I'm her one and only...and I don't think that's a good thing.
Heather Corinna replies:
My friend wants to be in a relationship with me, but I am afraid to because I am her only means of support (that's not me being full of myself, she's actually said that) and if things were to turn sour I have two parents and countless friends and trusted adults whom I have no problems talking to, whereas she would have no one to talk to, me being her only confidant, and she can't very well talk to me about me, can she?
She's just so shy and not good with people and she and her parents are not exactly on good terms. I don't want to enter an unhealthy relationship! What should I do?
If I had an award to give each day for great awareness and forward-thinking about potential partners and relationships, you'd get it today, hands-down. Actually, you should just take it for this whole month. Seriously, this is really sage thinking on your part, and so valid per both of your best interests.
Having just one person be our whole world, or making one person our whole world, is never a good deal. That can get even more complicated and precarious for both people when that person is also a romantic and/or sexual partner.
You're right: if you become romantically and/or sexually involved with her, while she can talk about you to you -- and that's certainly part of healthy partnerships -- having only you to talk to about you, her relationship with you and everything else in her life can leave both of you high and dry, and can make working out doubts, rough feelings or conflicts that come up in your relationship, as they tend to, really difficult to deal with.
You didn't tell me if you want to be in a relationship with her, only that this is something she wants. So, I'll approach this leaving room for the possibility that you do, but also the possibility that you don't.
Assuming this is something you also want, I'd first express your concerns to her.
Fill her in on why you're not sure this would be such a good idea right now. You can tell her you understand that when someone is shy, it's really hard to make friends, but that an intimate relationship when one person ONLY has and only confides in that other person isn't often good for either person, especially as time goes on. You can tell her what you said in your question here about how you worry that would leave her without the support and the larger sounding board we all tend to need, even in wonderful relationships. It's so important we have people to talk to when our relationships are in conflict, but it's also important we have people with whom we can share the good stuff, too!
You can explain how the person in your position in a situation like this can wind up in a pretty uncomfortable place. If the only person she has to talk to, period -- and even more so about you and your relationship -- is you, then it's going to be tough for her to get outside perspective on issues, which we all tend to need. Healthy relationships require keeping in communication with our partners, but also making sure that communication itself is sound. Sometimes we'll have issues that just turned out to be things we needed to work out for ourselves, or vent about with a friend, rather than bringing to a partner. We also need to make sure our own load is being shared among our support network, so that any one person doesn't feel like they have to hold all our stuff alone.
It can also be hard in these kinds of setups for the person in your spot not to feel a little trapped at some point: like if the relationship isn't working for you, you may have a very hard time leaving it if that's what you want, because you may feel like you're leaving the other person with no one at all. That can make it tough to evaluate at any point if a relationship is really working for you or not, and to ask for things in it that you want or need. If she doesn't have friends of her own, she might also have trouble with the time you want and need for those friendships during a relationship with her. Additionally, if she has a very hard time socializing and communicating with people, well...you're people, too. So, that might also mean that she doesn't yet have some of the skills for an intimate relationship with anyone just yet.
You might also want to know for yourself that someone who wants to be intimately involved with you does because you're one possibility of any number of people she feels she could become involved with, not the only person she has as an option. It's totally possible she doesn't feel that way, mind, and wants to be with you because she thinks you are the stuff of serious awesome because of the person you are, but it can be hard to know and feel that if and when someone is coming from a dating pool of one. Queer dating pools are often small, to be sure, but that's taking it to a serious extreme.
I don't know where either of you are at in terms of your sexuality identity or if either or both of you are out. Particularly if she isn't out yet, and/or if she doesn't have any support just in being queer, being without additional support could make a romantic relationship even tougher. If this is her first romantic/sexual relationship, which it sounds like it might be, then that's another challenging issue to add to the mix. In or out, first or not, none of this is about anything being wrong with her or deficient in some way, these are just other things to discuss in terms of why having a support circle of more than one isn't at all minor.
I probably don't have to say this, but I'd deliver all of those messages -- whichever feel true and most important to you -- with sensitivity and kindness. Chances are, she's in the social spot she is both because she's shy, and also because she may not have been well supported in learning tools and skills to manage her shyness and to cultivate her own social network. She can change that, for sure, but she may not have known how, may not have felt that she could, or may have been without people around her to help her out with this and let her know how important it can be.
If you do want a romantic/sexual relationship with her, I'd also make clear this is something you want, but that you just don't want to pursue it if it seems like something more likely to be bad for one or both of you than good. Obviously, choices about pursuing romantic and/or sexual relationships are often tougher and more loaded when someone is already in your life as a friend that you cherish, because if a romantic relationship goes sour, then you both may lose a partner AND a close friend. You can voice that concern too, one that, as your friend, she'll likely understand and share.
