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Hooking Up with Friends - An Beginner's Primer
January 2, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of female friends. Lately, a number of them have begun giving me romantic vibes. I have never dated a friend in my entire life - I have often become friends with people I dated, but never the other way around. How do I pursue this type of thing? (Snowflake details inside.)

I should start by telling you that romantically, I'm generally as cold as ice. Usually when I date, I don't have any feelings at all for the other person for the first couple of weeks. After I have been sleeping with somebody for a month, I either start developing romantic feelings for them (and ask them to go exclusive) or realize that it just isn't working, and break up.

Obviously, this is not the kind of thing that tends to thrill women, so over time I've become pretty good at faking emotion until the real thing kicks in. I never actually lie or tell people something untrue: instead I simply do lots of nice things for them and steer away from direct questioning about my feelings. This is probably slightly dishonest, but I think people like me have as much right to be loved as anybody else, and that is the most effective way to make it happen. This methodology works really well for me, so please understand that without more efficient alternatives, I'm not interested in changing it.

As a direct consequence of the way my emotions work, I never date friends, because basically there is no way for me to feel romantic attraction without doing the FWB benefits thing first - and there is no guarantee that the feelings will even kick in. Therefore, hooking up with friends who would be crushed by a breakup is a good way to simply lose friends, and therefore not very productive.

However, I have several friends lately who have been showing signs of interest - and more significantly, these are friends whom I think might be level-headed enough that they wouldn't be crushed by if we had to break up. By "signs of interest" I mean things like:

A) Sleeping overnight (sharing my bed) regularly whenever we hang out late,
B) Asking me to teach them what BDSM is about (by tying them up and flogging them),
C) Topless back massages,
D) Expressing repeatedly that they have "never had a boyfriend as thoughtful and considerate" or "as sensual" as me,
E) Kissing me on the lips every time they get drunk, but pulling back quickly before I can respond.

Obviously, some of this is stuff that can be ambiguously interpreted, but other stuff seems like a strong statement of intent. I don't have any difficulty finding the courage to make a move on strangers when stuff like this happens, since strangers are totally replaceable and it doesn't really matter to me if I misinterpret something and offend them accidentally. With friends, the stakes are higher, since if I screw up while making a pass at them, it could really ruin the friendship - for example, I recently had a "kissy" friend call me up in tears and curse me out because I propositioned her for a FWB-type deal, and I guess she had romantic feelings for me instead. Negative experiences like that have made me over-analyze and generally become very hesitant to act when it comes to my friendships - I don't think I would ever make a move on a friend without having a strong certainty of success.

What I am looking for here is help with the following:

A) Distinguishing which signs of interest are friendly, which are sexual, and which are romantic (so that I know which to avoid and which to follow up on).

B) Determining the best way to follow up on these signs of interest. Please don't say "Ask them on a date." When I do that, they think I am interested in a romantic relationship, and (as mentioned) that does not end well. What I am looking for is ways to hook up with them with no strings attached, but with the possibility of turning it into a romantic relationship later.
posted by wolfdreams01 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think they deserve to know that you can't have feelings for them and it takes you time. I think it would really hurt me if I went into a relationship and didn't know that.
posted by discopolo at 1:52 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


And even then, the women friends who might be likely into that would be the ones who are hopelessly infatuated with you and not quite experienced enough to believe you dont feel that way about them. Especially if you're good at faking love.

I know technically you can spell it out and everyone makes their own choices, and I don't know if you are able to feel the normal guilt that comes with taking advantage of someone who is infatuated with you, but you shouldn't hurt your friends or use them.

Can you see prostitutes instead? Or ppl on those swinger sites or whatever? And tell the friends you do that stuff so they won't be attracted to you or think they can change you?
posted by discopolo at 2:00 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I preface this by saying that I'm old, but A-E indicates significant attraction on the part of your friends.

I'd be super-honest and upfront with your friends and ask them if they're interested in FWB. This implies no strings, but it doesn't mean it can't be re-negotiated at some later date. Hell, even say that.

