So back in 2013, a partner of mine asked me the rhetorical question ‘where is the boundary that differentiates relationships from friendships?’
Three and a half years later, I am sat using a fantastic polyamory specific visual representation of relationships, and once again, I am wondering where the line is drawn, re-examining my assumptions and seeing where I can improve on the previous conclusions.
So a person can have many different types of relationship; from lovers to business partners to friends, to family members and so on. As a result, we’re going to look at the differences between lovers and friendships.
Friendships are where two people have become friendly with each other, care for each other, freely share any news (both good and bad) and their connection is built on concepts like honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, compromise, and acceptance. Meeting regularly is not necessary for friendship because there are many examples in which close friends even meet after a long period of separation and still remain good friends.
So, seriously: how does that differentiate from a lover?
Well lovers are just that, people whom you love, people who share a mutual, deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and/or lust towards a person. You will tend to find that in friendship groups, there will be a large overlap between personality types, sense of humor and interests, while lovers *can* have the most opposite personalities and still have that attraction between them.
As this love is most often conveyed as a physical intimacy, I once again arrive at the very rough line of “relationships tend to be separated from friendships by the addition of sex and time.”
So, I have returned to that in between space again: What about friends with benefits? what about married couples who have no sex?
What about those who know each other for years, understand each other on every level, have an intimacy greater than that of anyone else but have never had sex? Are they not a couple because of it? What about the inverse? Two people are perfect together, they have everything in common, feel like they have known each other forever and spend a weekend having profound, amazing sex, after which one of them is hit by a meteor. Assuming they met on the Friday and person 1 was killed on the Monday, that eliminates the timing aspect of their dynamic. Does that make it any less meaningful? And does time invested equate in any way to emotional investment?
Obviously, this definition didn’t fit my needs, so let’s start to examine criteria…
From my past post, if you have ten different criteria for what you define as a relationship, then using a very complex system of yes/no gates, you would come up with 1022 types of friendship and only one actual relationship. (If you have ten criteria and a five-level intensity rating, there are a total 9,765,625 combinations. That’s kind of exhausting and shows how much I need to get a local rope bunny.)
At the time, I narrowed it down to 4 criteria which seemed to be the most influential areas to be aligned in: Sex, kink, time investment & emotional investment
I tried to sit and write out the things which I *now* consider to be indicators of a healthy relationship:
- Respect, for each other, for your choices, for your identity.
- Genuine attraction.
- Corresponding values (definitions of cheating, parental ideals, etc).
- Agreement on your relationship dynamics (so sex, kink, living arrangements, whether you want kids together, etc)
- Tendency to argue without fighting (healthy relationships will argue, but not fight.)
- Both have a desire for the same type of relationship.
- Fun (because if it’s not fun, then what’s the point?)
So if these tick boxes can be filled, the different combinations become:
1 of all the options.
7 possible categories with one option missing.
6+5+4+3+2+1= 21 categories with two missing…
5+4+3+2+1+4+3+2+1+3+2+1+2+1+1 = 35 categories with three missing.
35 with three filled.
21 with two categories filled.
7 with one category filled.
1 with no categories filled.
Ultimately giving 121 types of relationship, from ‘oh please no’ where none of the values are checked, through to ‘YESYESYES’ with all 7 checked.
So if we use broad strokes to categorise them:
7 ticks = Partner
6 ticks= Lover
5 ticks = Play friend
4 = Friend
3 = Person you know
2 = Person you don’t like knowing
1 = Person you don’t like
0 = Person you actively avoid
So let us say that while 7 ticks is the ideal, lover style relationships can cover the range of 7 to 5 ticks (thus, we can have 29 different *types* of lover), while friendships can cover the 4 to 6 ticks range, giving 63 different friend type dynamics, with everything below that being people who just raise far too many red flags to be worth associating with.
What this gives us is an overlap of the 5 & 6 tick categories (56 dynamics) which can be friends *and/or* lovers, depending on the intensity of each criteria.
And that is just based tick boxes, before we get into socio-economic trends, before we get into *how* the intensity of feeling can shift our decisions, before we get into brain chemistry, our past experiences, our preferences for physical types, etc etc etc.
Once again, I come back to the same point I had three years ago: With the possibility of everything being so fluctuating, so context-specific and a lot of it based on things we can’t control, the question of ‘where is the boundary?’ becomes redundant.
Instead, the question must become: ‘Is there a boundary at all?’ with the resounding reply of “Well, that all depends on your individual circumstances.”
So I once again leave you with my partner’s definition:
“Well, I have my 4am list – which is the group of people that I would be happy to, and that would be happy for me to, contact at 4am if I had any problems. Those are my partners. That’s my definition. And yes, they’d have to be vanilla and mono for such a simple definition to be appropriate, I think! Admittedly that’s still quite a lot of people – and it fits in with some societal norms.” – ‘Selena’, 2013