she finally starting to like me?!?"
- Telling him that you'd like to date someone with his traits - For example, "I really need to find a guy who makes me laugh like you do."
- Bringing him along to situations you'd normally take a boyfriend to - For example, taking him to a wedding as a "date", going on a "double date" with an actual couple.
- If you're both single, generally treating each other as substitute quasi-partners - There's no one behavior that defines this, but people know it when they see it. You hang out all the time, and generally act like boyfriend and girlfriend, aside from the hooking up part.
- Accepting lots of favors and gifts - If a guy likes you he may do things for you that he wouldn't do for a regular friend, like always paying when you eat out when he'd normally split the bill. As nice as it is to get favors, accepting too many of them can signal that your relationship with him is different, and that you're okay with his semi-courting behaviors. It's better to insist he treats you like all his other buddies.
Have other ways to get your needs met, so you don't over-rely on one guy friend
Some male-female friendships fall into boundary-blurring territory because one person looks to the other to fulfill too many of their friendship and emotional needs. They spend a ton of time together and have lots of really intimate, supportive conversations. There's nothing inherently wrong with these things, but too much of them can lead to those "If we're this close, why don't we just become a couple?" feelings. If you can get your needs met by a variety of sources, you won't need to hang around one guy too much. Know how to make other friends. Have different places you can go to if you could use some emotional support, like other friends, family members, or counselors. Naturally, if you're feeling deprived of physical comforts like cuddling, you should really try to find a way to get that need met outside of a friendship with a guy.
What if all or almost all of your friends eventually end up wanting to date you?
Pretty much everyone's had at least one male-female friendship fall apart on them, but most people can keep some of them going. What do you do if seemingly every guy friend you have ends up wanting to date you? Here are some possible explanations:
- You're not doing anything wrong and are just having bad luck - Sometimes women hit an unlucky streak where a bunch of their opposite-sex friendships just don't work out. They take precautions, don't accidentally send any misleading signals, and maintain good boundaries, but just get unlucky with the guys they meet.
- You're just really attractive to the types of guys you want to be friends with - There's only so much you can do to work around this, but try looking extra hard for men who seem like they're able to have platonic relationships, and who show signs of being more indifferent about your attractiveness.
- You're mostly trying to be friends with guys you met under circumstances where the odds of success are lower - For example, you're trying to befriend men you've gone on a few dates with before deciding you didn't have romantic feelings for them; you're only hanging out with guys who approached you first.
- You're unintentionally sending out particular romantic signals - Think about whether you're doing any of the things mentioned above. This is another place where friends may be able to see things you don't.
- You unintentionally give off a flirty vibe with everyone - Some people have a generally flirty demeanor. They often just have warm, outgoing personalities, but for whatever reason their friendliness comes across as flirtatious. They're not to blame. Their natural instincts just create a misleading impression. Practically-speaking, if you do this you should be able to identify some pieces of your body language or behavior you can tweak, so you can come across as more neutral.
- You unconsciously want to befriend people who are attracted to you - Some bitter men believe every woman who has guy friends secretly does it because she's egotistical and gets off on being surrounded by a collection of fawning admirers. That's not true obviously. Most women really just want genuine male friendships. However, a small portion do have more ego-stroking motivations, and sometimes don't realize it until they look back on their friendships years later.
What you can if you a guy friend has feelings for you
Using the suggestions above won't filter out every guy who wants to date you, but it should make it more likely you'll get into platonic relationships where everyone is on the same page. What do you do when a guy friend does show he has feelings for you? Again, there's no way to have make it work out every time, but here are some options for navigating that situation:
The ways a friend may reveal he has feelings for you
The way your friend lets you know affects your choices for how you can react:
- The first way is when he blatantly lets you know, either by telling you or making a physical pass. Here you're pretty much forced in the moment to tell him you're not interested. Maybe if he's really drunk you could try to sidestep his advance and pretend it never happened, but for the most part he's put you in a position where you have to turn him down.
- The second is when he doesn't come out and say it, but his attitude and demeanor towards you shifts, and you just know what it means. Like he may suddenly start acting a lot more flirty, touchy, or suggestive. He may suddenly become sullen whenever you bring up your boyfriend. He may start giving off a sad, lovelorn vibe. He may say odd things that make you stop and think, "What was that about?... Did he just use some 'Turn your friend into a lover' line on me?" Whatever he does, you have the option of being direct and setting him straight, but could also try to subtly deflect his behavior and hope it goes away.
