Do I say something or do I let him go?
November 25, 2016 3:01 PM   Subscribe

My friend with benefits seems to run hot and cold on me, and I don't know if there's a better way for me to communicate with him, or if I should just accept that he's not that into me anymore and let our "friendship" fade away. How do you tell someone who may or may not owe you any emotional support that their behavior is hurting you?

I'll call my FWB "Nick." Nick and I have known each other for several years, and started becoming closer friends maybe 2 years ago. He was fun to talk to and be around, but I only really saw him in group social settings. Then a year and a half ago, he messaged me to wish me a happy birthday and something clicked. We couldn't stop talking to each other. We messaged back and forth for hours. This extended to the next day, and the next. We chatted from morning to night for weeks.

Nick soon admitted that he had always been very attracted to me. I felt the same attraction towards him, though mine didn't develop until after I'd gotten to know him better. He didn't want a relationship, and I was just getting out of a messy breakup, so we agreed that we would be friends with benefits and nothing more. It was very intense, more than any actual romantic relationship that I've ever been in. Nick blew me away with his affection and attentiveness, and he was always adamant that we'd continue to be friends even after the benefits stop. He said being intimate with me was just a perk of our friendship, "an amazing perk," but assured me that we were friends first and foremost. I kept thinking to myself that there was no way this level of intensity could be sustained, unless we wound up together romantically. And honestly, deep down I hoped that would be the case.

After a few months, I started feeling more secure with our FWB situation. I felt safe with him physically and emotionally. Nick seemed so open with me. He was my shoulder to cry on when I needed it, and he confided in me about his past relationships. If I was ever feeling uncertain or unclear about things between us, he made sure to ask how I was doing, sent me sweet messages, or offered up hugs and kisses to make me feel better. He did everything I could've asked of him, without me having to ask for any of it. But then I started to sense him pulling away for short periods of time.

At first it was a shock, because I was used to being in contact with him every day. Up until then, he and I were spending more time with each other than anyone else in our lives. I mentioned it to him, and he seemed surprised to hear that I felt a distance between us. Nick insisted that everything was the same as it ever was, he'd just been especially busy lately. I chalked it up to the inevitable fading of new relationship energy and gave him space. Thus began this painful pattern of Nick pulling away and coming back to me.

Typically we'll have a month or two months where things are really great. We have text chats for a few hours once or twice a week, and see each other in person for 2-3 hours once a week. When we see each other, we usually cuddle on the couch or in bed and catch up on what's new, have sex, then spend some more time snuggled up in bed, or watching Netflix, or taking a bath. But I can sense it happening, usually after we have an especially great time together, he'll go radio silent for a week or more, leaving me to wonder if he's bored of me, or if I've done something wrong. I also wonder if maybe he starts to develop feelings for me and then tries to stop it by distancing himself from me, but maybe that's wishful thinking.

These days, when I try to get some reassurance from Nick, he says something like, "Everything's fine, why wouldn't it be?" If I try to explain to him, "We don't talk as much as we used to," he responds with, "I've just been busy, lots of bullshit at work, when I get home I just don't feel like talking to anyone." Sometimes he talks about me having too many expectations of him when we're not in an actual relationship. It hurts, because I didn't set any of these expectations myself... anything I've come to expect from him is based only on the way he's treated me previously, of his own accord.

Maybe I'm projecting my own fear and insecurity on him, but I sense that he's dismissive, sometimes even exasperated by my attempts at checking in with him. Like he doesn't understand why I can't just relax and trust him to say so when something's wrong. I don't know how to relate to him when he's like this. Where did the sweet, sensitive, caring Nick go? I told a friend about Nick, and she pointed out that he and I are basically the worst recipe when it comes to our combined attachment styles. I'm anxious-preoccupied, while he's dismissive-avoidant. Especially with the fraught nature of any FWB arrangement, we are basically primed to bring out the worst in each other.

All I want is for Nick to send me a quick message once in a while, just to say something like, "Sorry, I've been overwhelmed with work/life lately, but I've been thinking of you. Will get in touch soon." He used to say things like that. I used to be so impressed with his ability to perceive and empathize with my feelings, and then proactively reassure me. Somewhere along the line, he started to take for granted that he could stop putting in the effort and I'd still stick around, or maybe he feels we should just be comfortable that way by now. That's the positive interpretation. Or maybe he's slowly losing interest in me... and maybe he never really wanted to be my friend at all. Maybe all this time he was just playing me for sex. That's my fear.

