“Guy Friends” and Boundaries.
December 7, 2010 8 Comments
Friendships are wonderful things. They enrich life. Friends become a pillar, people you can depend on and trust—they are the people that share the good and bad that life throws at you.
So when a friend, especially a good friend, betrays you, it hurts so much more than a betrayal by anyone else, because of that mutual trust, respect, and life-sharing that is so inherent in friendships.
Every woman has friends of the male gender. Every woman has fought with parents, religious mentors, or girlfriends about the very idea of “guy friends.” Some think that friendships between persons of opposite gender cannot happen, that there are always ulterior motives. We’ve fought this idea, insisting that this idea is wrong.
But sometimes they’re right.
And damn, does it suck. You almost never find out that this “guy friend” has ulterior motives—say, is attracted to you and wishes to have a romantic relationship with you, for instance—until you’re vulnerable. This vulnerability takes on many forms—it may be that you’re talking to this friend about a broken relationship, or upset for another reason. It may be that you are alone with this friend someplace, whether it be your home, his home, a bar, restaurant, out of town, on the job, wherever.
But suddenly, you find yourself stuck. You may panic. You feel your trust in this friend evaporating. You want to disengage from the conversation and confide in someone else, only to realize that no one would really believe you, or pressure you to act as if nothing has changed.
But it has. You question yourself—because you might have been wrong all along that you and he were good friends, and that boundary was unshakable. You question the entire friendship: was this his motive all along? Did I ever do anything to indicate we might be more than friends? Panic again—because you had trusted this friend, and so relaxed with them. You’d let down your guard. You confided in them. They know so much about you. What if? What if? What if? And the friendship, in an instant, is lost. You mourn that. You instinctively put up that guard that you wear every day when facing a world rife with misogyny, sexism, and physical danger that is unique to women. You mourn that you have to put that guard up for someone who, only five minutes before, was a close and trusted friend of yours.
That is the betrayal. It may only take something as little as a “joke” about him finding you attractive, or an insinuation that you should really spend the night at his place instead of going all the way home. They’re such little things, but they break the boundaries of a friendship, and thereby the trust. You let down your guard with your friends. You can relax. You don’t have to worry about drinking too much. You don’t have to worry that they’ll hit on you, get angry if you reject them. You don’t have to worry if they’re going to follow you home. In the case of a disability, like mine, I don’t have to worry that they might take advantage of my epilepsy. If a guy friend breaks that boundary, then all of those worries return. It’s even more frightening because you weren’t prepared for it. You felt safe. Now that friend feels like another creeper in a bar trying to “get you right under [his] arm.”
Now what do you do? Because while this reaction, and these feelings, are perfectly normal, many people, including said guy friend, won’t quite get it. Maybe some will. The answer is, outside firmly establishing boundaries, risk anger, a fight, or a rift in your social group, and slowly building up that trust again, I don’t know. There isn’t a 100% safe solution that won’t cause anger or resentment. All I can do is write about it and hope that enough men will see this, and be more aware of the consequences their behavior with their female friends can have.