Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I am a 33 year old single, heterosexual female living in a large metropolitan area nearish the east coast. There’s a man who’s been in my life on and off for the past ~6 years, but in the last 3 years we’ve spent more time together, including in a romantic, sexual capacity, yet still casual. We’re very close in age, but less so in distance: we live in different states, separated by a two hour plane ride. Through traveling we intend to see each other F2F at least once a quarter and very recently met up F2Fd when he came to visit and stay with me for a short weekend.
We are settling into a budding friends with benefits relationship, a relationship archetype I only truly became comfortable with in the last 6 months as I matured emotionally and became more self-aware. I definitely had some help through your article on FWB (how the phrase still includes the word “friend” and no strings attached doesn’t equate to no respect or no consideration). It was your article which allowed me to view this relationship through a different, healthier lens—it’s fair to say I am far more open, flexible, and vulnerable in this FWB now than I was 2 years ago which has really helped this relationship flourish considerably, even in a short period of time
There is no expectation of commitment or monogamy on either side now or in the near or distant future. We’re enjoying one another as people, friends, and lovers and just seeing where things take us. My question is what happens to our relationship when one or both of us meet someone else, someone else who has expectations of commitment and monogamy which the respective person involved is willing to fulfill? Once you’ve crossed over from being friends to something more, is there anyone going back? Can the sexual/romantic/non-platonic aspects of our relationship be turned on and off like a faucet? Or excised as a foreign, inanimate, or unnecessary vessel or object? And beyond the “can” what about the “should”? If you can turn off certain aspects of a relationship, should you? Can you cherry pick and preserve the friendship in the relationship whilst leaving the romance or sex in the past? In addition, is it reasonable for anyone involved (me, my FWB, a future partner for either of us) to expect our FWB relationship to end in its entirety? Is it equally reasonable for this man and I to expect the friendship aspect of our relationship to persevere through commitment and monogamy elsewhere?
This is a relationship I value and wish to cultivate, how do I do this while still respecting and cultivating other relationships which have the potential to become committed and monogamous?
Do Not Pass Go
Any new relationship and relationship type tends to come with an adjustment period, DNPG. When you’re trying something new or unfamiliar to you, there tend to be a lot of questions; in a real way, you’re trying to compare this new experience through the lens of what you’re used to. This can, on occasion, lead to a whole lot of overthinking things because… well, what if? Except, as you’re discovering, you can what-if yourself into a panic over a future that may well never come to pass but you’re trying to prepare for it anyway.
The thing with a friends with benefits relationship is that it’s a relationship; it may not be romantic or with the expectations of commitment or monogamy, but it’s still a relationship. And like every relationship, it’s going to grow and change, just like the people in it grow and change. And when I say every relationship, I mean every relationship, platonic or not. The relationship you have with your parents now isn’t the relationship you had with them when you were 10. The friendships you have change and adjust too; some grow closer, some grow more distant. And it happens with lovers and committed partners too; long-term couples regularly find that their relationship shifts over time as they grow and mature.
The problem is when you let the potential of change in the future get in the way of what you have right now. This is what’s known as borrowing trouble from the future; by letting yourself get too caught up in what might happen down the line, you start to rob yourself of the joy of the present.
The tricky thing is that sometimes labels get in the way. A FWB relationship isn’t that manifestly different from dating someone casually, nor is it that different from a platonic friendship. If you look at your own relationships, you’ll probably answer a number of your own questions. If you’re still friends with an ex, for example, then you already know that you can have a platonic friendship with people you used to sleep with. A sexual relationship isn’t inherently more complicated than a platonic one, nor does sex inevitably change things. So should the day come that you meet somebody else and decide that you want to make a monogamous commitment to them, that doesn’t automatically mean that ending the sexual side of things also ends the friendship. Nor does it need to; you were friends before you were sleeping together and there’s no reason why that should stop now.
(Granted, it may well be that your ex-FWB would decide that he couldn’t continue the friendship, but that’s different from it must inevitably end.)
At the same time, the question of what to do if/when one of you gets into a committed, monogamous relationship may never come to pass. Your relationship may change or end long before you ever have to decide what to do once you start dating someone else. The thing about FWB relationships is that they tend to be temporary in the scheme of things. They may go on for years, but in the end, they tend to fall one of two ways: you stop sleeping together, or you stop being friends.
Notice very carefully how I phrased this; many FWB relationships stop being about friendship and turn into romance.
