When You’re “Just Friends”… But You’re Not

Andrea Alley

Dating, Single Life

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…

 

ANDREA IS A GRADUATE OF THE SCHOOL OF MINISTRY AT BETHEL AND CURRENTLY SERVES ON THE WRITING TEAM FOR MORAL REVOLUTION. SHE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT SEEING THE CHURCH CARRY JOYFUL HOPE AND EXPECTATION IN EVERY AREA OF THEIR LIVES. SHE LONGS TO SEE THE UPCOMING GENERATION EQUIPPED AS STRONG LEADERS WHO STEWARD THEIR LIVES WELL AND INFLUENCE SOCIETY AS A RESULT. 
WEBSITE: ANDREADALLEY.COM 

 

For more information on healthy communication and how to do relationships well, check out our free summer video series

 

49 Responses to “When You’re “Just Friends”… But You’re Not”

  1. A friend once told me the most valuable piece of information when I was hanging out with my best mate like a boyfriend and waiting for him to commit when he clearly said he was never interested but his behaviour and emotional intimacy said otherwise. I was so confused by the intimacy I felt with him that I thought surely he will see it soon and commit to me but repeatedly he dated other women and I was hurt every time until……… my friend said this, “Guys primary need is emotional intimacy and girls primary need is commitment, He’s getting all his needs met and ur getting none of yours” owch but wow! Talk about set free in an instant- I spoke to him we prayed and that addiction to him left instantly. Thanks for articulating so well the struggle so many of us go through in relationship,

  2. Thank you a million times over… so simple yet so profound. Waaaaaah, … I needed this months ago when I was experiencing exactly what you described… “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.”

  3. But we all have emotional needs and we are bound to want to let someone in to the deeper parts of our world. We all yearn for intimacy and we want to share our heart with someone. Where do we draw the line between intimacy with God and with an intimate partner? Where do we draw the line between close friends and a girlfriend? Are we only limited to sharing our ‘less told stories’ with friends of the same sex because we want to take caution of these emotional boundaries? Are opposite sexes not allowed to get close cause of these boundaries? Is a platonic relationship impossible?

    • As a mother of 2 teenage daughter’s and having been single myself at one time, I can understand your questions. It is almost impossible for a female to have just a platonic (intimate) relationship with a male and I believe it is because of our makeup as human beings. Most affairs start with crossing the lines with the opposite sex, telling them personal things, hanging out together. It seems purely innocent at first but the attachment comes and it’s hard to get out of. My Dad and Mom (who have been married for 62 years) always told me to NEVER have a close friend of the opposite sex as a married woman. As a single person, it hurts worse for the girl if she bears her heart to a male that has no intentions. You have to use common sense and wisdom to draw the boundary lines.

    • Moral Revolution

      We do all have emotional needs and we definitely have a need to be seen and known by others. We don’t want to draw hard lines for you, but we do want you to be aware of these boundaries so you can figure out what is best for you and the people you are in relationship with. We believe it is possible to have great friends of the opposite sex, even good for you when you’re single. Ultimately, you don’t want to place someone in a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” spot when they are not actually your boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s not fair to expect one person to be meeting those needs for you until the right person comes a long.

  4. This is a great piece worth reading and sharing. I fell for this emotional stuff and it lead us on into a shaky relationship. By that I mean, as you rightly said, emotional level far outways the commitment. I see the relationship lacks the strong foundation it required.

    I helped her out in on a very intimate issue, talking for lengthy hours at night and all the facts you have given were prevalent. Initially none thought it would end in a relationship, but it did

    Now I feel we jumped steps and might affect the relationship any time soon. I see my commitment is lower than it should be and sometimes want to call it quits.
    Don’t want to see myself wasting her time and mine but sometimes also feel I should continue and work on myself.

    I agree totally with you as to creating emotional boundaries in relationships when we are just friends, even if one party wants more than friendship.

  5. As a guy continuously seaking Waze on dating as a Christian, articles like this are wonderful. It just reassesses my views on doing things in groups to avoid this a little more

  6. Melanie

    Thank you for this! This is the same message I’ve been trying to get across for years now. It’s great to see another woman pointing it out. I wonder if you know of a similar post written from a male perspective? I think it would be helpful to myself and friends to be able to point to a good article written by a man to show us there are men who think the same way.

