OK, so before I even get into all of this, I want to put a disclaimer up first. I am absolutely not speaking to married couples. Here's why it's critical that I put that on record. Not too long ago, I was talking to a single person about an article we both read about a celebrity who appears to be on the outs with their spouse. The single person said, "I mean, if you're no longer happy, you need to move on." My immediate response was, "Boy, y'all sure do be out here acting like husbands are boyfriends."
What I meant by that is one of the reasons why a lot of people have such a hard time staying married is because they don't get the magnitude of their commitment. One of the reasons why that's the case is because they act like wives when they are girlfriends which means they don't see much of a difference in their relationship once they actually do get a husband (some of y'all will catch that later).
When you sign up for "til death do us part", those are some pretty serious words. They need to be treated as such. Besides, when Scripture speaks of "two becoming one" (Genesis 2:18-25), this means that, when it comes to marriage, one of the things that you are signing up for is learning how to master the art of growing together with another individual. Yes, until death parts you is the goal. Not only until you don't feel like it anymore.
But when you're dating someone—because no vows have been made which means that you remain your top priority at all times—it's very different. What Dolly Parton said in that quote up top actually rings oh so very true. You shouldn't remain in something simply because you feel obligated to do so; especially when you take out the time to reflect on what "obligate" actually means—"to bind or oblige morally or legally". When you're dating a guy, what morally or legally binding is involved? For real, for real. If you're having sex with them, those oxytocin surges can make you feel like you've just got to stay, but a part of the beauty of being in relationships when you're not married is you don't have to do…really anything you don't want to do.
I'm not saying that this fact gives you license to be mean, insensitive or irresponsible. I'm simply saying that, until your tax status changes from "single" to "married", single is exactly what you are (a lot of people tend to miss that point too). And, if the relationship that you're in is no longer serving you, it's OK—recommended even—to move on. One clear sign that it is time to do exactly that is when you've outgrown your relationship—or the guy that you're with. Trust me, I've been there.
How to Know You’ve Truly Outgrown “Him”
One thing that I am a firm believer of is this—oftentimes relationships are a mirror; they show us things about ourselves that we wouldn't look at any other way. When I think back on all of the relationships that I had that were truly significant and consequential, one thing they all had in common is I was with guys who were brilliant, funny—and also pretty unsure of themselves. Because I was the type of person who was so eager to love, they were latch onto me because, well, they were so needy to be loved. In fact, one of my exes told me that, before we started dating, one day he looked over at me and said, "If someone would just love that girl, she would be amazing."
At the time that he told me that, I thought what he said was so insightful and romantic. In hindsight, I think what he really meant was, "That girl is so desirous for love that I can get her to fill in all of the blanks when it comes to what I need as I try and become a better man." Hmph. 90 percent of the time, I paid for dates. Although he was good for writing a poem or song, I can count on one hand how many birthday presents or Christmas gifts that I received. When it came to sleepovers, he was almost always at my house. In short, he wasn't "loving me" so much as I was taking care of him. Looking back, what's really sad is he wasn't exceptional in this way.
This was pretty much my pattern. Not just taking care of a man while accepting his bare minimum, but doing it so long that it started to make me super resentful. And bitter. And eventually, mad as hell.
That too was a pattern because that's what I saw in the second marriage that my mother was in. Hmph again. It really is something, the things that you repeat from your parents, no matter how much you tell yourself that you won't. Until you do some serious self-work to change what has been modeled to us, oftentimes, we simply do what we know. No matter how much we may dislike, disrespect or even loathe it.
Back to the relationship. So, why would I stay so long (well over five years) in something that had me so…tired? No…weary? Good question. While in hindsight, I am fully aware that I wasn't in love with him (even though I wanted to be, basically because I didn't want to be alone; see "Like, Love & In Love: How To Really Know The Differences"), I did love him. Before being boyfriend and girlfriend, we were genuinely friends and there was a lot about him that I did like. Plus, he had already made it clear that befriending exes wasn't really his thing. So, I think that, more than anything, I was afraid to leave. Look at all of the time that I invested. Look at all of the little quirks and challenges that we managed to work through. Although he wasn't my perfect guy, not even close, we got along pretty well, the sex was cool and he did love me (at least, as best as he knew how at the time). What if I don't even get that much from the next dude?
Sis, let me tell you something, right here and right now. If you are currently seeing someone and that's the kind of dialogue that you're having with yourself, not only is that a clear indication that, if you stay, you are straight-up settling, if you pay even a little bit of attention to your words, it's also a sign that you're outgrowing him.