The timing of the reveal will also affect your choices. He may let you know he's interested in you a few weeks into knowing him, or might spring it on you years into what you thought was a true platonic friendship. If you've known him a while you may be much more reluctant to cut him loose entirely.
The points will below go into more detail about your choices, starting with what to do when you've already unmistakably turned your friend down.
Do what you can to have other ways to meet your needs, so you can make the best decision
Sometimes people aren't thrilled with the state of their friendship, but it meets certain needs so they reluctantly hold onto it. I already mentioned emotional needs like having someone to lean on for support during hard times. Another type of needs are practical ones. It's not noble or glamorous, but some people put up with an irritating friend who keeps trying to date them because they, say, don't have a car and need someone to drive them around. The more you can do things for yourself the more you can choose what relationships you want to be in.
Option: End the friendship right away
You may be able to keep the friendship going after he's revealed his feelings, but it's also fine if you feel like the relationship is awkward and tainted and want to be done with it You may realize that while you like the guy's company, there's nothing that special or irreplaceable about it. You may know he has such strong feelings for you that he'll never be able to just be friends. He may have made a move on you in a disrespectful or aggressive way. He may have let you know he never really saw you as a friend and was always biding his time until he could try to get you into bed. However it played out, there's no Friendship Law obligating you to hang in there and try to make it work.
Option: If you were really close, demote him to a more casual level
Maybe you don't think you can be close friends with him anymore, but you'd be okay seeing him more occasionally, and mostly hanging out in groups. The relationship won't be what it was, but could still be enjoyable in a lighter way.
Option: Tell him you only ever want to be friends and hope he can accept that
If you do this one possibility is that he'll stop hanging out with you. If that happens, and you've been friends for a long time, you may feel betrayed and think, "If he was really my friend he never would have developed feelings for me, or at least kept them hidden so we could continue the friendship." The reality is people can't choose who they fall for, and once your friend realized he had feelings for you it was perfectly reasonable for him to take a gamble on his future happiness and let you know how he felt. He knew he was putting the friendship at risk, but decided it was worth it. After getting turned down it may be too painful or humiliating for him to keep seeing you. He may also be mourning the loss of your friendship, but can't force himself to pretend he just wants to be pals with someone he's really attracted to. Even though you may be dealing with your own difficult feelings over the fallout, try to also see things from his perspective.
Another possibility is he'll say he understands that you don't see him romantically, and that he'd still like to try to be friends. Obviously, the problem is you can't tell how how sincere he is. Some guys can get over being rejected by a friend. They may feel hurt for a while, but they eventually accept a sexual relationship isn't going to happen, and start to see you in purely platonic terms. As you well know, other guys will say they're okay with trying to remain friends, but don't mean it. Sometimes they're consciously choosing to tell you what you want to hear, so they can wait a while before making another attempt. More often they simply can't accept the rejection and misguidedly hope that if they put in more time you'll eventually realize you're attracted to them.
You can't be sure how it will go with any one guy, but on the whole I think men you haven't known long have a bit better chance of eventually being able to be friends. They may have some initial attraction for you, but once they realize that's off the table their brain might be able to switch gears and put you in the Platonic category. However, as I mentioned earlier, the fact that he's already shown interest still doesn't make him an amazing bet.
Possibly offer him a cooling off period
Once you've rejected them some guys quickly make up their mind about whether they want to cut you off or try to keep hanging out. Others may be confused and stirred up, and not be sure what they want to do or whether they'll be able to be friends. You can offer to spend some time apart to let him decide: "I understand that it's weird for you to be around me right now, but how about we not see each other for a few months? After that, if you still think it'll be hard to hang around me, no problem. But if you want to be friends, just friends you can get back in touch." If you spent a ton of intense one-on-one time with him, it might also work to go on a semi-break from each other where you see each other more casually and occasionally.
Option: End the friendship after giving him a chance or two
Sometimes a friend will confess his attraction, you'll turn him down, and you'll both go on to have successful true platonic relationship. In other cases he'll agree to try to remain friends, and everything will seem back to normal for a while. Then he'll do something new to tip his hand that he still wants to date you. Maybe you'll give him another chance after that, but it soon becomes clear his feelings are never going to change. At this point you know you're never going to have a genuine platonic relationship and a sensible move is to wrap things up.
