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Reader Question #21: Why don’t my friends-with-benefits like being told that they are friends-with-benefits?

Let's keep this logical between us.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have just discovered your blog and I love it for many reasons. One of them is: I have somewhere to ask this question!

I am a young, single, straight, cis woman. In my capacity as such, I met a man a while ago — and by a while ago, I mean, like, July. Super cute, nerdy, funny, flirty in a way that is respectful of my boundaries, etc. But due to career-related shenanigans, we weren’t in the same city at the same time for a few months. However, once that resolved itself, we went on a date that resulted in what was either the best sex I’ve ever had, or the second-best. Hooray!

Despite the crazy-awesome-fantastic sex, however, I’m not into him in a dating way. I like spending time with him, but even thinking the word “dating” sets of my blinkers of Bad Idea. Partially it’s that there’s no conversational chemistry — it’s just “talking with you is nice before we get to the making out.” Partially it’s that he is a total flake, who can’t make plans to spend time with me in a useful fashion. (Like, text messages saying “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” sent at 7:30 on a Friday.) It’s been a while since we last hooked up, and I’m worried I missed the window of establishing fuckbuddyhood.

My question is this: when I’ve been interested in guys for casual, respectful, sex-based arrangements, I’ve found that telling guys that that’s what I want rarely goes well. I usually say something like, “I think you’re really awesome, and I like hanging out with you and having sex with you, but I don’t want an actual relationship with you,” and while that sounds fine to my ears, there’s clearly something I’m saying or doing that makes them uncomfortable, and thus less likely to make out with me. Is there a better way to go about this?

Thanks for reading.

– The Polite Nerd

Hello Polite Nerd!

I read what you are telling these lucky sometimes-lovers and it sounds so honest and straightforward and like you are being a good Ethical Slut and covering your bases and also exactly like stuff I have said to people in the past, however, I also thought “Oof, people do not like being told that no matter how true it might be, even if they feel exactly the same way.”

I think good sex comes less from skill and more from connection.  When I was doing a lot of internet dating, one of the automatic dealbreakers was reading “I am very good at pleasing a woman“* in a man’s profile.  Because:

  1. I’ll be the judge of that.
  2. I am never going to let you touch me there, because by writing that you are telling me that you have some weird “system” or “method”  that you assume that you can transfer from woman to woman.
  3. Leading with that as one of your selling points tells me you are some mix of really  insecure and really overconfident.  Can’t we just talk about books or something and let that be a pleasant surprise?

So what you want in a sex partner, even in a friend-with-benefits situation, is someone who is easy to get along with, pays attention to how you work, can communicate about he works, and makes you feel safe and comfortable to be around,communicates honestly about safe sex, birth control, etc. Controlling for the occasional Zipless Fuck, it sounds suspiciously like you want someone who is actually your friend.

Has this guy ever indicated that he wants to have a traditional dating relationship and be your boyfriend?  Or are you guys just “hanging out” and “listening to music” when you get a last-minute text on a day that your schedules happen to line up?   Because that sounds like you already have the fuckbuddy-only relationship you seek.  If you’re going to have an argument with him about how making last minute plans doesn’t work for you and he should be more respectful when arranging dates, but also that the word dating gives you a wiggins, that’s getting pretty close to an argument you’d have with someone you are evaluating as a boyfriend.  If you’re fine just hooking up now and again, and he’s texted at an inconvenient time, you just say “Not tonight, sorry.  Tuesday?” and go on with your day and then you fuck when you fuck.  If he wanted to get more serious, you’d know, because he’d tell you, and then you’d have the opportunity to state your piece.  But even then, I’d recommend asking him where he sees it going vs. telling him that it’s going nowhere.  From what you describe, chances are you already on the same page.

So your need to define it by saying  “You know this isn’t going anywhere, right?” which you mean as a respectful, honest favor to him, like, “Look what a cool girl I am!  I will not make you be my date to family weddings, ever,” is really about you reminding yourself what your own limits are. Speaking with an embarrassing amount of authority on this topic, when I’ve blurted stuff like that out to a new sex partner it’s been because the sex made me vulnerable and I want to protect my own heart.  But what the other person might be hearing is “I can take you or leave you.”  “You’re completely disposable to me.” “I’ve decided to keep my expectations really low.”  So of course they shut down and withdraw.  “That was amazing, so let’s decide right now so that it should never get more amazing than that.

Sex makes you vulnerable.  It makes everyone vulnerable.  Even if it won’t lead to True Everlasting Love.  Even if you’re just friends, or scratching an itch, or strangers who meet on the train to Vienna, or having the rawest and sleaziest of Casual Encounters, I still think that you are opening yourself up to another person in a way that is sacred while it is happening.  People are very quick to warn about the dangers of casual sex like unwanted pregnancy and STDs, but what they leave out is that in the moment, sex isn’t all that casual. You and another human made a decision to trust each other with everything you have, and for a little while, you stopped time.  That’s amazing.

This is one of my favorite poems:

Story of a Hotel Room – Rosemary Tonks

Thinking we were safe – insanity!
We went in to make love. All the same
Idiots to trust the little hotel bedroom.
Then in the gloom…
…And who does not know that pair of shutters
With the awkward hook on them
All screeching whispers? Very well then, in the gloom
We set about acquiring one another
Urgently! But on a temporary basis
Only as guests – just guests of one another’s senses.

But idiots to feel so safe you hold back nothing
Because the bed of cold, electric linen
Happens to be illicit…
To make love as well as that is ruinous.
Londoner, Parisian, someone should have warned us
That without permanent intentions
You have absolutely no protection
-If the act is clean, authentic, sumptuous,
The concurring deep love of the heart
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.

I guess the poem is a cautionary tale about what you’re trying to avoid, where I think that even temporary or unwise feelings are real and have power, and if we didn’t want to feel them we’d just masturbate.

Anyway, I’m not saying date him. I’m not saying fall in love.  I’m not saying don’t be clear about your boundaries and desires and protective of each other’s hearts.  I’m not saying to ignore your self-preservation instincts that tell you he’s not viable as your long-term partner, and I’m not saying don’t work out what’s happening the next time it comes up.  I’m saying: Have the sexy adventure that you signed up for.  I’m saying:  Don’t be afraid to let it be amazing.

*Negative infinity points if he actually uses the word “oral” like it’s a noun.  Yikes.

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