Sitting on the carpet of my dorm room, I was about to have one of the most awkward conversations of my life. She and I sat there until I finally found the courage to say what I felt needed to be said: “I think we should be friends.” I cringed internally, as if I was waiting for a bomb to go off. Instead, she simply said “I agree.”
Honest conversations about whether or not you have feelings for another person are difficult. Even more difficult is telling the other person (or being told) that you just want to be friends. But instead of wasting weeks or months agonizing over whether they are interested in you, defining the relationship lets you know exactly where you both stand. But what I have learned from experience is that defining the relationship verbally is only the first step. Your actions have to back up what you say.
We ended up having that difficult conversation repeatedly. One conversation should have been enough, but I consistently found myself sending her the opposite signals. I learned that this caused her great pain.
My first and biggest mistake was going to her with my personal problems and relying on her affection and help. I was particularly vulnerable during this period of my life. Recovering from a bad breakup a few months before led me to latch onto any sympathy I could find. When I opened my heart to her, she returned what she thought were my feelings.
Despite agreeing to ‘just friends,’ the way we approached our relationship didn’t change. I told myself that taking trips with her to visit her family and spending a lot of one-on-one time with her was innocent enough. But she interpreted these things as more than just something friends do.
I realized that our multiple conversations failed to change our relationship because I failed to change my behavior. I did not have my friend’s heart at the top of my list of concerns. What was at the top of my list was my need for sympathy. Ultimately, my emotional needs were more important to me than hers.
I blamed myself for letting our relationship escalate and I didn’t want to hurt her anymore. I decided it was necessary for me to take a step back. I stopped sharing my feelings and thoughts with her. I kept the conversations light. Eventually, I realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea to hang out anymore.
Ending our friendship felt almost cruel, but I believe it was necessary at that point to prevent her further heartbreak. I firmly believe we could have been friends if only I had been more cautious about getting so close to her emotionally. Because I allowed the relationship to become so misinterpreted I had to take drastic action.
Two years after graduation I wrote a letter to this woman apologizing for how I treated her. She forgave me, and while I wish I could say we resumed a friendship that continues today, we did not. The consequences of my choices shaped my relationship with her forever.
By not looking out for her heart, I ended up breaking it. I wasn’t willing to give a little for her sake, so I lost the friendship entirely through my own fault. This loss led me to think more about how others might respond to my actions.
I knew that honesty is essential to any relationship. I learned that means more than just saying what you mean, but doing it too. After defining the relationship early on, make the conscious decision to behave consistently with your words. It will save you much difficulty moving forward, and your relationship will benefit greatly since you will both know where you stand.