Friendship and Boundaries

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tinygoblin
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Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

I have a friend who i have been hanging out virtually quite reguarly over the course of this year. we're online friends, he's pretty great and we have lots of fun talking. however, he's also very lonely, sad and depressed due to covid circumstances and general troubles. while he doesn't take it out on me, i do get scared that he will. i have been treated like a therapist by guys before and implemented a lot of strict boundaries around it to prevent me from ending up in this position again. i'm just worrying that i'm too strict and do limit the stuff he feels able to talk around me. he has anxiety about hurting people and being a bad person and cares a lot about other people (without beeing creepy about it though). i feel like where on opposite ends here: he's my first cishet guy friend and i'm sometimes a bit scared or uneasy being taken advantage of due to past experiences even though he's extremly respectful. i did trigger a panic attack in him accidentally by being unclear that i was talking openly online about past bad experiences with "sad guys" in a way that reminded him of the abuse he experienced and being ashamed of his sad feelings. he doesn't really talk about this depression except openly online and only has me as a friend that he trusts. he's aware of his lonely position though, wants to change it and knows how his depression jerkbrain works etc. we're in the same online community and he's approved by a lot of other POC, queer and disabled people and the least person to be weird, hurtful person. in general we respect our boundaries very well but it just had been.. a lot of confused feelings. first the panic attack where he texted me at night during the attack scared that i've exposed him online and don't want to be friends anymore. (which is not the case and we talked about it.) we hung out twice for a couple hours in video calls afterwards, however yesterday he told me he had a crush on me. we've been quite affectionate with each other, saying that we like each other and feel happy and safe with each other and whatever. i don't mind having him these feelings. it just has been a big surprise honestly and i just. don't. know. i made it clear that i only want to be friends. i do believe him that he's into me but he also said it himself that it's probably conflating with us just being an instant click friendwise, him being lonely and having happy times when we hang out to study or to do art. idk. it's a big blob of feelings, but it's not making me feel unsafe, i'm just not quite sure on what i need now to be comfortable, without being cold or letting my irrational "being scared feelings" take over.
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there, tinygoblin. I read and hear all of this, and I am witnessing you in all of it. I also can certainly understanding feeling overwhelmed and pretty lost, in a lot of ways, around a lot of parts of this.

If I put myself in your shoes, I think the thing that would have me feeling the most cornered and concerned is being this person's only person. It would also really validate the concerns about being their therapist, make them saying they have a crush feel extra weird, and make it hard for a relationship of any kind with them to feel optional because he seems so precarious in his emotional state. That alone would all certainly leave me feeling very unsafe. It also would leave things feeling awfully one-way, but I also haven't heard from you about what this relationship has been offering *you* yet, so who knows.

What do you feel like you need to get help with this? Want to talk through your options, or try and get at your core feelings more, or...?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

hi heather. :) to me he is a cool friend, we have the same political opinions and a very similar kind of humor, the same interests in books, music, media, we both like crafting and making art and can just talk for hours. we mostly did talk about non-sad stuff so far and i always enjoyed spending time with him. when i was pretty lonely talking to him made me feel better and he supported me in dealing with stress etc aswell.
i am just overwhelmed right now. i don't want to let him down but i also don't want him to experience all these weird rollercoster emotions in the first place. i don't know when to reach out again (as he said i should text him if i feel ready again) and how to reach out and what kind of boundaries i need. i'm actually quite sad that he has a crush on me. i never had a guy friend before and i felt really safe in a way that made me extremly happy and i'm not interested in dating anybody right now. i'd be totally fine with hanging out and not processing his emotions with him or talking about anxiety or sad stuff. not like he expects me to do! but it did happen, talking about my sad stuff and his sad stuff esp last week when there was a lot going on in his life (and he also did not braindump anything on me but reached out to online aquantainces), there just happened to be this panic attack where *I* have been responsible for the trigger, but he did not blame me at all.
i just wish he had friends tbh. and i don't think he will be weird about anything or disrespect my boundaries it's just something i don't want to deal with. it's probably just him confusing sadness and friendship for romantic feelings or maybe not, i don't know and i don't want to downplay any emotions he has. but to me, even if i'd be into him aswell, dating him in this position would be a no go for me. i think i'd be fine being friends and being both chill and safe about it while also slowing down how often we hang out and slowing down talking about deep, emotional stuff after it has been a bit too much for me the last week.

i think i just need help in figuring how distinguish between my own fears and valid concerns, and how to have good boundaries in this situation, i guess.
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

I can understand all of this.

I don't actually think that there's anything wrong with having boundaries around fears -- in other words, I think boundaries around concerns AND fears are both equally valid.

How might you feel about starting with one boundary, which is that you aren't comfortable being his only person, and that if you two are going to be close, you need him to be at least making efforts to make and get closer to some other connections, too?