Nick is well aware that I have this fear of being used by him. When I first brought it up, he was pretty taken aback that I thought of him as that kind of person. His feelings were hurt, and I apologized. But part of me keeps thinking, "That's exactly how any player would react to keep me hooked." And, "He may not want to think of himself that way, but that doesn't mean it's not true." Maybe what I'm really, really afraid of is getting taken for a fool.

I know what the recommendation should be... I should just accept that this FWB relationship isn't fulfilling my needs and find a real boyfriend. But it's not that easy to just find someone. And in the meantime, it's nice to have a male friend who I can flirt with and have sex with, who I know is clean and safe. I have a high sex drive but I'm not interested in one night stands. And our sexual chemistry is incredible. He's the best I've ever had. And Nick tells me every time that I'm the best he's ever had too. We are really, really good in bed together. I also genuinely really value Nick as a friend. We click so well, have great conversation, and (I think) we really care about each other.

My questions: Is what I'm asking of him unreasonable? How can I frame my communication to him in a way that expresses how I feel and what I need to not feel that way, without putting him on the defensive and making him worry that I'm just going to keep wanting more and more from him? Any other advice for my situation, which I realize is messy and ill-advised?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I think Nick likes you, based on what you have written, but he does not love you. And I think you love him, based on what you have written here. Are you asking the right question here? (I don't have the skill to make that seem less harsh, sorry).
posted by esto-again at 3:07 PM on November 25, 2016 [16 favorites]

Have you read "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P" by Adelle Waldman? It's a novel which very brilliantly portrays the mind of a modern sort of man who sounds a bit like your Nick, and the women who are frustrated and bewildered by him. The book is told from his point of view. Not chick lit—it's actually literature. Waldman been called a contemporary Edith Wharton. It might be just the thing to read right now.
posted by Clotilde at 3:20 PM on November 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

It sounds like you two entered a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in all ways except for in name. Now Nick is starting a slow fade breakup and is trying to keep his "great guy" status by telling you the signals he's sending aren't really him withdrawing despite the fact that he's withdrawing.

This sounds like an increasingly unhealthy situation for you. You're being hurt and he's getting what he wants on his terms. When you voice your legitimate fears and feelings, he turns it on you and makes himself the victim and compels apologies from you. His hurt feelings are the only ones he sees as legitimate. This isn't going to get better. He isn't even being a good friend anymore. Break up with him. You won't find the person you wish Nick would be with him hovering around, blocking the way.
posted by quince at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2016 [66 favorites]

What is this FWB bullshit?? Why are you setting yourself up for heartbreak and second guessing your own perceptions by trying to be "the cool girl"?

Look. Nick was your de facto boyfriend for a long time but kinda a dick for not committing to it outright. I think if he had not gone WAY beyond FWB norms this would never be a problem now. But he went way beyond the boundaries, and now he's retreating without having to have awkward conversations or acknowledge his shifting emotions towards you, because, oops! - you're only FWB and difficult relationship conversations are not required.

Nick is not your friend, not really, and you can ditch this training wheels/rebound connection and seek out a real relationship now.

Find someone available for a committed relationship. This is not Nick. Move on. It's OK.

(I would not be so down on Nick except I feel he exploited you as someone coming out of a bad breakup. Had he been a normal FWB instead of acting like a boyfriend without the technical commitment I wouldn't be so down on him and see this as more neutral. I guessI don't want you lingering in this situation or holding out hope where there isn't any. You deserve so much much more.)
posted by jbenben at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2016 [50 favorites]

Your expectations are well above "friend" expectations and approach "boyfriend" expectations. That's why he's confused when you call him out for not meeting them. Not talking to a friend for a week because you're busy or have seen enough of them lately is normal.

What you want to do with that is up to you.
posted by metasarah at 3:22 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you want a real relationship with Nick. Nick most likely doesn't want this. I'd meet him out and say, Nick, this isn't working for me anymore. I want a real relationship! I can't be fwb with you anymore. Please don't contact me for 6 months.

You are really holding your own feet to the fire. And you are going to be stuck with this mix of pleasure/pain until you make the change. You need a good six Nickless months. You are unlikely to find someone new with Nick in the picture.

There is somebody else out there who is available for a real relationship plus good sex. Once a week isn't that great anyway. This internet stranger wants better for you!

Sorry you've already eaten your cake and it made you neasous. There is no way for you to have it all.
posted by Kalmya at 3:22 PM on November 25, 2016 [20 favorites]

I know what the recommendation should be... I should just accept that this FWB relationship isn't fulfilling my needs and find a real boyfriend. But it's not that easy to just find someone. And in the meantime, it's nice to have a male friend who I can flirt with and have sex with, who I know is clean and safe.