"Hey Cindy, I've been getting kind of a sexy vibe from you lately. Frankly, I'm interested in a FWB situation and we can see where it takes us. What are your thoughts?"

I mean, we're all grown ups here, right? If she's interested, she'll tell you what she wants. If she's not, then no harm, no foul and in the future, she won't be acting so coquettish around you. As for romance, in the case of your kissy friend, there was no way that was going to end well. What would you have told her where it could have ended well? You're not a romance guy, and it never would have worked unless she had agreed to FWB first. (based upon your post.) If you said nothing, she'd just be pining for you anyway, and eventually the friendship would have dissolved under the weight of her crush.

It's hard to differentiate between Romantic and Sexual because so many people get screwed up and think that by acting sexual that the romance will follow (which is why I tell people, "if you're looking for romance, than don't start sexual.")

I agree that honesty is a good policy here, stipulate upfront that you're just not romantic at first, but that it might change. That way if THEY don't want any kind of romantic entanglement, they can steer clear to protect your feelings.

I think that most FWB situations are unequal. One person has feelings, the other, such as yourself, is sexually attracted and likes the other person, but may not feel romantic or permanant towards the partner.

If the friendship is too valuable to risk, skip any sexual involvment all together, and don't lead the poor things on by sleeping with them, doing BSDM stuff with them, giving back massages, encouraging the topics of conversation in D, or returning kisses. If they cross boundaries, politely remind them that you're friends and want to keep it that way.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on January 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think if you need to ask the green to differentiate between friendly, sexual, and romantic (which are not mutually exclusive categories of feelings) intentions, the only way you can successfully navigate these situations is to be honest and communicate, communicate, communicate. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Hey - I am having a hard time interpreting your signals here. I wouldn't mind if it's a sexy signal, I would like to get it on with you, but I really don't know if I want more or less than that."
posted by stowaway at 2:01 PM on January 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Distinguishing which signs of interest are friendly, which are sexual, and which are romantic (so that I know which to avoid and which to follow up on).

I don't know that there's any way to reliably do this, even with people you know quite well, without using words at some point. I mean, if someone shoves her hand between your legs and her tongue in your ear, well, that's definitely sexual - but may also have romantic or at least more-than-fuckbuddies intent behind it.

The only way to be sure is to ask.
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously, some of this is stuff that can be ambiguously interpreted...

None of those signals are ambiguous. At all.

I agree with discopolo; if you think you'd like to pursue one of them, you might want to be upfront with how you operate in relationships, and see if they're still game.
posted by homodachi at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think you should be as honest with them as you have been with us here in this question, really. Is there any reason you'd not be okay with saying "I think we're both attracted to one another, and maybe we should get together, but before we do, I feel I should explain some things (idk, maybe call them 'personal quirks') about myself and my feelings about relationships"? (Ok, that's a super awkward sentence, but you get my drift, I assume. HONESTY!)

Also, if these people know you well enough for you to consider them your friends, I would imagine that they know you well enough to already be familiar with this aspect of your personality, no?
posted by elizardbits at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also - I don't think you are all that unusual in your early-relationship feelings. Your framing of it is on the clinical side, but I think most people don't actually know at the beginning of a relationship if it's a super-serious romantic one or a fun-casual-dating one. And sometimes you think it's one and it turns out to be the other!
posted by stowaway at 2:03 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Agree with those who are advocating openness and honesty, though I definitely disagree with the implications and suggestions in discopolo's 2nd response. I don't see it from your description that you're "faking love" or "taking advantage" of anyone, as long as you don't exploit your friends when you know that their intentions or goals in moving beyond friendship are different than yours.

First, for those female friends whom you are NOT interested in, you should try to politely/gently tell them that you're not comfortable with it and reassure them that their friendship is important. They may feel upset, give you the cold shoulder, but if they are interested in being friends, they will come around.

For those with whom you may be interested, like others said, you should communicate. Make sure that you are not committing but want to explore sexually with them first. They, of course, have the right to call it off.

But we can't generalize the response of your female friends, as this approach may work well for some and not at all for others.

