Guest post! “I don’t have a Friend Zone.” (Question 140)

Captain Picard in shorts reading a book.
Captain Picard is on vacation and can't help you, so for now, you get us.

Today, the awesome regular commenter known as “k”has been promoted to Ensign Perception in the Army of Awkward. She will help this letter writer explore the universe of people he would like to sleep with.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a problem when it comes to being attracted to people. I suppose colloquially this problem would be called “low standards,” but I don’t like to think about it that way, because I don’t feel like it entails any disrespect on my part toward the people I’m attracted to. The many, many people.

The best way I can describe my feelings about intimacy is this: I basically have no friend zone. If I have a lot in common with a person and I’m reasonably certain that they won’t turn my skin into a lampshade, I find myself wanting to be intimate with them. I try to be discerning about who I actually try to initiate anything with – if I feel like they have no interest in me whatsoever, I don’t bother. But still, this results in a lot of rejection for me. The rejection itself isn’t so much the issue. I respect their right to not be attracted to me and all that. But more than being hurtful – although it is, as I imagine rejection is for anyone, always at least a little hurtful – these rejections just confuse me. Not because I think I’m awesome, but because my barriers to desiring intimacy with another person seem to be just way, way lower than they are for everybody around me. I’m just not certain what’s stopping them unless they find me physically repulsive (and in most cases, I’m pretty sure people don’t).

It all ends up feeling very lopsided, like I’m just taking whoever will have me, since in principle I’d probably sleep with just about anyone I like even a little bit (I’m in a polyamorous relationship, so monogamy isn’t an issue for me). And in a way that feels unfair to both me and to the people I try (and sometimes succeed) to sleep with. My question – and I’m sure you understand this, but I just want to state it clearly here at the end of the letter – isn’t, “How do I get all these people to sleep with me?” It’s more, “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?” and “Is this indeed a bad perspective on sex?” and also “If so, how do I stop feeling this way?” Thanks for your advice.

-No Friend Zone

OK, so just to get this out of the way, your answer to this question is coming from Monogamy Central. Like, if this were a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, your planet and my planet would be having some silly diplomatic tiff based upon their diametrically opposed sexual philosophies, and Capt. Picard would have to intervene and remind our planets that they could coexist. However, I kind of think this could be helpful to you? So bear with me.

Captain Kirk, looking seductive.
Now this is a Captain who has visited your planet.

First of all, I want to congratulate you on the stuff you’re doing really well at. You seem really self-aware as to what works for you in terms of your (primary?) poly relationship, and that’s great. A lot of people who share your perspective on sex – which is not, by the way, a bad perspective on sex, just a somewhat unusual and not very societally accepted one – get stuck in a pattern of attempting monogamy and making themselves and others miserable. So good work, not doing that!  You’re working through your personal perspective on sex and starting to figure out the answer to the immortal question of, “I’m allowed to sleep with anyone… so who don’t I sleep with?” That’s awesome.

However, while you seem to have a pretty good handle on your own preferences and forms of sexual agency, it sounds to me like you are having a hard time figuring out how to deal with others’ agency and just how much your decision-making processes diverge from those of other people. This isn’t an uncommon issue, you know? I’ve always thought that this is one of the central mysteries of being human: the basic fact that other people actually are other people, with totally different desires, ideas, inhibitions and thoughts than me. This isn’t some cheesy Star Trek episode where everyone on the planet dresses, talks and thinks exactly the same. In our world you rub shoulders with people from Another Planet every single day, in many ways.

So let’s take a moment to talk about some of those people who are, for you, from a different planet – Planet Not Going To Have Casual Sex With You Even Though You Are Totally Up For It.

Captain Kirk wrestling a lizardy alien. I'm sure the Internet will tell me which one.
He's been to LOTS of planets.

