‘I’m in love with my flatmate’s brother’

I feel like an idiot, but sometimes I think he might have feelings for me - R.Fresson / A Human Agency
I feel like an idiot, but sometimes I think he might have feelings for me - R.Fresson / A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

I am in love with my flatmate’s brother. He often pops round for dinner or after the pub. I’m finding it impossible to behave normally around him because I’m so obsessed with every word and look and sign. I feel like an idiot, but sometimes I think he might have feelings for me. Other times he just treats me like his little sister’s 24-year-old flatmate.

I don’t want to make a move because I’m super shy and it would probably be awkward, but then I think maybe we’re soulmates.

I don’t know what to do, but I’m having trouble eating and concentrating at work. How do I know if he likes me? Should I tell my flatmate? Should I tell him?

– Obsessed

Dear Obsessed,

‘In love with” is a pretty punchy way to start. Are you sure you’re not just in love in the way that 18-year-old Emilie was convinced she would marry Robbie Williams because of the intense way he was looking at her through the telly?

In our early teens, alongside Robbie and the guy from East 17 (not the one who ran himself over; the other one), we were all mad about our friends’ brothers. They seemed so glamorous (they weren’t), when really they were just the only boys we knew. Proximity can be a surprisingly powerful aphrodisiac. This brother ticks all those boxes: handsome, confident and… in the room.

Moving on from teen obsessions, we recall our 20s as a difficult, uncertain period in which we often chose to fixate on someone to protect ourselves from other, real and scary feelings. Maybe this is happening to you. After all, the dating world is terrifying. The new rules about sex are terrifying (and the old rules about sex are even more terrifying). It’s all terrifying. The pandemic was terrifying. The economic climate is terrifying. Global warming is terrifying. Rather than having to process the terrifyingness, you can just ring-fence your feelings around this pop-up person; this known-quantity – this safety net.

Sometimes when we are feeling lonely, disenfranchised or stuck, we will fixate on whatever is at the end of our noses. So, you’ve got this gorgeous guy who appears in your flat late at night and is related to someone you care about: “If that’s not a message from the universe,” says your obsessed brain, “then what is?”

Remember that nobody is a known quantity until you actually know them. The other hard truth lies in one of Annabel’s trusty adages: “If they like you, they will call.” (Or text/leave a message/get in touch some other way.) Lingering, late-night, post-pub sofa-sprawling sessions during I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! catch-ups does not a romance make. Has he made one iota of extra effort?

We would recommend that you try to think of him a little less (hard, but try it in short bursts) and think of yourself a little more. Stand still for a moment and think about where you have come from and where you might like to go and what you might be frightened of or worried about. Read some Brene Brown or Pia Mellody. Not being able to sleep, eat and concentrate might be a Victorian poet’s indication of deep love, but it might be a modern young woman’s indication of something sadder, so rather than dealing directly with your thrumming inner panic-monger, your mind has fixated on this “relationship” like a lifebelt.

If you want to take the temperature, you could speak to your flatmate because she will know how he feels and if she doesn’t, then she will certainly tell him and find out. In your 20s, secrets rarely remain secrets, unless you tell no one at all. She might say some version of “I can think of nothing nicer” or “that makes me feel uncomfortable” or “he’s in love with someone else”, but it will be both respectful to her and an information gathering exercise.

The next obvious thing to do would be to suggest a walk or a drink to him. Women have to get over the idea that declaring ourselves is somehow off-putting or inappropriate. It makes you a bit vulnerable, sure, but if he says no, you will squirm briefly, then know what you are dealing with.

You probably need to get out a bit more so you could also use him as a resource. Ask him if he has any nice, single friends. You like him, so maybe you’ll also like people he likes. We don’t intend this to be the opening gambit of a mind game, but if that makes him look at you differently then, great. Talk to yourself, talk to your friend, talk to him or if you can’t bear that, ask him if he has any friends. This is a rite of passage, really. If there is pain, you’ll forget it. If there is joy, you’ll treasure it. Good luck.

More from The Midults: ‘Now our mother has died, should I stay in touch with my estranged sister?’

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