I'm in a happily monogamous relationship. I also am friends with someone I used to date. My friend and I generally void the subject of dating/romance now because it can be a sore subject that stirs up feelings. I hope in time that this restriction will ease up as we adjust to just being friends.

I don't know if my friend is aware of my relationship status. Several months ago I mentioned I was seeing someone but it was only a couple sentences. Similarly, she's only mentioned once having gone on some dates after us.

The situation and goals

Recently she proposed about going out hiking and possibly camping. I'd like to go and my girlfriend is fine with it too. I would however like to avoid a few things:

  1. I don't want to cheat on my girlfriend.
  2. I don't really want to rub my relationship in my friend's face. If mentioned at all it should be done delicately and not at length.
  3. I don't want to reject my friend if she makes any advances, in order to avoid hurting her feelings or thinking it's anything to do with her at all.
  4. I don't want to imply my friend wants to resume a romantic or sexual relationship as I have no reason to suspect this is more than moderately likely.

To me, this suggests that I need to indicate that I'm not available in some gentle fashion, either preemptively or if an advance is made. I'm not sure which approach is better or how to best do either.

I am open to using the (true) angle that I value our friendship so much that I'd rather not risk it with a fling. But that is probably best used reactively so as not to come across as presumptuous and still leaves open the objection that a serious relationship would be a viable option (which I think it would be, were I single).

To clarify my feelings about a relationship with her in response to answers and comments, I simply mean that I like her far too much as a person to risk the friendship for a casual romance and, hypothetically, would only consider her for friendship or a serious romantic relationship that aimed to be lifelong. For practical reasons, I don't think a lifelong romance is possible here and I don't harbor any hopes of changing that.

The question

In the context of camping together, how do I let her know that I'm romantically unavailable without causing upset?

I'm open to frame challenges that don't involve me avoiding my friend.

  • You say that the "true angle" is that you "value your friendship so much that you'd rather not risk it with a fling." Does that mean that you want a fling? Is this why you're so hesitant to bring up your partner or turn down her advances? Because those advances are actually something you want? Or you may want to be with her in the future?
    – scohe001
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:10
  • Also would the hiking/camping be just the two of you? Or would there be other friends as well?
    – scohe001
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:11
  • Probably just the two of us Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:16
  • 1
    To clarify that bit you quoted, I'm saying that it's true that I don't want to risk the friendship with a fling. Even if I were single I'd not want something casual here Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:18
  • Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 9:50

6 Answers 6


Ya... I'm going to have to challenge the premise here, sorry about that...

This is what I usually call "back-burnering" and it's not really a great thing to do. You have your new relationship that's on the front burner, it's sizzling hot and you're mixing it up, but you're keeping this other thing slowly simmering on the back burner for later.

The reason I say that it isn't a great thing to do, is because it's not an entirely honest thing to do.

You admit in your post that the only reason you're not open to a relationship with the friend/ex is the new relationship:

... a serious relationship would be a viable option (which I think it would be, were I single).

How would your new partner feel about that? If you were really completely happy and satisfied you probably wouldn't be entertaining that idea right?

It's also not really being honest with the friend/ex. You're trying to manage their feelings for you. This may not be as bad as it sounds, you could really just be trying to spare their feelings, or you could be trying to maintain the image of being date-able at a future date which is less noble when you're omitting facts to do it.

It also looks like you may not be being entirely honest with yourself about what you really want or expect out of these relationships. Keeping someone on the back burner is usually a strong sign that you still have feelings for them and/or that you have doubts about your current relationship.

So... Why am I saying what I'm saying? Because at different points I've been in all three positions and it usually ended badly for everyone involved. The truth nearly always comes out eventually; hearts get broken, people are disappointed, and nobody gets what they really wanted. Nobody likes to be on the back burner, few people like it when their partner has feelings for someone else, and if you play the game too long you may find that they both move on without you.

If you really want to give your new relationship an honest chance, let the ex go. You can be friends, but friends are honest with each other about their relationships. If you want to pursue something with the ex, break it off with the new girlfriend first.

Technicalities rarely matter when it comes to love, and emotional infidelities can hurt as much if not more than sexual infidelities.

  • 1
    I've decided to just talk to my friend and explain both my relationship status and that I was hesitant to bring it up for fear of ruining the friendship. Your talk about managing her feelings really hit home. I've probably crossed the line between avoiding a delicate subject and lying by omission. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 13:35
  • While I don't think I'm back burnering and am confident in the new relationship, I'm not as secure in the friendship and I think you correctly identified that so I'm accepting this answer as it's advice will help me get everything above board with my friend. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 13:37

You're not being honest.

Plain and simple. You're not being honest with your girlfriend, that you want to foster this friendship with your ex who you'd "be in a serious relationship with, were you single." You're not being honest with your ex, that you're interested in a serious relationship with her. And most importantly, you're not being honest with yourself.

It seems like you want both your ex and your current partner, but that's not something that's possible and you're lying to yourself thinking you can continue to juggle this. You're playing with fire, one foot in and one foot out. Dancing around the lines trying not to tell your ex you're in a relationship and trying not to let your current partner know how you feel.

I've been in a situation like this before and--spoiler alert--it doesn't end well for anyone.