To outgrow anyone or anything is to leave what would impede your own personal behind you. "Develop" is a dope word because it speaks to progress. "Progress" is a dope word because it speaks to "a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage".
Why It’s OK to Outgrow Someone You Love
A part of the reason why all of us need to be extremely prayerful, discerning and, to a large extent, even logical-over-emotional about who we select as a spouse is because, what we're essentially saying is, "This is the man who is qualified to get me closer to my goals. This is the man who is best capable at helping me to move to higher stages in my life, throughout my life, more than anyone else." (If you can't say that about a guy, don't marry him.)
Yet in the meantime, while we're dating—which is basically all about figuring out who that guy actually is—no matter how long you've been with someone, it is perfectly OK to be like, "Yes, I love you. And yes, I also need to end this relationship because if I remain, you are going to be a stumbling block when it comes to my goals. Not only that, but being so enraptured in you is going to distract me from getting to higher stages in my life."
When I think about the relationship I just shared with you (and even a few others), I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that if I had stayed, there's a pretty good chance that you wouldn't even be reading this narrative right now. I say that because, one of the best affirmations that I've ever received is from a close male friend. Whenever he shares with me something that he's trying to accomplish, I do my best to help him out. It's not because he asks; it's simply because that's who I am. In response, something that he calls me is a "king maker". He doesn't mean that I am literally making him a king (that's the Lord and his job); he means it more in the context of Proverbs 12:4(NKJV)—"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones." Indeed, all of us should be in the kind of relationships—platonic or romantic—that make us feel like royalty, that help us to become better versions of ourselves….that help us to grow.
Anyway, because my boyfriend had so many needs—emotionally, financially, professionally, etc., etc.—if I had stayed with him, I know me. Or rather, who I was at the time. I would've devoted so much of myself into helping him grow that it would've stunted my own progress. There ain't nothin' good, healthy or heroic about that.
Dating someone who hinders your growth? It is the absolute worst. Ultimately, for the both of you.
So yeah, as much as it hurt (mostly because I allowed the relationship to drag on far longer than it ever should have), one day I called him and I ended it. Because he had become such a part of my life and lifestyle, for several weeks, it was like I had knocked the wind out of my own doggone self. But once the healing process began, I was able to put the time, effort, energy and oftentimes even resources that I once put into him, back into myself. Growth started occurring in places where I didn't even recognize I was dormant. Outgrowing him allowed me the space to grow within myself. No regrets, y'all. I don't have a signal one.
Someone reading this can relate to almost every word that I said. Well, as someone once said, "If you're looking for a sign, this would be it." Never feel that loving someone means you should feel obligated to remain, even after you've outgrown them. Love them—and more importantly, yourself—to see the progress that can be made if you're both out of each other's way.
Never feel so obligated that you aren't able to become a bigger and better version of yourself. If you do think that, friend, that's not love. Not. Even. Close.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic,’ though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let's do first things first — let's define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of "What does platonic mean?", the first thing that you're (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of "of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex" (Merriam-Webster), "designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity" (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, "purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes" (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I'll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word "platonic" actually come from? From what I've researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled "Symposium." In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire, one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: "Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry." A write-up on Merriam-Webster's site stated that "The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships." Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that's another article for another time, though (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term' Casual Sex'").
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word "platonic" is kind of used in "broad strokes" these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be "just friends," I'm going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I'm pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I'll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He's super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often, and some have told us that they assume that we've had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: "I told him, 'He's my brother. We would never mess around.'"
My Friend: "Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it."
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: "Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives." (That reminds me: check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?" when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: "Girl, yeah. If I didn't want to keep you in my life long-term, I would've tried to holla a long time ago!" And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these "for real?!" exchanges is even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn't mean there isn't a "dormant seed" lying around somewhere…whether it's one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life; we've had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren't exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you're not sure about "his"…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you, yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other, and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article, yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship, yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you've got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you've never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he's someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it's one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who's been together for more than five years and I'll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out "Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?").
Yeah, just because you've filed someone in the "I see him as a good guy" category, that doesn't automatically mean that y'all's friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels, yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don't get it twisted — I've considered him because, on so many levels, we "fit." So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are "good friends," yet it's not exactly platonic.
I'm not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would've been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn't make you want to throw up in your mouth, there's a pretty good chance that it's not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there's a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive, yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic, and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way, too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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