On a peaceful, chilly, Christmas season Sunday afternoon, I was laying next to him in the Lovesac watching a Christmas concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Sissel. We'd had a peaceful day and enjoyed lunch, and it was time to wind down and enjoy the gorgeous music of the concert. I looked over at him and felt mildly odd about our distance, about the fact that we weren't nestled warmly together as we had been so often in the past but instead were simply sharing the bean bag as good friends, shoulders touching but nothing more, to maintain more typical friendship boundaries. In a way, maintaining this distance seemed more unnatural and confusing. But it was necessary. I knew I felt something for him. I had wondered if I was just letting the romance of the season get to me, or I was feeling romantic and he happened to be the most available candidate, or if I was actually... I looked to my side at his eyes reflecting the TV's glare of lush Conference Center Christmas decorations, and it hit me again: "I think I may be falling for him. Is this what being "in love" is? If not, it's the closest I think I've ever been."
We'd known each other for close to half a year. We clicked, and I felt a familiar trust in a way I only feel with a few people. But we were just friends, and I liked it that way. It wasn't complicated or "undefined". It wasn't dramatic or messy. We watched our favorite TV shows together, went on walks or hikes, talked over some meal, typical friend stuff. We had a lot of fun together, and there was always a small element of flirtation in the friendship, but nothing I couldn't keep in control...
When I first was getting to know him, he'd been somewhat of a hot new item among some local mohos, and one of my friends seemed to have fallen for him, and vice versa. So I was initially bound and determined not to get to know him because I didn't want any part of some possible triangle. The first time I met him, I found him charming and surprisingly attractive in a way I couldn't put my finger on, and I wasn't about to risk crushing on someone my friend was interested in, too. But he persisted in contacting me, and I decided I was being extreme and agreed to hang out a couple of times, and the friendship grew. I eventually decided this friendship had too much potential to be so reserved about it. That came with risks.
Over time, there were aspects about him which I found attractive. He had such a thoughtful way of remembering details and sending text messages each day to keep in touch, often laced with a touch of flirty innuendo (both of us did this). Because we could talk about anything, I felt at ease with him and began to let down my guard as far as keeping myself emotionally distant so as to not become one of the many competing for his affections. He had a wicked grin and laugh, along with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, that I relished in a way. He had also expressed attraction to me and some confusion about those feelings.
Along with his somewhat confusing feelings towards me and his process of getting over the romantic aspects of his relationship with our mutual friend, he told me of a developing attraction for another new friend. Since he and I had started as friends without romantic attraction, it seemed natural to talk about everything in our lives quite openly as we always had, and we did talk about even this for some time without trouble. But after a while, it became a bit uncomfortable for me to discuss his relationship with his other friend, and I was beginning to realize why: my feelings for him ran deeper than they used to in a way I had hoped to avoid and in a way I wasn't sure he fully returned. Still, I hadn't really faced the developing reality right under my nose that I was setting myself up for emotional wreckage. As long as I believed he and the other guy were trying to stay platonic like he and I were (he said they were doing just that), I could push away the unpleasantness of it all.
As I watched the concert, wrapped in my own blanket rather than sharing one and wrapping myself around him, our history flashed through my mind, how we'd gotten to this complicated point in our friendship. Maybe it wouldn't change anything to cuddle up. Maybe I was being silly. We were already in a bit of a mess, and I was already defensive, so why not just be affectionate and try to break down that defense without awakening romantic feelings? Shouldn't that be possible? I knew from other friendships that cuddling could be purely about affection and intimacy and devoid of romance. No, this wasn't such a simple friendship anymore, if it ever was, and we had decided to set up stricter boundaries, and aside from needing to protect my own emotions, I cared about him too much to push those boundaries for my own gratification.
To keep things platonic, he and I had decided we should keep certain boundaries to avoid complicating our friendship because the friendship, not the romance, was what mattered most to us, despite a mutual attraction of some sort.
Neither of us fully wanted or was willing or ready to actually commit to a romantic relationship with another guy, so to me, it seemed foolish to pretend some version of it as if we were school children playing house. It also seemed self-serving and mutually disrespectful to be 'friends with benefits'. We each had faith-based, social, religious, and/or personal reasons for not wanting such a relationship. But over time, I began to fight off feelings of romantic attraction, and the typical "friend" boundaries had become harder for me to maintain. They had also become harder for him to maintain, he confessed, and I understood him to mean it was for the same reason. Regardless, each of us was apparently confused about our feelings towards the other, and we had determined that we'd have to be careful about that and set some rules for ourselves to avoid regrets.
I’d yearned to kiss him on several occasions. I didn’t want a passionate kiss, most of the time. I more often wanted a tender, deeply affectionate kiss, a slow and deliberate one: one that needn’t lead to more but expressed my affection or appreciation for him. I would've settled for a peck on the cheek or even on the lips in a platonic way but questioned whether it really would stay platonic, considering the romantic feelings I was trying to suppress. It would probably open a door we had both said we didn't want to open. It would clearly tease the line between friendship and romance in our case. And since when did I feel such a strong desire to kiss a "just friend" in that way? I reined it in and refrained from kissing the person I was sure it would have meant more with than anyone else I'd kissed.
Over time, our physical affection did push the boundaries of "friendship" in some ways, though we didn't kiss and never really "made out". But when I found out he and his other friend had been less strict or successful at keeping things platonic than he and I, I felt foolish, betrayed, and undesirable. I knew these emotions were irrational, but my mind had trouble convincing the rest of me of it. Hearing him insist that he had been more careful with me because my friendship mattered so much was no consolation, since I was pretty sure he cared about his other friendship, too. I knew I should only be concerned with what happened between him and me, not him and anyone else, if the friendship really was all I desired, but I couldn't let it go.
When I realized their developing romance was more a trend than an isolated feeling or incident, I became nearly obsessive over it. I kept most of the thoughts to myself, but I couldn't get them out of my mind every time we hung out, though I tried to control and suppress them as much as I could. I wasn't the one he'd chosen. I wasn't the one he most wanted. I wasn't his favorite. He offered aspects of himself to someone who accepted them while I would not have, had they been offered, though so much of me longed to. I couldn't stop aching over it, and it wasn't good for our friendship.
Laying in the Lovesac, yearning to be closer to him but wanting to push him away at the same time, I was still trying to get over the lingering hurt and bitterness I’d felt at the boundaries I’d kept with such effort for the sake of our friendship being crossed and removed with someone else. I didn't want to be some idiot doormat to be played, just one of several available to fill his need for affection and affirmation. "Calm down," I told myself, "That's not what he means to do, and you're just defensive and hurt and taking it out on him. He probably doesn't really understand what you're going through, especially if he doesn't feel for you the way you feel for him, and there's no need to punish him for what you can't handle. Had you and he done things a little differently, it might be the two of you in the romance and the other guy the third wheel. Would that be better? Would you rather have not kept your agreement and ended up in a romantic relationship you'd have to end because you've decided that's not an option for you right now, and possibly lose the friendship as a result? You've both done what the two of you said you'd do between yourselves. You've kept your promise to each other. That's what matters most, whether or not he and someone else have done the same. Besides, you've never been in his situation, so who knows how you might handle it? He's a good guy, and you know it. That's part of why you like him so much. Just remember that."
I blandly and somewhat begrudgingly accepted the self-counsel, and I moved away from him to stop our arms from touching. I distanced myself just enough to end the torture of being close enough to touch but too distant to satisfy. If I couldn't be as close to him as my whole soul intensely longed to be, I wanted to be distant enough not to be reminded of the desire, not to be teased by his touch. This was a shadow of the night I probably should have made the break.
>>> Continue to part 2