As it sounds like you’ve figured out, residents of Planet NGTHCSWYETYATUFI have a different set of standards for sexual encounters than you do. (And by the way, it’s really time to try and get over the idea that their standards are “high” and yours are “low”. They’re just different from you. Trying to make a value comparison is exhausting and it really won’t get you anywhere.) There are going to be a variety of reasons for this, and actually, few of them are likely to have to do with you being particularly undesirable. Some of these NGTHCSWYETYATUFI-ians are on the search for someone who could turn out to be a prospect for a long-term monogamous or primary relationship – so for them you are already “taken” by your primary partner. Monogamy may not be an issue for you, but it is for the monogamous. Some just don’t do the casual sex thing, for reasons of preference or worries about safety (after all, people who fail to disclose STDs, who kiss and tell, who are a bad lay, or who even commit sexual violence don’t necessarily come across like Buffalo Bill in public). Some of them just aren’t into your gender, or maybe into any gender at all. Some prefer not to sleep with coworkers, or people they consider friends or acquaintances – such as you. Some don’t hop right into bed with strangers. Some know that they’re way too drunk to get aroused, or to consent to sex, at the moment you happen to hit on them.

Captain Kirk Buried in Tribbles
Lots and lots and LOTS of planets.

Are any of those reasons really that confusing? They might not be barriers to you, but on PlanetNGTHCSWYETYATUFI, they totally are, and this is something you’ve got to understand before proceeding with your awesome free-love agenda. I know you aren’t the sort of person who would be gauche enough to demand some kind of explanation from someone who rejects you, but this isn’t about “respect[ing] their right to not be attracted to me and all that”. That’s basic stuff; it’s the price of admission for entering the adult world of dating. To get unconfused about why NGTHCSWYETYATUFI-ians are not going to have sex with you, you’ve got to develop some real empathy with those who are just plain different from you. Honestly, once you get that instinct deep into your bones, I think it will clear up the vast majority of your questions. You might find some ways to figure out who’s actually a good prospect as a secondary partner or a casual fuck without having to deal with quite as much blunt rejection as you do now. I suspect it will also help you figure out what might be unfair about the way you treat some of your casual partners, and pay more attention to what they need from you as a sex partner, whether your encounter is just a single night long or a longer-term FWB thing, or whatever.

Captain Picard with a facepalm, saying "Kirk. Put those back on."
"Can Tribbles give meaningful consent?" and other questions I do not want to know the answer to.

There are just two things that I hope you’ll examine more deeply in terms of your own boundaries and attitudes toward sex, though. For example, after reading all about how confused you are by rejection, and how monogamy’s not an issue for you, I was really surprised that you asked “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?” What’s that word “vulnerable”all about? Is it the act of putting yourself out there and asking, “Will you have sex with me?” that makes you feel like this? Is the sex itself not always as effortless, zipless, and emotionally un-fraught as you expected it to be? If I were you I’d explore this further. There’s something here about how your expectations of what it’s like to be poly, or the story you’ve always told yourself about how your sex life ought to be, might not quite be conforming to the actual lived experiences you’ve been having lately. Pay very close attention to your body and to the emotional part of your mind, the parts of you that might be tossing out clues like “I’m making myself vulnerable to people who I like even a little bit.” Is a little bit really enough to have a satisfying experience? This might be something to talk about with your primary partner or other poly friends of yours, too.

Captain Kirk "I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am."And lastly, there’s something I’m wondering about the way you tend to fall in lust with anyone you like (and keep in mind, these observations are coming from someone who hails from Planet NGTHCSWYETYATUFI, so take them with a grain of salt). Are there degrees of desire involved here? Different types? Like, are there people who you find physically stunning, and other people whose minds are sexier to you than anything else about them? I think you might have an easier time figuring out who belongs in your friend zone if you are able to turn down the volume on your sexual interest in them for a second, and just listen to the subtler melodies that are playing under that overwhelming “bow-chicka-wow-wowwwww” beat. Some of the people you like would certainly make better jogging buddies, dance partners, board game opponents or artistic collaborators than sex partners for you. What if you tried to create a teensy tiny friend zone just for them, just for now?

