Updated: December 5, 2022
It took me longer to break up with my ex-best friend than it did with, you know, any of the Mikes, Matts, and Daniels that I used to date. In retrospect, that’s weird because my BFF displayed the same the relationship red flags as most of my exes. She wouldn’t respond to my texts for days at a time, she flaked on our Valentine’s Day plans, she left me alone in a foreign country after I spent upwards of $1,000 on a plane ticket…. Well, anyway.
Though I was in a very blurry, intense, and co-dependent Broad City-style frielationship, it is common to seek the same qualities in both a friendship and a relationship, right? Respect, love, trust, emotional and social support, affirmation, and commitment should exist in romantic pursuits and platonic ones alike. And if it’s a forever friend, not the fair-weather type you only see every six month because JOMO takes precedence, the expectations should be the same. So why is it that when our friends wave their red flags directly in our face, we’re more likely to put up with the nonsense?
My guess is because sex isn’t there to muddle the situation, which also explains why my friend breakups hurt more than my romantic ones. Friendships form on the pure and unselfish foundation of people genuinely just liking each other, so when they end, it’s because that’s not true—and other factors like “timing” and “circumstance” and “goals” don’t really play in. But, I’m not an all-knowing expert—so I tapped someone who is much closer to being one for better-educated opinions to back up my own.
Friendships are less exclusive than romantic relationships
According to relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD, who goes by the Love Doctor, it is generally true that in friendship, there’s less of an emphasis on being someone’s “only.” But she’s quick to caveat that not every modern romantic relationship caters to monogamous exclusivity. However, most of us are at least socialized to seek out The One when it comes to a romantic partners. “We aren’t exclusive with our friends, whereas romantic relationships tend to have expectations of exclusivity,” Dr. Orbuch says. “Romantic relationships tend to have expectations of exclusivity. We have one at a time, or we feel more affection toward one romantic partner than others.”
“We aren’t exclusive with our friends, whereas romantic relationships tend to have expectations of exclusivity.” —relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD
So when a friend betrays us, there’s usually someone else in the squad we can vent to, and then eventually get over it. But when a prospective love interest betrays us, we’re quick to pull a “Thank U, Next” in hopes that next time, we’ll get it right.
Friendships are subject to fewer “rules” than romantic relationships
Subconsciously you know when your OkCupid match ghosts you, right? Like even if it takes a few days of lying to yourself about how they’re really busy on their work vacation, you can feel it.
However, when your friend doesn’t talk to you for a solid four months (aside from the occasional “haha” response), it’s tough to recognize that you’re being phased out. With fewer guidelines pointing to any measure of an acceptable amount of time that can pass between communication, we’re conditioned to be more lenient with friends than romantic partners. Because with fewer “rules” to break, there are seemingly fewer reasons to get mad, Dr. Orbuch says.
We’re more interdependent in our romantic relationships
I’ve been known to self-identify as a friend’s sidekick in social situations, as if being in association with someone else could be my in to make friends. However, I contend this is the exception to the rule. No matter how many BFF heart necklaces suggest otherwise, we usually don’t regard being so-and-so’s friend as an identity marker.
Meanwhile, romantic partnerships do tend carry more weight when it comes to who we are and how we relate to ourselves and others. Of course, you are not your relationship, but like, consider that sometimes people choose to take their partner’s name upon marriage. That’s certainly an aspect of someone’s identity.
“Our romantic partners significantly influence how we see ourselves, our self-identify, our self-esteem— psychologically and emotionally—more so than our friends do.” —Dr. Orbuch
“Our romantic partners significantly influence how we see ourselves, our self-identify, our self-esteem— psychologically and emotionally—more so than our friends do,” Dr. Orbuch says. “And when a relationship or partner has great impact on how we see ourselves, when they hurt or betray us, we are more adversely affected and less likely to forgive.”
Our romantic relationships consist of more complex emotions, and are more passionate in nature
My sex hypothesis turned out not being far off. Our emotions are heightened by the element of romance and this idea that many of us are seeking The One. It’s a big part of why we don’t instantly freak when a friend bails on our coffee plans but the same may not be true of getting stood up on a date.
“Friendships typically consist of less complex emotions and are less likely to be passionate,” Dr. Orbuch says. You know, even if your friend ditches you on Valentine’s Day and you are passionately annoyed by that.
In essence, we drive by a lot of red flags or flaws in friendships because we don’t place the same weight, importance, emotions, and singularity on them that we do with romantic relationships…mostly. But if you’re picking up on the same problems with your bestie that you wouldn’t tolerate with dates, well, maybe it’s time to have a talk about it. Or, you know, at least hold off from booking that plane ticket.
Is a baby getting in the way of you and your best friend? Here’s how to deal with playing third wheel to a pal’s new bundle of joy. Plus, here’s Jennifer Garner’s low-stress, two-step rule for keeping friendships.