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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Relationships » Poly vs monogamous, emotional affairs and friendship vs romantic partners

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Author Topic: Poly vs monogamous, emotional affairs and friendship vs romantic partners
fluorite
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What is the difference between love for a romantic partner and love for a close friend? What is an emotional affair?

I was talking with a poly friend about relationship models recently (I've always said I'm monogamous) and when I said I am monogamous but also don't want to give up close friendships to be in a relationship, she said I sounded poly. Really? There is a different person I know who is always saying things like that she's poly because people are people, not possessions. But I would never EVER want somebody to be in a monogamous relationship with me unless they wanted to do so. I don't think people are possessions.

I was reading on a different forum, for rape and sexual assault survivors, and a woman said she'd recently found out that her husband had been using porn for years and she felt totally betrayed by this and everybody was replying saying yes that absolutely counted as cheating and an emotional affair. In my mind he maybe should have said something but also maybe porn didn't come up in conversation. Personally I think I'd want to have conversations about sexuality if I ever have a partner, both mine and theirs, so situations like that had less of a chance of arising but I also really don't think I would feel like it was cheating if my partner looked at porn.

I've read the article here on relationship models but id love to hear thoughts from other people.

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Redskies
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I think there isn't one overall answer to "What's the difference between love for a romantic partner and for a close friend?". I think that each individual person will experience that differently. Many people might not even be able to articulate what the difference they feel is, just that it feels different. Other people might feel no difference in the love they feel at all, but they might want to do sensual or sexual things with a romantic partner that they don't with a friend.

I definitely do not think that wanting to have close friendships as well as a relationship sounds poly. Most people need more than one close attachment in their life; it's also usually wise and healthy, because when one person has something tough going on, if we're supporting them, it helps to have other people who can support us in some way. It's also very rare for anyone to have all their social and relational needs met by just one person; human beings are all so very different, it's very natural to connect strongly in some ways with a few people and in other ways with some other people. Poly comes in a lot of different forms, but a thread that I think goes through all of them is some kind of romantic or sexual connection with more than one person. So, any time we're not talking about romantic or sexual connections, we're probably not talking about polyamory.

Feeling like people are not possessions is a common reason people give for being poly. I don't think it's The reason, though. I think people are monogamous or polyamorous because of their own needs and how they can best and most happily relate to other people. I suspect that for poly people, being poly is just a manifestation of their inner knowledge that people aren't possessions in the way that feels most right and natural for them, while for monogamous people, treating a partner with respect and caring about their partner's own individual life and opinions is a manifestation of the same knowledge, in the way that feels most right to them. Does that make sense?

There are a whole range of opinions about whether watching porn is cheating, and whether various other things are cheating. People get to feel however they feel and to have their own needs. I think it helps to cut through some of the complexity by focusing on relationship agreements. If something hasn't been discussed or agreed upon, mostly it's not reasonable to expect a partner to either do or not do it, because how are they supposed to know? If there are agreements - about anything - in place, then someone breaking those agreements is a breach of trust and disrespectful, and those are serious things in a relationship.

"Emotional cheating" is not a concept that everyone's on board with. Personally, I find it very odd when referring to porn - where is the emotional investment in watching porn? I'm also not on board with it if it's used to describe having fantasies or feelings about another person - that's just a very human thing, and thoughts by themselves don't do anything. Where I, personally, understand people using those words is again about relationship agreements. For example, if Person B becomes very distant from Person A and no longer shares the kind of relationship that A and B had agreed they have, and all the while B is sharing that kind of thing with C and said nothing to A, that's an ongoing breach of A and B's relationship agreement. B saying "but I didn't kiss/have sex with C" doesn't really cut it for me. That's still really about what B Does, though, and not emotions - B perhaps spent a lot less time with A than they'd agreed, or not shared their thoughts and dreams with A but with C instead.

It's maybe a problem with how we conceive of relationships and of what's important, and a lack of appropriate language. The way relationships are represented in the mainstream, sexual fidelity is everything and represents everything about the relationship - how strong and healthy it is. Of course, there's so much more variation than that in people's real lives. I couldn't figure out a way to remove my own bias on the "emotional affair" thing, so I figured I'd just be open about having it. I have been "Person A" in the above scenario, and I had no short-cut way of explaining to people how badly my "Person B" had treated me; it was pretty clear that most people would've been much more sympathetic or angry on my behalf if the story had been "B slept with someone else". "B cheated on me" was very, very true for me, but I couldn't say that without everyone assuming sexually, and then they thought "cheating" wasn't really accurate or true. So, I understand people needing to frame something they experience as a big betrayal in a way that relates somehow to sexual infidelity, so that other people grasp it a little. Hence "emotional affair", I think. The problem is not really the emotions, it's what was done; but we don't have (in the mainstream, at least) any frameworks or language for expressing the betrayal of someone breaking relationship agreements other than by sexual infidelity.

