When two people are *not* in a committed relationship, then it could be argued that the only commitment they have to each other is the commitment that one communicates and agrees to with the other and vice versa. Examples of such a commitment include doing an act of service for them, giving them a gift that they agreed to, organising a chat and/or meeting up for hugs or a meal with them. These kinds of activities are very tangible proofs and evidence of one’s commitment (provided they show up and keep their word)! Sometimes, commitment can be confused with loyalty to a friend. For example, if a friend has come to the defence of the other when they weren’t there, this belongs to the realm of loyalty rather than commitment. In contrast, when in a committed relationship, the context of the relationship is different, and itself *becomes* a commitment. A person now has another person to be faithful and committed to, and therefore the evidence of commitment needs more than scheduled activity (although it doesn’t necessarily have to rely on such activity as evidence or proof of fidelity). Until that point though, this notion of commitment isn’t a done deal. The gift of oneself to another in a non-committal relationship is going to be quite different from that of a relationship where two people have committed to becoming more intimate with each other. Note: I don’t mean sexual intimacy here, but rather, intimacy of the heart. In a friendship, commitment requires a more active and intentional communication since it is not automatically a given, and therefore should never be assumed or expected.
So in friendship, what level of commitment should one expect? This all depends on the persons involved in that friendship, the different factors affecting that friendship, the experiences within that friendship and the overall intention / direction of that friendship. Friendships themselves can even vary greatly in terms of intimacy levels. I have found spiritual friendships with people who I have met in the last 3 years excel in intimacy compared with other friends who I have known since childhood! In fact, it is almost at the level of intimacy that a couple might experience within a spousal relationship, and yet, there is no intention there of moving beyond friendship – simply due to the factors affecting that relationship. With this in mind, I have to make sure that I have clear boundaries for myself, and ensure that is communicated in some effective and appropriate form to them (doesn’t need explicit explanation). Some of these friends I speak to every week, some once a month, and some once a year. We have commitments to one another in the form of scheduled Zoom calls and texts in between, but we are not committed to each other. That doesn’t mean to say however, that I would be disloyal!
And what about those friends who drift in and out of our lives like a fortunate wind passing by? I’m sure we all have friends who we don’t speak to for years, but when we encounter each other, it’s as if we saw each other the day before and it seems natural and easy to reveal a certain degree of heart-intimacy! Would we be considered to be committed to each other? Not really! So it can be argued that commitment doesn’t equal intimacy.
Let’s look at the practical level. If a friend’s general needs has increased, they may expect more from the friendship and from you. Self-knowledge is key here and it might help to communicate needs and wants with each other to help manage expectations. Disappointments and hurts often occur because of a lack of communication regarding our hopes and expectations of the other person. Take a friend who is in a crisis situation as an example. They might need a friend to be there for them when things are really tough. But how much should be expected of that friend? The different factors that affect the friendship can’t be ignored. If that friend is already in a committed relationship with a natural support network close-by (e.g. their spouse, children, siblings, parents, wider family network), then it’s really important that neither party cross boundaries. I do believe that part of being in a committed relationship means sharing all of life’s lows and highs with the persons you are committed to. This is perhaps why setting healthy emotional boundaries for oneself about how much one ought to share with people outside of that immediate committed relationship is worth establishing. With commitment, comes great sacrifices, and one of those sacrifices, in my opinion, is about willingly offering up and exercising your liberty of choosing to share deeply intimate things with others for the sake of the greater cause that your committed relationship (e.g. a marriage) is meant to fulfil. Maybe sometimes we can forget that love is not for our self-gratification – it exists for the sake of others. The same can be said for our freedom. In essence, it is a just act to do what is good and right toward the person(s) who you are primarily committed to. For a committed person, sharing the right amount of intimacy with the right people about the right things outside of that commitment often needs quick and strong decision-making skills – and this tends not to a priority when the heart is so emotionally charged or in need. The notion of emotional boundaries within friendships is seriously worth considering further if one is in a committed relationship. Attraction is such a powerful force that could wreak havoc in both friendships and committed relationships. This is another blog post for another time though!
For now, I’ll finish off this post by saying that friendships don’t have to be ‘easy’. Sometimes, we are meant to have difficult friends in our lives to deal with. They help us grow, learn, and become better people ourselves. In practice, we can really choose how much effort we want to commit to our friendships, but there’s no one single guideline for how friendships ought to be. We are all human beings living in different circumstances and have different life experiences and different perspectives. Every one of our friendships is a gift. Some we will cherish more than others. Some are there because it is the right time for it and it serves the right purpose. Let that help us to review the commitment, level of heart-intimacy and emotional boundaries we have in those friendships, and take appropriate action where necessary.