I was recently convicted of the necessity of being careful when it comes to forming emotional relationships with members of the opposite sex. Like you (I will presume), I deeply respect people’s relationships and do not deliberately try to drive a wedge between a couple, but sometimes those of us with the best of intentions can inadvertently cause problems. I haven’t wrecked any homes (thank God!) and to make sure that never happens, I watch my interactions and check my intentions to avoid inappropriate emotional connections with men.
So, what am I really talking about?
A close friendship with someone who is attached
I’ll probably come across as old-fashioned but that’s ok! Can men and women be friends? Sure! Can a single man or woman be friends with a married woman or man? Sure—depending on the reason for the friendship. I’m not talking about friendships that were established before one party got married—though one should be careful in those cases too, especially if there was attraction earlier in the friendship—but if you’re a single man or woman I would be careful when entering into a new friendship with a member of the opposite sex, especially if the circumstances are such that you will be spending a lot of time alone with this person, without their significant other. This could be a work colleague or maybe an online friendship where a lot of messaging, phone calls, and emailing goes on, perhaps because the attached person is in a long-distance relationship and therefore free to give you time or attention. My concern in situations like this is that a closeness can develop (quickly, given the amount of time spent together) which can drive both people to develop an inappropriate emotional attachments.
I’ve been the single friend of an attached male, and in the past I never thought about it because I know and trust myself, but I no longer feel that’s enough. Moving forward I will not knowingly befriend an attached male unless the majority of our interactions will include his spouse. Can I be real for a moment? I love being helpful and I love romantic relationships, so I love giving (mostly solicited, ahem) advice to people regarding their relationships. Being the confidant served my need to feel useful but I’m no longer comfortable in that role because first of all, there are professionals who can give better advice than I could, second, a lot of these issues could be resolved if the person would talk directly to their significant other instead of to a third party (me), and third, I’ve realized that I am not well-served immersing myself in other people’s relationships when I should be focusing on my own and when I don’t have all the information to give truly helpful advice! It’s important to be aware of when you’re in a “friends without benefits” relationship: they get a shoulder to “cry” on and you get the semblance of a romantic relationship (due to the intimacy of knowing private details of someone’s life) without any of the good stuff (wink). You deserve more!
Romantic behaviour with someone who is unattached (but who the single person has no interest in)
Again, call me old-fashioned, but I don’t believe in flirting with someone that you don’t have a romantic interest in, because I don’t want to lead someone on. Sometimes when you suspect that someone has feelings for you, you’re flattered and are deliberately ambiguous in response because you like being the object of someone’s attention or affection (#truetalk #maybeitsjustme). Not cool.
Accepting terms of endearment from a non-significant other
This is cultural but I’ve never been comfortable being called “dear”, “sweetheart”, “babe”, etc. by someone who is not my significant other. In some cultures men use these terms of endearment to refer to all women, even those they have no romantic interest in, but for me these words mean something and I don’t want to hear them from someone I’m not in a relationship with, and certainly not from someone who’s in a relationship with someone else! If you call someone out on this and they tell you that it doesn’t mean anything, tell them that it does to you and insist they don’t use those nicknames for you. If they accuse you of overreacting, that’s disrespectful of your feelings and maybe you should reconsider the friendship.
Relationships that are going nowhere
I’ve been guilty of this: we need to stop talking to people forever and a day without knowing where things are going!! Now I believe that a man who starts talking to a woman should make his intent clear sooner rather than later. He doesn’t have to make any promises but is it so far-fetched of me to imagine a guy saying something like the following to a woman “I’m looking for a serious relationship and I’d like to get to know you in the hopes that we can have a great connection”? I’ve been told that men like to keep their options open so they are reluctant to say anything concrete. That being said, a few men may be upfront about what they’re looking for but what often happens is a man begins talking to a woman. No intentions are declared (and by “intention” I mean “I’d like to get to know you to see if this could be something special”, no serious questions are asked and no clear attempts are made to actually get to know the woman. In many cases the only question a woman gets is whether she can send him some pictures of herself, despite him having seen or received pictures already. Some men will be flirtatious or full of compliments before they’ve let the woman know what they’re looking for. After a few months the woman, frustrated, hints at or flat-out asks what’s going on. The man is uncomfortable with the line of questioning and he fades away.
In my view, even teenagers don’t have time for this kind of behaviour, talk less men and women in their 30s and beyond: in this world where time waits for nobody, we need to be clear about what we want and go for it. My mom and sister are both married to men who made their intentions clear, and whose actions matched the stated intentions, which is really important because sometimes when asked, a man will say what you want to hear but their actions don’t match their words. When this happens the woman has to be willing to take action that matches her intentions. This means she shouldn’t stay in a situation with a man who hasn’t given her a reason to believe he wants the same thing she’s after. I’ve matured and now realize that there’s nothing romantic about coyness in a relationship: stating what you want and matching your actions to your words gets you so much further. Confidence is universally appealing.
Have you found yourself in any of the above situations?