In the dating world, there are many ways to commit crimes against the heart–the hearts of others and your own. Some are serious offenses, malfeasance. Others are minor offenses, misdemeanors. But crimes they are.
The concept of friends with benefits is a good example of something fraught with possibilities of doing damage. First, there is no real consensus about what a friends with benefits relationship is, let alone what the difference is between this arrangement and a f*** buddy. Some believe you must be friends before you can have a friends with benefits relationship. Others believe it is foolish to believe there is any friend component to a friends with benefits relationship. There are numerous and diverse “rules” about these relationships, and depending on who is coming up with them, they can be contradictory. In some quarters, it is believed that there should be no cuddling after sex, no sleepover, and no daily texting in a friends with benefits (FWB) relationship. Why? Because it is thought to be a short road between these things and both intimacy and emotional connection. And a friends with benefits relationship for many is, in theory, one that involves sex without the impediment of feelings, let alone deep feelings.
The problem with this is that the human being is a fourfold one with mind, body, spirit, and emotions. The head might be totally on board with the concept of a FWB relationship. The body will definitely be on board. If it is not, there is no point in such an arrangement. But what about spirit and emotions? Can you disconnect mind and body from spirit and emotions? If you can, for how long? And if you can, what does that say about you? If you cannot really disconnect them, what are the consequences of trying to do so?
My own view of what might constitute a FWB relationship was a work in progress. I didn’t necessarily think one had to be long-term friends to have such a relationship. I did think it needed to be between two people who had no expectations of one another, including no expectations of long-term romantic relationship, apart from the expectation of behaving with respect and human dignity. Compassion, kindness, affection? Yes. Bells-and-banjos love? No. Chemistry and sex? Definitely. Friendship or at least friendly connection? Yes.
I had seen Jake twice, and we had over a thousand texts between us. Despite the fact that we had not really known one another beyond a phone conversation and some messages before our relating went from dinner to dessert, I thought of the connection as a friends with benefits one, in part because there was an underlying kindness in his behavior towards me, in part because I gave a damn about him beyond the bedroom, and in part because we had actually conversed about things other than sex. I knew he did not see me as a potential long-term partner. As far as I could tell, some of that hinged on the age difference between us and some of it hinged on the fact that I was not connected to the dance world that was so important to him. Beyond those two things, I had no idea.
Did I view him as a potential long-term partner? No. It wasn’t about age. It was more about lifestyle. I doubted that Jake had the breadth of interests I need in a man. And I doubted he had the depth I need either. But I liked the handful of things I was coming to know about him, I had affection for him, and I had a level of trust in him as a sexual partner. For me, trust in the bedroom is related to what happens outside the bedroom. If I am dismissed, disrespected, or demeaned by a man outside the bedroom, there is no way that man is going to be invited into my bedroom. There will not be enough trust to get him there.
Was a friends with benefits arrangement or something similar sustainable between us for anything beyond the very short term? I knew that some people had sustained such relationships for a matter of years, though I doubted there were many such people.
My heart had cracked open a long time ago, and every time I thought it could not crack open any further, I was proven wrong. The heart, it seems, has an infinite ability to expand. Thus far, I had been able to feel affection and compassion for Jake without any sense of attachment but with a desire for his happiness, whatever that meant to him. I wasn’t concerned about committing a crime against my own heart or his. And I knew that if I began to feel I was at risk of committing such crimes, I would end the relationship.
I wasn’t so sure about Jake, though. I was pretty sure he would drop me like a hot wire if he thought I was getting too attached. And I was pretty sure that he thought he had command over his own emotions, at least where I was concerned. But what about the state of his heart?
Jake professed to want a long-term relationship, and he had what he frequently referred to as parameters for that relationship. It had been a dozen or more years since his divorce; he’d been single for a long time. From what he had told me about his experience, I knew he’d formed his own rules around whatever casual sexual relationship he had with a woman. A kiss, a hug, getting naked, and going home afterward were the essential components of it. In his way of thinking, the next time he saw a woman might be the last time, either by his choice or hers. He should not get too close. Which was why, I suspected, he used diminutives when referring to me instead of my name. But he was sufficiently savvy to figure out enough of what a woman’s boundaries and needs were to stay within her good graces, at least for a time. Still, he was very self-protected. He attempted to keep things completely out of the emotional realm.
The problems with that were three-fold. First, the next time we see anyone in our life might be the last time we see them. Life is fragile. So are human relationships. Any attempt at utter control is futile.
Second, he was not just a nice guy, he was a basically kind person. To the extent that he could keep his heart and his sexual contact with a woman bifurcated, he risked committing a serious crime against his own heart. I did not believe it was in his nature to be hard-hearted. And the longer he tried, the more calcified his heart was going to become.
The third problem was that he had spent enough time attempting to keep emotions out of his sexual relationships that I had serious doubts he could effortlessly turn the emotions back on with a sexual partner he loved and wanted a long-term relationship with. He wasn’t risking a Madonna-whore complex because this wasn’t about a woman he would necessarily have a child with. He was risking something more fundamental: a beloved-whore complex. Would he be able to have abandoned, fun sex with a woman he saw as his beloved after keeping his heart out of the bedroom for so long? I had my doubts.
Jake was at risk of malfeasant crimes against the heart. And if he committed them, he would get a ticket from the karma police he might not want to pay.
Note: The name Jake is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall