The space between friendship and intimate relationships can be a gray area to navigate and varies greatly from person to person. In episode 267, I received a question from an individual who has found themselves stuck after an intimate encounter with a friend left them feeling rejected and upset. In this post, I dive into more detail and look at relationship and personal boundaries, as well as steps you can take to repair a relationship that may have unintentionally crossed the line.
First off, thank you for all you do for this community, even amid a pandemic. I’m a 24-year-old female living with depression, ADHD, anxiety, and possibly Borderline Personality Disorder (though undiagnosed). My question has to do with the line between friendship and intimate relationships.
A year ago, I matched with an old high school classmate (we didn’t know each other until now) on Tinder and we started talking, almost every day. Over time, we started to grow closer and closer to one another and he is now one of my best friends. Once the mask restrictions in California started to lift, we started to meet up, just hanging out at first but the last two times got rather… intense. What we planned as a “friend-to-friend cuddle session” turned into something else entirely, consisting of intimate touching, kissing, and sexual suggestions, though nothing sexual took place. I think this caused me to fall head over heels for him, so when I confessed these feelings and got rejected, I was very confused and distraught.
I have never experienced these activities with a friend. Is this considered normal? I feel like we had different expectations and interpretations which is now causing us to drift apart rapidly. I can’t help but feel like this is my fault; just another case of me ruining a healthy friendship. How can we go about repairing this relationship, moving on from my romantic feelings and intentions, and remaining friends? Thanks again, and I look forward to your next podcast!
Good question! Some interesting stuff here. You asked a few questions, so I want to make sure I try to tackle each of them.
First off, you mentioned a variety of diagnoses that you have and that you probably have borderline personality disorder. I really do suggest not diagnosing yourself, but one of the features of borderline is a sort of boom and bust pattern in relationships. You may have a tendency to dive headfirst and be all-in on new relationships. This can also be the case for celebrities or influencers, hobbies, involvements etc. The difference between ADHD hyper-focusing and borderline is really what happens after that phase of idealization. A lot of people with BPD become very strongly emotional and hypervigilant about signs of rejection. This often causes them to act out in ways that can sabotage the relationship, causing a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. So when considering this situation, think about how well it might fit into this description and how consistent it is with other relationships that you’ve had.
Regarding the is it normal question. That’s hard to answer because who the hell is to say what is normal. I’d say that getting together for friend-to-friend cuddling is not the most common, but also times are changing and it’s not as out of the ordinary as it might have once been. People also have different capacities for different kinds of relationships. Like I have friends that I could cuddle with and more and it would probably be totally platonic to them. That’s not everyone. Some people have the ability to have very fluid relationships, and others are driven crazy by the lack of definition and hate not knowing where they stand.
I will say that neither of you did anything wrong. It sounds like you started off with a particular picture in your mind and as you spent time together, it naturally evolved into something else. The key from this point is communication. You need to be careful about that boom and bust pattern and the tendency to fall into all-or-nothing thinking. This is one area where external sources that know you like close friends or a therapist can be helpful.
There’s nothing wrong with him not wanting a romantic relationship with you. That might be confusing given your seemingly romantic activities together, but who knows what the explanation there is. But you will want to be careful about truly noticing him pulling away and treating you in a way that you don’t prefer and that borderline tendency to be very sensitive to signs of rejection and react strongly when you think you are catching a whiff of abandonment. What is normal about this situation is to have a period of oddness and recovery after having an episode of mixed messages, differing expectations, or conflict. Even in a long-term committed relationship, if you have a fight or something goes weird, it can take a bit to recover from that and find a sense of normalcy.
So now you need to talk. You need to be as straightforward as possible and maybe even a bit vulnerable. Ask what he would like out of the friendship/relationship. And be honest with yourself about what you want out of it. it may be the case that you are wanting something different and this actually isn’t a good situation for you. But be honest about your expectations and hopes. And from there, you can see if it will work or not. You can be straightforward and say something like “I know things have been a bit weird between us since I said what I said. I understand why. I still really do want to be your friend and feel connected to you. Do you think that’s possible? Ideally, what would you like your relationship with me to be like?”
That would be a great starting point for a conversation. What we don’t want to happen is for you to not discuss it at all, make assumptions about why both of you are acting the way that you are acting, and act based on those assumptions. Talk about it. It’s good practice.
But again – also be honest with yourself. I don’t want you to put yourself in a position where you are saying that you’re cool just being friends when you really are not. You might feel like it’s worth it for the relationship, and in some cases it might be, but you need to be honest with yourself. You don’t need to be in this friendship and continually hoping that it can become something more. Talk about it and practice honesty with him and yourself.
Thanks for the question!
You can listen to this on Episode 267 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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