Welcome to J&J Chats! A series of advice and discourse discussions from J (Jess) & J (Jas, aka, my girlfriend). Topics sent anonymously via curious cat. Current topic: Making online relationships rooted in a need for support develop into strong and authentic relationships.
[Jess] To start, this is only part of the question. I will not be publishing the second half at the requester’s wish, but here some of the details to note:
- How does this apply to online relationships (especially romantic ones) when the foundation of such a relationship is rooted in a need for support?
- What if this “need” fosters unhealthy patterns in the relationship?
- Is it possible or advisable for true friendships/relationships to form based on a need for support?
[Jess] I’m gonna break this down because I’ve read this a few days ago and given it a tad bit of thought. The first part was just asking about online versus irl friendships, “What do we owe each other,” which was weird wording. Then, the second part says more like “what if it starts at a point where one or both parties build friendship on needing support, and can real friendships/relationships build from this needing each other for support?”
[Jas] I mean, yes?
[Jess] I think so too.
[Jas] I mean people fall for their therapists…so…
[Jess] That is exactly the kind of example that we should not be discussing.
[Jas] I mean yes it’s definitely possible.
[Jas] It’s such a fine line I feel like because you have pointed out in particular that such a relationship could form “unhealthy patterns” because it’s rooted in this need for support from each other, which I can see both sides of the coin, I guess.
[Jas] Well yeah, if you’re not really communicating apart from a need of support from each other it can get—maybe toxic. It really depends on what it is because any kind of “needing support” can take a toxic turn. I know it’s a little off-topic, but people in the eating disorder (TW!!!!) community can say they’re supporting each other, even if it’s messages like “don’t eat today!” That’s support in their eyes, but it’s not healthy support, you know?
[Jess] Right, very true. Okay, I guess I’m going to try to talk about some examples to show how it’s worked for me. Because, Jas, I would say that our relationship started as “needing support from each other.”
[Jas] Yeah because your grandad died.
[Jess] Yeah, my grandpa had died—and that was honestly just like a “real” reason to be upset, when really at that point in my life, I was upset about a lot of things.
[Jas] It was the one thing I knew about, so it was the way I could even offer support to you.
[Jess] Yes, exactly. It was something I feel like I could’ve talked about without being like “Oh, yeah I have all this emotional baggage that I’m carrying with me too.” And at that time in your life, Jas—I mean I’ve always known you to be unhappy—
[Jess] So, I think we were both “needing each other” and we definitely both used each other for support.
[Jas] Absolutely true because I think when we starting talking I had just broken up with my ex.
[Jess] So I was a rebound?
[Jas] You were not a rebound, because remember I said I never loved her.
[Jess] …Are we going to put that in here?????
[Jas] I mean…
[Jess] It’s going on the record now. But it was still a very sensitive point in your life! I feel like when I met you, you were done being a rebel basically, and you were figuring out how to rebuild yourself. You were done trying to destroy yourself and you wanted to rebuild yourself and didn’t know how because you were still very upset and sad all the time.
[Jas] Yeah and I had just stopped therapy as well.
[Jess] Actually I remember you talked about Tom [her CAHMS therapist] a few times, and I remember at the very beginning of our friendship is when your therapy with him stopped. But, how we ended up working out to be healthy, whereas a lot of relationships built on this foundation aren’t, I’m not too sure.
[Jas] I think it’s because we spoke about other things too, you know? Like even when I checked in on you with your mental health, it wasn’t always about that. You would talk about how you were reading a book, or I would divert to something else too. It wasn’t just all heavy all the time; there has to be that balance. I know people need to talk about the hard things, but if you want to build a relationship from that (any kind of relationship) then you need to focus on the lighter stuff too. We luckily had things to talk about because we were fans of Orphan Black, we had things in common. It wasn’t just me replying to your heavy things with my heavy things and just a constant back and forth of “this bad thing happened, this bad thing happened.”
[Jess] Yeah, I think that is probably what ended up working out so well for us. Like, I was just really interested in learning about you as a whole person, not just learning about what you’ve been through. Our conversations, although we went to—no I wouldn’t even say we “went to each other for support”—we just supported each other without that expectation.
[Jas] Because we didn’t really know each other, we were getting to know each other, and I ,at the time, had manly IRL friends I sought support from, so I wasn’t actively seeking for it elsewhere. I mean I was, but it wasn’t in the sense that I needed support constantly from someone online and that wasn’t the reason I talked to people there.
