Feeling conflicted about what you want from relationships
June 16, 2015 8:09 AM   Subscribe

How do you decide if you want something casual or something serious? Can you pursue both at the same time? How do you keep it casual if that is what you want from a relationship?

I just had what started as a casual relationship end because I developed feelings for the person, and they didn't return the feelings. Looking back, I think I developed the feelings because:

1) They came on very strong in some ways, telling me all the time how wonderful and beautiful I was, talking about the things we'd do together down the line, and generally acting in what I perceived as a very boyfriend-like way to the extent that I started considering a relationship with them where I hadn't initially. Their position evidently was actually that they had feelings for me but didn't want a relationship - rather an ongoing friend with benefits who they maybe saw once or twice a week.

2) I think there was a fair amount of miscommunication between us about what we were each thinking, and although I thought at one point that I made it clear that I wanted to date them (while our original arrangement had definitely been to have something casual), they apparently didn't get that message - or had a different understanding of the term dating. Since I was working on the assumption that they were open to something more, I allowed more feelings to develop, while maybe they felt more open to act in a boyfriend type way because they thought I wasn't interested in more. Or maybe they were just a jerk who led me on - I don't think I can know, but I don't think they're like that.

3) A part of me really does want a relationship, so it's hard to turn that desire off sometimes.

The thing is, now that I'm separate from that situation, I feel conflicted. Not necessarily about the relationship being over, as I am not sure how well-suited we were for one another (though I do feel kind of sad to not have that person in my life anymore). Just about what I want. In theory, I keep thinking that something casual would actually suit me in many ways. I don't want to put a lot of time into one person and only hang around with them - I want to make friends in the new city I'm in and have a social life instead of just being with one person all the time. I'm not sure what my commitment is to the city I live in - though I do like it a lot, I can't see myself staying put for a long time without getting antsy to find adventures elsewhere. I feel conflicted about settling down and starting a family . . . All these things would seem to indicate that I don't need something serious. In many ways, the concept of a friend with benefits that I see once or twice a week suits me - it's just that I want exclusivity and potential for something more serious developing to go along with that. However, when I developed feelings for this person, all those things slowly felt negotiable and got pushed to the back of my mind. All of a sudden, it didn't seem that bad to stay in the city where I was long-term (after all, I do like it a lot), the idea of a baby didn't quite scare the crap out of me like it generally does, and I was excited to see that person pretty often and stopped feeling compelled to spend as much time searching out new friends (or other people to date).

So I am not sure if the conclusion to draw from this experience is that casual relationships are not for me because I desire a meaningful connection deep down in my soul and I'm just kidding myself that I don't want more, or if I was doing the casual thing wrong. I think part of the problem is that I want both at the same time. I am open to a relationship and want to find someone to do great things with (whether or not they involve baby-making, ack!), but I also quite frankly want to have sex, and a part of me does like my independence a lot. How do I decide what I want and pursue it without getting sidetracked?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's okay to have casual flings with an idea that you would stop it with the casual flings if you met somebody who would clearly make your life better. This gives you plenty of sex and independence and leaves you open to changing things up in the event of "we would make each others' lives more pleasant!" and not just "I could tolerate being in a relationship with this person, for sex and help carrying the picnic cooler."

Sometimes people are good for you for right now and sometimes people are good for you for a long haul; you can have a non-trivial connection for the time you are together even if you both know it's not going to last. You don't have to commit to any particular type of relationship before actually figuring out who the other people involved might be.
posted by kmennie at 8:29 AM on June 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

Whatever happened to dating? I know I sound like an old lady when I say that, but back in the day dating was basically seeing one or multiple people and figuring out whether or not you wanted something more long-term and serious as you get to know each other. That is, exactly what you describe you want used to be the norm. You want to date.

Now people say "friends with benefits" and I always want to ask who is benefiting from the relationship. Sex isn't a benefit. That makes it sound like a healthcare plan or retirement options or something like that. It's not. In my experience "FWB" nearly always boils down to immature men trying to get what they want from a woman who isn't getting what she wants from the arrangement, but if she says anything about it or about her feelings or if she asks him to do something like meet her parents, it's over and he goes on to another woman willing to put up with his "friends" with "benefits" bullshit. I don't think "friendship" describes the cornerstone of the majority of "FWB" relationships. They're about having a serious relationship with none of the work or responsibility that goes along with that because "hey we are just friends!" They're having your cake and eating it too. That's not really friendly.

Drop the idea of friends with benefits. Start dating. Wait to have sex with the people you date until you feel like you like them as a person and want the relationship to progress. Go on multiple dates with multiple people and see how you like them and pursue the ones you like.

