Dear Carolyn: I'm a single guy who has harbored feelings for one of my best friends for a number of years. I've never said anything to her, since I don't want to put her in the position of having to reject me, and I know in my head that it wouldn't work out between us due to a number of lifestyle and religious hurdles.
Recently she has begun seeing someone. I'm happy for her, but at the same time I don't really want to subject myself to being around her right now. How can I take a break from our friendship without ruining it forever? Should I just drop off the grid, or do I need to explain why? I truly want her to have her best chance with this relationship, and I don't want to do anything that may jeopardize that.
A: The temperate answer is to lie low for a bit without explaining, since you seem to want to maintain the friendship, but you also don't care to play audience to the schmoopie stage of her romance with someone else. If she's caught up in this guy, she's probably not around as much, anyway.
But no matter what you actually do, I think it would be a mistake to regard this as a short-term problem in need of a short-term solution. You've been sitting in the path of this collision for years, ever since you made the decision to stay friends and stay quiet about your feelings.
Take a step back and see: You want her, you won't pursue her, you won't leave. You've set yourself up to be stuck. I doubt the 9-year-old you looked to the night sky and said to yourself, "When I grow up, I want to be the grieving spectator to someone else's happiness."
So the bigger question you need to ask yourself is, how do you want this story to end?
You give three reasons for not telling her how you really feel -- aversion to rejection, hopelessness of you as a pair, fear you'll jeopardize her new relationship -- but there's always something fishy about multiple reasons. It sounds like rationalizing.
To write a happier ending, you need to figure out the real reason you've opted for stuck. Then you need to decide how you're going to get unstuck.
Then you share this with your (still-single) close friend: "I've had feelings for you for years and never had the nerve to speak up" or "I've had feelings for you for years that won't let me get on with my life, so I need to stop hanging out with you" or "I like us as platonic friends, but it has been surprisingly tough to see you with someone; I think I need to step away for a bit."
Whatever it is you choose to say, it has to be consistent with what you really want. Otherwise, you'll merely transform from Stuck Guy, who lives in an eternal present, to What-If Guy, who lives in an unending past -- hardly an upgrade.