Option: Pretend not to notice his signs of interest, subtly remind him you only see him as a friend, and hope he eventually stops
You can go this route if your friend is obviously hinting he wants something more without coming out and saying it. You pretend his suggestive comments and gestures fly over your head completely, or act as if you thought they were jokes. In the weeks that follow you pepper more "I just see you as a friend"-type statements and behaviors into your conversations, to try to drive home where he stands with you (e.g., calling him "buddy", talking about other guys you want to date, etc).
I think a lot of people can default to this approach because in the moment it's the easier, less-awkward, less-confrontational choice. I don't mean that in a judgy, "grow a spine!" sense either. If a friend has hinted at liking you, you don't necessarily need to turn him down right away. Sometimes if you ignore his comments he'll get the message and move on. If he continues to show more and more signs of interest you can always be more direct. Alternatively, you may feel trying to send little hints is too unassertive and want to cut to the chase.
Option: Try to find him a girlfriend
This one is great in theory - If he gets into a relationship with someone else you'll probably get him off your back. It's harder to pull off in practice. Short of introducing him to people or being a wingwoman, there's only so much you can do to get another person into a couple. On average, guys who get hung up on their female friends aren't the greatest at finding girlfriends either. They may not have the experience or confidence to meet someone else any time soon. He may also be so fixated on you he isn't open to looking elsewhere.
Iffy option: Fall into a partially-rewarding, partially-irritating quasi-friendship where you're well aware of how he feels, and that you accept you'll occasionally have to squash his attempts to date you
This kind of "friendship" sounds like an annoying sham, but it's not as uncommon as you'd think. You'll meet people who joke about their "friend" who they know carries a torch for them, and how they've resigned themselves to hearing drunken pronouncements of love every six months. People end up in these relationships because the benefits they get outweigh the inconvenience of their friend making a move on them every now and then. They'd strongly prefer if their buddy wasn't attracted to them, but in the end they don't find the twice-yearly "I wish we could be more than friends" talks that big a price to pay.
It may seem immature and cruel to keep someone on the hook like this, and sometimes that is what's behind it. The more benign explanation is that if you're not the one who's romantically attracted your emotions on the matter just aren't as strong. He may be up every night having torturous thoughts about how he can't have you. Your feelings are a more matter-of-fact "Nah, not into him." Because your emotions are more indifferent you can end up focusing more on how you'd prefer to keep the friendship, and not giving enough thought to what he's going through.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying aspects of the friendship and wanting to keep them going, but I think there comes a point where the kind move is let your friend go, because he can't do it on his own. You're giving up some perks of being pals with him, but it's more important to save him from being miserable and clinging to something he'll never have.
Don't toy with your friend if you know he has feelings for you
It's not the most mature or admirable behavior, but occasionally people will toy with a friend they know likes them. They might intentionally send mixed signals, be a tease, or try to hurt his feelings by "casually" bringing up details about how well things are going with another guy. One reason people do this is passive-aggressiveness. They resent their friend's romantic interest, and make small jabs to get back at him. Another reason is ego. Someone may not want to date a friend, but like the feeling of getting positive attention or having a person wrapped around their finger. Though just because something can be explained, doesn't mean it's okay. If you're doing this kind of thing knock it off. Find healthier ways to feel good about yourself, and if you really find yourself resenting a friend then address it in more a direct way.
Semi-side topic: Don't assume a guy friend always secretly liked you because he's made himself scarce since you got into a relationship
You'll often hear women complain, "I thought I had several good guy friends, but as soon as I started getting more serious with my boyfriend they all disappeared." Yeah, if a guy friend fades away when you get into a relationship it's very possible he wanted to date you all along. There are other explanations though. He may have figured you were going to start spending all of your time with your boyfriend, and stopped asking you to hang out because he thought you'd be too busy. He could also be staying at a distance out of respect for your partner. Rightly or wrongly, his thinking may be, "Her boyfriend probably thinks it's weird that she has such a close male friend. I'll keep away so it doesn't put a strain on their relationship." In either case, if your friend has disappeared, and you've assumed it's because he had feelings for you, get in touch with him and try to clarify things. With luck it was all a misunderstanding.