Now if it brings you peace of mind, it’s certainly not a bad idea to talk with your FWB and game out some contingencies. I’m a big believer in having at least an idea of where you stand on questions like “what happens if we have a pregnancy scare”, “what do we do if we get an STI?” and the like at the start of a relationship. Adding in “how do we handle things if we start to date other people” certainly falls within the realm of reasonable things to hash out in a non-committed relationship. Relationships, even FWBs live and die on communication, and at least having a couple of conversations surrounding “what do we do if…” may ease your mind a little. It doesn’t mean that you’re chained to what you decide — your plans should change as circumstances do — but it will at least give you some peace.
But the fact of the matter is that the future is an unknown country. You can’t account for every variable and you’ll drive yourself insane trying. You don’t know what the future may bring; for all you know, you may decide that you’re polyamorous or non-monogamous and the question of “do I need to end this FWB?” may never come up.
For now I think your bigger concern is to simply enjoy what you have instead of letting your happiness be hijacked by worries about things that may or may not happen. Have a couple of conversations, but devote more of your time to enjoying the present, not being afraid for the future.
I’m an 18 year old girl and I am currently in my 1st year of university.
Throughout my high school career I’ve avoided dating because I always felt like I wasn’t as pretty as my peers due to the fact that I had acne. I felt like the only way of feeling worthy was through academics, so I focused on it so much that in my senior year I became head girl. So when my friend asked me why I never dated my excuse was that I was too busy with school but really it was my low self esteem.
Recently my acne started to clear up and I basically had what we would now call a “glow up”. As a result I’ve had a number of guys approach me (most of them decent) and ask me out, or even ask me something as simple as my contact details and my response is always I can’t and 90% when they ask me why I don’t have an answer because I myself don’t know.
If it were 15 year old me I would say because I have strict parents but lately my parents have become very liberal, since I’m legally an adult and done with school but I still can’t shake the feeling off that me being in a relationship is me doing something wrong. I feel like I spend so much time telling myself that when the right guy comes along, I’ll know and my heart will know to take the leap but now I’m just not sure anymore.
Frozen in Time
You’re having a common issue, FiT; you still feel like you’re the same person you were when you had acne problems. A lot of folks go through this — people who’ve lost a lot of weight, people who’ve bulked up because of sports or an intensely active job, even people who just grew out of their awkward stages (looking at you, Matthew “Neville got HOT!” Lewis). Their exteriors have changed, but on the inside, they still feel like the awkward, gawky or undesirable person they thought they were. It’s a hard mindset to shake, especially early on. You have all these emotional responses that work like muscle memory and for a while, you have to consciously remind yourself that no, you’re not the same person you were when you were 15. No these people aren’t making fun of you, no they’re not planning on making fun of you because you dared to like them… they think you’re a legit snack.
The problem is that there isn’t really a way to get to that level of acceptance without, y’know. Going on dates.
Now I think part of what’s holding you back is that you’re treating dating like it’s SERIOUS BUSINESS and that saying yes to giving one of these guys your number — or getting coffee or pub trivia or shooting pool or what-have-you — is a major commitment and it really isn’t. Hell, it shouldn’t be. You’re in a place in your life where you have relatively few responsibilities or commitments, a decent amount of free time and disposable income; now is the time to explore a little and get used to your new look and your new life. That often means testing what you previously thought were your limits and trying things you’ve never done before because fuck it, why not?
That includes dating. There’s literally nothing wrong with deciding to go on a date with someone just for the fun of it and trying something new. It doesn’t obligate you to a relationship with them. Hell, it doesn’t even obligate you to a second date, unless you decide you want one. Nor does it mean you have to date one person at a time. If you decide that you want to stretch your wings as a social butterfly and see what it’s like to go on multiple dates with multiple folks, then hey, that sounds like it’d be a blast. Give it a shot, see how it fits. It might be right for you, it might not be, but now at least you’ve tried it.
But none of it means that you need to start thinking about relationships. It may be easier for you in the short term to decide that relationships are just off the table right now. Go out with friends and get your flirt on, go on dates if someone strikes your fancy and just enjoy things for the sake of enjoying them. If you take the pressure off the idea of Being In A Relationship — with scary capitals — you may find it less stressful and more pleasant while you get accustomed to the fact that you’re not the coltish girl you used to be.
And, if during this period you do meet someone who seems like they may be relationship material… well, hey, you can give that a try too. It doesn’t need to be forever; in fact, it probably won’t be. But none of it can happen until you give yourself permission to step out of the cocoon you’ve been gestating in and start living life as the new and vibrant butterfly you are.