Regardless, they are your friends, so you should be honest and open with them. Understand though, that once that boundary is crossed, all bets are off as far as returning to the friendship base. No matter the original intentions.
posted by SpicyMustard at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2013


None of what you listed can be ambiguously interpreted.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:28 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify a bit - my friends know me well enough to know how my feelings work. It is thus completely irrational for them to develop romantic feelings for me and I don't know why it happens, but nevertheless it does and so I need some way to differentiate between the two types of attraction.

Also, there is a lot of good advice here - thank you. So, assuming I have a frank talk with a friend and she acknowledges that there is a romantic attraction, what then? Do I just kiss her immediately, or wait for the right moment? Also, what about time-delay issues? For example, one friend said that she would be interested in a FWB relationship, but that she wanted to lose her virginity to her boyfriend first. This has since happened. So what now? It seems a little gauche to be like "So, that means we're good to go, right? Time to get freaky?" Please understand that I literally have zero experience with making a move on a friend, so you may need to explain it to me as if I was a five year old. Have any of you initiated the FWB thing with somebody you were friends with? If so, what did you say or do?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:30 PM on January 2, 2013


The trouble is, you can't reliably tell whether someone wants a committed relationship or just a bit of fun. Sometimes, the person coming on to you hasn't figured out what she wants. You can't guarantee that no feelings will get hurt, no matter what you do (or avoid doing).

The safest thing is to be upfront, and to err on the side of not getting anyone's hopes up. Say you're interested in a FWB situation, but also say that you are not looking for a romantic relationship, and you don't see that changing in the foreseeable future. Maybe it will change, and if it does, hooray!, but if it doesn't, you've at least managed expectations. You don't need to go into detail about how it takes time for you to fall for someone, because someone who's got romantic feelings for you will interpret this as "I can be won over!" Leave as little room as possible for potential leading on; unrequited feelings can make the sanest person grasp at the tiniest of straws. And if you're definitely not interested in anything romantic or sexual with a flirty friend, make that clear too, and do not engage when they get all sexy at you.

Considering you may have several women interested in benefits, you may have to make a decision: either you decide to pursue a FWB thing with one, or you decide to feel things out with several of them. (Who knows? Maybe they all really like orgies.) If you've got multiple things going, it's safest to be upfront and tell each potential partner that you're not planning on being exclusive.

Whenever sexual or romantic tension enters a friendship, it messes with the friendship's balance. Sometimes it'll wobble and then get back on track; sometimes it's unrecoverable. Be careful, and if you're in doubt, don't indulge.

On preview: if someone tells you they are looking for a relationship, your only options are to pursue that possibility or to shut it down. Never propose FWB to someone if you know they want more; it never ever ever ends well. Even if you are willing to date, dating a friend always carries the risk of losing that friendship if the relationship fails. It can be very much worth the risk, though.

Also, this situation - "one friend said that she would be interested in a FWB relationship, but that she wanted to lose her virginity to her boyfriend first" - is really odd. Is this an open relationship? Do you want to be this person's almost-first sexual experience? If something seems off or overly convoluted, better not to pursue.

tl;dr: it's complicated and carries some risk no matter what; be upfront, manage expectations, and look for partners who are on the same page as you. If all that's done, then make your move.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:55 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is thus completely irrational for them to develop romantic feelings

Well, feelings are often not rational. Do not expect them to be and you will lessen your surprise and disappointment.

So, assuming I have a frank talk with a friend and she acknowledges that there is a romantic attraction, what then? Do I just kiss her immediately, or wait for the right moment?

Ask her out on a date, assuming that this frank talk has included you talking about your particular romantic "quirks" or style, and you are in fact interested in dating her. If she confesses romantic feelings and you are only interested in FWB-type relationships right now, then you have to be really clear about that, and if I were you, I'd avoid any dating/romantic/sexual stuff with her because the potential for drama is high.

For the just-lost-virginity friend, you say something like "Hey, remember that FWB conversation we had a while back? What are your thoughts on that now?" Assuming her boyfriend is cool with the open-relationship thing, of course.

