I Am More Than A Relationship

photo by danrocha

Melissa Wait read something that rang so true it startled her: That women cannot believe they have value to men outside of romance.

I was reading “I’m In Love With My Friend… But She Has a Boyfriend,” about a week ago and assuming it was going to be the classic “boy loves girl but she just wants to be friends” tale when I came across this part of Joanna Schroeder’s response: Women cannot believe that we have value to men except as a romantic or sexual partner.

It hit me hard in my stomach because it’s something I used to so strongly believe and am, even now, trying to move on from. 

When I first realized that a large part of me believed I only had value to men as a romantic partner, I did not want it to be true.  I reminded myself of the handful of men that have become like the brothers I never had—close relationships but purely platonic—and how they proved that I could have value to men as just a friend, but—but, what? But somewhere, gliding around my brain, was a little voice that said those relationships weren’t as valuable as a romantic relationship—that I was not valued enough in them.

I realized it was a self-perpetuating cycle. For the majority of men, I believed they wouldn’t care about me unless they wanted to be in some form of physical relationship with me. For the few men who I knew could just be my friend, I didn’t believe the value they gave me was enough. I needed men to give me value within a romantic relationship.

Realizing how deep this belief was inside of me made me sick and I knew these beliefs had to change. Before I could change them, I had to understand where they came from. In order to do so, I had to address four other beliefs, pervasive in society, that reinforced the idea that men only truly valued me in a romantic or sexual relationship.

1. Men and women cannot be friends.

I used to believe this. In fact, I remember a professor asking our class if we thought it was possible for friendships with the opposite sex to exist after college and I boldly declared that friendships with the opposite sex were just a waiting room to see if your relationship would become romantic or eventually dissipate. There was no dissenting opinion in the room.

I used to believe this as a matter of fact, not opinion, until I met my now best friend and good man, Taylor. I met him after joining a new church and he started leading a Bible-study I was in. At the beginning of our relationship, I felt safe to be vulnerable with him because I saw our relationship not as a waiting room, but as mentor-mentee. Once the mentoring ended, I freaked out. Taylor, however, held the view point that we are all supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and that means that men and women can and should be friends. Because Taylor held firmly to this, it made it possible for my opinion to be transformed. I will say that it’s not an easy journey; it requires a lot of communication, humility, and a willingness to put work into the relationship.

My friendship with Taylor is now one of my closest and most important relationships and entirely platonic. Through that same group of people, I’ve also met other men who can just be my friend, and made me feel safe and appreciated in the relationship—proving that Taylor is not an anomaly. What I’ve found is that in friendships with men, I can get things that I cannot get from females. I would not say one is better than the other, but I do need both.

In fact, my friendship with these men, and the security and care that they give me, helps me to dismantle this second belief.

2. Your romantic relationship is the only relationship that really matters.

Please understand I am not here to knock the value of romantic relationships; I think they are important and wonderful. However, I think the problem with this mentality is that it does not leave room to make friendships as much of a priority as they should be.

The inherent problem in this idea comes from relying on one, single person to be the source for all of your emotional stability, validation, and support. What happens if that person, because life happens the way that it does, cannot be everything you need them to be?   Or, what if something happens to you and you are temporarily incapable of caring for that person?

I’m here to say that if you’re relying on a single human being to make you okay, all the time, you’re not doing it right. It’s not fair to that person, and it’s not fair to you. We need a web of people around us so that when one person is out, we don’t have to completely crumble. I’m not talking acquaintances; I’m talking about deep, intimate relationships. Often what we experience is that once people couple off, they lose sight and ignore the duties of their friendships.

There is nothing wrong with needing emotional stability, validation, or support from other humans—it’s natural and normal—we all need those things. I think the need for these things, coupled with this idea that the main source for them has to come from romantic relationships, is often why people are on a never-ending quest for “the one.”  It’s why we keep ending up in relationships that are doomed from the start, and try to maintain them despite the warning signs—we are desperate for that connection.

If we can transform those basic needs from being met by one type of relationship to being met by multiple kinds of relationships, we won’t end up in such unhealthy romantic relationships. We can take our time and get to know someone to see if they are compatible, before trying to force ourselves to be compatible with them.

Why will so many of us still not do this? We have been taught to operate out of convenience and to seek immediate results, which brings us to the next notion we have to throw out.

3. Our never-ending need for instant gratification

Okay, we’ve all heard plenty about our instant gratification culture but I would like to talk about it specifically in terms of intimacy. We as a society try to skip the work and effort that goes into having emotional intimacy for the immediate and pleasurable benefits we get from physical intimacy. Relationships take work, there is no getting around that, but we just want to feel good. And right now. It boggles my mind that so many people in our society believe that all love takes is a “spark” of mutual interest and attraction.

The desire for constant and immediate gratification causes us to preference physical intimacy over emotional intimacy. With this, it’s easy to see why romantic relationships take precedence over friendships.

