“Can we talk?” the guy I was dating at the time asked me as he was dropping me home from a date.
“Of course,” I responded. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was probably about to get dumped.
“Okay. This is hard. I think…I want to go back to being just friends.”
Most of the time, breakups suck. They represent endings and changes, which can be scary, painful, and sad—especially when you don’t see them coming. So naturally, I was a little sad when this happened, but I knew that I would be okay.
We talked about why he felt the way he did. For what it’s worth, I think he handled the situation really well. However, what hurt more than the breakup itself was his use of the phrase “just friends.”
Yes, we were friends before we started dating. In fact, for me, friendship is a pre-requisite for any kind of meaningful relationship. And nearly three years post-breakup, we are still friends.
So why is the phrase “just friends” so harmful?
First of all, after having been in a relationship in which you’ve literally and figuratively shared layers of yourself that you haven’t shared with many others, is it really possible to go back to the way things had been before? Highly unlikely.
More importantly, though, when we use the phrase “just friends,” we’re implying that friendship is less valuable than romantic relationships.
The phrase “just friends” puts monogamous, romantic, happily-ever-after relationships on a pedestal, making them the goal toward which everyone wants to strive. It implies that if you’re not in one of these glorified relationships, you are somehow missing out on something.
In the case that you’ve already dated somebody but no longer are, why should your relationship with that person be any less beautiful than it once was just because certain activities or behaviors are off the table? I acknowledge that in some situations, cutting off ties altogether is necessary. But this doesn’t need to be the case all the time.
Sometimes breakups can represent new beginnings.
And what about those relationships that never have been and never will be romantic? Let’s take my relationship with one of my best friends who happens to be male as an example. We’ve known each other for nine years, and not once has there ever been a romantic attraction on either of our parts. But we’ve been through so much together and are always looking out for each other. He is the brother I never had. I know that I can tell him I love him and he will know exactly what I mean. I don’t love him any less than I do the one person I’ve ever been in love with. I just love him differently—very, very differently.
Then there are my relationships with my female friends. I am lucky to have several amazing women in my life whom I think of like sisters (including my actual sister). These relationships have enhanced my life in more ways than I can name, and our shared experiences as women offer me things that I can never expect a male romantic partner to be able to offer me.
Don’t get me wrong—romantic relationships are incredible, and I have loved being in them. They just shouldn’t be the only relationships we have going for us in our lives.
Instead of lessening the value of our other relationships by using phrases like “just friends,” let’s celebrate those relationships, simply by being “friends.”
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Emily Bartran
Social editor: Waylon Lewis