So, I suppose an "emotional affair" is a breach of the relationship agreements involving another person, but not involving sexual contact with that person. I guess different people would have different opinions about what "counts" and what doesn't, and if that term is even useful.

I'm not sure if this helps you figure out what you think? If you need a different direction, do say.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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September
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(If you're looking for personal experiences here,as well, let me know - I'm poly and I'd be happy to share some of my thoughts on what you are asking.)

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Johanna
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fluorite
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Hi Joey, yes personal experiences would be great to hear.

Redskies, thanks for your thoughts. Yes of course people get to not want their partner to watch porn. What made me uncomfortable about that forum thread though, was that people were saying the husband had no right to look at porn. That seems really close to saying he had no right to have fantasies of his own. And I so passionately believe that everybody is entitled to their own thoughts and fantasies (as if it were even possible to really control them...) but also, if he had agreed to not watch porn, and then did secretly? Also not cool at all.

Thanks also for your thoughts about emotional affairs. I'm sorry that happened to you. That sounds like it was really painful. I guess where I struggle is; I have several close friends. One of whom is in a relationship. Her partner knows about me, we have all hung out on occasion, etc. Also at the very beginning of our friendship she said she was a little confused about how she felt about me. That really freaked me out and I almost didn't continue being friends with her, since I a) was definitely not attracted to her and b) didn't want to be involved in anything untruthful. But her partner also knew all about this, before I did actually, and now it's been months and it feels like we're just friends. Which is good! But I am getting closer to all my friends, including her. She knows I'm not attracted to her and that I am attracted to somebody else. I do care very deeply about her though. Like a sister/family member friend. I know I'm generally nervous about getting close to people in relationships because I don't want them to develop crushes on me. I know I'm not crossing boundaries and it doesn't feel like she is but I don't know how she feels. Or what she thinks. In your experience would you have wanted c to put a stop to things? Would they have even been in a position to do so?

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Molias
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I have to admit that not wanting to give up friends when entering a relationship doesn't sound like an indicator of someone who wants (or doesn't want) poly relationships to me - I'd just call that someone who has a healthy view of the place of friends *and* relationship partners in their own life. As Redskies said above, it's a good idea not to depend on just one person for all personal connection & support.

And sure, poly people probably don't generally think of people as possessions, but I certainly wouldn't say that means monogamous-leaning folks do think that.

If you do a search for porn on our main site, there are some good Q&A articles where people have written in about disagreements in their relationships about viewing porn that you might find helpful. I think this, like a lot of aspects of a relationship, is really going to vary from person to person. Someone has the right to say "I'm uncomfortable with a partner watching porn" but their partner also has the right to say "ok, but it's something I enjoy and part of my personal sense of sexuality and fantasy, so maybe we aren't well-suited to each other."

In terms of cheating or emotional affairs, I think it all comes down to what boundaries partners have discussed and put in place around their relationship. If you ask a dozen people you may several different answers as to what exactly counts as "cheating" because people tend to have different ideas about what agreements or boundaries they'd like in a relationship.

Often, people in monogamous relationships will develop crushes on other people, but that doesn't mean they have to act on them or even bring them up. So even if this person did crush on you, that wouldn't be your fault, and it is really the job of a person in a relationship to abide by the relationship agreements, not on you to anticipate problems.

In my experience, I prefer to have a friend-type relationship with a partner, not just a sexual one, but I don't have sexual feelings about all of my friends. I have had crushes on friends that I've never acted on or mentioned to them, but some friends have become partners as well. It took me a while to really get the difference between feeling close to someone and being physically attracted to them, but at this point I am pretty good at spotting that extra dimension of attraction. I don't quite know how to describe it other than to say it has gotten easier over time.

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September
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I am in agreement with Mo and Redskies with people thinking that close friendships turn a relationship into a poly-relationship. While certainly people have varying comfort levels with how close they like to get with people, I don't think it is particularly healthy to get all of your friendship, support and interaction from just one source.

