I’m in love with my best friend, but he doesn’t feel the same way about me. It’s hard for me to hang out with him because of my feelings, but we’ve been best friends since middle school, and he’s always been there for me, so I would hate to lose our friendship. Should I stop hanging out with him, or is there a way I can stop liking someone that I’ve liked for five years? —Gab, Seattle

This is a tale as old as time, depicted in a million movies with a million squirmy conversations and endless heartache. Your best friend is a great guy, you clearly get along, so WHY AREN’T YOU IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER?! It hurts, I know.

I have no idea what your BFF’s feelings are about this whole thing, so I can only talk to you about your feelings. A life where hanging with your best friend is painful is no good. My advice for you, in a nutshell, is to do a combination of both of the things you suggested.

You see, sometimes a crush can take on a life of its own and become this thing that has little to do with the person you’re crushing on. You crush on him because you’ve always crushed on him, and because he’s there, and because it’s less scary to love someone silently from the corner rather than engage in the sticky messiness of being in a relationship. If you nurse an unrequited crush for a long time (five years!), it can grow to epic proportions, and your fantasies of what might can completely block out any possible reality.

To get some perspective, you need space. This guy, while he may be your best friend, isn’t the only dude in the universe, but if you keep hanging out with him as much as you do, all you’re going to see are the ways in which he’s perfect for you. (Also, it’s worth noting that some people act very differently around their friends vs. around boy/girlfriends, so it’s not as if dating him would be exactly like being friends with him + making out.) If he doesn’t return your feelings, you can’t wait around for the chance that maybe he’ll change his mind. That basically only happens in movies.

What I would do is have a little chat with him. Let him know that you need some time to get over your crush on him so you guys can stay friends. During that time, do new things: hang out with other friends, flirt with other dudes, start volunteering somewhere, take a class, get into a sport. Fill your time. Live your life. The tough part here will be trying to keep your mind occupied with pastimes other than hoping your friend will miss you so much that he’ll suddenly realize that he loved you all along. (Again, only in movies.) How long of a break should you take? As long as it takes for him to become smaller in your mind—not as a friend, but as an object of love. If and when you manage to see him as just a guy among the many many guys in the world, rather than this mythical creature that you are destined to be with, then you can pick up the phone and see if he wants to hang out.

The bad news is that your friendship might not make it through this. He might have a hard time dealing with the fact that you can feel multiple ways about a person at once, just like you might have a hard time realizing that friendship and true love are two amazing but separate things. If this happens, it will be a shame, but you can’t go on being friends with someone who causes you heartache. That’s not being fair to yourself.

Give yourself some distance, and shrink your Prince Charming back into a best-friend frog. —Emily G.

My mom constantly tells me that I should practice a sport, but I hate sports. The idea of competition and exercise and physical suffering isn’t very appealing to me. I like art, reading, and fashion. But if I don’t get any kind of exercise, I’ll probably gain weight and be unhealthy. Help? —Jeanne, Brussels

Hi, Jeanne! First of all, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life’s many sedentary pleasures more than you like moving around. And there’s nothing wrong with gaining weight, either—being overweight doesn’t mean being unhealthy. But working some physical activity into your life is important for the health of your body and your brain. It dosen’t have to be a lot. You don’t have to go to a gym or join a team or become a jock. If you find something you enjoy, and do it a few times a week, that’s enough—and you’ll probably feel better, and have enough time to read and look at art and stuff.

How do you figure out what you enjoy, though? To give you some ideas, we consulted our staff, who offered a variety of options for the athletically disinclined.

  • I like to work exercise into my daily routine. My mantra is to keep moving. I bike instead of driving, I take the stairs instead of the elevator—and I live in a high-rise, so that’s a lot of stairs! If you spend a lot of time sitting down, see if you can do some things while standing up. It might not seem like much, but even just standing up does great things for your metabolism. Seriously, it’s science! —Rachael
  • I was never really into sports, and I’m also not very good at them. I somehow managed to go through my life without ever having to take P.E. But this summer, after being in a real bummer zone for longer than I would’ve liked, I joined the gym and immediately loved it. One of the people who worked there taught me a simple routine to follow (a mile and a half each on the treadmill and elliptical), and then he taught me how to use a few of the other machines. After I became more familiar with everything, I switched some things around and just did the elliptical. This is not what everyone should do, of course, but it worked for me, and I think the real reason why I love it so much is because I get to blast music on my headphones and completely tune out the world. I am not looking at my phone or checking my email. Plus, I know I’m doing something that’s good for me, which makes me feel even better. –Laia
  • My mom got me this Tracy Anderson workout video, which I use when it’s not nice enough outside to go running. Don’t let her tanned abs and yoga pants turn you off, because the workouts are good, and the dance cardio is fun when you choose your own music. It’s kind of expensive at $90, but compared to a gym membership, it’s nothin’. And if you check it or another video out from the library, it is literally nothin’. (I don’t condone the diet suggestions that come with the videos, because they are aimed at severe weight loss.) Even if you don’t use this particular video, working out at home saves time and money, and it’s less intimidating than going to the gym by yourself. —Dylan
  • I have tried all sorts of exercise (sports, gym, classes, etc.), but what ultimately worked for me was walking. I walk to work and school. It’s about three miles, and I do it a few times a week. I try to keep it nonchalant: no schedule, no obligation to do 20 miles per week. I just walk whenever I feel like it! Sometimes I bring my iPod, sometimes I just listen to the sounds of the lake (I live near a lake). I feel really good, and it gets me outside on a regular basis. —Danielle
  • I think it’s important to find a way to make exercise fun, so I take dance classes. I’ve done ballet and Zumba. I wasn’t awesome at either of them, but I had a blast and didn’t realize I was working out until I was sore the next day. But a friend of mine found the ultimate workout motivator: she did a 5K, obstacle-course race in which she was chased by zombies! ZOMBIES! The race, which is called Run for Your Lives, is not a serious marathon. People of varying fitness levels participated, but it got my friend to work out regularly. She got soaked and covered in mud, but she did not get turned, and she had the time of her life. –Stephanie

