I don’t want to mess up our friendship by dating.

Recently, I was watching Neil LaBute’s intriguing romantic drama, Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, and the classically beautiful Jennifer Ehle (best known for her role as Elizabeth in the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice). The film revolves around the dual plot of two literary scholars (Paltrow and Eckhart) and the scandalous affair they unearth between the poets they study (Northam and Ehle). Paltrow and Eckhart’s characters develop a genuinely sweet friendship, which gently grows into a romance (albeit at the breakneck pace required for a 2-hour film). During the course of which, one says to the other something along the lines of, “I don’t want to mess up our friendship by getting romantically involved.”

While I highly appreciate a message in modern-day film saying, ‘Let’s slow down. I genuinely appreciate you as a human being and a friend and not just as a sexual interest,’ the appeal to, ‘I don’t want to ruin what we’ve got,’ is quite common not just in film, but in real life, and it got me thinking. It seems to me that when we shy away from a potential romance because we fear losing what we’ve got, we are being foolish. Once romantic feelings come into the mix (mutual or otherwise), things have changed already; you’ve already “lost” your friendship—insofar as you’re trying to define the friendship by what it was—because something’s already changed. We can’t hold on to what no longer exists.

Relationships that are worth anything are worth taking risks for. Certainly we don’t want to run around haphazardly, never looking before we leap, but relationship is all about risk. That’s faith. That’s love. It’s about being vulnerable to loss, and consequently, open to gain. (See also the risks God is always taking on us.)

Friendships worth their salt (ie. the really good ones we don’t want to “mess up”) are likely to be strong enough to survive even when things “don’t work out.” I’m well aware there are many a horror story about friendships which never recover from a fizzled romance. But I wonder if that doesn’t often have more to do with the strength of those friendships in the first place, our maturity, and perhaps most particularly, the manner in which we maneuver our romantic relationships once in them.

At any rate, these were just some of my off the cuff thoughts on the topic. I’m sure there’s much more here to explore. What do you think?

This entry was posted in TV & Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to I don’t want to mess up our friendship by dating.

  1. Brian says:

    I can think of two other important factors:
    1. How deep were these feelings by the time the two talked about it?
    2. Did both have feelings, or just one.
    3. If only one had the feelings, how powerful was the sense of rejection?

    Those are just off the top of my head, no personal experience necessarily implied…

    • reneamac says:

      Those are good caveats, Brian. It’s true, my discussion and premise depend upon/assume mutual feelings.

      Another aspect to this, I believe, is the nature of friendship in and of itself: friendships, especially in our more transient seasons–which happens to also be when most people do most of their dating–are, largely, seasonal, perhaps especially male-female friendships. And that being the case, I think it’s also okay when we aren’t able to stay friends, or stay at the level of friendship.

      We grow and learn from rejection and “failed” relationships. I don’t have a single ex I regret, but even if I did, I’m willing to bet I will have grown and matured, learning about myself and relationships in general.

      Good points.

  2. Rhett & Valerie says:

    This was really well-written. I remember talking with you about this at L’Abri! I think it’s true… you’re going to lose one way or the other. And even if you end up with someone else, your friendships with people of the opposite sex are going to all take a very appropriate step backwards anyway.

    Like what was alluded to before, I wonder if it’s worth losing the friendship, though, if one party is fairly confident that the other doesn’t/won’t share their feelings. In that case, I think it may be better to let these feelings lie (and perhaps try to move on) rather than confess them and create an awkward situation AND distance. What do you think, friend? (I’m picturing a balcony scene all of a sudden at Bellevue!).


    • reneamac says:

      “And even if you end up with someone else, your friendships with people of the opposite sex are going to all take a very appropriate step backwards anyway. ”

      Yes. This is a major part of what I was alluding to in my comments above. Well put.

      I also agree with you that there is probably a time and place to serve the other by keeping quiet about one’s feelings. Part of the trouble is incorrigible hope inevitably comes along hand in hand with romantic interest (it must, or we’d none of us ever ‘risk it’) so that it is nearly impossible to be confident in the other person’s disinterest. Overall, I think the bigger onus is more consistently upon the one who is uninterested romantically. Sometimes life is just awkward and we need to be more okay with that and learn to be gracious.

      (The other side of the coin would be the many instances in which one is confident in the other’s disinterest and couldn’t be more wrong. Yet this confidence dissuades the one from making a move, he/she pines away for nothing, and an opportunity is missed.)

      I understand, and again, think there’s a place for Smit’s condemnation of the ‘I must tell you my feelings or die’ sentiment [from Dr Smit's excellent book, Loves Me, Loves Me Not], but wonder if overcoming this emotion is an act of the will more readily available to some than others. I tend to want to balance Smit with a point which Frederick Buechner puts to words so well: “Pay mind to your own life, your own health, and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.” If we recognize that Smit’s overall premise (that we ought to be as truly other-oriented as we can be by God’s grace when we like someone who doesn’t like us back and vice versa) must include Buechner’s, then we will be doing well I think in our efforts to orient our romantic lives toward Christ’s Kingdom.

      Love to you, my friend.

      • Rhett & Valerie says:

        What a great reply! It’s like you anticipated it. ;)

        Of course, I think we’d agree that there are times/places that you shouldn’t voice your interest. Period. Some examples:
        -The other person is married
        -The other person is in a position of vulnerability/subservience/not equal to you (ie professor to student)

        But that goes under the fold of being “other oriented”. Love the Buechner quote.