[Jess] Exactly. You just can’t start a relationship where you have no other outlet for support. Okay, maybe that’s hypocritical of me to say because at the time I had no outlet for support. My outlet was a journal and that was it, but I didn’t expect to find this support anywhere else. I didn’t think this was owed to me in any way, and maybe that’s why the wording in this request is a little weird to me. Nobody owes you anything that you don’t owe them at the very beginning of a relationship, of any kind.
[Jas] This applies to all things too. You don’t have to be there all the time for someone, and no one should expect you to. I say that because I’m the complete opposite.
[Jess] Yeah, well, that’s the reason you can’t make friends very well.
[Jas] 100%, and I know where I go wrong because of my thought patterns, but I know what’s the right way. I can give the advice, but I can’t take it.
[Jess] Oh yeah I know. But it is hard to distinguish between what works and what doesn’t. I mean, Jas, you have had relationships that have worked and ones that don’t, that are based on the same things. Why do you think it worked with me but not with other people you’ve met online?
[Jas] I guess because it isn’t just about one person solely. There’s a constant back and forth of interests and likes; it’s balanced. I mean I meet a lot of people online who only talk about themselves, and I don’t think they realize they’re doing it because they’re going through a lot. But if you are messaging someone with a lot of your troubles, ask about them too! It doesn’t have to be right away, but if you aren’t checking in with the other person, it gets unhealthy.
[Jess] I think this gets back to the point we were trying to make in the first chat about online friendships, which was that an online friendship—or any friendship—isn’t really going to work unless the self-disclosure is equal. If only one of you is giving more and saying, “this is what happened in my childhood, this is what I’m going through now, this is what I’m scared about for the future” and the other person isn’t given an equal opportunity to talk about these things, then it’s not going to work. And I don’t even think that’s down to “given the opportunity” because people given me opportunities to talk about my issues at times, but—
[Jas] You can tell they don’t really care.
[Jess] Yeah, I can tell when they don’t want to hear and really just want to talk about their experiences, or that I’m not actually close enough to this person to want to talk about it. I want it to be an organic thing that feels natural and feels like we’ve built up to these different points, not just a “here’s all the shit that’s happened to me in my entire life, what’s up with you?”
[Jas] Yeah, it’s usually not slow online. If people ask if I’m okay, I’ll give them a little bit, but usually just resort to saying I’m tired, but if we continue talking over weeks and builds naturally, that’s fine. They kind of—not expecting it—but you’re building up to heavier things. It’s really hard for me to identify what’s right and what’s overstepping in these situations. I think people feel very comfortable with coming to me with heavy things, even if they don’t know that me well.
[Jess] Yeah, they do.
[Jas] Sometimes I get messages from people where they feel they are okay to talk to me about heavy things because I’ve asked them once before if they’re alright. But sometimes people don’t realize the impact that has. I’ve had people just go straight in and don’t hold back. Sometimes you need to realize that the other person has triggers, and you diving right in before you get to learn what those are can be really damaging.
[Jess] This is getting into something that we covered in the Online Friends Chat again. This even happens to me, and I’m not even much of a nice person online I feel like. I’m definitely not as you are, Jas, and part of that is because I don’t want random people coming to me with their problems when I hardly know them. I don’t have the emotional capacity to handle other people’s shit apart from those I’m already close to, so if being a bit of a bitch online protects me from that, so be it. I’m not going to feel guilty for not regulating someone else’s emotions for them.
[Jas] And I can see where you’re coming from with that. When I message people to see if they’re okay, I know for the most part what I’m getting into in that moment. Sometimes that happens without me checking in on them first, and that’s when it gets overwhelming, especially if I’m not in the right mindset. And that can be really hard because if I get a really heavy message from someone, my instinct is that I have to drop everything I’m doing for that person.
[Jess] That is actually something that has been kind of hard in our relationship, I feel like. When we first met, you were going through a lot of stuff—well you still are—but I was a lot more scared for you back then because I didn’t know you as well. Obviously, the things you go through now still worry me, but I was a lot more scared of the situations you were in and not knowing you well enough to be able to judge what you were capable of in certain moments. So, probably for the first year of our relationship, I was always on edge. If I got a message while I was in class, I would feel the need to look at it right then and there because I was scared of what the message could say. It’s not even like you had ever messaged me with like, suicide threats or anything like that, but I’m just somebody who worries about that stuff anyway. I already had a very nervous disposition and it’s very like me to default to these worst-case scenarios and it put me on edge constantly.
[Jas] But sometimes you have to get to those worst-case things.
[Jess] Yeah, to take it seriously enough.
[Jas] Sometimes I will be overly worrying, though. Like, constant “are you okay are you okay?” and they’ll just be like, “yeah I was asleep.”