So, basically: do your best to get unconfused about rejection, work on differentiating the people around you in terms of other characteristics than “fuckable”, and consider the ways in which you might be more vulnerable than you think. Keep that in mind on your sexy adventures, and I think you’ll avoid having to call in Captain Picard. Even if you do know a lot of people who are clearly from another planet.


Ensign Perception

54 thoughts on “Guest post! “I don’t have a Friend Zone.” (Question 140)

    1. Honestly, your comment wasn’t there when I typed mine, but I find our similarities to add an extra layer of wonderful.

  1. This post is wonderful on so many levels. The progression of photos is an essay in and of itself. And kudos to LW for the phrase about using your skin as a lampshade. That made me laugh.

  2. i’m sorry, you had me at the “‘Can Tribbles give meaningful consent?’ and other questions I do not want to know the answer to” caption. i may never recover.

    i am interested in finding out if this is a regular state of being? or a new one? as a person who hails from the planet of diagnosedascrazyasbatshit, i know that a sudden onset can be all bipolar and crap. might i suggest a quick look at the digfast? i’m of the less potent variety (a super fast speaker, anxious, and irritable), so keep in mind that there are different brands on the spectrum.

    not that the lw can’t just be on his own planet. i’m firmly a proponent of the no judgement zone.

    1. Thanks for that link – I’ve been fairly sure that I’m bipolar (rather than ‘just’ anxious/depressed) for a while now, and that gives me a bit more evidence to point to when I see my doc next.

  3. I gotta say, the Captain took my Star Trek metaphors to the next level with those pictures and captions! AMAZING.

    1. I don’t do the pictures/caption things enough – it takes forever and you have to google stuff like “Kirk Alien Encounters” and scroll through Memory Alpha wiki (Oh, I did…Yes I did). I should make more use of the fannish Twitter footsoldiers in the future.

  4. I have a good friend who is, basically, you. Minus the poly relationship, but definitely with the “I’d like to sleep with anyone who isn’t repulsive”. It’s not a problem for him — when a woman is into it, they have the sex. When a woman isn’t into it, then either another woman is or he doesn’t have the sex. And he’s capable of having friendly and respectful relationships with his female friends, whether or not they’ve ever had sex.

    The difference between him and you is, I think, that he doesn’t seem to feel the same kind of rejection when a woman isn’t into it. And I know you said rejection isn’t the issue, but it really sounds like it is — not so much on an individual level, but at a more generalized level. When you said things felt “lopsided”, that was a big, giant red flag to me. It’s not lopsided to want to have sex with someone and for them to want to have sex with you. The only reason you think it is is because you’re aggregating all of the rejections that came before the person who said yes. It makes it sound like you’re treating women as one big indistinguishable mass, where a rejection from one gets added to the acceptance from another so that the latter counts for less. That’s not how it works.

    And honestly, it makes it sound like you’re NOT totally okay with trying to have sex with anyone who isn’t repulsive. It sounds like you feel like you need to try to have sex with lots of different women, like you’re *supposed* to be doing it instead of because you’re having fun flirting and hooking up with people. Even if you *would* have sex with anyone who doesn’t repulse you, that’s doesn’t necessarily mean you actually want to have sex with them for real with all of the shit that goes along with that, including potential rejection.

  5. I feel for this LW because I have the opposite problem, and it makes relationships and sex and stuff incredibly hard. I have to know someone for a while and spend rather a lot of time with them before I have any idea whether I’m sexually attracted to them. This means that the traditional American model of dating doesn’t work for me at all (because I’d be stringing someone along for a ridiculously long time before I could give them an answer as to whether I was attracted to them) and it also means that people conceive and then get over attraction to me long before I ever have an idea about them… so I just don’t get laid much. It kind of sucks. I wish it were possible to adjust this… Threshold For When To Decide Whether To Sleep With People thing. But I don’t know that it is.

