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‘The men I love always just want to be friends’

Ask Roe: Don’t settle for men who want the ol’-buddy-ol’-pal version of you

‘I wonder what I’m doing wrong that these people who I have sexual relationships with only ever see me as a mate?’ File photograph: Getty

Dear Roe,

I'm in my mid-30s and I keep having the same problem with my romantic relationships. I find I meet men quite easily but after a certain period they just want a friendship with me. I was in a relationship with my ex-partner who, after five years, said he felt we were more friends than lovers. And now a man who I was dating for a year has told me the same – that he thinks we are soul-mates, but as friends rather than anything romantic. I could accept this as a brush off if these men didn't then actively try to keep in contact and keep meeting up as friends, even when I tell them that it's not of interest to me when I have romantic feelings for them. I wonder what I'm doing wrong that these people who I have sexual relationships with only ever see me as a mate?

Instead of asking a very reductive, limiting, and self-blaming question of what you’re doing “wrong”, let us instead ask a far more interesting question: what do you want?

You want a loving relationship. But what does that relationship look like? What does that love look like? It’s interesting that in your letter, you offer no details about your former partners or relationships, or what you wanted from them or enjoyed about them. The only specific detail is that both of these men selfishly expect you to be their buddy immediately after breaking up with you. I wonder about the relationship dynamic that made them feel comfortable believing that you would slot into whatever role in their life they wanted you to fill.


In relationships, do you clearly express your wants, your needs, your desires and establish an equal partnership – or do you shrink yourself down into the fake houseplant version of yourself, fitting neatly into their life, looking pretty and asking for nothing?

Fake plants can be cute, but do you know why humans love being out in nature, why we crave it, why it’s inspiring and awe-inducing and connecting? Because it’s real and alive, and yes, when we bring real plants into our homes they have needs and demands and aren’t always prettily blooming, but that’s what makes them wondrous. They don’t exist just for us.

I say this because often, people who internalise that they have done something “wrong” when someone breaks up with them internalise the idea that their desires are “wrong” during the relationship, too. They shrink their desires down, and direct all their energy into being the perfect, low-maintenance, easy-going partner who goes with the flow – a flow that is completely defined by their partner. And some partners may enjoy that for a while, but it’s not a real, loving connection, because you’re not bringing your real self to the relationship. Ironically, this desire to shrink yourself to what you think these men will find “lovable” is what will prevent you from finding someone who will be able to love you the way you want – wholly and passionately.

Start exploring what you want, need, crave. Get comfortable expressing these desires and needs and boundaries up-front. Don’t settle for men who want the ol’-buddy-ol’-pal fake houseplant version of you. You are not designed to neatly fit into someone else’s life, gathering dust. You are meant to be wild and alive and always growing. Wait for someone who appreciates the beauty of that.