I also think that asking to reset with a friendship where you hang out a bit less, and put more focus on lighter fare for a bit is a totally reasonable ask. It sounds like you need to have some more emotional space first in order to feel comfortable being so close, which is totally fair and understandable.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

yeah, i think i'm going with those two. :) i'd just add that talking about certain emotional topics is a no go right now - but with the option that he can talk to me if it's urgent or he's concerned about his own safety.
do you think it's weird to ask what he's specifically feeling for me? bc i'm a nosy tiny goblin but also bc he was pretty vague in that he doesn't only want to be platonic. but also, do i really want to know if i'm not feeling the same and it's stuff he should just work out himself? idk, but maybe it's best to just leave his feels as they are now and let him bring it up as it changes or persists.
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

Since you have made clear you’re not interested and only want to be friends, I feel like you asking for details about his non-platonic feelings sends a very mixed message about that, you know? It also feels a little like an emotional violation to me: asking him to talk to you about that when you’re clear you don’t reciprocate those feelings feels like asking someone to do something painful for them, and of no value to them. That’s my two cents on that.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

yeah, you are right. i'm not going to ask. thank you so much for talking me through this! i feel ready to talk to him now :)
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

I'm happy to have been able to help. You know where to find us if you need more help with this or anything else, or want to talk. :). I hope that your talk goes well!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

hey, me again. we had a talk yesterday and overall it's been good. he aknowledged all by himself that he did put too much on me and gave me the space to get some other stuff out, as his vaguesness in trying to tell me that he's romantically interested triggered fear in me. we talked about and it's been good. however, i'm still uncomfortable somehow. he didn't do anything wrong and he's a good person bit somehow i'm just uncomfortable how you can know somebody for just roughly half a year and already consider them a very important person? i'm just scared that there will be too much pressure on me in how important we are for each other. and i think i might be just now realizing that while he's very cool i might have relied to much on him too in getting my social needs met. we did chat a bit today, and idk i'm switching between wanting to talk to him more and missing that state before last week. and idk if i should't just take a break by now bc i want to talk to him but also fixing this situation does not really come from me and i don't have to fix things or work to make them better? not that things are shit now. i have space and get encouraged to talk and state boundaries. i don't know if i'm opening up something unrelated now bc i'm not distressed at all about him in particular. just fear and uneasyness maybe that's coming from myself
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there. Glad to hear the talk went well.

By all means, he can be doing nothing wrong, but you can still be feeling uncomfortable: both of those things can be true!

In terms of how someone can consider someone very important in a given period of time, there really is no one period of time for that: it's very personal and situational. It also can be easier to bond with people when we're in trauma/traumatized. But no matter what, that he feels that way about you doesn't obligate you to anything: you still get to make whatever choices you want to about what kind of relationship you have here AND set and have whatever limits and boundaries you need, okay?

It sounds to me like you might just need a little time to think more about what you want and need for yourself here. What do you think about taking some space for a little more, maybe another week, just to think a bit more on what you want and need for yourself in this?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

hey, thanks for replying. i know i can have my own boundaries around this topic.
i think i don't want to end this friendship but given that it's still a young one and i'm in a weird place right now i might? i like him as a friend and i think if we were on purely platonic terms without knowing he has other feelings for me i'd keep this friendship. i like him as person but it's so weird in my head right now. frankly i think my problem here is that i don't know if i'm projecting past bad experiences on him. i've been assaulted last year, and even it didn't left major marks it was extremly uncomfortable. when Friend Guy told me he was into me it his vagueness reminded me of what the assaulter said (even though i talked to Friend Guy about the assault and my fear, he apologized and understood) and i've just been afraid. i'm also afraid of him taking advantage of me, even though he's respecting boundaries. i'm just annoyed at him being so nice to me and telling that he likes me, i'm important etc etc even when it's just a "i'm not gonna disrespect your boundaries and you're not replaceable to me" etc. it's not like that's popping up right now, i guess we've been platonically infatuated with each other, telling each other we like us and that we love to hang out etc and maybe meet up in summer. now even thinking about that he likes me makes me feel a little sick. i have been contributing to that dynamic myself by being so amazed by him as a friend etc rather than taking things slow. i'll tell him that i'm not very into even platonic affectionate things but that might end up me wanting not talking him about his sad feels or his nice feels towards me (and while that's ok it also feels a bit restricting?). it's all just too much and i'm a bit regretting my own feelings.
and maybe it's also not the root cause. i don't know why things are so weird right now. i feel like i'm just not ok and he's also not ok and i just wish we could go back in time. and all this waiting and currently not having another friend to talk me through this is bothering me. i just want to have this fixed even though i know these things take time and two people. and maybe it's just not the right place for us to be friends right now. but i don't know if there are just other things underneath that make these things difficult or if i'm blowing this up bc i do have this need to just FIX THINGS (and he's not better in this honestly). it's no big drama currently but i think my distress is just subtle and weird and maybe rather coming from myself.
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

This sounds like a LOT to be carrying around and trying to sort through. It also sounds like you feel really burdened by it, and I'm so sorry about that.