    1. Oh human, I am much like you. I’m very rarely sexually attracted to anyone that I haven’t already gotten to know well and built at least some emotional intimacy with or at least feel very comfortable with.

      It helps that I am poly and have a primary relationship, but it doesn’t mean that I have in any way solved the Threshold For When To Decide Whether To Sleep With People problem.

  6. I identify strongly with the LW despite being a permanent resident of Planet Monogamy. Maybe we’re quite different, and obviously I don’t have much in the way of practical life experience to relate to your situation (I’ve only ever slept with my wife and haven’t touched another woman sexually since I was 18) but I think you can improve your self-image and possibly illuminate some stuff for yourself by reframing things a bit.

    1) “Low standards” – I know you said you don’t want to use that term but you don’t seem to have a better one. I have, of course, a “Friend Zone” but it’s people I DON’T sleep with, not people I don’t want to sleep with. Here’s what I say – “I’m attracted to a wide range of body types.” That’s not a euphemism – that’s what it is. I like tiny little blonde angular women and big Amazonian six-footers with thick black hair. I like redheads with freckles, little elfin women with short dark hair who look like sophomores at smith, former gymnasts, former powerlifters, etc. etc. etc. It’s not like I think EVEYRONE’s attractive sexually, but it amounts to basically the same thing because it’s rare that I befriend a woman I don’t find attractive (there’s just not enough hours in the freaking day.) What’s more, even when I find a woman I don’t find that attractive for whatever reason, I find if you spend two weeks smiling at someone and enjoying her company, flashing knowing looks at each other, whoops, she starts to look pretty good. Also sometimes she gets a new haircut or whatever and suddenly it’s on like Donkey Kong. It’s exhausting.

    2) People with insatiable sexual desire need to learn the difference between what they want (Everybody!!! All the time!!!) and what they need, which is something very different. You can’t always get what you want, and all that. I find for me personally I need to have intercourse about once a month or I get tense and frustrated. Twice a month is nice. The rest of what I need in terms of intimacy is just that – intimacy. I need the mutual WANTING that comes from being around someone I desire and who desires me.

    Now, I’m in a situation where that’s kind of treacherous – obviously I can’t get too comfortable, even in terms of emotional intimacy, with any of my friends because it would be outside the bounds of my marriage. It’s something my wife and I have to constantly renegotiate and maintain. You, fortunately, are not in that situation! So, here’s my vicarious, wouldn’t-it-be-nice advice I give you: learn what you need, and make sure you’re getting that in a safe, healthy way that isn’t setting you up to feel rejected all the time.

    Then, go out and enjoy being around all these people who get you hot. Flirt shamelessly. Talk deep into the night. Be honest about your feelings (“you know, I really want to kiss you right now”) but respectful if someone isn’t receptive. It’s honestly a wonderful niche you’ve carved out for yourself. My marriage works for me, but it comes with a lot of challenges. It sounds like you’ve got the long-term relationship but a lot of the challenges are mitigated. Try to enjoy it!

    1. I think it’s a sign of a mature person to be able to find different types sexually alluring – those who can only fixate on one specific body type and clothing/hair/whatever style as the only definition of beautiful tend to be a bit limited in other ways too. All too common, sadly. Definitely the LW is open-minded and not societally programmed “ONLY THIS IS SEXY” Yay you all for finding all those different physical types appealing on their own merits – there’s someone for everyone but it’s even better to try all the flavors. Keep fighting the good fight!

      1. Well, I agree, of course! 😀 That said, there are a wide range of personality types. Some people genuinely want to eat a ham sandwich for lunch every day and some are only attracted to one type of person. Nothing wrong with that.

        The real problem is people who allow themselves to be conditioned not to like what they like. This especially happens in high school and college, at least with boys, where in social groups we like to ridicule each other for thinking that the “wrong” girls are attractive.

        I remember very clearly the collective intake of breath the first time I got up the nerve to say to a room full of guys “for the record, I don’t think the girl you’re calling fat is fat. but actually, it doesn’t bother me that much if a girl is fat. I find plenty of fat girls attractive.” It was like I said I liked to be kicked in the nuts during sex.

