TLDR: My best friend (20m) and I (20f) have been friends for about ten years. We used to like each other when we were kids, but we both grew out of it... Welp, he didn't and his face gives me wasps instead of butterflies. How can I save the friendship?

Since the panini, we have talked way more than we did before and shared a lot of emotional burdens. A couple months ago, my mom teased me and jokingly asked if he was in love with me. I relayed the joke to him, because the way it's phrased is funny in our native language, but he suddenly confessed his feelings. I was taken aback, because we had a conversation before about the crush we had for each other when we were kids in a very "haha silly children we we're, weren't we? haha" kind of way, so I thought that topic was permanently dead and brought back like a zombie for shits and giggles only.

I told him I was a bit surprised and that I hadn't think about it seriously since I was like... 13yo? So I needed time to think about it and that I don't want to date anyone right now anyways because I was planning to move away and also wanted to accomplish other goal I have (he knew this before confessing).

I left my hometown and now I'm geographically closer to where he lives (we met at school, but almost all our relationship has been online), and he came to visit me when I first moved here. I hadn't see him in person in about 5 years by then, so I thought that this was the perfect chance to see if I liked him even a little bit.

I feel like absolute superficial trash writing this, but he grew up to be extremely unattractive to me. I couldn't even look at his face because I kept thinking "Wow, he's really ugly" and I feel terrible about it. He's an absolute sweetheart, and I platonically love him a lot, but I tried imagining kissing him and felt pure dread.

The last time we talked about it, I repeated that I don't want to even think about any romantic relationship yet (until I archive a certain goal in life) and that I don't know if I see him that way. But today, sadly, he professed his feelings again, telling me how I bring a lot of happiness to his life and how in love with me he is that he just can't control it.

I am tired of just praying and wishing that one day he decides that I'm ugly too.

He's also very special to me, so I've been selfish about not admitting that I don't like him at all because I don't want to lose our quick daily chats and weekly phonecalls. But I'm tired of feeling like I'm leading him on. I obviously will take that I find him really ugly to the grave, but I just don't know how to let him down softly. My other friend tells me to try harder to like him because he treats me very nicely, and my sister keeps saying that when I grow older I'll care about looks way less and learn to be more conformist, but that changing his hair and clothes will do the trick anyways. I don't know if I'm too young and in love with love still, but I don't want to force myself and I don't want him to change. How can I not hurt his feelings too much?

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