I'm going to keep this relatively short, because though I know how exhausting it can be to read self-indulgent rambling that doesn't ever seem to want to get to the point, kind of like how this sentence is just... Well, damn.
To start, I'm going to say that I'm very embarrassed by this. I'm in my mid-twenties and I feel like a kid again, in the worst possible way.
Background: I met a girl many years ago. We became best friends. I liked her romantically, she didn't like me the same way. One night, I told her I had feelings in a gush, even though I knew she didn't reciprocate -- her sister and other mutual friends were talking a lot about it, so I thought she should hear it from me directly. Nothing changed, and we kept on spending lots of time together. About a year after I first told her my feelings, we went on a trip with a mutual friend and I did the worst thing. I still had feelings, and I was left alone with her phone in our hotel room, and I was awash with jealousy. I started to look through it. I stopped after a few seconds, but I still told her what I did the next day.
She, quite rightfully, thought we needed time apart. We definitely did. Looking back, I wasn't quite in love with her -- I was obsessed. We definitely had great chemistry together, but I used her as an emotional crutch and expected so much from her. I was so horribly clingy during those early years of the friendship. I don't know why she put up with it. I'm frankly not at ALL surprised she wasn't interested.
A year passes and, after I got back from a big trip overseas, she wants to see me again in person for the first time since that trip. We meet and it's a little weird, but I'm still glad to see her and talk with her again. I don't feel romance for her at this point, besides some deep, distant clanging, maybe. I really see her as just a friend and it's wonderful.
I'm only in town for a few weeks, though, as I got a job overseas doing aid work on a two-year contract. So we spend some time together, then I depart for that job. We start messaging all the time. Daily, just a constant conversation. I talk about girls I'm interested in, she talks about guys. It's truly a sort of relationship me of many years ago, when I was deep in that infatuation with her, could never have managed existing. We interact like this for almost two years. I still see her when I go to visit home for the holidays.
This brings us to the present.
We just concluded a big trip together. I've traveled a bit, her not as much, so it was a big deal for her. It was just us for twelve days.
I had a lot of fun with her, and I think she had a good time, too. The whole trip I went out of my way to make sure she was comfortable, as I will still a bit confused by the fact that we were even DOING this trip at all (in our early friendship three or four years ago, she wouldn't travel with any guy friend one-on-one like that [including, obviously, me], as she was very cautious of leading anyone on).
When we watched movies together in the Airbnbs, I always made sure it didn't seem like I was scheming to cuddle her on the couch. I was always respectful about space. I'm still ashamed of our history and how I was and what I did so I wanted her to be very comfortable.
That said, it's not like I was picking up signs left and right. She didn't drop any romantic cues, and I'm usually good (well, in the last few years, at least) at picking up on those. I got not a single romantic vibe from her.
On the last day of the trip, I realized I had very strong feelings for her. It had sort of been bubbling, but it burst as we were talking about our favorite parts of the trip and she asked me mine and I realized that my time spent with her was truly my favorite. Now, these feelings were nothing like what I had had before, when I had her firmly on a pedestal. I felt something else instead... I don't know. It's very difficult to explain. A kind of wholeness. Maybe love? Or some shade of it? I really don't know, but it hasn't deflated in the time since the trip.
After the trip she went back home and I went back to work, but in just a few weeks I'll be back home again for Christmas and I'll see her once more. And I have this desperate urge to tell her how I feel. I don't know why -- I'm not expecting her to go "I love you too!" But it feels wrong to keep it a secret. I've always aimed to be 100% honest with her since I did what I did with her phone, and keeping this in just feels... wrong. I don't want to do some song and dance, with a gushy hour-long talk and a love letter, but is it still just as bad to even bring this up in a semi-casual way? If so, I'm unsure of how to approach it.
She is truly one of my best friends. Not my only one, but she's in that inner circle and I value her so much. I don't want to lose her.
And yes, I suppose I should be completely honest with all of you. There is a small part of me that is indeed hoping she does reciprocate. She's very shy and she's never the first to talk about her feelings. And even though I truly believe she's not interested, as I picked up nothing on our trip, that small part of me wants it to be true. So that's definitely a factor, I'm sure, in this urge to have another talk with her. The lottery hope.
Please, tell me your thoughts if you have any. I feel horribly small and pathetic right now, like I'm stuck in my younger years again, pining after someone and stuck with this unrequited feeling. It feels like I'm going to lose no matter what I do, so I don't know which path to take.