And down the wormhole, at the root of all these beliefs, is our insecurity.

4. We let other people’s interactions with us determine our identity.

When you first meet someone, what is the first thing you notice? Their physical appearance, right? And then what are the first questions you asked: What do you do for a living? Are you in a relationship? Do you have children? What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun? All of these questions are entirely external to the person and yet we live in a society that uses these things to define us. This has got to stop. We cannot change how people view us, but what we can change is how much we let that impact who we believe we are.

Does the fact that I still don’t have my entire career planned out mean that I have no motivation? No, I’m motivated to do my best in the career path I’m currently in and to keep my eyes open to other opportunities. Does my lack of Michelle Obama-esque arms mean that I’m lazy? No, I work out five times a week. Does the fact that I’m single mean that I’m not loved or wanted? No, I feel loved and wanted every day of my life.

I know these things about myself and I believe them to be true because I have stopped letting the way other people assess me determine how I view myself. This was not always the case and it had to change.

I used to believe that unless I had some tangible example of a man desiring me, that I was not desirable and needed to do things to ‘fix’ myself. This was at the root of me believing that I needed to find value in a romantic relationship with a man, in order to actually have value. THIS is what we women have to let go of in order to move forward in believing that men can value us simply for who we are and not for what we give to them. I believe there is room to listen to and consider how other people view and experience you because others can see things in us that we cannot. However, we have to stop letting these external factors determine who we are or how we see ourselves. From this place, I believe that it will be possible for us to stop needing that instant and immediate feedback of physical intimacy that says we’re wanted, to stop feeling so desperate to be in a relationship that proves to others that we’re wanted, and to give friendship with the opposite-sex a chance because it’s platonic-ness is not a commentary on our value.

I am still dismantling these beliefs in my life. I find that I can go in and out of believing them on a day-to-day basis depending on the situation I am in. But I am fighting to dismantle them because I know what is on the other side of them is freedom—freedom to be in relationships with men (and women) without the fear of what I think they need me to be for them. And I know that if I fight to believe this, in the same way that Taylor had to at one point in his life, it will help others believe it too.

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About Melissa Wait

Melissa Wait is a native Texan, transplanted to Boulder, CO—as she says: "I kept the y’all but picked up biking. 20-something getting my feet wet in work and life, I’m a little bit Millenial, a lotta bit Gen Xer. I am fascinated by the intersection between hormones and human reason."

Comments

  1. OirishM says:

    Re. 1 – I personally find myself more likely to be interested in a woman romantically the longer I’ve known her as a friend. I don’t have this thing that everyone else seems to where my interest just apparently shuts off for people having known them a given length of time. It’s not a problem for me to deal with – I don’t hold candles for anyone. But I’ve always seen it as – yes, there will be invariably be some romantic feelings tangled up in there with the friendship at some point. But that’s ok. It can be managed. It may even turn into something romantic.

    Re. 4 – yeah, I sympathise. Guys do this too. I’ve always done it, and can’t really approach girls as friends so easily without part of my mind analysing for relationship potential. I can still manage to form friendships with girls, but it’s tough. And my self-esteem is kinda effed as a result of making my happiness contingent on being romantically accepted by women :/

    • Melissa Wait says:

      These responses are all normal and natural–people become more attractive if you like their personality and less attractive if you don’t like their personality. The thought process in friendships often goes something like this: I enjoy being with this person, I find this person attractive, I feel good with this person, why shouldn’t we try to be romantic?

      If the other person doesn’t want to, we assume that it means there is something wrong with us. However, enjoying someone and even finding them attractive does not necessarily equate to being a good romantic match with them. This is why it is important to not find your value in how other people view you. If your value is not being determine by someone liking you or not, it’s easier to step back and assess if someone would actually be romantically compatible for you because your assessment isn’t entangled with your need to be validated.

      That being said, I think the fact that you can be friends with women is amazing and I’m sure they truly value you in those relationships. Hope that’s helpful!

      • OirishM says:

        I guess I wouldn’t mind a bit more openness on when there are these feelings of attraction in friendships. Still seems kinda taboo to talk about. It doesn’t have to ruin anything if it’s managed properly, I find.

        • Melissa Wait says:

          Definitely! More openness would be a good thing. I think, as a society, we’re terrible at communicating the things that need to be communicated. I think in this situation, we don’t communicate because we’re afraid of rejection but if you’re not, then talking about it is a good idea to make sure you’re on the same page. We all know unrequited love is awful.

          There’s another part of this where the other person might feel bad if they don’t like you back and they might not really believe that you can be okay with that. This is something that has to be worked past too, but I believe can happen with enough talking.

          I’m curious to know why you think we dance around the issue and these conversations hardly ever happen?

  2. Life changing.
    I’m writing some of these things down and hanging them above my desk.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. 1) Men believe this too (from what I can tell). They see women as people to have sex with, and if they have ANY feelings for them that seem sexual, they assume that this means they are not friends.

