Carolyn Hax is away. The following is a past column.
Q: I was interested in my best friend last year, but she wasn't interested in me. We got that out of the way, ended up closer than before and everything's been fine since. Now, I'm happy with a great girlfriend.
The problem is, each time my friend becomes interested in someone new, I keep asking myself, "What was wrong with me?" (since she never told me, though I asked). This is especially a problem because more recently she's been interested in someone we both know. I'm quite happy with my girlfriend now, so I feel terrible about continuing to wonder about what my defect was/is. I chalk this up to being unable to grow up and get over not being good enough, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts.
A: I chalk it up to your chalking it up to things that are beside the point. Falling for people isn't about their being "good enough."
Point is, even when you have a good idea why you're attracted to someone — she's smart, she's pretty, she can belch the Ode to Joy— there will always be the intangible something(s) that made you choose her over all the other pretty, smart music lovers. Two people with little in common meet at a cocktail party and talk for an hour straight; two who are perfect for each other on paper barely get past "hello." Can you always explain the difference? For that matter, can you pinpoint why you chose your new girlfriend? Not really. Mostly we guess.
Your best friend's judgment is just as subject to unknowns, intangibles and downright-inexplicables as yours is, or anyone else's. Some people use those unknowns to keep flogging themselves, and some turn them around to flog the source of rejection (maybe she's the "defective" one!). They work best as a kind of release: You can't ever know, so you won't bother to try. Especially since all you ever needed to know was "no."