Performing Distance

[this text was already old when it was written and so it is even older when being published…]

„Are we going to meet your new girlfriend tonight?“ I ask my friend who I visit for the weekend.
„No, she’s busy“ he replies. „Would you have liked to?“
„It depends“ I explain. „Not if it’s only the three of us. I‘m really not keen on that situation where I sit on the other side of the table, waving at you, smiling like an idiot, assureing No no, the two of you sit closer together, I‘ll stay here, or better two more meters away. No no, I don‘t mind that at all, look how happy and casual I act towards the two of you!“
My friend stares at me, seemingly even less puzzled than disturbed.
I might have exaggerated a bit, but this is exactly how I feel in these situations.
I call it Performing Distance.
And he obviously has no idea what I am talking about …

The difficulty with close friends‘ partners is not only, that a third party (that you didn‘t pick) gets to take decisions on the rules of the relationship between you and your friend (by settings dos & don‘ts for contact with ‚other‘ people, consciously ot not);
the problem is that you are – implicitely – asked to respect boundaries you aren‘t told of where they are.
Like it might be ok to share beds when you both are guests somewhere and it‘d be the easiest or only option – but it might come off weird to offer your friend staying for a sleep-over at your place when you live close to each other.
Maybe you tend to hold hands when having private talks – but it would be regarded a scandal when you do that in public.
It might be regarded as a non-problematic flirting between friends when you tell them they are attractive to you – or they might consider you being an insensitive, imoral, rude, unloyal person, especially if you know their partner.

Similar problematics occure if you are interested in a person that you know is in a couple-relationship – they might be in an anyhow open relationship and it could cause a major loss just to assume they can‘t be interested in you, too, and waste the actual chance of approaching each other; or it might lead to a minor disaster if you address the subject too directly because the other feels bewildered or offended and their partner might feel treated disrespectfully and ignored, leaving you as an insensitive immoral person as well.

So yes,

since I don‘t know your agreements‘ nature, how individual they are and in what ways they are arranged,
since I don‘t know how far all these things concerning contact/intimacy/relationships with ‚other‘ people have been discussed even between the two of you,
since I nor wanna hurt or enrage people nor do I want to take the risk of damaging my relationship to my friend (or my friend’s relationship either)

- so yes, I tend to keep the most conventional distance, I try not to cross any line (which is probably much further than I assume, but since nobody did outline it to me, it could be there…),
I want to make sure my message comes off without misunderstandings:

I do do respect your relationship,
I do respect that it comes along with rules I have to follow,
I do respect that it influences, maybe changes, regulates (at least potentionally) my friend’s and my relationship.
I do it not to be rude and hurtful,
I do it to respect my friend’s choices;
I do it to have proof and witness: I‘m the good guy here and there’s no reason not to trust me, I do all I can to please you, so you don‘t need to, don‘t want to, you shouldn‘t and(!) you can‘t make me stay away from them, I don‘t give you any reason to break apart our relationship, I won‘t hand you the tools for that.

Performing Distance.

It’s been my strategy, my tool to fight for my relationships, for a long time.
Smiling at my male friends‘ girlfriends while staying further than usual away from my friend has been part of the contract as long as I can remember.
(Performing Distance was rarely the only reason for being nice to these girls, most often I really liked them, but hence all of the social dynamics accompanying our meetings, we never really got the chance to just get to know each other on a normal, equal level.)

And yeah, I talk about my male friends‘ girlfriends, because obviously heteronormativity plays its part in this stories quite well and is a popular ghost writer of these plots. Not that it doesn‘t happen in other constellations, but I just don‘t feel the same urgent need to prove that I am not trying to be on a competition e.g. with my female friend’s new boyfriend. I don‘t feel controlled or under general suspicion the same way there.
(Which of course also shows the problem that in a major perception same sex relationships – or any relationships other than male/female-relationships – aren‘t treated equally or as of the same relevance. But I don‘t have much experience here, at least concerning romantic/couple-relationships.)

So yeah, I spent lots of my lifetime sitting on the other side of the table, seemingly super happy waving at the person I actually felt closest to – besides for during these moments.

No, it’s not the best feeling ever.
But there is reason to that, even if it seems weird or if it does not only good to me.

Yes, it might be better to know where the lines are set.
It might be helpful to ask for each dot, find out about one after another, so I don‘t have to guess around all the time.
But also it would be lots of work;
we‘d find out that the two of you haven‘t actually agreed on lots of things, but worked with assumptions yourselves;
it might cause trouble between the two of you which might reflect back on me;
anyway it for sure would be some rather confusing talks when I ask you, if you actully have a two-kiss-policy, if I can hug you only for goodbye and hello while your partner is present, if it’s weird that I‘ve known your family longer than she does and if I shouldn‘t show that to her, if we can (still) travel alone together and if it is somehow decent to talk with you about sex (with my new affair? / that you and me used to have?), if I could sleep in underware next to you or if you would like to accompany me to a friend’s wedding (where most of the people will assume you‘re my boyfriend).

I‘d love to know all of that (depending on our situation/relationship of course), I really do.
But I usually don‘t want to have all the talks that would be necessary to find out about this.
Talks that I would have to initiate.
Because I am the one who doesn‘t know.
I am the one who doesn‘t set the rules,
I am the one who doesn‘t know where exactly the lines are set,
but I am the one who has to be careful not to cross them,
because I might risk our relationship by that,
cause then I wouldn‘t be the nice guy, but the competative girl, that has to be kept away, at least a bit further.

So I prefer to keep that distance myself, kind of.

And perform it, to show, prove, you don‘t have to dismiss me (also you‘re not allowed to, I don‘t give you the chance to legitimately dismiss me) – I‘m the good guy, I‘ll stay away from him, I‘ll smile, I‘ll wave.

Sometimes I hate it.
Sometimes it is the most simple way to deal with that whole mess of social assumptions and rules.

Anyway, don‘t you worry, this is not about you, or your boyfriend, of course.
Of course it is about somebody else.


I also do know the feeling of being in the more ’secure‘ position when my friend’s new partner still has to ’settle their role‘ and get to know the new surrounding, while I might have been there for years… This doesn‘t erase the explained issues, but it influences the social power dynamics in these moments. In that case, Performing Distance can also be an attempt to give the new person some space and security.