Don't sell yourself short by "trying to turn off" your desire for a relationship that develops slowly over time and that is friendly and mutually supportive. Don't be chill. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 8:49 AM on June 16, 2015 [22 favorites]

I think sometimes it can be hard to think about what you want if what you feel like you want doesn't fit into one of the normally-recognized sets of relationships (which even includes FWB relationships, I think). So maybe try to think about what you'd really truly like, what you might want to try, and what would be okay for you in the meantime.

I'm in a complicated relationship which is only complicated because it doesn't totally fit into a relationship box. I'm in a committed long term long distance relationship which I like just the way it is. My partner does as well. We see each other a few times a month. We're in constant communication. We have busy lives and stuff to do that wouldn't work as well if we lived together or maybe even in the same town. It's pretty good. But it was a little challenging to get here, a lot of discussions about what we were really looking for, what the outlines of our deal were, how to explain it to other people.

Which is just to say: i firmly believe that if you can be honest with yourself and with other people, you can find the relationship that works for you. It may take trying a few different things on, it may mean narrowing your dating pool, but there are real benefits to getting the situation that you really want, not one that is close but not really your thing.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you think you are apt to develop romantic feelings as a result of having sex with someone? You gave other reasons, which were likely in play too, but it may be that for you this would happen every time, at least to some extent. It may also have happened to your friend that way and that's why he started acting more romantic. If you think this is happening to you, be prepared for it. The person may not be suitable for you long-term, and you may have feelings anyway, or they may. And indeed one person developing feelings may lead to the end of the arrangement. I think this happens a lot more than people realize and it doesn't mean you are doing it wrong, but it may mean it's not for you if it turns out to be too much emotional wear and tear.

Even so, I don't know how you are supposed to be 100% certain an FWB arrangement cannot become more serious. I think you have to be prepared to have a conversation about, "Wait are we dating?" and for "No" to be an okay answer. Or maybe ditch the "FWB" concept and call it "dating but not serious" or kmennie's term, "casual fling."
posted by BibiRose at 8:54 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

How do I decide what I want and pursue it without getting sidetracked?

The sidetracks are actually the best part.

I mean - screw relationships, don't look for one of those. You'll find a good relationship by accident, when you find a good person and it turns out they think you're awesome and shit I wasn't ready for this right now but damn it I can't pass this up, this person is too great.

In the meantime, pursue your career, explore your city, enjoy time with your family and friends. Get sidetracked by a hot person now and again, and sleep with them if you feel like it. Then go back to enjoying your life.

At some point, one of those sidetracks will accidentally sidetrack into something bigger. When you're not looking for/planning it, the surprise is part of what makes it so completely awesome.
posted by greenish at 8:54 AM on June 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think, in part, it depends on the nature and degree of your desire for a relationship. Do you feel incomplete without a relationship? Are you afraid you'll never find the right person? Have you dated people you knew you weren't compatible with, but you tried to make it work because they were really into you? If that describes you, casual relationships might not be a great idea; there's a risk that your desire might get in the way. However, if you really want a serious relationship, but are confident that it'll happen eventually and confident that you can be happy without one, then you're more likely to be fine with a fling without getting too entangled.

It is absolutely fine to have a casual arrangement when you want a serious relationship, as long as you're honest with yourself. If you're settling for flings as a short-term substitute for commitment, you won't be happy.

As far as figuring out what you want: I'm assuming you're young, like under eighty. You don't have to decide anytime soon; you have plenty of time to enjoy both singlehood and committed relationships. You can have it both ways, just not simultaneously. And you can change your mind; you can even get it wrong. Have fun, take care of yourself, and just let your life happen.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are more of a relationship person and not well-suited to casual flings. What you want: a boyfriend experience, development of a deeper connection, sexual exclusivity, to believe the lovely things this past person told you about your linked future. These wants do not fall in-line well with a casual arrangement with little commitment.

The things that you say you find appealing about a casual relationship are all things that you can have with new friendships that don't involve sex or romantic feelings. If I were you, I'd concentrate on making a varied group of new friends in your new city and also be honest with yourself that you're more relationship oriented when it comes to dating.
posted by quince at 11:27 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy, so you may not even want to bother reading this, but long ago a girlfriend pointed me at this book:

Sex Tips for Girls by Cynthia Heimel

and I think you should read it. It pretty much exactly addresses your question. And it will make you laugh, too.
posted by doctor tough love at 1:23 PM on June 16, 2015

« Older Planning a Leslie Knope style scavenger hunt   |   Death of Bank of America Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.