All this, though, man, just sounds like a lot of drama-in-the-waiting.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on January 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Have any of you initiated the FWB thing with somebody you were friends with? If so, what did you say or do?

me: dude, we should totally do the sex because it would be super hot
him: fuck yes!

and then we high-fived. later there was sex. alcohol was involved, regrets were not. we're still good friends.
posted by elizardbits at 3:01 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is thus completely irrational for them to develop romantic feelings for me and I don't know why it happens, but nevertheless it does and so I need some way to differentiate between the two types of attraction.

It is irrational because romance is the definition of irrational. Very little about love is logical, which is why we have a billion romance AskMeFi questions and OKCupid instead of Hal the MatchMaker Bot.

Do I just kiss her immediately, or wait for the right moment?

I am imagining this going down like the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition and it's kind of a hilarious image but probably a terrible idea in real life.

Have any of you initiated the FWB thing with somebody you were friends with? If so, what did you say or do?

Yes. Basically it came after a party and we said, hey, mutual attraction still there, we know the romance side doesn't work out, do you want to try this other kind of thing? I have also done short-term things that were more like FWB that worked out pretty much the same way. I am 100000% in love with my current partner and yeah, the transition from flirtatious interest/making out to stupidly In Love took a while. It was a very different kind of thing than "Hey, here are the ground rules, we're in Situation X for these weeks, you interested?" though I have been delighted by every situation in its own way. On the other hand I am not subtle and I dislike wasting time, so there's that.

In general I think communication is absolutely key: you need to know all the boundaries involved and to respect them, and vice versa. You should probably consider talking about all the outcomes and what you want to get out of it, i.e. that you would like to remain friends even if the romance side doesn't pan out. She may not be up for that. She might be thrilled by the logical discusion, or disregard it, or a million other things, because people are irrational actors especially when hormones are involved. I would second Metroid Baby in saying that someone who seriously only wants a romantic thing is not ideal for this. If your friend is dating someone else, I suspect that you will discover relationships with 2+ participants are even less good at following logical conclusions.

Caveats: I know exactly one person who does drunk kisses on lips and I know zero other people who would do any of the "ambiguous" things to a friend without having a chat about relationships and boundaries way the hell beforehand, so...your circumstances may vary.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:01 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am cold as ice romantically, and am a Logical Communicator. Having said that, the route I usually go is to directly ask guys what they want with me. Such as "you seem to be interested in me, am I right? Okay, what are you looking for: a FWB, a girlfriend, a wife?"

The deer in the headlights response is common with this tactic. I think it stems from a combination of the fact that many people aren't used to being questioned so directly, and that they seem to be okay with wandering into relationships without a specific goal in mind. I almost always have to ask the person to get back to me once they have thought it through.

The reason that I find this approach so useful (besides the fact that it fits my communication style and temperament) is that it gives the person time to think about what they really want, and also:

1) Helps identify mismatched life goals early. I've had more than one guy who REALLY wanted a wife, didn't mention it until a year or so into the relationship, and was devastated to find out that I don't ever want to get married (they were flabbergasted to find that there exists a woman that doesn't orgasm over the thought of wedding/marriage/children, but that's another post).

2) Sets a base line in the event that a relationship does start up, such as "FWB with a review in six months to see if we want to take it further." This prevents the awkward "I thought you were my boyfriend/girlfriend" situation.
posted by Shouraku at 3:46 PM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


A) Sleeping overnight (sharing my bed) regularly whenever we hang out late,
B) Asking me to teach them what BDSM is about (by tying them up and flogging them),
C) Topless back massages,
D) Expressing repeatedly that they have "never had a boyfriend as thoughtful and considerate" or "as sensual" as me,
E) Kissing me on the lips every time they get drunk, but pulling back quickly before I can respond.