I totally understand how assault can really spin your head around relationships, all of them, any of them, and I also get how some of the dynamics of this one could really mess with post-assault feelings and trying to heal from it. I imagine that if you felt like you had a safe platonic space, this all probably extra threw you in that way, too, and even though he didn't mean it that way or do anything wrong, in some ways it might even feel like a betrayal. Too, the space you've been in absolutely could have been part of you moving more quickly in getting close than you normally would have: that can for sure happen.

It's okay to pull a whole lot back, change the pace, take a big break (like an "until I am just in a way different headspace, and I don't know when that will be" kind), or even end this friendship altogether if you want. Any of these are okay options, and I really think that centering on what you need and trying to find what feels most right is the way to go here. It might be that nothing feels 100% right, so it's more a what-feels-best-of-all-the-choices situation, even if nothing exactly feels great, you know?

No matter what, it does sound like doing what you can do to make some more friends would be a good thing for you if possible.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

thank you so much for the reassurance. i feel like taking a break from the friendship would be good, even if i don't feel great about it at all. but i literally don't know what else to do right now. i think i'm just taking a break for a couple of weeks or months and focus on work and establishing offline friendships. and maybe i should go talk to a professional if the assault apparently did left scars.
Heather
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Heather »

I'm heading out for the day, but the next time I'm around (tomorrow) I'd be happy to talk to you about the assault if you'd like (I'm also a survivor, and this is something I can do), help you find someone else to talk with if you prefer, or both. Hang in there, and I support whatever choice feels right for you in this!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
tinygoblin
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by tinygoblin »

dear heather, i don't really want to talk about the assault. i'm mainly fine around the topic, i think what Friend said was just something that reminded me of several situations where someone either turned a platonic situation into something sexual without asking and reinterpreting me just being nice as flirting or dudes who feel like they can talk to me bc they can't talk to their dude friends and putting me in a girlfriend/therapist position. i'm just really angry, grieving and confused but this turned all shit. he's a cool person and i don't want to be his fucking therapist or girlfriend or most important person i just want to be his platonic "dude bro mate". he's respectful and doesn't want to hurt me, he also knows about the assault and my shitty experiences with men but i'm literally very confused wheter i'm lying to myself if i want to stay friends or push him away entirely. and it's just a week, but i want this to be solved. i think what's troubling is that we both have to work against our issues to "fix people" or care for them too much. also i'm just cautious around men, and he's the nerd type that doesn't go well with other dudes so he sticks with women and nonbinary people bc with them it's possible to open up. however i feel like this is a "i am confusing platonic closeness for heartfeels/pantsfeels" but it would be rude to point that out bc he probably knows best about what he is feeling. i feel like taking a break would not resolve my issues and i would like to talk to him, but i'm scared that i'm just playing a therapist again (neither him nor i want to talk about deep emo stuff actually after it has been so exhaustive after those situations and our talks about boundaries, we both want to go back to lighter stuff). i'm also scared that i'm just messing with myself or that i'm not sad bc i'm actually not sad about him but rather experiencing second-hand sadness bc i might be making somebody else sad? i really want to go back to having a fun time with him, and take more care of my boundaries now. however, how the heck do i get there?
and i'm not sure whether it's demanding, but do you think "i will only hang out with you if you make other friends and talk to a counselor" is a bad thing to say? i want him to be genuinly interested in working around this and i feel like i'm not really the problem in here. i just want less closeness, and want him to make sure he's not accidentally treating me as a therapist (bc he doesn't even think that this is right) so to me those things are very reasonable to ask. and if he doesn't do it this would probably make me just unwary and like i can't chill but always have to watch out he is not overstepping my boundaries.
Sam W
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Re: Friendship and Boundaries

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi tinygoblin,

Heather is out for the next few days, so I hope it's okay if I step in here with a few thoughts.

It's absolutely okay to not want to talk about the assault right now; processing and healing from an assault can be fraught, so you're the boss of when or if you want to have those conversations. I do hear you saying you think seeing a therapist for help coping with the fallout of the assault could be helpful for you. If that's something you want to explore, we're happy to help you find a place to get that kind of support. Even if you don't utilize right away, knowing where to go can be helpful.

I hear all the frustration and worry you're having around this friendship. From my perspective outside all of that, I think you're instinct to take a break from this friend is a really sound one. Even if the break doesn't fix all the issues, it can still act as a kind of reset button, ideally for both of you. It gives you space and a break from the "surprise, you're therapist now" moments and, hopefully, it gives him a reason to start building a support system that's not just you.

If you want to set a condition with him about not being his only support if you two decide to keep being friends, I think that's within bounds. Too, at a certain point it's less a demand and more just the basic reality of what you need in order to continue being friends with him. Namely, you can't be his only support.
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