“Guy Friends” and Boundaries.

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.

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About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for LouisvilleKY.com and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

8 Responses to “Guy Friends” and Boundaries.

  1. SheedyJaye says:

    *hugs* I’m sorry that happened to you. Any breach of trust is a hard thing, and the whole gender thing can compound that.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      and the whole gender thing can compound that.

      Definitely. It can be hard to remember people are shaped by different life experiences, let alone differences based in gendered experiences. Triple that when it comes to friendships. It’s so easy to forget, because friendship is a relationship between two individuals.

  2. Jaded16 says:

    I’m really sorry this happened to you. UGH. I’ve been here too, and really it’s never the same. *hugs* if you want them.

    • Brittany-Ann says:

      It’s not ever the same, is it? Sure, you may stay friends, and even be really close. But that memory is always in the back of your mind, and things that seemed so simple, and unquestionable before aren’t anymore.

  3. DrMcCoy says:

    I don’t get it; how is that a betrayal?
    Romantic feelings can grow over time. People change. Feelings change. And yes, boundaries change. Just because someone is a friend, it does not mean they will always be that. They might grow closer. Or far.
    And even if they went into the friendship with romantic feelings, it doesn’t mean that they are less of a friend. Those are not mutually exclusive.

    It’s also not restricted to a woman’s guy friend. Same things happen with two female friends. Or a guy’s woman friend. Or two guy friends.

    It’s not as if someone’s feeling for you are an attack against you, some deliberate act of violence. It’s not a battlefield.
    Or am I reading your use of “betrayal” far too literal? I admit, I’m quite confused.

    • mifi says:

      my thoughts exactly; thanks for posting this!

    • segink says:

      I believe the author used words like “betrayal,” because it seems like after letting her guard down, confiding deeply personal things, and getting to a level of comfort and closeness that is very secure and platonic (at the very least, that level of closeness would be achieved differently and with both parties aligned under the same goal,)
      it feels like our friend is suddenly revealing that there were ulterior motives. Now it seems like he’s not hanging out with me because he enjoys my company. It feels like he is now hanging out with me because he wants something; romance, relationship, sex, a date. It feels like we’ve been taken advantage of. Plus it’s got the potential to be really scary for a girl to say “no.” These situations are unpredictable and can leave a woman feeling guilty and without a friend when she may not have done anything.

      Of course, there are always exceptions; I’m sure it works great for some people. In my experience, the problem is that now new boundaries have to be set and followed, there is a huge level of awkwardness, constant vigilance and being on guard (instead of relaxed with your friend.)
      Trust has to be rebuilt because we feel like we’re being used instead of valued like friends and, you know, people.

  4. whirlwind says:

    I was glad to find this article and a perspective from the female side when this happens. OK I’m the guilty one is this situation.

    I have a fairly close female friend and our friendship has grown over time. I have on and off had feelings for her, and more than that I would just for a friend. This said I would never make this known nor ever make a move on her. Over time these feelings have increased and she also contacts me literally all the time now.

    My gut feeling has always been I am in the wrong – although I can’t help how I feel about someone I guess I should have eased away from the friendship when I fully realised my feelings and that friendship is all she wanted. For a little while that was hard to read from her but I do know now this is all she wants.

    She now contacts me almost every day and asked me a while ago asked me to go on holiday with her. At the time I didn’t think much of it but now my feelings have increased for her I know it’s going to cause me a lot of pain. What happened if she hooks up with another guy – instead of being happy for her like a friend should be I will desperately be trying to hide feelings of hurt and probably jealousy.

    I’m thinking just do the holiday then ease out of this friendship when we return. Do I tell her my true feelings… This would cause her huge uncomfortableness and hurt.

    I’m lost at the moment but I just hope I have learnt from this and down the track I don’t form friendships with girls I have any form of crush on unless I’m very obvious about it very early on and hey then I found out one way or the other and it either becomes an intimate relationship or nothing at all but not this in-between situation causing pain for myself and no doubt her when I end friendship or she catches on.

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