Posted by fxckfeelings on May 6, 2010Share This Post
New technologies and the breakdown of old conventions have created more sexual opportunities and freedom, but really, the basics haven’t changed. Being of clear and honorable intentions might seem old fashioned, but the misguided lust, loneliness and guilt that can taint those intentions are downright Biblical. New conventions just mean new rules; just because love feels chaotic doesn’t mean relationships should be.
Last fall, I started hooking up with a girl who’s been a friend of mine since freshman year. It wasn’t anything serious, just your average friends with benefits deal, and neither one of us ever talked about her being my girlfriend or anything “real.” What I never knew before though is that this girl gets really depressed, and when she got really sick this winter, I was there for her because that’s what I’d do for any friend, whether we’re hooking up or not. She’s better now, but I’m kind of confused as to what’s happening between us. Sometimes I think I want to be her boyfriend, but I’m not sure I’m really that into her, and I don’t think she wants that from me, and at this point everything’s just really awkward and weird. I just want to know where we stand, or what I should do.
People often choose to be “friends with benefits” (FWB) because it seems easier than committing to a relationship, but don’t be so sure.
Having a FWB is like playing a fretless guitar that seems to offer musical freedom, but is actually more likely to produce noise unless you really know what you’re doing. In other words, don’t attempt a FWB situation unless you’ve learned what the rules are and can stick with them. It’s not for those who haven’t mastered their instrument.
You need that toughness and discipline so you don’t cross the line between friend and more-than-friend, which means being direct about your intentions (honorably limited) and vigilant about the many ways your actions can unwittingly contradict your words (by calling or sharing or sighing or talking too much).
Regardless of the actual ups and downs of how you feel, your words and actions should convey an unambiguous, consistent message. Otherwise, love or neediness may escape and create a situation you and/or your partner are not ready for.
Toughness is also necessary to determine whether your prospective sex-buddy has what it takes to stay within agreed-upon boundaries. Some agreeable friends really want something more and will be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
This may sound like some pretty rigid guidelines for what should be a care-free relationship—I ordered the sex, hold the commitment!—but at least when you’re a boyfriend or girlfriend, you know where you stand thanks to some fairly universal relationship guidelines. Being a FWB is living a gray zone unless you draw your own line in the sand.
In your situation, charity made you cross that line and become your FWB’s depression counselor. Good for you as a friend, bad for you as a recipient of benefits, because now, no one knows what to expect.
If you did it because you really, really liked her, then you would want to upgrade, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Don’t over think your feelings about her, because when most people are interested in someone romantically, they know pretty fast.
If one of you not being single is what kept you apart when you first met, getting together now makes sense, but if the spark just wasn’t there, then that’s why you aren’t together. As such, the reason you hooked up has more to do with loneliness than a unique connection, and might be worth leaving at that.
If you decide that you truly do want to go for a love upgrade, be sure your erstwhile non-exactly-lover is a solid person who would make a good partner, and that the benefit of a successful upgrade outweighs the loss of what you’ve already got. After all, once you jump from friends to boy/girlfriends, downgrading back to friends can be tricky, if not impossible.
Check out whether he/she is steady in other relationships and not too needy, sensitive, or vulnerable to runaway feelings. Remember, Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction” promised an attachment-free fuck and was probably sincere (in her own nutty way).
It’s your responsibility to make sure things are what they seem. Then figure out whether you want to make beautiful music together, or whether you’re just not ready to jam.
Here’s a Mission Statement to share with your friend. “I think we’re good at being friends, with or without benefits, but I know I’m not ready to go further because I don’t think the chemistry is quite right. I hope our friendship helped you during the winter when you were depressed. It left me feeling good about our friendship and with the same overall impression that that’s what our relationship is meant to be.”
Like a lot of single women in their 30s, I’ve gotten into internet dating, but I’m not very good at it, because I really don’t want to be mean to anyone, and I don’t think it’s fair to make up your mind about someone when you don’t really know them. I mean, sure, I have a physical type, but what I’m talking about is that I don’t want to brush off some poor guy after one cup of coffee just because he’s not my dream guy right off the bat, know what I mean? And I don’t think you can really learn that much about somebody based on a few emails, so basically I end up going on a bunch of dates that often aren’t that much fun or, if they are, I don’t get a call-back and wind up ruminating for a week about what went wrong. My goal is to figure out how to make online dating work.
Online dating doesn’t work unless you’re tough and disciplined (see case above). That’s because getting attached to someone who can’t return your feelings will wear you out and make you feel like an unattractive loser. It’s the way we’re wired (pardon the pun).
If your priority is to make everyone feel valued, send them some of Oprah’s favorite things. If you want to take advantage of the wide reach of online dating, which will expose you to large amounts of raw suiterage and toxic jerks, learn how to become an efficient and effective screener.
First, decide for yourself whether it’s moral to reject people, especially if it seems to cause them pain. In my opinion, it’s immoral not to reject people (assuming you do it politely and respectfully). Better to be tactfully honest than grudgingly lie.
If you don’t just rip off the Band-Aid, you’re leading them on and assuming responsibility for their feelings, making yourself vulnerable to manipulation and guilt, and/or promising what you can’t really deliver.
Sure, you may feel guilty if someone looks pained by your decision not to continue contact, but that’s just a passing feeling. Know the difference between guilty feelings and real guilt and learn how to ignore the former.
Of course, if you’re too sensitive to pain, either theirs or yours, you’re not ready to go hunting in love’s wild e-yonder, because hunting usually requires a willingness to tolerate pain. Your goal isn’t to avoid pain (or cause pain), but to minimize it, learn from it, and not let it interfere with an effective search.
If you’ve decided it’s OK not to run a ministry for the horny and needy and that guilty feelings can be ignored, then you’re ready to learn the principles of wide-reach screening and discover that you probably know them already.
Begin by listing the 5 or 6 criteria for excluding candidates, regardless of attractiveness. They include drug-use, poor money management, unreliability, a history of backing away from reasonable relationships, an inability to say no to horrible relatives, and a lack of interest in the kind of future that you want.
Then, while you’re chatting and searching for interpersonal chemistry, keep your list in mind and say good-bye whenever a red flag pops up. Time is short, screening is tiring, and the hunt is on.
Use your criteria to prepare a statement. “I’m interested in a reliable, hard-working, loyal grownup who can manage his/her money responsibly and is looking for a committed partner to share (name your future). I’m not in need of friendship or sex and I don’t have much time to chat, but I’ll get back to you if you’re interested and seem to be a possible match. ”
More advice from Dr. Lastname