  7. Phillippa

    This is also very true for married people. We are not immune from making emotional connections with opposite sex because we’re married. Keeping the emotional distance from the opposite sex is a great way to safeguard your marriage.

  8. I just sent this to my 21 year old son who then sent me back a message he was going to ring a girl with a purpose. Thank you for making this clear to our young men and women. lets hope it stops a world of hurt.

    • Moral Revolution

      This is probably something to be careful of. If he’s having relationship issues, he needs to be communicating with her directly, and not communicating with you about them on the side. He’s also probably feeling hurt and wanting comfort, but that is something he can get from good guy friends and family.

  9. Barnaby

    Love this article and so many of the helpful tips you provide – it’s something I’ve never been taught but have to learn myself.
    I’d like to ask though, where do the long-standing friendships that we have with members of the opposite sex, with no romantic ties, fall in relation to this advice?

    • Moral Revolution

      If you’ve been friends with someone a long time and you’ve already communicated a lot and you both know where you’re at, then you might not have to be as careful with emotional boundaries, but it’s still good to be aware of them. We don’t want to set hard lines for people, but we want people to be aware of these so they can gauge for themselves what they think is too far. The main goal is to honor yourself and the people you’re in relationship with. We want both people to leave feeling respected and not confused about where they stand.

  10. This is such a beautiful message I haven’t connected to a message as much as this one and I’ve done this way too many times and I’m always the one that ends up broken hearted and now I understand why I’m gonna stop what I’ve done

  11. Help! I have a question… okay. So, what happens when say you get close to someone and actually start dating them. Then you become really emotionally vulnerable, but the relationship ends and you part ways? I guess my question is, 1.what does it look like to resolve the situation if you have crossed emotionally healthy boundaries beyond the commitment level of the relationship? On a physical level once you’ve had sex you can’t go backwards, but what does that look like emotionally? And 2, what happens after you break up with someone that you’ve been emotionally vulnerable with? Is there like some magical emotional virginity prayer you can pray to get healed? Is there a way to be not vulnerable after you already have been? Thanks!!

    • Moral Revolution

      Hey Hannah,
      Dating and breaking up is difficult because you’ve invested in someone and you’ve shared things with them (maybe more than you would have liked to in hindsight), and then you’re not together anymore and it can definitely be painful. There’s probably not going to be any magical “fix-it” prayer, but press into the Lord, ask Him to cover you in your vulnerability, release that person to Him, and move on with your life. God can cover the places that still feel vulnerable or exposed and He can help you start to move forward. Hope this helps!

  12. Christel

    What an awful article. Human connections are infinite and beautiful. The more boundaries people put up, the more taboos people create, the lonelier they get in an already lonely world. Instead of cautioning people to not have connections with others, how about simply telling people to deal maturely with their own desires and insecurities. Love others and connect with others without needing to possess. So what if you have a connection with someone who can’t be your bf or gf? Big iffin deal. If you’re only going to have an intimate connection with one person who is your partner in life, your life is incredibly poor. Enjoy the connection and it’s beauty for what it is and learn to let go and be harmonious within yourself. That’s real spirituality. Do that and suddenly the world is an incredibly beautiful, harmonious place. The writer of this piece has some serious growing up to do, but it’s such a huge pet peeve of mine when people write articles like this and pass on immaturity disguised as wisdom!

    • Moral Revolution

      We are definitely not saying you shouldn’t connect with people. Human connection is beautiful and a need we all have. Connection with both genders is definitely healthy. However, the way you continually connect with someone you’re friends with, versus someone you’re dating, versus your spouse, should be different because those are all different levels of commitment.

  13. thank you so much for writing this!! but what do you do if you crossed these lines, say a few years ago? and you are over it, but are you supposed to repent or do something other than avoid it again? do you just share nothing with anyone until you already know you are in a place of mutual interest?? I’ve waited so many years I need direction with that, and churches here never talk about that.

  14. So true!
    My BF broke up with me is because he likes other girl. That girl knows the existence of me and we met before. Ok la. Should accept he is just a Playboy.
    Boundaries is really important!