        1. good grief, that must have taken some guts! I would have loved to see their faces when you said that!

  7. OMG! Not only am I a fully decorated ambassador of NGTHCSWYETYATUFI (Call us Tufis), but I have had relations with someone just like this LW!
    This spring I met someone, A., who is to the bone poly – he can’t be another way, it’s natural to him. A. has three girlfriends, each of whom he truly and fully adores, and he dates and has casual sex. He didn’t want to have sex with me when we met “even though [I’m] really sexy” because he could tell I was monogamous. I was in a place where I was questioning everything about how I have done things, and recovering from a long-term relationship where sexytime was scarcer than a snowball in hell, so I said “let’s be FWB.” And we did that, very briefly. A. was a good FRIEND and there were also benefits. Despite having a zillion women in his life, he always made me feel like someone who was important to him. Through A, I met A’s girlfriend’s other boyfriend, B, very new to poly, and for whom I had a powerful attraction. B was bad at the poly rules of respect and communication; he just thought he got to have a girlfriend and bang whoever he felt like. B did not consider the emotional toll that cause his partners. So he banged a bunch of folks, and me, a lot, and we also had a pretty solid, intense emotional connection. Which he could not handle!
    Long story short: LW = B.
    Sure, LW may be up for it, like A, and find sexiness in all kinds of different folks. That’s awesome. That’s pure polyamory – finding love and connection and value in people, and being free to express it physically is a bonus. However, what seems to be happening is that the LW might not be taking an honest look at his own capacity to have emotion-free sex, and he is probably definitely not taking his lovers’ capacity for the same into consideration.
    I was able to be FWB with A. because I wasn’t romantically interested in him at all. With B., I was romantically interested, and so I couldn’t keep it casual, because I open up when I have sex with someone. I can slut it up, sure, but I still connect with them, I still am being Intimate and giving of some of my capacity for love. A. was aware that I am the kind that gets emotionally hooked so he kept his distance and was very clear with his communication. B. figured everyone can just bang (like he saw girlfriend and A doing) and it’s all good – but then he got caught up with me and girlfriend and others. I realized after this (and reading The Ethical Slut, a book I cannot recommend enough) that I was definitely the monogamous type.

    Letter Writer. Your planet is a complicated one to live on. It’s fantastic you find all these people attractive. It’s good you make yourself vulnerable – you’re probably a better lover for it. But you should definitely consider that your rejectors may know what their boundaries are and may be protecting them. If I were single and met you at a party and thought you were sexy, I might physically want to do you, BUT if I know you’re poly and not looking for anything but a recreational bang, I wouldn’t have sex with you EVEN THOUGH I WOULD WANT TO. Because I would not want to get emotionally involved with someone who won’t be that way with me, especially if I like you a lot. I wouldn’t be rejecting you – you’re sexy! I’d tap that! But we want different outcomes – even if the sex stays casual, it will be more casual with you than it will with me. Since we have a pretty large Tufi population, your targets will likely be firmly staying on our planet where we know the rules and are comfortable and happy with them.

    I think poly is brilliant for anyone who can handle it, but you gotta put some serious self-exploration in and be really good at empathy and communication, or it’s a painful disaster.

    Godspeed! And Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Your reply on dating while poly was great. I’m also thinking that maybe the LW is leading with the fact that she’s poly. That’s going to turn some people away just because they don’t want to be poly or have experimented with poly and got hurt. At the same time, I think there is an assumption that being poly means sleeping with everyone. The LW has a strong sex drive, but I think the LW is conflating that with having or wanting to sleep with everyone. Most people have some type of attractive feature about them. Do I want to sleep with them? Nope. My current bf was really intimidated at first because he knew I had been on crew of multiple years; he thought I had really high physical standards for male bodies because, clearly, I would have banged all of those guys. I explained that I tend to have high barriers for sex simply because I’m a cranky introvert that doesn’t want to waste time on people who I think will take sex too seriously or have boring pillow talk (expect one literary discussion per orgasm). My standards are convoluted. The LW has standards, but they need to figure them out. When you know what you need in a sexual encounter and/or a relationship, the rejection part becomes less painful and easier to get over.

