Let’s be friends.
I remember my first breakup. I was 12, dating a 16-year-old we’ll call Matt*. Matt was my first boyfriend. We had dated for a month after he had dated a few of my equally-as-young friends. He was nice and respectful. Despite the fact that the concept of a 16 year-old dating a 12 year-old makes my stomach churn now, I’m glad we dated when we did.
I was extremely young though, and I decided to breakup with Matt when I realized I wasn’t ready to kiss with tongue.
“I think we should just be friends.”
Matt and I were in the back seat of our youth pastor’s car, he took my hand, kissed it, and looked me in the eye.
My youth pastor drove us home and I remember feeling incredibly smug and mature about how easily this break up went. I was 12 and I had this all figured out already! I was going to fly through my teenage years rejecting all of my fleeting first loves gracefully and free of pain.
Matt and I never did end up continuing our friendship. He soon moved away. By the time I was 16, he was expecting a child with his new wife. Still, my intent was truly earnest — I wanted to be Matt’s friend, but I absolutely was not ready for french kissing!
I didn’t get as much practice breaking up with people as I had originally hoped for once I actually became a teenager. I quickly started dating Kyle. He was the person I would lose my virginity to, and who I would date for 3.5 years. When we broke up, I found myself using the same line as I had used with Matt.
“I’m sorry, I know this hurts, but I think we should just be friends.”
When I told Kyle that we had to break up, I knew I was hurting him. I didn’t want to have to continue to console him so I said “Let’s still be friends, I will always love you”, thinking that that would make it easier for both of us. The problem in this case is that my intent wasn’t to keep some sort of connection with Kyle, but to find some way to slither out of any emotional responsibility by making empty promises.
There is a strange social construct, that in many aspects, seems to dichotomize friendship and romance into two separate and rarely overlapping states. The line “You are the love of my life, and my best friend” is a line that’s seen so many variations in TV, movies, and books — but continuously makes a huge impact. For some reason, we treat this overlap as a special case.
My parents divorced when I was 3, and made an active choice to remain friends. This was made to seem like an unusual feat. People always seemed to be surprised or in awe of this accomplishment. To be honest, I still kind of am — but this feeling has evolved into pride as I’ve grown older.
Between the knowledge of my own use of the phrase, and what I had learned from what I read, watched, and experienced — I would get extremely defensive whenever a person who I may have been interested in or involved with romantically would use the phrase on me.
“I know exactly what you’re doing”, I’d think. In some cases, I was right. The phrase “let’s just be friends” can often be a hugely weighted and manipulative remark depending on context.
This meaning of this phrase has changed to me; however, as the way I approach my relationships with others has evolved. Over the past few years I’ve been much more focussed on my friendships than any romantic entanglement or gesture. Friendship is incredibly important to me, and honestly (at this stage of my life) a much larger and longer-term commitment than any form of romance.
We’re scared to tell people we love them too early, and we worry when a hug lingers too long with a friend. Farting in front of someone on the first date seems petrifying to many. Me sending nudes to my friends platonically seemed so weird and strange to many who read about it.
But, all of these things can be great, and good, and funny, and heartwarming if everyone involved is comfortable and consenting. Physical intimacy doesn’t have to be treated as something that will ruin a friendship. A real friendship should never feel like a consolation prize. In fact, the best thing that someone can do is communicate their boundaries and desires in terms of what they want in a relationship whether it’s completely platonic or not.
As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that every relationship exists on a spectrum. It’s never either/or. Friendships do not need to be void of physical and emotional intimacy. Romantic relationships do not need to be void of the emotional responsibility that’s associated with good, functional, and long-lasting friendships.
So, please, tell me you want to be friends. Tell me how you feel — no matter how complicated or simple it might be. I don’t have time to waste trying to fit every human relationship into boxes of “platonic/romantic” or “non-intimate/intimate”. I want to know how we can sustain being in eachother’s lives for as long as we’d like, and the best way to do that is to be clear about our feelings for eachother.
Just like most things human, polarities can not properly describe any relationship. So, let’s not waste the time we have together fretting about these labels and worry more about building amazing relationships with one another.
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