Yes, but that's the problem-- as long as you are maintaining your current setup, it'll be harder to get motivated enough to find another relationship. (Not the case for everyone, clearly, but it sounds like it is for you.) And perhaps ask yourself: would you want to start a serious relationship with someone who felt this intensely about their FWB?

I think you're realizing this isn't what you want, and that's a positive thing.
posted by BibiRose at 3:25 PM on November 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

Really unfair and gross to play at being the good guy when it's all on his own terms but flake off when he doesn't feel like it. He's not going to stop with this shit as long as you let him.
posted by bleep at 3:32 PM on November 25, 2016 [20 favorites]

You want him to be your boyfriend and he wants to be nobody's boyfriend, and he has tried to compromise the uncompromisable by being your really shitty boyfriend.

it is not unreasonable of you to want him to be a good boyfriend. not at all. but you have gotten him to go as far as he is going to go. you are at a half-way point but he is at his destination and he has turned off the car. don't wait there hoping he'll decide to keep driving, kick him out of the car with a $20 for cab fare and drive yourself the rest of the way home alone. metaphorically.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:50 PM on November 25, 2016 [31 favorites]

The solution is NOT for you to ask him for the caring gestures. He's already doing what he's willing to do. You have two options, both of which require your accepting that your relationship with him is never going to be more than it is right now. You can continue with him and deal with your dissatisfaction and disappointment, or you can part ways with him and find satisfaction in doing other things. That first choice would probably just keep you feeling sad and lonely.

Cutting off the relationship will hurt, but if you put it off you're going to hurt in the meantime and then hurt even more once you decide to let go. Please be kind to yourself and go no-contact with this person, and start on the path to healing.
posted by wryly at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

TBH he seems like he has been upfront about what he's looking for and willing to give, but you've been hiding your romantic interest from him and/or denying it. If I were him, I'd be distant too---if he's really as sensitive as you say he is, he probably can tell that you're basically lying to him by omission. And that, ultimately, is a violation of his trust.

Why not just be honest with him (and yourself) about the fact that you've decided that you want a committed romantic relationship with him?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:48 PM on November 25, 2016 [7 favorites]

How can I frame my communication to him in a way that expresses how I feel and what I need to not feel that way, without putting him on the defensive and making him worry that I'm just going to keep wanting more and more from him? Any other advice for my situation, which I realize is messy and ill-advised?

TBH if I were him I would be really defensive and unhappy about this situation, because a lot of what you write comes across as very critical of his behavior. It's framed in this very passive way where you're trying to make it all about you being "worried" and about what you need or whatever but clearly you think he's being an asshole and that his behavior is unacceptable. If you think that's the case just tell him upfront. It will take away a lot of the manipulative vibe that comes across when you try not to act like you're mad even though you clearly are (and ditto with you trying to act like you don't want more when you clearly do). He has to be able to see through can't build intimacy with him by hiding your emotions from him, that doesn't make sense.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:55 PM on November 25, 2016

Ooof I know where you are coming from: I recently been slowly prying myself away from a similar FWB situation (though I was way less relationship-y with my guy than your situation). I was growing attached to my guy and I wanted him to DO boyfriend things and be closer, but we weren't in a relationship, so I kept telling myself that "well, we aren't in a relationship so I can't ask him for things that I would normally want from a boyfriend because he's not my boyfriend, so I'll just hope he will finally decide to want a relationship". I was putting his desire of not wanting to be in a relationship/wanting to be casual ahead of my need of a close, intimate connection that actually mattered to me. So I sacrificed my emotional needs for scraps of his attention. I was miserable. Even though I convinced myself that I had no time for a boyfriend (or myself really), I knew I was just lying to myself and was trying to fit in whatever mold that I had created so I could be with him in some capacity.

With that being said, I think you are doing a great disservice to yourself and to him to keep denying your feelings for your friend. I know it is INCREDIBLY hard and scary to admit to someone that you have major feelings for them (especially since they have said they didn't want a relationship), but if you keep going on denying to yourself that you don't want what you obviously want and need deep inside and keep acting like "everything is OK, I'm obviously supercool with this FWB thing" you are going to be, excuse my french, fucking miserable.

"How can I frame my communication to him in a way that expresses how I feel and what I need to not feel that way, without putting him on the defensive and making him worry that I'm just going to keep wanting more and more from him?"
You don't.
You tell him "I know you said previously you didn't want a relationship, but I've developed strong feelings for you and I want to be your girlfriend, what do you think?". He may balk and say no way and you end up having to stop talking to him. He may say no and then later change his mind and realize he's been stupid and he wants to be with you for real. As it stands right now you are stuck in some miserable limbo where he is getting exactly what he wants and needs and you are suffering and pretending everything is peachy.