      1. I’m also thinking that maybe the LW is leading with the fact that she’s poly. That’s going to turn some people away

        Yes, yes it will, but disclosing their poly relationship before sleeping with someone is the right thing to do. And the people who will be put off by that, are the people who are sexually incompatible with NFZ.

        So NFZ, if you’re leading with the fact that you are poly, good job!

        Also, good call on the fact that NFZ has standards but doesn’t know what they are. This is the kind of thing dorky lists in your journal (or possibly even Sexual Spreadsheets) were made for.

        1. I’ve been working on a similar problem… Thank you for permission to make dorky lists about attraction that I didn’t realize I needed.

  8. OH MY GOD this is me except I am not conflicted about it at all. Sex, for me, does not often (although it can!) trigger much emotion or deep connection. It’s fun, and I have to like my partner and find them attractive, but I don’t get real invested, so I have trouble empathizing with people who don’t want to just have sex with their friends all the time! However, I realize that most people feel differently. I am also very uncomfortable sleeping with people who are monogamous in any way. It feels unfair.

  9. “Is this indeed a bad perspective on sex?”
    Does it make you feel bad? It sounds like it might, which means that it is at least a perspective that is not working for you.

    “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?”
    If you’re writing in to an advice columnist about your feelings of vulnerability, then it seems to this commenter that you’re not terribly comfortable with those feelings, even if you initiate them yourself by proposing sex to anyone you like even a little. It’s not that your STANDARDS for whom you’d sleep with are low, so much as your practical BARRIERS are, which differentiates you from many people (for all the reasons k-now-Kirk described). Perhaps you need to raise your barriers strategically, not only to lower the number of people you’re propositioning (since the existing number of rejections seems to make you feel bad), but to increase the likelihood that the propositioned people accept and provide a positive experience.

    I am NOT suggesting you take on a Game mentality. The idea is not to manipulate anyone you like into sleeping with you–rather, the idea is to open yourself up only to those people who are likely to sleep with you AND be a good time.

    To me, as ever, the answer sounds like it might lie in a spreadsheet (I love me a good spreadsheet). Who, among your associates, are you likely to proposition? List them in the first column. The next column asks, “Open to Non-Monogamy/FWB/Casual Sex?” If the answer is no, those people get a great big X. Same with “Into Dudes/Blondes/Walking Dead fans?” Who cares why? They’re not going to sleep with you, so don’t expose yourself to inevitable rejection from them. The rest of the columns are about the likelihood that the sex is going to be good. Not acceptable, but really better-than-average. If you’re happy to sleep with everybody whose company you find pleasant, but sleeping with ladies with Quality A consistently proves to be a mediocre experience, cross them off the list (this is where your possibly-large-than-average data set comes in handy). If sexing ladies with Quality Z consistently proves to be an amazing experience, move the ladies you know with said quality to the top of the list (my spreadsheet is getting a little messy, I know). What makes a sexual encounter really exciting/special/awesome for you? Maybe instead of searchlight, taking in everybody, you can be a laser, zeroing in on only those potentially fantastic experiences.

    Of course, I too am from Planet Monogamy, so this endless comment may be totally useless. But at least I got to talk about spreadsheets for awhile.

      1. Ha, the Other Stephanie also loves spreadsheets and might name her band Sexual Spreadsheet. Doppelgangland!

  10. Hi. It’s the token poly lady here. So: I can have sex with whomever I want. Do I? Nope. Why? It may not have anything to do with attractiveness. I just have a big list of things I want. For instance: someone kinky enough to keep up with me, and the potential for a committed relationship.

    What I’m saying is, the people who reject you may have different priorities. Sex is awesome, and you may be super cute. But that’s not going to be enough for a lot of people.

    And, honestly — maybe this doesn’t apply to you, if not, disregard — I don’t find it very alluring when someone hits on *everyone*. It feels like I’m interchangeable with anything breathing in a skirt. I like to be special to someone who wants in my pants!

    1. Yes, I was trying to work in something about how a lot of people find it sexy to be pursued as if they are the most amazing person in the room / city / galaxy! Good point.

    2. Yes, this! I try not to take it personally, but it is an enormous turn off (for me! not judging!) when someone hits on absolutely everyone in their circle, including me. It feels like they’d sleep with, well, anyone. (And that’s okay!) But it doesn’t make me feel like they have any special attraction to me, or that there’s any point in sex with me specifically. That’s not very sexy. (To me.)

      I think that I place the highest premium on respect, which is why I think it’s great advice, getting to a point of empathy with all the alien creatures. I need to know that my own desires and preferences will be respected. Anyone who seems disrespectful, or oblivious, gets shut down.

  11. Oh, LW, you could be me. My natural attitude toward having sex is “Sure, why not?” and for a long time it was genuinely confusing to me why other people saw things differently. I mean, logically, sex feels good and everyone likes to feel good and if everyone can just be cool, dammit, we can all have sex and everything will be fine, right? I had to figure out that not everyone is capable of being cool about casual sex and not everyone even wants to be. I had to learn to come to terms with the reality that, in this messed up world, being aggressively and openly sexual has a lot of consequences. By coming on to someone, you do make yourself vulnerable, not only to rejection but also to this person no longer wanting to be friends with you, or to this person telling your peers how easy you are, or to this person, who perhaps does not know him/herself very well, agreeing to casual sexual activity that is later distressing and can have disastrous social consequences. It sucks, but you have to learn to balance your short-term desires against your long-term needs. You have to become adept at reading social cues in a way that people from Planet Monogamy don’t because their love/sex rules are clearly spelled out. The absence of those rules from your life does not give you an ethical carte blanche. You are responsible for doing the hard work of developing your own moral system to protect yourself and others and it feels unfair but the struggle is worthwhile.

    1. One thing no one has really mentioned yet in this discussion, too, is that a lot of women are hit on in creepy ways by a lot of different men, whether or not they’re theoretically into casual sex or not. LW is probably not giving off creep vibes, but it still might look like Nice Guy(TM) territory to some of his female acquaintances if he’s like “Hey, we’re friends now, time to get nekkid!” and they might be wary of that. As an example, I have a friend who is a really gorgeous woman–and who’s gay. For YEARS (until she got engaged, basically), I watched all her male friends be really devoted, happy friends who would somehow be convinced that they could “convert” her at a crucial moment. It got so we would have conversations early on about whether particular male friends were likely to proposition her or not (with me providing the helpful bi girl “This dude is definitely flirting with you” feedback she didn’t have with her straight-dar). Anyway, what I’m saying is: different people not only have different desires, but also different histories, and like mahnamahna says, ” not everyone is capable of being cool about casual sex and not everyone even wants to be”–and what you experience as a casual proposition may feel less than casual to the sexy lady on the receiving end.

      1. Going to second this comment very strongly, with an extra bump on this sentence:
        “what you experience as a casual proposition may feel less than casual to the sexy lady on the receiving end.”

        There were definitely periods in my younger life when being propositioned by a dudefriend felt like a betrayal. My sexual experience at that point had been overwhelmingly negative and fraught, and I just couldn’t imagine a world of friendly fucking; it all really felt like a battle of the sex(es), back then. A dude’s sexual suggestion warned me that he was one of THEM, not US, whatever that meant.
        Let me be clear: this worldview was, in its way, completely logical based on my experience. I am glad that I no longer feel this way, but I deeply sympathize with anyone who does.

