When the Benefits Cost Your Friendship

Category: Points Of View

Author: Benjamin Davis

On my twenty-seventh birthday, I got an email from one of my best friends telling me she didn't want to see me again. Ever. Over the years, she said, I'd kept her on the backburner, sleeping together when I was single, abandoning her when I wasn't—playing the part of a lover when all I wanted was sex.

In the moment, I was crushed, horrified, disappointed. Surely a misunderstanding at best, a false accusation at worst. But then, like the end of a detective movie, I stepped back to look at the webs of our relationship over the years, and as tense, revelatory music played in the background, the clues came together and I realized: Oh, God. I'm the asshole.

from Giphy

That was the last time for a long time I slept with a platonic friend. Not because friends can't have good sex— I'm sure there are plenty of people who can and do. But it dawned on me that if I couldn't have the maturity to discern whether I was hurting someone, I could at least respect others enough not to presume I did. It also made me wonder if, on some level, I knew. There’s a fair chance that if I took this dilemma to a therapist, their first question would be, "So, how many times, exactly, did your mother hug you?"

Because as much as "sleeping around" with friends is about sex, it's also about the addictive nature of love and admiration. When someone wants you, it can be intoxicating even if you don't truly want them back. And, as one does with, 'just another drink,' and 'I'll quit smoking later,' an addiction to something that feels good can make the mind weave new convoluted paths to justifications that, when examined closely, make no goddamn sense. The difference in this case is, of course, that it's another human being who suffers the consequences.

"When someone wants you, it can be intoxicating even if you don't truly want them back."

I don’t believe it was the first time a friendship of mine was ruined by sex, but it was definitely the first time someone came right out and said, "Hey, you didn't respect me, and I feel used. So, get fucked." And nobody, certainly no man I've ever met, tells you when you start having sex, that you should consider the emotional consequences of your actions—that someone doesn't "catch feelings" because they misunderstood the situation, they "catch feelings" when you go around sneezing bullshit all over them.

If you blindfold yourself, then get behind the wheel of a car and crash into a playground, you shouldn't be allowed to put up the defense of, „How could i have seen it coming?“

from Giphy

I'm staggered when I meet a man over thirty who still says, "Yeah, she caught feelings." Like, either they didn't fuck up enough in their twenties, or they have no respect for their female friends. That's the missing ingredient in the pursuit of pleasure that leads to these sorts of "misunderstandings." Respect. It is the missing ingredient in sex education which often relies on fear or shame. People run from fear and shame directly down the pleasure slip-n'-slide before learning about respect: Self-respect, respect for others, and respect for the art of pleasure seeking.

Instead, a much darker road can emerge, where men treat 'friends with benefits' poorly to deter 'feelings.' Where these situations should be an opportunity to reflect and realize how important respect can be, how self-delusional the pursuit of pleasure can make you, how much a situation like this can lead to brutal disappointment, they can get twisted into yet another misogynistic fuck-boy fantasy to justify abuse.

"Respect. It is the missing ingredient in sex education which often relies on fear or shame."

The irony here is that this is a total delusion. Having sex with friends doesn't ever have to be 'giving someone the wrong idea,' so long as the right intentions are involved and openly discussed with a healthy amount of maturity. Many women are happy to, and even looking for, sex outside of relationships.

The very misguided assumption that to have a sexual relationship with woman is to have to deal with 'feelings' is horse shit. Just as the idea that men are somehow more emotionally stable is horse shit. It comes down to the individual. If you want to have a sexual arrangement with someone outside of a relationship, that's not uncommon and can easily be found when two consenting adults have respect and communication.

But if you want to have sex with someone outside of a relationship and keep finding yourself trying to fight away feelings, you're not in a sexual arrangement outside of a relationship, and it might be time to step back, absorb the reality, and question: am I the asshole?

Podcast Transcript: