Do You Love Your BFF or Are You IN Love with Her?

“Death—or the prospect of death—has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya,” Elizabeth wrote. “And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.”

Now, Elizabeth says she and Rayya are together. “I love her, and she loves me. I’m walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner,” she says. “I am exactly where I need to be—the only place I can be.”

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Her epiphany raises a major question for the rest of us: How do you know whether you love your BFF or are in love with her?

Clinical psychologist John Mayer, Ph.D., says passion is the big distinguisher. “We have passion for our ‘lovers’ and we can have intimacy and love for our friends,” he says.

Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., agrees, and says that feeling sexually attracted to a friend is a big tip-off—but it’s not always easy to figure out. “In some situations involving individuals who may have same-sex attractions but no real world experience, feelings and sexual desires can be complex, ambiguous, and challenging to understand,” he says.

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If you think this can’t happen to you because you’ve only been in heterosexual relationships before,  Brandy Engler, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in relationships, says you’re wrong. “It can happen at any stage of life even if it’s never occurred before.” she says.

You can be attracted to different qualities in people across relationships, regardless of the person’s gender, says Enger. The attraction is about the individual and the unique bond you have, she says.

Cilona says these are the five major signs that your love for a friend might be something more: 

1. You have sexual thoughts, attractions, fantasies, or even recurring sexual dreams involving your friend.

2. You feel tension and discomfort that results from physical contact, like hugging or bodies touching casually.

3. You have consistent, daily thoughts about your friend where you think about them throughout the day.

4. You feel jealous and possessive of your friend’s S.O. or other relationships that seem close.

5. You’re a lot more emotional (negatively or positively) about that relationship than you are with other relationships in your life.

If this describes you and your relationship with your BFF, Cilona says it’s a good idea to step back and process things, before talking to your friend about it. “Often times, these kinds of feelings relate to other issues and emotional needs and may pass,” he says.

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But if your feelings stay constant over time, it might be helpful to consider talking about it with your friend. Just know that it could end badly. “These kinds of talks and confessions of feelings can cause big disruptions in friendships and could even end the relationship,” says Cilona. “Having a certain level of clarity and certainty before addressing the issues directly can minimize risk of damage to the friendship.”

If you both do decide to act on things, just know it’s not a guarantee that it will work out. “I have had any number of cases report to me that two friends felt a sexual attraction, acted on that attraction, and it was a disaster,” says Mayer. “It never ruined the friendship, but it was uncomfortable and awkward.”

But it’s also possible that things can work out. So if you feel like your feelings for a friend are more than friendly, take a beat to figure out what that means to you, and then speak up. Who knows—you might become the next Elizabeth and Rayya.