[Jess] Yeah, well that’s definitely happened to me before! I mean a few times I’ve thought something bad has happened, and I’ve called you and you would just be like, “Are you okay? I’m taking a nap.” But honestly the best way to solve those issues is to come up with a plan before they start. Like now Jas and I will tell each other before we go to bed, or take a nap. Or I’ll tell Jas when I’m going gardening because I’m usually gone for an hour or two. It helps the other person expect to not hear from you. You really have to create a baseline of communication in order for there to be a lack of mistrust or miscommunication.
[Jas] And I know in some relationships, the whole “not telling each other what you’re doing all the time” works, but I think if you’re on that level of supporting each other, you should really come up with a plan where you are telling each other what you’re doing.
[Jess] Yeah, and honestly, if you’re doing that in an online romantic relationship, that’s actually not going to work. If you’re dating and you never tell your partner what you’re doing? I don’t think that’s going to work at all.
[Jas] I feel, for me personally, it would build up a lot of distrust. I’ve had partners like that before, and I was very paranoid all the time and very jealous, checking their phone, always looking over, always wondering what they were doing, because there was never any reassurance there. If they were like “I’m just hanging out with so and so” that’s fine. I mean I would still probably be jealous, but like I was a different person back then.
[Jess] Well, you’re not jealous now though! I mean you can be jealous but more so about friendships because they can’t offer that same kind of reassurance that I am really intensely aware of now.
[Jas] Yes, I’m definitely more jealous about friends than I am about you. I think it some ways I think that’s because I’ve got nothing to be jealous about. It’s not like you hang out with random people all the time or go to nightclubs and stuff.
[Jess] So you’re saying that because I’m a loser, you got nothing to be jealous about?
[Jas] No! But you have friends and they’re all very trustworthy people! You don’t have any friends that you or I am nervy around. I’ve met or spoken to all your friends. And I’m not gonna say I’ve never been jealous, but it’s something I’ve been able to overcome.
[Jess] I actually get friendship jealousy a lot when you’re hanging out with all our friends without me.
[Jas] Well, that’s understandable.
[Jess] We’re getting off-track, did we miss anything? “How do you stay committed and honest when the potential for mistrust, miscommunication, and withholding our true selves is so high?” In an online relationship versus in person relationship.
[Jas] I mean, withholding your true selves is odd because I feel like people are more themselves online.
[Jess] Well…yeah. I guess you’re right.
[Jas] I mean, I guess, you talk about things. Like the miscommunication thing, that happens in every relationship honestly.
[Jess] It really comes back to laying those boundaries, I think. I can actually link in the blog on long-distance communication because I think it will be helpful here.
[Jas] I think people forget sometimes that those things people moan about in long-distance/online relationships happen in all kinds of relationships as well. They’re slightly different, yeah, but those things are still an issue. Texting always leaves room for miscommunication, whether you live with your partner or not.
[Jess] Honestly the best thing you can do is be as direct and as reassuring as possible. Like don’t be blunt. “Direct” does not mean blunt. Direct communication means saying what you want and saying it how you see it, with a good amount of reassurance so it doesn’t come across blunt. If you do that, then it will probably work. Now since this request asks in particular about relationship that has already been going on without these tools, or that an unhealthy relationship to some extent has already formed—
[Jas] This is when you need the boundaries.
[Jess] Yeah this is honestly harder to give advice on. Because, you can’t just be like “Oh, yeah everything started wrong, so let’s start fresh” or “I’m going to change all these things.”
[Jas] Well I mean, you could try not directly saying “I’m going to change all these things” but like, put the effort into trying to change it organically, in a way. Like, if the issue between you two is that you’re always there for each other, just try to not be there sometimes, but let them know that. Like, “Hey, I’m going to be busy doing this for an hour, I’ll talk to you after!” or something. See how they react to that.
[Jess] Yes, try to make some boundaries, and start with small things like this. Just be unreachable for short periods and explain why, and when you say that just give them some reassurance with it so they don’t think you don’t want to talk to them. Just be like, “Hey, I have to do this thing and I can’t wait to talk when I’m done.” Just try to set some of those boundaries gradually and build up to it. And as I’ve said before, Jas and I had trouble with this without really acknowledging it in the past, because we just let it go on for so long without wanting to be the person that says “I need time away.” But it’s been four years, and I think it’s really only been the last year or two and been able to truly manage it. Well. Enough? I mean I think there’s still room for improvement for us here, but that’s the same with everything.
[Jas] It’s always one step at a time. If you try to fix everything at once, nothing is going to be solved at all.
Summary: Forming friendships based on a need for support is all about finding a balance and laying boundaries, even years after the fact. A relationship won’t last if the foundation is primarily support-based only.