If none of those ideas appeal, here are some more: Blast music and dance around in your bedroom. Or go out dancing at an all-ages club. Join a roller-derby team. Do some simple yoga at home. Ride a stationary bike so you can read while you’re exercising. Even more ideas here.

I’m not really interested in having sex, which most of my friends find weird, because I’m a teenager and I should have all these uncontrollable hormones that make me boy-crazy. I’ve never had sex, but whenever I imagine what it would be like, I feel like I would just lie there and wait for it to be over. I’ve never had a boyfriend, but I think I want one; I just don’t necessarily want to have a sexual relationship with him. Am I asexual? And if I am, is this something I should tell guys I’m interested in right away, or should I wait until we’re serious? –Anonymous

Generally speaking, an asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. No one can tell you if you’re asexual—it’s something that you figure out about yourself. In the asexual community, we like to say that the word asexual is a tool, not a label. If it’s useful to help figure yourself out or describe yourself to others, then use it. If it ever stops being useful, stop using it.

Sexual orientation is a way of understanding and expressing how you want to connect with people. If right now connecting with people isn’t about sex for you, that’s awesome, and if that never changes, that’s awesome too (I know it’s been awesome for me!). If it does change, guess what—also awesome. Because figuring out what gives you pleasure and what makes you happy is never a bad thing.

It sounds like you’re still figure that out. Maybe right now you call yourself “questioning.” Not that you have to call yourself anything at all! Understanding who you are and what you want is always more important than finding the right label for yourself.

As for telling guys: It sounds to me like you feel cautious and unsure about sex right now, whether or not you decide to identify as asexual. So no matter what, any sexual experimentation you engage in should involve a lot of open communication. Most asexual people enjoy deep emotional connections that aren’t about sex, and most of us also enjoy physical touch that isn’t about sex. Take the time to figure out what sort of sexual stuff you are and aren’t comfortable trying, and talk to your partner about it before anything goes down. –David Jay, founder of Asexuality.org

I am constantly surrounded by girls who are better-looking than I am. I know I shouldn’t be focused on appearances, but sometimes I get jealous that those girls get so much more attention than I do. Why are they more important than me? —Rachel, Chicago

When I was a junior in high school, this girl who modeled for Delia’s transferred to my school. Everyone freaked out; it was like a minor celebrity had landed. She was 5'10" and had beautiful blue eyes and long blond curls. Within days, she seemed to have made dozens of new friends. As for me, I was still clinging to the two friends I made in middle school. I didn’t know the new girl at all, but it seemed to me that people—boys and girls—were just so much nicer to her because of how pretty she was. It didn’t seem fair.

But then I realized something else: she wasn’t me. She didn’t have my personality, or my brain, and I was better at some things than she was, and who knows—maybe she envied me for some of those. Everyone has something different to offer, and the best thing you can do is focus on the qualities and attributes that you feel more confident about. The other thing to remember is that people who are really good-looking are never more important than you, especially not to the people in your life who really love you and care about you—the people whose opinions of you have actual meaning.

There’s a part in David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement speech that I always return to when feelings of inferiority start creeping in and making me feel like I’m not good enough, or that I’m not being noticed, or that I’ve somehow been shortchanged. He said: “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship…. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.” And then he says that the only way to free ourselves from the constant tyranny of feeling not-good enough is to be loving, compassionate human beings.

You know, the green-eyed monster rears its head in everyone. Even your friends who you think are better-looking than you have moments when they are thinking about the people they think are better-looking than them. There are almost certainly moments when people envy YOU and the attention you get for the things that you are good at. Take a moment to consider what those things are, and feel proud of yourself. I remember one time running into an old high school acquaintance who I thought was so much more popular than me, and in the middle of chatting with her, she suddenly drops on me that she always thought I was so mysterious and cool in high school, and she was jealous of how I managed to maintain that mystique. In my head I was like, Mystique? It’s called painful shyness and inability to make expressions with my facial muscles. The point is that everyone feels inadequate in their own way. That’s part of what it is to be human.

If these girls are your friends, I bet they’d want to know how you feel. Maybe sit down with them and say, “Hey, sometimes I feel invisible around you guys, because I don’t think my looks stand out.” I predict this will lead to an awesome conversation about all of this, and that you will feel how much your friends love you, and what they think is special about you, and they will feel how much you love them, because you trusted them with some pretty personal information. And maybe this communication will help override your insecurities.

But listen, girl: we all feel less good-looking—or less something—than someone else from time to time, and it feels really unfair. Don’t let that get you down, because there are so many reasons to be adored and admired and respected in life, and being pretty is the most fleeting of them. —Jenny ♦

If you have a question for next month’s Just Wondering, please send it to [email protected].