As you say all of that, I'd ask for her thoughts and feelings, too. See which of these concerns she shares and which she doesn't; find out where you're on the same page and where you're not. This may take more than one talk, but hopefully in talking, you'll both be able to get a better sense of if taking any next steps towards pursuing a different relationship together than you have now is something you both want or if it seems like one or both of you feel it's just not a sound move right now.
If after talking, you both feel this is something you want to pursue, the next step I'd suggest is that she work on starting to expand her network. You say you have a lot of friends to call on as needed: how about introducing her to some of them? Obviously, you want her to have her own friends, too, but socializing more with yours might not only connect her to one or two people she feels an affinity with, but allow her to develop more comfort with making friends so she feels more capable of branching out to make some of her own. Might you be able to connect her with one or two of the adults you talk with, too?
Is she in school? If so, does her school have a gay-straight alliance (GSA)? If it does, that might be another great network for her to take a step in getting connected, through. If it doesn't, maybe it's time to get one started, something you could even do together if you go to the same school. Any other youth LGBTQ groups nearby, if you have them, are another great way she could get more connected. A counselor is another option for someone else to talk with. Your school or community center may have one, but if they don't, they can probably suggest local resources for counseling, some of which may be free in the case she doesn't want to ask her parents about counseling.
If she's willing to start taking some of these steps, I'd just see how it goes over some time. I'd not make any promises that if she does any of this, you'll pursue a relationship, because your feelings may not stay the same (hers might not, either). As well, her taking these steps should be about improving her own life, not about what she figures she must do to earn a relationship with you. But you can certainly let her know you want to each keep checking in about how you feel as she expands her world to more than a party of two, and that you will let her know if there comes a time when you are feeling better about the prospect of a romantic/sexual relationship. You can also let her know that whether you want to change the nature of your relationship with her or not, as her friend, you're happy to help her with these steps.
In the case she's resistant to all of this, my personal advice would be to nix getting more involved right now. I think you already know that based on what you said writing in, and I think you should trust your own instincts. Usually, when we feel afraid or reluctant about something, it's for good reason. Again, being someone's one-and-only may sound romantic to some, but when that really, truly is the case, it tends to wind up being really unhealthy for one or both people and not feeling very good at all.
If she doesn't want to try to get connected with anyone but you, or if you know already you do NOT want a romantic or sexual relationship with her, some of the things I already listed should hopefully be helpful either way. But then you're obviously going to be replacing a "maybe," or "we'll see," with a "no," instead. It can be a little easier to decline a relationship because you're saying you don't think it will be healthy or compatible than it can be to decline because you're just not interested, especially with someone with whom you already have a close relationship, who you care about, and who doesn't seem to have anyone but you.
Even though you only left a short question, I feel pretty confident you're a thoughtful and caring person who can probably deliver unwanted news to someone in a way that is as kind and painless as possible. However you do, your friend probably is going to be unhappy: no one likes rejection, and if she's put herself out there to you and you're declining AND you are her only friend, that is likely to feel pretty rough for her, no matter how great you are at opting out. But rejection, alas, is part of all of our lives, and not everyone we will want any kind of relationship with will always want what we do or want it when we do. It's just something we all have to learn how to accept and deal with. You can't magically spare her from that, and in the case you're at all inclined to make your choices here based on trying to do that, I'd suggest you reconsider. Being with someone we don't really want to be with or feel right about being with doesn't do us or them any favors.
Giving her some time and space to deal will probably be part of what she needs. She'll probably feel pretty vulnerable, and while she may want or need some resolution with you about it, it wouldn't be fair for her to expect you to be her sole counsel or comfort in this. Healthy boundaries are important in this for the both of you. In the event you worry that your answer to her on this may be something she reacts to particularly badly, and you're concerned about her taking care of herself, you can always ask one of the adults in your own network for some help.
I want to make sure you know that whatever you do or decide with this, you're not responsible for being the only person she is close to and confides in. Even if it's challenging for her, her choice to only have you in her orbit is her choice, and she can make different choices and ask for help from others in that. If she's putting out there that she wants and feels ready for a deeper relationship, part of that readiness is about being able to take enough responsibility for, and care of, ourselves that it's healthy to get intimately involved with someone else. While it can feel sucky not to be ready or in the right place in our lives for something we want, like rejection, that's part of life we all learn to -- hopefully! -- deal with. It's also something that, like dealing with rejection, we need to learn to manage, accept and honor if we're going to be happy, healthy people.
Whatever you decide, and whatever steps she takes or doesn't, I wish you both my best. I'm going to leave you with a few links to read for yourself or share that might provide some extra help: