#1329: “Is this ever going to work out in my favor?”

Dear Captain,

I’m in an awkward situation with a friend with benefits/ booty call type of partner. We started off as friends and now have grown into something more over the past few months. He calls me over, makes me dinner, makes me feel like the most beautiful human being on the planet and loves on me, even after I leave. We chat constantly, but know and respect each others space.I’ve grown to adore him, with all his flaws and frustrations. I’ve voiced this and his response is always “ I love having you around, enjoy you, but I don’t have romantic feelings for you” He was once, and still semi is in a bad relationship spot and has a kid ( not a big deal for me) I’m worried he’s using this “I don’t have romantic feelings for you” as an excuse to avoid commitment. I don’t know what to do anymore, I want to be with him, but I’m worried he’ll forever avoid the commitment, what should I do ?

Thank you for any advice,

Peaches

Dear Peaches,

When someone tells you that he doesn’t want to be in a committed romantic relationship with you, that’s not “an excuse to avoid commitment;” it’s a stated fact. He might be aromantic, it might be that he just doesn’t feel that way about you or want that kind of relationship at this stage in his life. Either way, dissecting all of the reasons won’t change the fact that when you told your friend how you feel and what you want, he told you that he doesn’t feel the same way or want the same thing. That ‘s not an excuse, that’s an answer.

You ask: “I want to be with him, but I’m worried he’ll forever avoid the commitment, what should I do ?”

I think you should take him at his word and stop dismissing his communications as “excuses.” Love your friend first of all by treating him like an expert on his own life. Stop trying to change your friendship into something else. Flip the word “forever” around until it faces “no.” If you were to accept, truly accept, that this friendship isn’t ever going to morph into the kind of committed romantic attachment that you want, what would you do differently? Within the friendship? With your time and energy? With your desires for a certain kind of romantic partnership? Start there. 

It’s so, so, so hard to let go of the hope and the fantasy, and there are some very common stories about love that you’ve been told all your life that are driving expectations in a way that might be working against you right now. One story is that for relationships to be important and real, they have to be permanent (or at least strive to be) and that “good” relationships should follow an escalating pattern that ends with vows and joint bank accounts or else they’ve “failed.” Millennia of religious and cultural traditions are hard to shake, and if you want that kind of relationship for yourself, that’s all fine and good, but not everyone does.Your friend/current sex partner is one of those people. Can you accept that? 

Another prevalent story suggests that great sexual connection necessarily reveals a great love connection, because if someone can make you feel that good it must be rare and special and meaningful on a different level than “just sex.” Part of it is a purity culture that teaches people that the only real sex is married sex for making babies with your soulmate, ergo someone who inspires actual pleasure either *is* said soulmate or a talented demon trying to trick you into twerking on Satan’s lap with a catchy hook and by making it look extremely fun and cool. 

So many movie sex scenes show the first time (and only the first time) two characters have sex, and how often the context is “We’ve been madly in love forever and are FINALLY figuring it out,” with some “We’re all going to die soon, might as well!” to spice it up. Those epic big screen lip-locks aren’t just selling mouth pleasures, they’re selling Moments of Realization, too, when (at last!) everybody knows for sure that they’re in a love story. If this friend makes you feel lit from within when you’re together, it is rare, it is special, and it’s hard to let go of that powerful sense of recognition, of homecoming, when it’s singing in your bones. It’s okay if you’re not cut out for casual/friend sex, if you need the knowledge or at least the possibility of a future together. “Nobody’s ever made me feel this way before” can be true without being a contract that guarantees a compatible, happy partnership. Both people have to opt into that. The road marked “your words are saying no but your body’s saying yes” leads nowhere good. 

Then there’s the recurring tale about the person who runs away from commitment until they have a second coming of age, motivated when they meet the right person at just the right time, and finally “prove” that they’re “capable” of love. Pretty much the second a movie or TV character says “Eh, I’m not cut out for love,” they immediately mark themselves as a puzzle to be solved, there’s just, like, a whole genre dedicated to proving people wrong about themselves through a series of embarrassing coincidences and plucky actions, where how much a person has grown is demonstrated by how willing and able they are to forge a lasting pair bond by the closing credits. 

Consider Grace Kelly, who starts Rear Window as a sexy fashion goddess bringing fancy dinner to her injured and commitment-phobic boyfriend (It’s never commitment-averse or commitment-agnostic, it’s always commitment-phobic, which implies there’s a ‘cure’): 

The frothy white of the dress suggests a wedding gown, and the fetching little nightgown ensemble she pulls out of her briefcase in the next scene looks like the special lingerie for a wedding night.

Little by little throughout the film, her outfits get more practical and less overtly feminine until she’s sufficiently unthreatening to “deserve” commitment, there’s even a character her boyfriend has nicknamed “Miss Lonelyhearts” perpetually hovering in the background as a cautionary tale. 

She ends the film in jeans, hiding a fashion magazine inside her “serious” book now that she’s “proven” to her condescending boyfriend that she can hang, even though it is her specific knowledge of women’s fashion that solves the film’s mystery. (If these characters were to manage to actually marry, I give it two years until they get divorced specifically because she took up photography as a hobby and became the more famous and successful photojournalist because she actually likes people, and he completely melted down as a result.) grace kelly reading magazine

It’s not wrong to want a long-term romantic partnership, to want sexual intimacy to be bundled with emotional intimacy, or to love romantic stories – I definitely do!

Just, right now, it’s too tempting to imagine that if you stick around long enough you’ll eventually happen upon the perfect fetching ensemble or reassuring incantation that will help your friend stop “making excuses” about being ready for a commitment that he’s told you point blank he doesn’t want. Treating his decision like a problem that you can solve if you try hard enough, or like something he needs to grow beyond, is a seductive and powerful trap that can keep you invested, because stories are powerful, because it feels true, and because how good you feel whenever you’re with him feels like foreshadowing of the inevitable happy ending to come. It’s a trap partially because, “convincing” someone to be with you or changing yourself or betting on him to change doesn’t ever dispel the doubt: Does he truly want to be with you, or did you just make a really good case that one time when he was vulnerable and it seemed like a good idea? Is there any resentment quite like the resentment that forms after knowing something was a bad idea but letting someone talk you into it anyway?

But, your friend has told you not wait for a third-act twist, and all the feelings and accumulated genre indicators in the world don’t override his choice. This just isn’t that story. If you let it, maybe it can be a story about how a lovely friend showed you a glimpse of the kind of pleasure you deserve, and this glimpse helped you recognize that spark in other good-looking, good-cooking people, including ones who don’t need to be convinced or talked into loving you back. ❤