I also don't think that people who are monogamous chose to have only one partner because they are possissive and don't want to share them. The rules and boundaries that exist in any relationship - poly or mono - are up to the comfort levels of the people involved and can vary widely.

Personally, I don't think that close friendshps are in competition with romantic relationships. Or that feeling really close to someone, maybe even feeling attracted to them, is automatically cheating. How we feel isn't something that we can control, anyway, only how we chose to act based on it. Even if I was in a monogamous relationship, if I developed a crush on someone else that in itself would not have to mean anything. After all, sometimes we chose not to act on a crush even when we are completely single and free, because we know that it would not be a good fit, or because we are not interested in a relationship, etc. So, we always have to moderate those feelings, anyway - their existence in itself doesn't have to mean anything.

For me personally it is really important to have strong friendships with my partners, as well, but that doesn't mean that all of my close friendships are also sexual. Certainly sometimes emotional closeness can also lead to attraction, and I've been in situations where I developed crushes on friends or they developed crushes on me, but we always managed to work those things out based on whether it was mutual, and what agreements we had with any potential other partners.

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Johanna
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Redskies
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fluorite, so I'm really clear from the get-go, what you're describing sounds very, very different to what I was attempting to describe. Probably I was not clear enough, and I'm sorry for that!

I don't see anything wrong in the situation you're describing with your friend, and I most definitely do not see any hint of you doing anything wrong. For a start, you're not responsible for any feelings that someone else may or may not have about you, and you are certainly not responsible or required in any way to do anything to pre-emptively prevent someone feeling something. Is it simply because you're concerned about what it might do to their relationship that you feel unsure about pursuing a close friendship with someone in a relationship, or do you also have concerns that are about your own personal feelings or needs?

As Molias and Joey have also said, I don't think there's anything wrong with crushes or with any kinds of feelings. Feelings don't do anything to anyone (apart from the person having the feelings). Like most people, I think, I've had big feelings about another person while in a monogamous relationship; while that was sometimes uncomfortable for me, it was never a problem for the relationship, because it didn't change how I felt about my relationship, how I related to the person in it with me, or what I invested into the relationship or how I behaved within it. Having big feelings in itself doesn't take away any affection, care or dedication from a pre-existing relationship.

I don't like the wording "emotional affair" or "emotional cheating" because it implies that the problem is the emotions, which it's really not. What I was trying to say before, rather too clumsily I think, was that I think people use that wording for a sheer lack of any other wording that adequately expresses their sense of betrayal in a way that most other people can relate to and understand. After all, in the mainstream, how often do we hear "X broke our fundamental relationship agreements!", or an appropriately outraged or sympathetic response to that?

For my personal situation that I touched on above, it was really in a different universe than what you described with your friend. My "Person B" and I had a very clear, long-standing agreement that we had an exclusive romantic relationship and that we were each other's fundamental most-important person (so, overall, not every minute of every day), and that we would communicate if that changed. For a good number of months, "B" withdrew from me, no longer shared anything remotely personal, distrusted me, treated me with contempt and a distinct lack of giving a damn, and said that nothing was wrong when asked directly; in that time, "B" began and continued a romantic relationship with "C", telling C that their connection and relationship was the most wonderful thing, their level of mutual trust was the best thing ever, they were so happy with C, and that they were so very unhappy with me. I say this not because I need a big pity-party, but to try to highlight the difference [Smile] The problem was not what anyone felt, but that "B" grossly breached our relationship agreements and basically transferred their relationship-affection, relationship-attention and relationship-behaviour to someone else without clueing me in, and treated me like crap into the bargain. The problem was not B's connection to C, but B's lack of honesty and all of the things they took away from the relationship with me. I hold "C" zero responsible: the person responsible for upholding our relationship agreements, and then for breaking them, was entirely "B". However, "C" did start and continue a romantic relationship with someone while they were both supposedly in exclusive relationships with other people, and C knew I didn't have a clue B no longer wanted to be with me, so yes, I have a pretty low opinion of C's behaviour. But, responsibility for what happened to my relationship? Zero on C.

Turns out I'm naturally very comfy in non-monogamous arrangements, and prefer it; I just really, really like honesty and keeping relationship agreements.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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OhImpecuniousOne
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I think of the term "emotional affair" as relating to the emotional connection between people. So rather than it being about one person's emotions being the problem, it's about the way they choose to develop their emotional relationship with another person, and whether or not that breaks trust with their original partner(s).

