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A reader writes: I've been good friends with a guy for five years. At the start, he expressed romantic feelings that I couldn't reciprocate because I was hung up on someone else. After that guy was out of the picture, I began to have feelings for my friend. But when I raised it, he said that he didn't feel that way any more. We spend loads of time together and flirt outrageously, but he verbally maintains his position, though his behaviour sends a different message. I decided to try online dating to a) call his bluff or b) move on. Now I've met a great new guy, but I'm still focused on my friend. What should I do?

Think about the new guy

Since you and your friend are both available and you're now interested, he would have no reason not to pursue a relationship with you if he wanted one. It seems like a disservice to yourself and the great new guy if you stay hung up on someone who used to be into you and who now looks to be having his cake and eating it too.

Ellen McIlveen, Calgary

Forget the friend

Au contraire, no mixed messages here. Your BFF indicates unambiguously that he cleared the hurdle of unrequited love. Dive gracefully into the dating pool.

Bob Burgoyne, Toronto

Watch yourself

You are a game player. Otherwise you wouldn't start a new relationship unless: a) you really intended to move on, or b) you were a drama queen feeding your needs. Any new guy deserves your respect and attention. Just as your friend deserved five years ago. If you can't manage this aspect of your personality, then you will be repeating the pattern long into the future.

Darby Brown, Kitchener, Ont.

The final word

Maybe because it's rom-com season in Hollywood, I can't help casting Mila Kunis as you and Ashton Kutcher as your guy pal and slapping a glib title on the whole package like Friends; No Benefits. There's something cheerfully formulaic in your dilemma. It's obvious, for example, that the two leads in this picture are crazy about one another, no matter how they struggle against that reality. But it's time to raise the house lights. In a romantic comedy, when the two hapless leads allow their insecurities to get the better of them, it makes for adorable high jinks along the lines of Will Smith kicking Eva Mendes in the head (and yes, sorry, Hitch is the most up-to-date reference I could think of).

In real life, however, this results in what Darby has identified as "game playing," and leads to nothing but resentment and hurt feelings. You started out well – you told your friend how you were feeling, he rejected you, so you made an effort to move on, half-hearted though it was. But as long as there was no one else involved, the Flirtation Olympics could continue between you two uninterrupted.

Now, however, a third party has arrived, and so the games must end.

In a romcom, this new man would be a pawn in the overall plot, playing the poor doofus whose transparent wrongness for the leading lady is meant to propel the two leads back into each other's arms. In real life, however, there's nothing cute about using a man this way.

So stop flirting and be straight with your friend. Tell him you won't ask again: Is he interested or not? If not, take him at his word, take your ball, and go home.

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.

Next week's question

A reader writes: My husband started a friendship with an older couple a few years ago. The woman is very flirtatious with him, and they spend time alone together "chatting" and they even have gone on errands together. I am very hurt by all this but he defends her and tells me I'm paranoid to suggest this woman's feelings run deeper than friendship. When I confronted her, she said that we are a young attractive couple and should expect this sort of attention. He can't explain to me what her allure is. What should I do?

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