“Let’s be friends!” can be a mutual decision — but what’s the cost?
First, it’s important to think about what a friend looks like and what a friend does. For the longest time, I thought it was obvious. A friend listens to you vent. A friend follows through with plans or lets you know when he or she can’t make it to an event ahead of time. If the friend cares, there is a good explanation. A friend does not make a sad excuse not to hang out. When a friend says, “I’m here for you,” he or she genuinely means it AND shows it. That might mean meeting in person just to talk, or going for a walk with you because you need to get out of the house.
It wouldn’t be fair for me to say which sex cares more about keeping a friendship because everyone is different. But when it comes to the opposite sexes being “just friends,” one person will care more. It might not be obvious right away, maybe not even to the person who cares more. People might hide behind emotions for fear of getting hurt. Being “just friends” feels safer than being “a couple” because there seems to be less at stake.
In a friendship, it’s generally expected that one person will date a lot while the other person waits. The friend who cares more will be the one to text constantly, to always ask the person “What’s wrong?” when he or she seems down. The friend who cares more will be more likely to offer a lot of advice, even when it isn’t necessary. Sometimes, the friend who cares more might start to seem more caring than the other person’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Why is there so much investment? They want to keep their friend around because they genuinely care about the person more than they want to admit!
Here’s the problem with one person caring more: If the friend who doesn’t care as much fails to follow through with a plan, regardless of the reason, the other person gets hurt. There’s the expectancy that a man or woman can count on the opposite sex. The dynamic of a heterosexual couple hanging out as “just friends” appears to be a date, even if they don’t mutually label it as such. So one person is led to believe that one “date” could possibly turn into many dates, which could become a relationship. Most people will deny this out of fear of sounding stupid or desperate. It’s not stupidity or desperation, but it’s admiration and compassion.
When one person feels as though they know each other so well and life’s boring without the other person around, that person might automatically trust too much. Once that trust is gone because the other person doesn’t commit to a plan for some petty reason, that friendship feels broken. At that point, “I care about you” doesn’t seem to mean anything. One person gets angry, saying that his or her “friend” had a really bad excuse to bail.
Why won’t the person who got hurt just admit that he or she cares more than being “just friends”? Chances are, the disappointment from the betrayal of a friendship killed the attraction. Unless both friends can make amends and rebuild a friendship, the person who got hurt might realize that he or she deserves better. The potential of that old friendship becoming a relationship seems to become impossible. It’s basically a wake-up call to the person that the friendship wasn’t even real from the start.
Because when people decide to “just be friends,” the friendship itself is what is at stake — but so are the deeper emotions that no one admits to.