  15. Naa Borley Adrah

    A great one here. So many people need to read this, it’s practically having a boyfriend who doesn’t know he’s your boyfriend. And that’s why it hurts when he goes out with someone else. Now I know a few things to watch out for. Thank you for this. 🙂

  16. Thanks for this!! Words of real wisdom. I can actually relate a lot to this, and it’s a good reminder to me to be extra vigilant as to not unnecessarily lead someone on. And that’s what it means to truly love others, it’s to do what’s best for them (and you) in the long run, despite what feels good or sounds good now. So good!!!!

  17. I love this article, and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my life than now. Have had this problem several times and always end up getting hurt at the end of it when I realise I was way more emotionally invested in/commited to the friendship than the other person. I always thought it was the physical boundaries that would call it – now I realise the emotional ones are just as important.

  18. There is so much truth to this. This is the way it was with one of my guy friends many years ago and I have no desire to date him. But, that does not mean that it’s always going to be that way. He was in love with me back then and I never truly reciprocated that love being put in the position that this article talks about. Many years past and we had lost track of each other for about nine years not saying one word to each other. As things are turnout though, we did end up getting back in touch with each other after that long and now we are happily married.
    Sometimes you can’t get a specific person out of your head even if you never dated them and sometimes you never get back in touch your entire life even if that is the case. But it doesn’t always mean that it won’t work out for the both of you in the future. Anything can happen.

  19. Thanks and God bless. This has helped me so much right now. I could set physical boundaries alright but the emotional boundaries always came tumbling down. Now I can get things done rightly. It’d be difficult but soon I’d learn how to control my intimate nature around my guy friends. Thanks once again. I hope we all do this; thus being a Christian doesn’t make you less prone to these situations but rather we should talk about them and find solutions

  20. I have struggled (and still struggle a lot) with this.
    Honestly, until only a couple of weeks ago I was not aware of such things as emotional boundaries. I can admit I crossed every emotional boundary with every person possible. So this is big news. Thank you for this article! Some needed to put this in words for me!

  21. Very true!
    Pray with me, I am overcoming a similar situation in which emotional boundaries were crossed without commitment being made.
    I need peace of heart and mind.
    In Jesus name.

  22. Joshua Huang

    Question…
    There’s not a single reference to Scripture or a biblical principle in this article. Everything here is based on personal opinion and past experience. This all sounds good, but if you can’t give biblical support for your views, you’re not giving us anything more substantive than the person who preaches a prosperity gospel. These are nice thoughts, but they are not worth adhering to without biblical authority. Scripture is my ultimate source of wisdom and truth.

    • Moral Revolution

      Hey Joshua,
      1 Corinthians 10:23-24 says, “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” The Bible doesn’t specifically say not to do any of these things, but we are responsible for looking at the way our behavior is affecting us and the people around us. If we’re consistently interacting with people in a way that’s hurting ourselves or them, then something needs to change. The greatest commandment simplified is to love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40). We’re not trying to lay down hard and fast rules for people. Our goal is to provide practical stories and steps to help people walk out sexuality from a biblical perspective.

  23. So there aren’t many dissenting comments on here, but i had to point something out that bothered me.
    “Your level of intimacy with someone should not exceed your level of commitment to each other” is definitely something i agree with, but the fact that those bits of information you’re sharing isn’t shared “with very many people” means there are other people who know it – family and a bff, perhaps? So why not make another bff, does it have something to do with that friend being the opposite sex?
    I’m not a believer in the idea that guys and girls can’t be committed, lifelong and intimate friends without being sexual or romantic partners, or that each person can only have one committed other sex relationship.

    • Moral Revolution

      Hey Daniel,
      We think it’s great to have friends of the opposite sex outside of your spouse. The problem is when your interactions with them go beyond what a “friendship” looks like and more what a dating relationship or marriage looks like. Your relationship with your friends should look different from your relationship with your spouse, and part of this is the level to which you share things. Also, like we said in the article, these are things to be aware of, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Depending on the relationship or the setting, these boundaries may look a little different. For example, sharing with someone one-on-one, late at night in a “date-like” setting is going to have a different feel than if you shared the same thing in a small group setting or something like that.

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