I can see how some of these can be interpreted as vague, but a lot of my friends are pretty touchy-feely, uh, 'sharing' and, well, downright borderline histrionic. I definitely consider A to be neutral (though my mom, dad, grandma, etc wouldn't) and could go either way. B started neutral and went quickly into come on territory. C sounds very straightforward too, though again, i know people who would consider it just a back massage. D sounds like an invitation, too. E, well, could be a drunk thing. So, like pretty much everybody else said above, weigh the pros and cons and ask in an honest, no pressure way, if you want to.
posted by Jacen at 5:46 PM on January 2, 2013


Yeah, I wouldn't assume that A and B necessarily have sexual or romantic intent behind them. Some people are just snuggly and touchy, or really just want to have a particular kind of experience. C, D, and E all read as stronger intent to me, with D likely being the strongest expression of romantic interest. But any of them could have sexual and/or romantic intent behind them.

In all cases, though, you've definitely got grounds for a conversation about where people's interests and intentions are. Having the conversation is probably going to seem awkward, but someone who's offering signals like these is likely to find the awkwardness mitigated by the fact that you're interested enough to have the conversation. And if they're good friends, you'll get over the awkward.

As the initiatee in a FWB situation, I personally found it thoughtful that my friend asked "is this okay?" a lot, particularly in our early encounters. It always was, but I appreciated being offered opportunities to de-escalate or opt out.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:53 PM on January 2, 2013


Honestly? I don't think you should be pursuing any of this at all. It isn't a matter of being "level-headed," because uh, bro, breakups fucking suck for everybody, level-headed or not. Being upset about getting dumped does not make someone a crazy ex-girlfriend, it makes her human.

What you are looking for is the equivalent of having your cake and eating it too. The people who will want to hook up with no strings attached are probably not going to fall in love with you after a month's up, and the people with romantic feelings are probably going to view the experience as being played. Hell, the people who are fine with just hooking up might feel played depending on what you say. (If you tell her you just want something casual then right after the dumping get into a serious relationship, say, or if you say you don't know what you want and then figure out pretty damn fast. Those kinds of things. Anything that looks and quacks like lying or BS.)

The other sense I'm getting is that you really couldn't care less which girl you hook up with; they are just things you can claim or not at any point. Needless to say, this isn't friendly behavior, and if feelings get hurt, one of the things that will particularly sting may be the thought "when did he suddenly decide he'd rather manipulate me than be friends?" (And, uh, one of these girls was a virgin until just recently? This is next-level shit that she is almost certainly not ready for!)

Stick to acquaintances or strangers. Who, by the way, are not "totally replaceable."
posted by dekathelon at 9:47 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


> Just to clarify a bit - my friends know me well enough to know how my feelings work.

You've got women that you date, with whom you are pretending to be emotionally invested while you have a sexual relationship with them and wait to see whether you develop true romantic feelings. And then you've got women who are your friends, in whom you are truly emotionally invested, who get topless for massages by you, and they sleep in your bed and ask you for kink and kiss you while they're intoxicated.

This is not a tremendously bright line. Your friends are not mind-readers.

> B) Determining the best way to follow up on these signs of interest. Please don't say "Ask them on a date." When I do that, they think I am interested in a romantic relationship, and (as mentioned) that does not end well. What I am looking for is ways to hook up with them with no strings attached, but with the possibility of turning it into a romantic relationship later.

Okay, well, if your friends know how your feelings work, then they know that "no strings attached" is the warm-up period you need until your actual romantic feelings kick in.

Your friends are giving you neon flashing signs saying "Yes! I'm interested! In you, you weirdo!"

No, you can't decode these signs on your own, in advance, in a vacuum. The meaning will depend on your communication with your friend about your relationship. There is no way for you to do this without taking on some risk yourself.
posted by desuetude at 9:57 PM on January 2, 2013


Oh, and one more thing. You say this:

This is probably slightly dishonest, but I think people like me have as much right to be loved as anybody else, and that is the most effective way to make it happen.

Consider that people have an equal right to be treated with honesty, and that friendship is a tacit agreement that you'll go above and beyond in that respect. (Because, really, it comes down to respect.) I'd venture that people feel "crushed" more because of the dishonesty than the breakup. There is a lot in your post about productivity, or efficiency, but not so much about respect.
posted by dekathelon at 10:15 PM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


What I am looking for is ways to hook up with them with no strings attached, but with the possibility of turning it into a romantic relationship later.