I guess that's part of the answer to fluorite's question, too - you can't control your emotions and she can't control hers; the important thing is not how either of you feels unilaterally, but how you behave together. And I'd try not to assume that the relationship boundaries you would set are the ones that she and her partner have set, either - if in doubt, I'd probably ask.

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Heather
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I only want to pitch in something tiny, which is this: if "poly" isn't just about explicitly sexual or romantic relationships? Then everyone on earth who has any kind of relationship with more than one person is poly. All families made of parents/guardians and children, for instance, would then be poly.

And that may well be -- polyamorous = loves many, that's all that word means -- but then this obviously as term for sexual/romantic models of relationships, would no longer really mean anything.

I suspect, flourite, some of your confusion or concern here may come from your history of an abusive and controlling relationship? Because, by all means, abusive and controlling people often are desperate to limit the other person's relationships and interactions with others -- and blur the lines intentionally to make any other closeness with anyone else appear to be a betrayal -- but that is very much about control. That is NOT something coming from what we know is healthiest for everyone, which is all of us by all means having many kinds of human relationships and interactions in our lives.

In a similar vein, I don't think it is sound to talk about media as a relationship. Someone watching or taking in media, be it porn or Hollywood movies, or books, is not part of any kind of relationship, because that is a one-sided interaction, not an inter-related thing between that person and the people making or part of that media.

[ 05-16-2014, 07:06 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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fluorite
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Red skies, thanks, it is a lot clearer what you meant now.

Heather, yes I'm sure some of my confusion is because of my relationship history and I think some is also because of my family. I recently was talking to a friend about her relationship with her sister and what she described is definitely not anything I have ever experienced with my family.

I think I'm aware when I'm sexually attracted to somebody but the concept of loving anybody that is not a partner, and the experience of having somebody love me (by which I mean they don't tell me I'm wrong when I talk about something I have experienced, they are curious about me and my life and just want to know because they want to get to know me, not because they want to see if I'm good enough or pass judgement) feels so alien. I don't know how much I'm "allowed" to love somebody/they are allowed to love me without it meaning that I'm attracted to them even if I'm not, and without it meaning that they're crushing on me.

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Heather
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I think maybe one of the missing pieces here is understanding that poly as a framework for relationship models isn't about feelings so much as it is about agreements and actions.

In other words, when someone makes agreements to have a poly relationship, it's about concrete actions (namely, sexual ones) and intent, not about ways people may feel they do not put into action. It's not about how much or how little someone feels love for someone else, because feelings are not things we can really make agreements about, because we cannot control feelings, only actions.

So, we can't control how much or little we love someone, or if we do. We can, however, control if we do or do not engage in any kind of physical sex with that person, or if we do or do not set up house with them, introduce them to others as a partner, etc. Those are all things within our control we can tangibly define, and thus, solidly make agreements about that people have the capacity to choose to honor or not.

All of this also is pretty much impossible to talk about per what someone is "allowed" to do in a general sense, since this is all about what people do or do not agree to do or not to, specifically and individually. We can't really define much of this very broadly or universally, because it's up to people in their relationships to define together, specifically.

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fluorite
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Sorry I guess my semi rhetorical question about how much one is allowed to love somebody is more about the difference between platonic and romantic relationships and not about what is or is not poly.

Like I know I'm attracted to my friend K, and she is also one of my best friends. I have another friend, I, who I can relate to in maybe more ways than anybody I've ever known before. But the way I feel about her is different from the way I feel about K. I doesn't give me butterflies. K does. I feel like I can be myself around both of them, though some things I choose to talk more about with one than the other. If I had not already known K, I might have thought I was crushing on I even though I am not physically attracted to her, because out emotional and intellectual connection is so strong. But I have those super strong connections with K too and there is the physical attraction piece there. But then I start thinking too much and wonder if maybe I do have a crush on I even though I don't think I do, because is there some kind of cap on the strength of a connection that people can have if they are not in a romantic relationship?

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Heather
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I don't think poly frameworks, periods, are really about "how much someone is allowed to love someone." Again, this is about what people actionably do, not how people feel.

And honestly, I think in any relationship where someone is saying "how much" someone is "allowed" to feel love for someone else you're probably looking at some kind of red flag or busted-up framework.

Because in any kind of healthy relationship, no one is allowed or not allowed to feel love for other people. Instead, it'll just be taken as a given that of course -- and hopefully -- you will have other people you love and who love you in your life.