You need to sit down and think long and hard about what you want. Do you want to continue growing the relationship you're in? Do you want to end your current relationship and try things again with your ex? You can't have both.

As for right now though...

Do not go on this camping trip.

Unless you decide that you're willing to break it off with your current partner, do not go on the trip.

If you're having trouble bringing up your current partner around your friend now and you're struggling to turn her down so much that you're posting here for help, you will not be able to handle yourself alone with her for that amount of time.

What if she ignores any of the subtle hints we tell you to give her and makes an advance anyways, would you be able to turn her down? What if she starts pushing your boundaries and seeing how much she can flirt when she's alone with you? Will you be able to tell her to stop?

It doesn't sound like you will. And it sounds like this may be something you can see happening.

If you want to be with this girl, that's perfectly fine! But you need to accept that and be honest with yourself. Don't go into this with one foot in and one foot out, people will only get hurt.

  • Very interesting and I am going to examine my feelings here more. I think my motivation is more based on fear of ruining the friendship if I bring up my new relationship as I'm personally convinced my ex and I have no future due to divergent wants in life. I hope this fear isn't causing me to lead her on at all though. I'm very confident that I want my current relationship to work. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 3:22
  • I do think I'll only do a hike or other day trip though. I don't want to create the appearance of anything improper. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 3:25
  • op commented this on the question: "To clarify that bit you quoted, I'm saying that it's true that I don't want to risk the friendship with a fling. Even if I were single I'd not want something casual here". Reading your first paragraph, I think you misunderstood OP on this.
    – kscherrer
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 8:06
  • 1
    I saw that @Cashbee, but from their question "...still leaves open the objection that a serious relationship would be a viable option (which I think it would be, were I single)" OP is clearly trying to leave the option of a relationship with the ex open and from the edit: "hypothetically, would only consider her for friendship or a serious romantic relationship" they're also clearly thinking about (though not actively working toward) a serious relationship with them. My first paragraph is explaining that these thoughts are dishonest to all parties involved.
    – scohe001
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 16:08

Casually mention your new partner in the course of conversation, maybe more than once. Your new relationship never has to be the focus of conversation. The assumption is that your ex will be respectful of your new relationship and will thus not 'try anything'.

Maybe during camping trip planning you can talk about needing to borrow a piece of gear from your new partner. (This could be a white lie, but its easier if its the truth)

I don't have a second water bottle, but my partner might, I'll ask them if I can borrow it

There is no focus of conversation on your new relationship, but you have still conveyed the fact that you have a partner.

There are a lot of other questions with very similar premises to yours on IPS already. This is the go to answer to gently and indirectly rejecting/preventing unwanted romantic attention.

  • I'm worried about using the partner angle at all, but the notion of casually bringing it up may be doable. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 2:03

My friend and I generally void the subject of dating/romance now because it can be a sore subject that stirs up feelings....I don't know if my friend is aware of my relationship status.

I hope you see that by hiding that information, you've really made a mess of things. It wouldn't take more than a couple of allusions for your friend to understand that you were dating someone. Perhaps she thinks you are hiding your relationship to keep the door open for her.

All it takes is a couple of off-hand sentences to communicate your relationship status to her. Talk about your weekend plans, and mention your girlfriend. Casually tell your friend that your girlfriend will binge something you don't like while you are away camping.

Once you've done this, she should understand you are not single. If she really wants this camping to be a cheating opportunity, she has two options...wait for you to make the first move or make a move herself. The second option is so risky, she almost certainly won't do it, and if she really is the kind of person who thinks you will come away with her to cheat, maybe you don't want to be friends with her anyway. If she picks the first option, and you do nothing, then no one is embarrassed, no one loses face.

  • I agree that this is the way to go. The first time I was dating someone after her I brought it up very poorly/bluntly and it hurt her enough we didn't talk for a while. I think I over-corrected. Probably need to bring it in line with your thinking. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 20:00

Might want to make it clear they you're currently in a relationship and you're not looking for anything with your ex.

Keeping a just-friends relationship is possible but if she tries anything during the camping trip you have to not just let it slide or seem to take it lightly as she might think you still have thoughts about her or there might be a chance.

Any development which you don't want or approve off should be treated with all seriousness such as cutting the camping trip short or even clear verbal and non-verbal affirmation about the behavior which you don't want her to be doing.

  • I think this answer is far too general to be helpful. It's bordering on just restating my goals. I definitely want to make sure boundaries are respected but I'm not really worried she'll push the issue if she knows I'm taken or if I wasn't receptive. The catch is that it's been difficult for us to discuss relationship status and I'd rather not cause an awkward situation that hurts her feelings if she did make an advance. Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 15:01

It puzzles me that you have a valued friendship and still can't talk about one of the most important things in your life with your friend. If talking about your partner with your friend would be iffy or difficult, it suggests that your relationship with your friend is not just platonic. My opposite-sex friends have no problems telling me when they get into relationships. They've also mostly met my wife, and done things with her.

Have you considered inviting her to some sort of minor event and having your partner along? If the idea of doing that seems really awkward, ask yourself why.

  • If I didn't make it clear in the question, the source of the awkwardness is that we used to date and didn't end on bad terms. We've talked about the subject and she's said that it's hard for her to think of me with someone else now. I know that she has feelings for me but we are going different directions in life that preclude a romance. Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 17:43

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