Should You Reveal a Crush on a Friend?

The pros and cons of admitting attraction.

Posted Feb 21, 2021 |

Regardless of how long you have known someone, if you like spending time with each other and are both single, you are not immune from developing romantic feelings.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, considering, as I discuss in a previous article, that some of the most successful relationships begin as friendships.  But romance requires reciprocity.  Accordingly, the most challenging position to be in is the initial position of suddenly realizing that you are developing deeper feelings for a friend—and facing the question as to what to do next, if anything.

More than likely, you would not seriously consider making a move on someone with whom you objectively realized you had no chance at romance.  But within mutually enjoyable relationships of trust and companionship, particularly when you already spend a significant amount of time together either personally or professionally (or both), you might at some point at least think about what it would be like to take the relationship to the next level.   If and when you do, research reveals some tips to consider before you make a move.  

Image by Mohamed Chermiti from Pixabay
Source: Image by Mohamed Chermiti from Pixabay

Perceiving Reciprocity        

Some individuals who develop crushes on friends become cautiously confident, believing their attraction is reciprocal, especially when they think highly of themselves.  But as some people have learned the hard way, the key is to ensure optimism does not compromise objectivity.

In two online studies, Bryan L. Koenig et al., in a piece aptly titled, “Misperception of Sexual and Romantic Interests in Opposite‐sex Friendships,” evaluated the misperception of romantic and sexual interest within established relationships, and found projection of romantic interest to be common.[i]  Finding a gender difference, they reported that male subjects overperceived and female subjects underperceived friends’ sexual interest, but not romantic interest.  In addition, participants of both genders misperceived the sexual but not the romantic interest of their friends depending on the friends’ mate value.  

Mate value has factored into subsequent research as well.  Edward P. LeMay and Noah R. Wolf (2016) investigated the projection of romantic and sexual desire within opposite-sex friendships.[ii]  They found that individuals who exhibited strong desire towards friends projected this desire onto the objects of their affection, and were more likely to perceive reciprocal desire than was actually true.  Accordingly, such projection motivated perceivers to engage in relationship initiation behaviors, which in turn predicted changes in the targets’ romantic desires over time.  LeMay and Wolf also found projection to be elevated for perceivers who viewed themselves as high in mate value, and targets seemed to be influenced by the overtures of perceivers when they viewed perceivers as high in mate value.  LeMay and Wolf note that this suggests that at least for perceivers with elevated mate value, romantic and sexual desire prompt biased perceptions that may end up creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

Does that mean self-esteem drives relational success?  Not always.  There are many reasons your friends may want to remain just that—most of which have nothing to do with you.  Accordingly, when a respectful overture leads to rejection, many people share that realization has helped them not take it personally.      

Pause Before You Pursue

Concern over compromising a quality friendship is one of the main reasons prospective partners pause before they pursue.  This is a particularly valid concern for friends who are compatible personality-wise but are seriously mismatched in terms of values, goals, or even geography—factors that have the potential to significantly reduce the chances of long-term relational success.

Enjoy the positive relational benefits your current friendships have to offer, trusting that if and when something more is in your future, the transition will be comfortable, and mutual.  

Facebook image: GaudiLab/Shutterstock


[i] Koenig, Bryan L, Kirkpatrick, Lee A, and Ketelaar, Timothy. 2007. “Misperception of Sexual and Romantic Interests in Opposite‐sex Friendships: Four Hypotheses.” Personal Relationships 14 (3): 411–29.

[ii] LeMay, Edward. P., & Wolf, Noah R. (2016). Projection of romantic and sexual desire in opposite-sex friendships: How wishful thinking creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 864-878.