    2) Some men believe that the only relationship that matters to them, is their romantic one. But then I think that all men (almost) ubiquitously believe that the most important relationship for a woman, is her romantic one. (even many of the men that say, or try, to believe otherwise)

    3)This goes without saying, but I will say it. Love at first sight, and other notions that romance perpetuates are the main thing that undermine us and keep us from understanding that good relationships are based on how well you work things out, not how well things started out.

    4) I think part of the problem is this thing of the “perfect man/woman” as if everyone in the world would want this “perfect” person if they had the chance to be with them. And whenever we get evidence that we are not that “perfect” person, we sort of feel bad (maybe because magazines and movies tell us to) the truth is, there is never such a thing as a “perfect” person, the best that anyone can get is “perfect for” perfect for working with, perfect for someone like me to marry, etc. I think this is why the friendzone hurts guys so much…though I am not a guy, so I don’t know more than that, but my spider senses tell me that the answer is closely related to this article.

    • Melissa Wait says:

      I agree with you! I wanted to share how I’d changed my perspective (and how much that has helped me) but I think it would be great to hear the male perspective on all these things.

      • OirishM says:

        Men’s perspective, eh?

        1. Yep. This meme does the rounds with us too. One of best friends is a girl, who is also pretty attractive, and quite a few people (usually guys) have assumed when they see how we hang out and how we are together that we’re banging. Wouldn’t complain, but it’s affirmatively not that kind of relationship.

        2. Again, I think it’s safe to safe that both genders under discussion do this to some degree. Romantic relationships are generally built up in society to be this overarching priority that you simply *must* have sorted out. It wouldn’t surprise me that we assume this about members of the opposite sex, because it’s more often than not true – the romantic relationship is rated higher than friendships. That said, I think it’s still fair to say that sex/romantic needs are quantifiably harder to satisfy than friendship needs, so I think there would still be some distinction of this kind made between the two. Friends I can get pretty straightforwardly. Relationships are trickier.

        3. I think there’s a lot of things about romance and even dating that need tossing out. But I tend to favour the direct approach myself.

        4. The friendzone for guys is not about not being perfect, I find. It’s about being wanted in the first place. By anyone. I suppose sometimes people might build up one individual as The One that they’ve been looking for, which isn’t a good strategy. But I think the friendzone is more fundamental than that. It’s often about feeling totally undesirable to anyone. You’re not “perfect for” anyone. You’re not even “good enough” or “barely passable” for anyone.

        And while I’m sure this has its roots in basing your identity on romantic validation, there’s a fair bit of….seemingly deserved cynicism amongst the guys on this site towards the “love yourself/be yourself” style of advice handed out (often from women). I can believe it helps for some, but it doesn’t seem to go as far as some people make out.

        • Melissa Wait says:

          Re #4: This makes me sad for men and I understand what you’re saying here. I know that, prior to becoming actual friends with men, I didn’t realize that they needed validation the same way I did. I always experienced men as sure-footed and confident about their lives and their looks. I was always wanting to be affirmed and validated, and I could see the insecurity on other women, but I couldn’t see it on men. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they were great men, I just didn’t think they needed to hear it–so I withheld my affirmations from them.

          Now, I understand that guys need to feel wanted and desirable too, even if they know that you’re just friends. However, I don’t think my experience in thinking men don’t need validation the same way women do is a unique experience. I wonder how we could change this mindset and if that would help with the friendzone at all.

  4. PursuitAce says:

    Brilliant! I didn’t even bother to read it all as I could have written it. The comments are right on (that’s sixties right on) as well. We’re getting there people. That’s exciting.

  5. FlyingKal says:

    1) I think it’s entirely possible to have close friends of the opposite sex, and at the same time pine over a certain person of the opposite sex that you wish you were more than friends with.
    I.e. I don’t think these scenarios are mutually exclusive.

    1 & 2) Reading about your friendship with Taylor poses the following question:
    Do you think that our view on friends of the opposite sex, is in any way influenced if one or both people involved already have a romantic partner?

    2) My opinion is not that our romantic relationship is the only relationship that really matters.
    However, I do think that romantic relationship usually matters more than other relationships. And I think that is how it should be. At least if you have taken on the responsibilty to share your life, recidence, economy with that person, or even raise a family together.

    • Melissa Wait says:

      1) I agree!

      1&2) I do think that it is easier when one or both friends are in a romantic relationship because it set a natural boundary that the relationship will only be friendship. That being said, Taylor and I were both single for over a year and still remained just friends. So, it’s not necessary for one or both individuals to be romantically involved in order to have an opposite sex friendship with healthy boundaries.

      2) I agree! They should take priority but they also shouldn’t be so all consuming that everyone else in your life gets put on a shelf. In fact, keeping your friends close and including them in your romantic relationship is beneficial to that romantic relationship. If your friends get to see and understand how your relationship functions, they can help you to see and stop negative cycles that might be occurring there.

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