        • reneamac says:

          Goodness yes, those scenarios didn’t even enter my mind because their so off the table, especially the married scenario. I’m glad you point them out, because in our feelings-reign-supreme social context, all boundaries go out the door so that it is impossible to be other-oriented.

  3. Joy Eggerichs says:

    Let me join you two on the balcony at Bellevue!

    “I wonder if that doesn’t often have more to do with the strength of those friendships in the first place, our maturity, and perhaps most particularly, the speed at which we maneuver our romantic relationships once in them.”

    I think this is the main point of many reasons a relationship heads one way or the other. And I think it’s important for us to define what “romantic” looks like for each relationship that would cause it to be different than just a friendship. Does that make sense to you or just in my head?

    • reneamac says:

      Joy, welcome to the balcony! :)

      The quote you’ve pulled was really one of my major points. Are you saying we need to consider how a friendship-turned-romance should be handled differently from situations where we begin dating someone with whom we’ve no such history? I quite agree with that.

      (Looking out my window, I can almost see the Alps. <3)

  4. Marie says:

    It’s amazing how you said everything I was thinking. I have known this person every since high school and in between me moving away and going to
    college and her living her life….we ended up
    seeing each other at the high school reunion. It had been like maybe 8 yrs. since I’ve seen her. I have always been attracted to women but never acted upon it until her. She has been in relationship with men and women but I’ve only been with men. Well she was in a relationship with a guy but not anymore. So….in the mist of that she develops feelings for me that were there every since high school(that’s what she told me) and I developed feelings for her as well. So we text and flirt and said the I love you’s and I miss you’s and everything …but she would tell me that she doesn’t want to cross that line bc she doesn’t want to ruin our friendship. But then she made a statement and said that…”No matter if it’s right or wrong I would be with you anyway”. One time she ended up kissing me and said that she should haven’t done that. My point in all of this is that I feel stupid bc my feelings have developed deeply for her but I’m getting mixed signals from her and it’s weighing on my heart badly. I’ve told her how I felt and she thought that maybe we needed to chill out but then here comes the mixed signals again. Then I think about why I decided to be single in the first place. We haven’t gone passed flirting and that 1 kiss. I really need some help with this situation.

    • reneamac says:

      Hi Marie. Thanks for commenting and sharing your story, painful and confusing as it is. My heart goes out to you. It seems to me as though your friend, who you wish were more than a friend, wants to have her cake and eat it too: hence the mixed signals. Either she is genuinely confused and conflicted and concerned about messing up your friendship, or she likes you, likes flirting with you, but isn’t really that interested in an actual relationship with you. I don’t know either of you personally, so I can’t say, but those are pretty much what your options boil down to. If such a person exists, it might be worth asking someone who knows and cares about you both which option seems more accurate.

      If it’s the later, then the sooner you call it off, even the friendship… or at least the emotional closeness of the friendship, at least for a while, the better. I know that’s difficult and painful, but trust me, it’s not as difficult and painful as allowing yourself to be strung along.

      If it’s the former—if she really does care about you and your friendship—you need to let her know (more resolutely this time) that you can’t handle the mixed signals any longer and she needs to make a decision. If she needs a few days to think about it, that’s fine (I wouldn’t let it drag on… no longer than a week I think), but you’ve obviously reached that point where it’s time to fish or cut bait: either she wants a real relationship or she doesn’t.

      And then YOU need to decide. Either you can continue being friends with some definite boundaries drawn about not flirting… physically, verbally, or otherwise… or you need to not be friends, at least for a while. You may decide to try to be non-flirting friends and find it doesn’t work and then decide you need to not have any contact for a while. That’s okay. If she’s really your friend she’ll understand. Or you may come to discover that even being just platonic friends is too painful for you and you need to not even be friends for a while. That’s okay too. After all, it’s not really that you’re not friends anymore necessarily, it’s that you aren’t friends in contact, at least for a season, like you were before you reunited at your reunion.

      Don’t feel stupid. Your feelings are real, and if she’s a person who is worth liking, even if your feelings aren’t reciprocated, they’re not stupid.

      From my heart,

  5. Josephine says:

    I realize this was posted ages ago but it really is amazing how right you are. I am currently in this situation where I met a guy at the start of the year, and over this period of time we have become really really really great friends. He recently just asked me out and I have no idea how to respond. I know that I will at least be in constant contact with him for the next couple of years so I don’t want to mess up our friendship and the worst thing is I don’t know if I like him or not. I don’t know what to do! I really don’t want to hurt his feelings because he really is such an amazing guy.

    • reneamac says:

      Hi Josephine. I think the real issue for you is, like you said, that you don’t know if you like him [romantically] or not. If you think you might like him if you give it a try, then give it a try! But if you turn him down, let it be because you don’t have romantic feelings for him, not because you are afraid of losing his friendship and/or making things awkward between you. Whatever you decide, be honest with him and tell him straight up. Guys appreciate that. As a blogger-friend of mine says, “Guys would rather be hit in the face” than be lied to so as to ‘spare his feelings’. Best of luck!

speak what you feel: leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

Please log in to WordPress.com to post a comment to your blog.

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s