When You're "Just Friends"... But You're Not
I remember sitting under a starry night sky, surrounded by beautiful trees when a handsome friend of mine started asking me questions about my life. It was charmingly romantic, except it wasn’t because he had a girlfriend. I knew this about him, but I didn’t think there was any harm in just talking to him. As he continued to ask me thoughtful questions, I started to share things about my story that I didn’t easily share with people. I thought this was okay until I woke up the next morning feeling super connected to him and realizing he still had a girlfriend. I was so confused about why I felt so awful when I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t kissed him. I hadn’t even touched the guy. What was going on? In church, I had grown up hearing about physical boundaries like: “Don’t have sex until you’re married” and obviously “don’t kiss another girl’s boyfriend.” What would have helped me out a whole lot that night is knowing about emotional boundaries.
Emotional boundaries can be a little trickier than physical boundaries and definitely aren’t talked about as often. Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t get over someone? It might not necessarily mean that you and that person are meant to be. It might just mean you guys keep crossing emotional boundaries even though the other person doesn’t want a relationship. You’re diving into deeper intimacy together without any commitment. Let’s look at another example:
I had a friend I used to hang out with all the time. I felt like I had made it clear that we weren’t going to date, so I thought it was okay to keep hanging out with him one-on-one and talking to him almost daily. When he finally asked me if we were ever going to date, I said I didn’t think so. My ego wanted to think it was because I was such a great catch, almost irreplaceable in fact, but it wasn’t. He found a great girl in a matter of weeks and they ended up very happy together. He had been thinking the two of us were going to date because we basically already were, not because I possessed any magical quality. When he started dating someone else, I was crushed, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was because I had been letting him meet all sorts of emotional needs and treating him like my boyfriend when he wasn’t.
I want to step back for a moment and say building intimacy and deepening your connection with someone isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're dating someone, then doing these things can actually bring you closer together, which is what you want. The problem happens when you are repeatedly doing these things with someone you don't want to date (or that person is doing them with you). If you learn to be aware of these, you will save yourself and the people in your life a world of hurt and confusion. Here are a few things I've noticed that deepen intimacy and can, therefore, cross emotional boundaries:
1. Sharing things you don’t share with very many people (fears, struggles, past hurts, hopes, dreams, joys)- This makes someone feel they are special, that they have been admitted into your inner-world, that they have magical qualities...
2. Talking about intricate details of each other’s lives and families- The good, the bad, the ugly… these are the things that don’t need to be communicated one-on-one under a starry night sky.
3. Large amounts of time or hanging out together, especially one-on-one- One way to remember this is the four T’s- time, touch, text, or talk. Doing too much of any of these things is flirting with the friendship line.
4. Planning, thinking, or talking about the future as if that person is going to be in it- Especially for us ladies, it doesn’t take much for us to start planning our wedding, honeymoon, or the next five years. Guys, help us out and don’t talk about it unless you’re going to back it up.
5. Caregiving or repeatedly going out of your way to meet someone's needs- If you continually do special things for someone, then they are going to feel special. Strange, I know, but it’s how it works.
Guys, if you're doing these things with a girl, don't be surprised if she gets all heart eyes emoji over you. Girls, if you're doing these things with a guy, then don't be surprised if he thinks you want to date him. I know, I know. You are probably really charming and attractive, and it's making you irresistible. But you're probably also boyfriending him when he's not your boyfriend, or leading her on when you don't want her as a girlfriend, so stop. In fact, have a conversation and tell each other where you're at so you can both gain clarity and manage your expectations. Deepening intimacy naturally brings the expectation of commitment, when one or both of you might not have any intention of committing.
Even inside a relationship, it’s still important to set emotional boundaries. You can’t just go from level one intimacy to level ten overnight. He may like all the same movies as you and have the perfect personality. She might be the most gorgeous human you’ve ever laid eyes on. You still have to build trust and go through each stage of dating so that your relationship has a good foundation. Don’t rush it. Take your time through every stage.
We’ve said this before, but the basic thing to remember is your level of intimacy with someone should not exceed your level of commitment to each other. This is definitely true with physical boundaries, but it’s also true with emotional ones. When you start to share things about your life and your feelings that you don’t share with a lot of people, you are giving someone access to a deep place in your heart. They may be a completely trustworthy person, but until they’re committed to you, there are certain parts of you that they haven’t earned access to.
So ladies, if you find yourself sitting under a starry night sky with a handsome man who has a girlfriend, I don’t care how perfectly thought-out his questions are, keep it surface level! Favorite color, candy bar, type of cheese- but that’s it. On the other hand, if he's available and wants to date you, well that's a different story...