We were driving through Wisconsin when I made the call. Cornfields rushed by, and my heart raced a little. A familiar voice answered on the other end of the line.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hey,” I said casually. And before I could find a reason to stop myself I finished:
“I have something I have to tell you.”
We had been close friends for a long time and had always shared everything with each other, but the thing I had to share with him now was more difficult than anything I’d had to share before. Difficult because, for me, it was really exciting, and for him I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to swallow.
“I’m getting married,” I told him.
We had talked about this – about what would happen if one or the other of us met the person of our dreams and decided to get married. We talked about how our relationship would change, about how you couldn’t carry close opposite-sex friendships into a healthy, thriving marriage. But I don’t think either of us imagined that life would change as fast as it just had. Neither of us had accounted for the fact that, in the course of four months, I could go from single to married.
And he was so caught off guard by my announcement, he couldn’t even pretend to be excited for me.
I sat in the passenger seat, one hand pressed to the phone, and the other one to the palm of my soon-to-be husband, and listened to my friend tell me how I was making a big mistake, how I was going to regret it. On one side of me I looked toward Darrell, who was driving the car, and on the other side, I listened to my friend’s assertive words echoing from the phone. This horrible, sick feeling settled in.
I should have done this a long time ago.
I should have set a better boundary in this friendship.
We never dated, never even kissed, but we did everything together. We went for hikes and bike rides around the city. We went to breakfast, and to coffee, and to happy hour. We even traveled together. Camping trips, vacations, Peru to climb Macchu Picchu. We had seen each other through difficult seasons. He had comforted me when a close friend of mine committed suicide, and I was there for him after his marriage fell apart.
Shared experiences, shared secrets – these are the things intimate relationships are made of.
I asked myself often, “I wonder if I could ever date him…”
I asked myself often, “I wonder if he’s ever thought about me that way…”
But I never had the courage to ask him. I figured, “It’s better this way. Less complicated.” I was wrong.
The phone conversation ended badly and was followed by a series of e-mails in which hurtful things were said. I learned my lesson the hard way. Relationships with bad boundaries – no matter what kind of relationships they are – are unsafe relationships because when boundaries aren’t drawn, sometimes people take things that aren’t theirs to take, and give things they never meant to give.
As a single girl, I had so many boundary-less relationships — especially with men.
I didn’t see it while I was doing it, I thought I was just being nice, being friendly, but I see it now. I see the way that my bad boundaries left me exposed and vulnerable, like a playground without a fence, ready for a predator to come in and take what wasn’t his. Fertile ground for a kid to run after a stray ball, and run right in front of a speeding truck. Disaster waiting to happen.
I see now how this affected me and how now it is affecting my marriage and my husband.
And if I could do it all over again, I would do it differently.
If I could do it all over again I would have more female friends.
I blamed my lack of female friends on my hobbies and my temperament (I liked hiking and camping and wasn’t a huge fan of doing my make-up or going to the mall), but the truth is I was scared to be friends with women because I was insecure. I was scared they were prettier than me and that I could never live up.
It was easy to be the prettiest girl around if I was the only girl around.
Having women friends would have exposed my insecurity and given me an opportunity to address it, rather than cover it up. I’m convinced it also would’ve met needs for companionship and care that I didn’t even know I had.
If I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time with my married friends.
It’s hard to stay friends with your friends after they get married. Their loyalty changes and their schedules change and most of the time even they change. But I wish I would have done a better job at staying friends with my married friends after their wedding day. I could have watched the women closest to me grow in wisdom and benefited from the brotherly care of their husbands.
If I could do it over again, I would have had defining conversations with all of my male friends, especially if we spent time together, one-on-one.
This is never an easy conversation to have because it requires being honest about your intentions, even if you don’t know where the other person stands. I would have had to say, “I don’t know how you feel about me, but I like you…” or “I’m not sure how you feel, but I’m not interested in dating you.”
It might be difficult to hear the truth, but truth is freedom. The only thing worse than being rejected is a constant, repetitive state of not knowing.
Good boundaries create good friendships—friendships that give life rather than steal it, friendships that stand the test of time.
*Photo credit: Aih.