Ah, friends with benefits. The "No Labels" relationship. The "let's hang out and see what happens" relationship. The confusing relationship that is defined only by the fact that it is undefined. It is the dating equivalent of being trapped in quicksand - the more you try to clarify the more confusing it gets, and the more you fuss the further you sink.
Not that you haven't tried to define it. Oh, but you have. You've attempted many "what are we" conversations, which all led nowhere. It gets tiring, they get annoyed. So, you convince yourself you don't have that many feelings actually, and decide you’ll play it cool, let it ride out. But deep inside, you hope that one day they will see the light and it will become something real.
But that day never comes.
Your heart is torn to shreds, your confidence is at an all-time low, and you have turned into a version of yourself you barely recognize.
These non-relationship-relationships have the ability to cause the most heart-wrenching heartbreak and the worst part? You end up feeling silly because you were never really with them, were you? You're embarrassed to tell your friends about your non-breakup with your non-boyfriend they never really got around to liking. You feel you can't really be upset about the situation because it's not even a real situation.
I've been there. We never really dated, but the pain was more than real. We spent a great deal of time together, went through difficult things together, had mutual friends, the whole nine. It ultimately led us down a path of finding comfort in each other it, and I found myself trapped in a “situationship”. Sometimes external circumstances work to push two people together in a way that bonds then, and if one develops feelings, it’s the perfect recipe for heartache.
I will never forget the day I realized our “non-relationship” was coming to an end; that we wouldn't talk every day anymore, and that one day I’d have to face seeing him with someone else. I began to feel crazy - what kind of person can feel so strongly for someone who doesn't feel the same way towards them? The truth is, it happens all the time.
I learned a few things through navigating my undefined, no-labels, non-relationship, so I will share my wisdom:
They never have a clear cut ending.
Most of the time these relationships just fade, and you will spend your days wondering if maybe you gave up too soon. The ending will be as undefined and organic as the beginning - it will likely end over time, and there will never be complete closure. You can't hope to have breakup answers when you never had relationship answers.
The pain is also undefined.
You’re stuck dealing with a broken heart that you can’t explain, you can’t talk to that person about it because you will fear they will dismiss it and say it wasn’t even real, and you can't vent to your friends because they never accepted this person into their circle as a real possibility. You will feel alone, and that's okay. Taking time to process through what led you down this path will help you not repeat the same mistakes in the future, and avoid other undefined and painful relationships.
The only way to heal is cutting off contact.
If you know that you can’t handle the uncertainty, get out as soon as you realize you have deeper feelings. Cut off contact because they will only grow as you spend time together. There is no way around this. If you think you can handle being friends with them after, just remember how you thought you could handle not knowing what you meant to each other and how that turned out. This is the time to protect yourself and walk away.
Consider their side.
Sure, you have a lot of feelings. But maybe they do too. Stop and think what this situation might be like for them - maybe they are taking advantage of you, but maybe they are also scared of what “could be”. It’s possible that they don’t know how to talk about their feelings, that they are afraid you don’t feel the same, or that they simply don’t have the words to define the situation, so they don’t. More often than not, you’re not the only one confused.
Let your guard down.
Letting our guard down is scary, because it feels too vulnerable. But life begins at the end of emotional self-defense: when we guard ourselves and our feelings so much that we would rather miss out on a whole realm of experiences life has to offer than to be hurt, are we really living? In vulnerability lies the door for a full and fulfilling life, filled with beautiful moments and no regrets.
Advocate for yourself.
Like in your career, when you find yourself in an undefined, confusing non-relationship, the best thing you can do is advocate for yourself. Be honest, brave, and speak up for yourself. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, not being considered equally, you have every right to speak up. You (and your feelings) are just as important as the other person’s, and you must be willing to say what you feel out loud. And then, if things don’t turn out the way you hoped, you must be brave enough to know your worth, and put action behind it by walking away.
Forgive them, then forgive yourself.
Forgiving the person who has strung you along and hurt you along the way is difficult, but it pales in comparison to how hard it can be to forgive yourself. You will be tempted to spend hours upon hours dissecting where you went wrong, what you could have done differently, and if it was your fault it all went up in flames. Stop. Wrap that chapter of your life up with a bow and put it away. Write it all on a piece of paper and throw it to the wind. Put a message in a bottle. Whatever you need to do to let it go, do it today. Take the lessons learned, know that you were vulnerable, honest, brave, and compassionate, and that is all anyone can expect of themselves.
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