Likewise, the idea that how strongly we can be connected to someone is about a given kind of relationships strikes me as problematic. There's nothing to say that say, romantic relationships mean "stronger" (whatever that means, since that just strikes me as a non-metric) connections than non-romantic friendships. How strongly we feel connected to people just usually isn't about what type of relationship we're in, as we can form strong bonds and connections in a range of kinds of relationships.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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fluorite
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What I feel for K just feels different than what I feel for I but it's also easier to understand because I would expect there to be strong feelings/connection between people in a relationship (though I am not in a relationship with K). I don't know how to react to having other close connections with people who I do not want to date and do not feel physically attracted to.
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Redskies
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There is definitely no cap on how strongly anyone can feel about a platonic friend. A few people think there is, but I feel confident in saying they're just flat-out wrong. That kind of thinking is probably related to some cultural attitudes that a romantic relationship - probably marriage - is more important and above all other relationships, and again, I think that's just wrong and does no-one any favours.

You're "allowed" to love a platonic friend to the ends of the earth and back. There are people - many people - whose most important, long-lasting and closest life relationships are with a friend or friends, and who would fight a wild boar with a toothpick for their friend if they had to.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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OhImpecuniousOne
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I do understand what you mean; the way most of my romantic relationships have developed over the years is that I meet someone, get on with them, become friends, become very close friends, and then become partners with them. In fact, the only eventually-romantic relationship which has felt different for me right from day one is my current relationship. So I do see how you could perceive a romantic relationship as being the closest, strongest form of friendship, and sometimes that appears to be borne out by how individual relationships develop. I'm afraid I'm not going to give you an answer - I've never been able to define for myself the difference between a very close friend and a potential romantic partner.

I think, though, that it sounds like you're already developing a sense of the difference yourself. I'm not sure that there's an "objective" distinction or if it's totally different for everyone. But from the way you describe it, it sounds like you have two very good friends: one of whom, K, you could be interested in a romantic relationship with; one of them, I, you would not be. Sounds simple, right? [Wink]

As for whether there's a cap on how much you can love a friend - my entirely subjective but very strongly held opinion is that there is not. I've been lucky enough to have some incredibly close friends in my life, people who I knew intimately, and they knew me intimately; they brought me huge joy and I would have done absolutely anything to help or support them. Far from being dodgy or inappropriate, or indeed being romantic relationships on the sly, those friendships had a huge positive impact on me, and on them. Having close friends can make us happier, healthier, more supported, and better able to cope with life. Of course every situation is different, and, for example, if you were in a relationship you might have to discuss with your partner(s) how much time you spend with different people, and how much of your shared resources you're willing to commit to someone - say, whether you're both willing to spend the money to fly out to see a friend who lives far away - but in principle, I don't think more love, of the honest, respectful, happymaking variety, can ever be a bad thing.


Now that I think of it - one of those friends of mine was in an abusive relationship for several years. At the time, his partner forbade him from communicating with me or the other person who we were both very close with, because she was afraid that our relationship was "too much", or wasn't just friendship. I've never been entirely sure if she really was afraid of that, or if she knew, with some calculation, that his closest friends would be urging him to leave her and offering him help and resources to escape her abuse. So, yes, I can totally imagine how you might have been exposed to that kind of attitude in your previous relationship... and I still believe it is distorted and wrong. [Smile]

[ 05-16-2014, 08:10 PM: Message edited by: OhImpecuniousOne ]

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September
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Another thing I want to throw out there: there is no switch that exists where, if you have feelings up to that point of intensity you are in a friendship, and then when you go beyond a certain level of intensity you hit a switch and are automatically in relationship-land.

Part of what I find problematic about that is also that it seems to imply that romantic relationships are automatically closer or more intense than friendships. Which isn't true at all. There are lots of different ways in which we can relate to and feel close to people and I'd find it really hard to construct a hierarchy there. Like, the way I feel about my husband is quite different from the way I feel about my best friend, which is different again from the way I feel about my girlfriend. But all of these are very important relationships in my life.

My other problem with that framework is that it makes it sound as though we are all subject to fixed rules about relationships and emotions, and that we do not get to make choices around this. It also doesn't take into consideration that every relationship, romantic or otherwise, is unique and has a unique place in the lives of the people involved. There is no one-size-fits-all way to manage relationships and no rules about how many of each type of relationship you are allowed.

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Johanna
Scarleteen Volunteer

"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

Posts: 9192 | From: Cologne, Germany | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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