The success rate on that plan is exactly the same percentage of people the FWB until you make it plan. But, if it goes bad it is super hard to be friends with them, like 5%. Act accordingly.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:04 PM on January 2, 2013


Distinguishing which signs of interest are friendly, which are sexual, and which are romantic (so that I know which to avoid and which to follow up on)

There isn't going to be a bright line for these in the sense that friendship feelings stop | HERE | and sexual feelings begin | HERE | and romantic feelings begin | HERE | which is why this friendship, sex and romance stuff is so fraught and confusing for nearly everyone, no matter what convolutions we go through to clarify for ourselves and others what our hopes and intentions may be. Each person has different markers for all of that stuff, and then even those have a tendency to change, so it's not so easy to read intentions or feelings based only on certain actions. However...

As most everyone here has agreed, many of the items on your list are likely signalling sexual attraction: possibly A; definitely B and C; maybe D ("thoughtful and considerate" not as much as "sensual"); and perhaps E.

A, D, & E could all be "just" friendship (E is especially flirty friendship, but doesn't necessarily mean sex is on the table).

A --> E could be romantic.

B & C could be mainly sexual, or sexual plus romantic. These two are fairly unambiguous in terms of not being "only friendship," though, unless the other person is very, very bad at signalling.

Logically, to try to stay on the safe side, the only ones to consider approaching would be friends who are engaging in B & C with you. If one of them is the near-virgin, I'd say definitely rule that option out because of her inexperience navigating this stuff. Of all the friends-who-could-become-FWBs, this one is the riskiest and most likely to end unhappily.

With whomever remains, I'd go (some version of) this route: "I think we have a pretty strong physical attraction, and I'm wondering if you'd like to explore that? I already care for you as a friend, and I'd love to go further, but I'm not looking for or expecting a romantic relationship. I'm saying this because I don't want to confuse the issue or mislead either one of us. I love our friendship as it is, and I'd love to add a physical level to that. Take your time and think about if this seems like something that would be enjoyable and uncomplicated for you, and let me know if you think it's an idea we should pursue."

Just be sure to be aware on your end that if the friend agrees to all this, that she may not ever feel the serious romance thing, even if your feelings do turn that way. But that's the tradeoff, of course, which you already know.
posted by taz at 1:06 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I meant to add that to me it probably wouldn't be a good idea to say that your current feelings of just wanting friendship & sex could turn romantic but you just don't know, because they never ever do until you start having sex with somebody, and then sometimes they do and then you feel like being girlfriend-boyfriend exclusive and sometimes they just don't, and then you won't ever want that romance attachment to be a part of the relationship.

Was that a confusing sentence to read? Yes! :) Confusing to be on the receiving end of that explanation, too, and setting you both up for some likely negative consequences.

If your feelings don't turn that way after having set this out as a possible progression, the other person will almost certainly see that as having "failed" your test, and it would also encourage those who actually have romantic feelings but will go for the no-strings-attached thing in hopes that your feelings will change. Ouch. Messy.

So, yeah, the obvious problem here is if you want to go through a sort of sexual taster-test thing with a lot of friends in search of a romantic, committed relationship. That would just be a bad idea all around. The FwB seems possible, but you absolutely need to manage your own expectations if you go that way.
posted by taz at 1:40 AM on January 3, 2013


OK, so I hooked up with a friend of mine a couple of times. It's fun but I'm just not feeling the emotional thing kick in, and I'm not sure I can keep up with her party-oriented lifestyle (I'm 13 years older). Basically, now that we know each other better, I don't think I can see this becoming a long-term thing. On the plus side, she doesn't seem like she's getting emotionally attached either, so it's not like she'll be upset when we stop hooking up. On the whole, this feels like it has been a positive experience for me and I'm glad I tried it. Thanks for the good advice, everyone!
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:07 AM on February 5, 2013


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