Is “Just Friends” Ever Worth It?

December 9, 2015

just friendsHi Susan,

I have been dating a really great guy for the past two months. I think initially we both were interested in pursuing a romantic relationship but something happened in his life that has made him really struggle emotionally (he failed out of college). Over time he’s realized that right now he’s not ready for a full on relationship; but by the time he realized and told me I’ve had 2 months of dating him and hoping that our friendship would turn into something more, so I am feeling quite sad. I mean it’s not a break up but it’s kind of a break up with my idea of him as a potential boyfriend in my head.

He said about a romantic future that he’d never say never because he really likes me, especially my personality and has a great time with me; but he doesn’t want to string me along for ages so it’s unlikely we will become more. He wants me to be happy. So clearly the right decision is to move on from my romantic hopes and keep it platonic.  I told him that I would need to take a break for a few weeks so I could emotionally move on otherwise hurt feelings could sabotage the friendship. Spending time with him now would just hurt because we could be nothing more than friends.

I really want to be friends with him after I come to terms with it all. The way we ended things was quite respectful and he seemed sad that I couldn’t be friends right away so I believe that we both care for each other and it would be worth it to stay friends; but I am at a loss on how to do that, what new boundaries would we need to create to make the friendship healthy and not increase false hope?  How do I deal with it if I suddenly became hopeful again?

Natalie

Let me just put it out there – I’m not a fan of turning failed romantic relationships into “just friends” platonic friendships. I don’t think it works, and I don’t think it makes sense on any level. I have known good friends who dated in the old days, but in those cases the friendship emerged after a considerable period of time when all romantic feelings had long since faded for both parties. It happens with people who continue to run in the same social circles, and sometimes when people work together. Necessity forces exes to get along and sometimes they can call a truce and enjoy each other’s company. But it’s rare.

Let’s look at a list of pros and cons to shifting to a platonic friendship after a romantic relationship fizzles:

PROS

The pros are the same as with any other friendship.

  1. You’ve already spent time together and established that you are compatible socially.
  2. You think well of him as a person – he has attributes that you believe would be valuable in a friend.
  3. He respects your feelings.
  4. He has been honest.
  5. He cares about you.
  6. He is interested in pursuing a friendship with you. 

These are all important reasons – and I can certainly understand why you would hate for him to be out of your life completely. But there are lots of reasons why that might be the best approach in the long run.

CONS

  1. It’s not a clean start. Right out of the gate you have a dynamic where he has disappointed you because he is unable to match your level of feeling.
  2. You are not on equal footing. Because you are more invested, he holds the power in the relationship.
  3. He’s ready to hang without expectations, and you’re not. You may never be – false hope has a way of creeping in despite our best attempts to deny it. I know women who have literally wasted years waiting for the guy they love to come around.
  4. You don’t say whether your dating relationship was sexual – but either way, it’s no fun to desire a friend who doesn’t return the attraction. Or worse, a friend who does return it and wants to act on it without commitment.
  5. He flunked out of college. I mean…not good. A friendship where one person is in crisis means that one party provides support and encouragement while the other requires it. This further exacerbates the inequality already present.
  6. Even if you get over him and enjoy hanging as friends, how will you feel when two months from now he asks someone else to be his girlfriend? Most people would feel that was unfair or even sketchy, but if you agree to a friendship, you do so unconditionally.
  7. So many fish. Why invest in a friendship with a guy you have a history with? There are so many guys out there who would be good friend material, provided neither of you is attracted to the other. Or where you’re both attracted, and the friendship has the potential to grow into a real relationship. Why not go for a fresh start elsewhere without the baggage?

Note: After I let Natalie know I planned to use her email for a post, she wrote back:

It’s not so bad I think it has actually helped me learn a lot about how my own opinion of myself needs to inform my self esteem and not a guy. So what if he doesn’t want to be with me? He’s just one guy and he’s clearly not the right guy for me anyways.  I actually feel a lot better about it all now than I did before mainly because I took my own personal power back.

Sure its disappointing that he didn’t return my feelings but its not the end of the world and who knows maybe we will make better friends then we’d be as a couple.  Anyways, I still look forward to hearing your opinion on this. 

I think Natalie has done some really good thinking here and her head is in the right place. In fact, she kind of seems over him already. Which makes me wonder all the more – why bother trying to be friends with this guy?

I should mention that I’m in the camp that believes it is very difficult for single men and women to be platonic friends – sexual tension always creeps in, in my experience. In this case, it already has. For the record, I would caution Natalie against any kind of FWB arrangement!

What do you think? Do you agree? Have you had this experience? What worked and what didn’t? What advice do you have for Natalie?