Should I tell my friend I have feelings for them, even though they’re in a relationship?

“What if clear and honest expressions of desire, messy as they are, were seen as opportunities for growth, change and deepened intimacy?”

Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse” is a column by Kai Cheng Thom to help you survive and thrive in a challenging world. Have a question? Email

Dear Kai,

I recently realized that I’ve been slowly falling for a friend over the past four years. We’ve been through some very difficult times in our lives together and helped one another overcome them and grow as people. They have been in a long distance relationship that seems to make them happy for about five months. At my core, all I want is for them to be happy and feel safe, so I don’t think I could bring myself to tell them while they’re in this relationship. That being said, I’m also not ready to just drop everything and move on. These are the deepest romantic feelings I’ve ever felt. My priority is our friendship, but I don’t want to abandon my chance at something that could be a really meaningful romantic connection. For context, we go to the same college and we met in freshman year; now I’m about to graduate. We both want to stay in this city after college, so distance isn’t an issue. In fact, they complain sometimes about the distance in their own relationship and the trouble they have resolving that because their partner is unable to move here anytime soon. 

So: Do I just wait to confess? Do I try to date casually for now? Or do I get these feelings out by telling them but then potentially harm our friendship and their own relationship and happiness in the process?

Yours Truly,

Genderless Anomaly

Dear Genderless,

The situation you describe is one of the classic conundrums of romance: falling for a friend who is already taken! Infinite romantic comedies and television dramas have constructed plots around this very scenario, and I believe that almost everyone will find themselves in some version of it over the course of our lives. Genderless, do not despair. While I can’t promise you any particular outcome, what I can guarantee is that no matter what choice you make, the opportunities for personal growth in this situation are great indeed. What’s most important is not what you do, but the intention and thoughtfulness that you put into it. 

Whenever we are thinking about expressing important feelings (whether romantic or otherwise) to someone, it is often helpful to stay grounded in a sense of emotional boundaries. More simply put, it’s important to ask yourself the question: What are you responsible for? And what is the other person responsible for? Getting clear about boundaries allows us to make decisions based on compassion and respect for ourselves and the other person at the same time. Clear and compassionate boundaries are what allow big and challenging feelings to be expressed within a relationship without destroying it. 


When it comes to you and your friend, Genderless, I would like to suggest that one important boundary to remember is that you’re not responsible for their relationship with their partner. It’s not your job to protect that relationship, maintain it or manage anyone’s behaviour in it—the only thing that you need to do in regard to that relationship is respect it. Respect means acknowledging that the relationship is important to your friend and not trying to sabotage or destroy it (which you weren’t planning to do anyway). You can still respect your friend’s relationship with their partner while expressing the romantic feelings you have for them. How your friend reacts to your feelings, and the decisions they make about their romantic life, is up to them. 

What does it look like to respectfully tell a person who is already in a partnership that you have feelings for them? Well, in some cases it’s probably most respectful not to, like in situations where you don’t really know the person all that well, or where they clearly don’t reciprocate. However, if you know each other well (as in your case) and there’s a possibility that the feelings are mutual, it can be a gift to be able to discuss the situation openly rather than painfully dancing around it. The key is to bring the feelings to the surface without any expectations or pressure around the outcome.

When making a disclosure like this, timing and preparation are everything—everything! As I frequently tell anyone who asks me for any advice (and also quite a few people who don’t), surprise relationship processing is most people’s least favourite kind and is not likely to go very well. Invite your friend for coffee or some other kind of meeting spot in a neutral space; ideally, not anybody’s home. Let them know in advance you’d like to talk about something, but that it’s nothing urgent or bad (that last part is important—just sending someone a cryptic text saying “Can we meet up for coffee? I want to talk about something important” is liable to send many folks straight into an anxiety attack). 

