Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I’ve recently been seeing this guy very casually—for hook-ups, really, but we do enjoy each other’s company. We had pizza or burgers out before a night in, and after going back to his place, we will sometimes have some laughs and watch TV in bed. I always spend the night—at his insistence—and we’ve grabbed breakfast together the next morning once or twice. It’s a great arrangement, and it works, because neither of us actually wants a relationship with the other one. We’ve discussed it, and we’re just not that into each other in any long-term way.
Unfortunately, very recently something completely ridiculous happened, and it threatens to destroy all that is casual and good about our friendship-with-benefits!
One “morning after,” he mentioned to me that he was going to see a movie with his roommate later that night—total small talk that I wasn’t really able to pay attention to as I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I took the subway three stops to my apartment and crashed for the rest of the day. That evening my bff called and asked if I wanted to see a movie, so I showered and met her at the theater.
Then I see him, with his roommate. He was seeing the same movie. I had totally forgotten, but now it looks like I planned it! I attempted small talk. He looked nervous and annoyed—but he doesn’t own the movie theater! We sat as far from them as possible but it was still incredibly awkward.
We rushed out as soon as the credits were rolling, and I saw that he had texted me to remind me he wasn’t “looking for a relationship.” I wanted to DIE, and no matter how many times I protested, he didn’t seem to believe that it was a total coincidence, and he still suspects that I am that girl—that I am harboring secret feelings for him and cannot handle sex without a relationship!
How do I convince him I really do just want to keep it casual?
Don’t Talk to Me Before I’ve Had My Coffee
Dear Don’t Talk to Me,
I’m sorry to say it, but your comedy of errors has exposed a rather inconvenient myth about your paramour.
You are not really having casual sex—and he certainly isn’t either.
I’m not saying you have romantic feelings toward this person, or that he has any romantic feelings toward you. But casual? Who would even want to have “casual” sex? Office dress codes are casual, and khaki sex is hardly an inspiring fantasy. “Casual” implies a sort of easy comfort that not only runs counter to the very excitement of lust, but also can’t possibly last once routine sets in. It may not breed contempt, but familiarity will inevitably produce some kind of intimacy.
At this point you are friends (with benefits), but the friend part means that you are at least somewhat emotionally involved with this person.
Think about it like this: If this arrangement of yours was actually casual, he wouldn’t care about running into you outside of scheduled visits. Maintaining the sort of distance and boundaries necessary for a sustained arrangement of “casual” sex actually precludes anything casual—it doesn’t just require good manners, it is the height of elaborate etiquette! Moreover, if this was actually casual, you wouldn’t care that he suspects you of harboring secret affections! You’d either ignore his paranoia or find it troubling enough to sideline the sex.
This is now a highly stressful relationship for you, and this man is making you neurotic; suddenly, you don’t have a right to move freely. Sure, he’s not demanding monogamy of you, but as you said—he doesn’t own the movie theater! A warm hello is in a public place is enough to expect of any friend, regardless of their benefits-wielding status.
It’s not only that he’s uncomfortable with your existence in a public setting—there is also distrust here! He’s so paranoid and self-absorbed that he doesn’t believe you’d just forget your debriefing on his day and go out for a movie with a friend?
No dear, this man is not behaving maturely enough for your needs. You wanted sex without the trouble of a relationship, but this feels a lot like the tension, suspicions, and miscommunications of dating, does it not?
You can, of course, calmly confront him with your concerns, and you are entitled to do so. But if he is already a skittish sort, he might immediately assume this is another attempt to pursue a relationship with him, as he has already decided that you—and perhaps that women in general—are simply wont to woo. It’s a sexist trope, but a pervasive one, that paints women as perpetually lovesick ninnies. If you feel he is still not able to trust your account of events, definitely stop having sex with him. Otherwise, you will only continue to feel misjudged and defensive.
You can also just skip the whole “let’s talk about my feelings” part and stop having sex with him preemptively—there’s always a new friend around the corner. And you seem to really have a companionship with this person, so it would be a pity to see that soured by suspicions and resentment.
The most important thing, though, is that you don’t let this guy’s irrational agitation weigh on you too much. A weird thing happened; he either believes your account of it or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, he’ll quickly find out how wrong he was when the “benefits” dry up. But nothing screams “I care” more than someone insisting that they don’t. Say it once, and say it clearly—but don’t protest too much or feel like you need to roll out the evidence; if he’s worth your time, he should trust you.
One thing is clear: This is way too much stress over khaki sex.