        Back in the “Major of the Friend Zone” post, I reminded the LW that flirtation is a conversation, and you do the same things you ought to do when having a quality conversation with a friend or a coworker or anyone else whose feelings you wish to consider: listen! see how they are receiving your words! Consider their past reactions when you formulate new sentences! Acknowledge their point of view! I do this all of the time in my job; I do it less frequently with longtime friends because we have history (and, thus, benefit of the doubt), but I still do it a little. Especially when broaching a topic that may be touchy.
        This LW should probably approach propositioning the same way. If you’re really listening to a lady – nonverbal communication as well as verbal – you’ll have a much better expectation of whether she’ll respond positively to putting sex with you on the table, and thus a much lower rate of rejection and hurt feelings on either side.

  12. LW: something that I’m not sure has come up here that might be a handy thought. Maybe you should reconsider your goal with some of the people you find attractive. At the moment it seems something like “Sex is a win, everything else is a loss.” And this programming has its reasons, but maybe you can rearrange things somehow so that sex is a win, but so is having a long term flirty thing where you believe you both understand that if she’s ever single then maaaaybe, and so is making out every so often, and so is hanging out and having a beer and heading home.

    Some of this looks a lot like stuff that people without an attraction do with each other, but maybe for you, it can be stuff you do while feeling an attraction. And that’s fine. That is, there are more ways to express a sexual spark than having sex, and perhaps you need not a Friend Zone but a Spark Zone or something. A zone for “not having sex, but enjoying these feelings and her company, in the moment.” I should note this won’t be a perfect solution because a lot of people have relationships that really rule out active long-lived flirtations with outsiders too and some people just don’t like it, but maybe it’s something to be open to as an end in itself.

  13. Hello my brother or sister. I, too, am from Planet Poly. The best place to get answers is to go on, punch in your zip code and the keyword: polyamorous, and hook up with a group. When you are there, look for the middle aged married couples and ask them as many questions as you can.

    But here is one asshole’s point of view based on their own experiences:

    You asked, “Why do I insist on making myself vulnerable to everyone I have anything in common with?” In the poly community I have heard the term NRE used which means New Relationship Energy. It’s this “high” that you get when you meet someone new and you feel like you can really open up to them and because you want to open up to them- you want to share every bit of yourself. It sucks being poly because people are very judgmental about those sorts of things. Because it’s so hard to talk about, those times you feel like you can talk about it, it’s like the act of sharing that information becomes an act of intimacy in itself.

    If you are not already, be open about being poly with your friends that you have no sexual interest in. Really spend time making the relationships you already have as strong as they can be. If those relationships are strong, then that will be all the strength you need for anything else that comes along in your life. It’s kinda like a house. The roof and windows are necessary, but they are nothing without the foundation. Rejection will always suck- bad, but it is easier if you are making sure all of your emotional needs are being met with what you’ve already got.

    You also asked if this is a bad perspective on sex, but perspective is not right or wrong or good or bad. It’s just the way you see things, and the more things you see, the more your perspective will change and evolve. So as a thing that is not set in stone anyway, it cannot be black or white. And as far as how to stop feeling this way my answer is similar: you don’t. It is what it is and if you could change the way you feel, if any of us could just change the way we feel, then they wouldn’t be feelings anymore. They would be things we pick up in the store that makes our lives easier.

    I was out with this guy the other day and he asked me why I wanted to be poly. I told him that I don’t want to be poly because it’s hard and sometimes really sucks. But I am poly. And the best I can do with that is treasure every special moment I am given to connect with someone, even if all they are is moments.

  14. Great post. Love your site (I’ve been in lurker mode a while). And I’ve taken your advice more than once. 🙂 Keep it up (when’s the book coming out?).

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  16. Wow! I am almost the opposite. I become attracted to*everyone* I like a great deal but can’t tell if I am attracted to someone until I know them quite well. You can imagine just what a mess that is though wanting to be sexual with all of my very favorite people at once.

    This post has been a great help to me too however. Lots of the same advice applies.

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