I recommend diving in with something direct and to the point, such as: “You’re a really important friend to me. You’ve helped me overcome big challenges and helped me grow as a person. And I just wanted to tell you that while I know you’re in a relationship and I would never want to mess that up, I’m also starting to have feelings for you. It’s important to tell you, but I also don’t have any expectations and I really want you to do what feels right for you.” Of course, you would want to come up with something that reflects your own voice and the context—it can help to write things down in advance, since nerves often get in the way of talks like this.  

“‘Ask Kai,’ however, has always been rooted in a queer ethos of intimacy, and I believe that queerness offers us some different and empowering options when it comes to classic romantic conundrums.” 

Genderless, there’s absolutely no requirement that you disclose your feelings to your friend: the above paragraphs are simply a suggestion that there’s nothing wrong with doing so if you feel that you must. More traditional advice might tell you to just grieve your feelings and move on, or wait until your friend is single again (if ever). “Ask Kai,” however, has always been rooted in a queer ethos of intimacy, and I believe that queerness offers us some different and empowering options when it comes to classic romantic conundrums. 

In the first place, having feelings for an already partnered person is only a problem by default in a society where monogamy is the rule. What if your friend does share your feelings? What if they and their partner are open to polyamory? Then your disclosure becomes an opportunity for everyone to be happy. In the second place, the taboo around being a “homewrecker” is, in my opinion, a scapegoat for some serious flaws in the way the dominant culture conceives of being in a relationship, monogamous or otherwise. Just because we are in a committed relationship with someone doesn’t mean that they “own” our sexuality or that we are committed to stay with them for all of time. 

Every person is entitled to explore their sexual desires and pursue their greatest happiness. I wish it weren’t such a radical idea that if you are in an unhappy (or even mediocre) relationship, you are free to end it and be with someone who does make you happy. Hetero-patriarchal ideas of “faithfulness” that pretend we have to be with one person forever just because we are together now simply lead to repression, dishonesty and cheating, in my experience—and that’s where the real harm occurs. 

Of course, Genderless, there’s no way for me to anticipate how your friend might react to such a disclosure. If your best guess is that they won’t be able to hold your feelings without experiencing them as horrifically shocking or as pressure to break up with their partner, then it might indeed be a good idea to wait. But if the worst thing that could happen is that they feel somewhat awkward and have to turn you down, then I honestly believe that this could actually strengthen your friendship and relieve you of the need to keep your feelings a secret.  

The dominant culture has socialized us to believe that expressing feelings for someone and being rejected is catastrophic and friendship-destroying. The truth is, it mostly depends on how you respond to being rejected. If you set the tone that what you really want is for your friend to be happy and safe and you express true gratitude for their honest response to your feelings, chances are you’ll build deeper trust into the friendship. I believe that we ought to live in a world where expressing our true desires with humility and respect is seen as good and brave (because it is!), and where responding to others’ desires with kindness and honesty is also seen as good and brave (because it is!).

We live in a paradigm where desire and honesty—especially queer desire and honesty—are seen as inherently destructive and harmful. Rom-coms and TV dramas reinforce this idea ad infinitum. What if the alternative was true? What if clear and honest expressions of desire, messy as they are, were seen as opportunities for growth, change and deepened intimacy? I encourage you to want what you want, Genderless. Requited or unrequited, there is nothing wrong with desire.

Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.

Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, and social worker who divides her heart between Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the Lambda Award-nominated novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press), as well as the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (Arsenal Pulp Press). Her latest book, Falling Back in Love with Being Human, a collection of letters and poetry, is out now from Penguin Random House Canada.

Keep Reading

In the midst of despair, how do you find the will to go on?

“We have a calling, here in this decaying world, and that is to live and to serve life with every precious breath that is gifted to us”

I’ve met someone amazing, but I can’t stand the way he smells. How do I talk to him about it? 

Kai weighs in on how to have a “scentsitive” conversation with a new date 

Queer and trans families are intentional. They take the shape of what you and your loved ones need most

In the nine-part series Queering Family, Xtra guest editor Stéphanie Verge introduces us to people who are redefining what it means to build and sustain a family

Valentine’s Day gifts for every queer in your life

Shower every love in your life with gifts galore this Valentine's Day