How to be “Just Friends”, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

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We’ve all experienced those relationships that were intimate in nature, but purely platonic. Many people believe that it is impossible to maintain them and I disagree with that. There are reasons these relationships “don’t work out”; one is because there was no clarification of what the relationship was from the beginning; another reason is because feelings developed by one or both parties; and finally, one or both of the partners had insecurity and trust issues.

So how does one master this skill? Before I even begin, if you have already cultivated deep, meaningful friendships, these should be maintained. Humans are social beings, and it is healthy to want connections with others. You should not have to give up your support systems because you enter into a sexual relationship with someone else. If giving up your friendships is one of the criteria for being in your new relationship, that is already a red flag for disaster. Yes, the level of intimacy may change and the time you spend with your platonic friend may change, but you should hold on to people who are in your social network. What if something happens to your new partner and you have completely isolated yourself from the people closest to you? This situation can contribute to feelings of depression, and sometimes even thoughts of suicide.

Ok, so first of all, you must be honest with yourself, and so must your platonic friend. Both of you should ask yourself these questions?

Do you fantasize about each other on a sexual level?

If either of you were not in a relationship, would the two of you be in a relationship?

Do you think that the two of you would make better romantic partners than friends?

What does it feel like when you talk about emotional or sexual things?

Could the two of you sleep in the same bed or share a living space without any feelings?

How do you feel about his/her partner, if he/she is in a sexual relationship with someone else?

Based on the answers, you may want to rethink things!

Next, there should be very open communication about the relationship. Don’t assume anything. The expectations should be clearly verbalized so that there are no misunderstandings. If there are any questions or doubts, talk about them! Define what the relationship is from your perspective.

If you are in a sexual relationship with someone else, be sure that you also have open communication about your platonic friendship(s). Don’t be secretive. Clearly state the reasons that these people are important to you and that you are committed to the friendships. Also establish your boundaries and be assertive. Explain the limitations of your relationship with your friend(s), and also offer to include your new partner as much as possible, like group outings, etc., so that your partner can get to know your friend(s). It will not always be possible, however, because you will want to continue your own bonding time, which is healthy. Remember, humans are social beings. It is not reasonable to think that you are going to have all of your needs met by one person on the planet!

If there are jealousy and insecurity issues, these need to be addressed in counseling. You should not have to spend your time proving or disproving anything. If you and everyone involved are being open/honest, and if all of the expectations have been identified up front, then the insecurity/jealousy issues probably existed already. The trust is part of the foundation that should exist, and if a partner is struggling with this, then perhaps he/she has personal challenges to work on in counseling.

Now, what I’ve explained is the way things should work in an ideal situation. Much of the research that exists suggests that it is not possible for [heterosexual] platonic, opposite-sex relationships to exist. When I read these articles, what I take from the information is what each party is perceiving about the other person. So, again, that is why communication is essential. Don’t assume or perceive anything. Be clear about your thoughts and feelings.

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3 thoughts on “How to be “Just Friends”, by Erin A. Alexander, LPC

  1. I like the spirit of this post, but considering the affirmation of intimate friendships, it comes off as a little contradictory the way it uses the word “feelings” to mean “romantic feelings”. I have feelings for my friends. That doesn’t mean I have crushes on them.

  2. In this article, it is understood that the word “feelings” is used to mean romantic feelings. It is also understood that one may have a number of intimate relationships, which does not mean they are sexual or romantic in nature. The key in the entire article is communication on all levels.

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