Take that leap. Good luck.
posted by littlesq at 6:45 PM on November 25, 2016 [15 favorites]

And in the meantime, it's nice to have a male friend ......who I know is clean and safe.

I'm sorry, but how can you be sure of this? You have no idea who he has been seeing on the other 6 days of the week.
You are putting way too much trust and faith in someone who is treating you badly. Leave, go no contact, give yourself time to get over him , and you will find a real boyfriend. Yes, he is using you.
posted by uans at 6:25 AM on November 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

: "My questions: Is what I'm asking of him unreasonable?"

Yes. You are expecting boyfriend level involvement from a FWB.

: "I know what the recommendation should be... I should just accept that this FWB relationship isn't fulfilling my needs and find a real boyfriend."

This would solve 95% of your problem. If Nick is still your friend after you stop having sex with him because of new boy friend then great and if not then he was a shitty "friend" in the first place. If he remains your friend maybe you can restart your FWB relationship if you are single again. I bet the perspective of having had a declared boyfriend would help both of you out a lot.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 AM on November 26, 2016

it's nice to have a male friend who I can flirt with and have sex with, who I know is clean and safe.

Except, you don't seem to have this anymore. You seem to have a stressful pseudo-boyfriend situation with someone who doesn't want that. Better to cut him loose and spend your time looking for someone who actually fits what you're looking for.
posted by greermahoney at 12:52 AM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Having been there, and given the time of year... I think he may be starting to think that either he would like to have a girlfriend he wants to bring home for holidays (this is not you) or he thinks you deserve to have a boyfriend you can bring home for the holidays (this is not him). In my situation, it led me to realize that even though I loved him and saw potential in our relationship, he loved me but didn't see potential in our relationship. I still can't put my finger on why he didn't see that potential, and we've since both moved on (this was years ago) and have maintained a good friendship (not as close as before, but still supportive and solid).

In my situation, he broke it off with me, I reacted as if it was a break-up, he was upset that I had that emotional response when he was "trying to do the right thing", we were angry with each other for a while but worked through it, and came out the other side better understanding what we wanted/needed and recognizing that our relationship (such as it was) had acted as a sort of relationship training-wheels that we both needed, for different reasons.

If I had it to do over again, I would have initiated the talk myself, to have felt more in control at the point where I was feeling myself grasping for that ineffable "something" that hadn't felt missing before but after a while did. "This isn't working for me anymore. It doesn't feel the way it used to - I think our situation has run its course. I need a little time away from you to recalibrate how I relate to you, and when we start spending time around each other again, I need it to be as friends - without benefits. I think we both will be happier." And then stick to it. It will be tough. But if you're like me, you will later be glad of what this relationship gave you - a soft place to fall when you needed it. And a friendship that survived benefits and lived to tell the tale.

I hope this helps. You're not alone.
posted by pammeke at 10:00 AM on November 28, 2016

Is what you're asking unreasonable? Well, we don't know. That's between you and Nick. You can probably try to communicate differently with him so your intended message will be received, rather than the unintended messages you're anxious about sending. Part of the value in those "attachment styles" categories is that they give you information that can inform how you communicate with someone of a different style. So take your thoughts, run them through the dismissive-avoidant filter, and deliver them to Nick. If his response changes with the type of delivery, tah-dah, you're learning to speak and comprehend another language.

who I know is clean and safe

As an afterthought, consider striking this kind of thinking from usage. It's inaccurate, wishful, and hearkens to moral panic about sex and hygiene.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:45 AM on November 28, 2016

Rejoice. You weren't ready for a relationship before. Now, you are! Get out there!

Also, the sex may good - it seems like you raised each others' bar! - but there are lots of other guys who will have that chemistry with you on a physical level. Please consider the fact that your feelings for him may be making you extra appreciative of that physical connection.

You mention this guy is coming straight off a breakup for you. I know that he is special, but that is probably, in turn, making you extra appreciative of that emotional connection.

Ask me how I know!

Also, I read somewhere (maybe even on Metafilter?) that every time you have sex with someone, every time you look at some picture of the two of you together, every time you take their call or answer their text (or whatever), you are strengthening some sort of psychological bond with them. You have to start working on breaking that bond. You'll be so much happier when you do.

Sorry. He's also a completely tool though so it wouldn't have turned out well either way.
posted by benadryl at 5:19 PM on November 30, 2016

I think the first thing is to figure out what you really want. And then what you can be comfortable with. I am in a bit of a similar situation (though I would say we are not nearly as emotionally intimate as the two of you are). I'd have to say that both of us are reasonably high on the avoidance of closeness scale (though he is higher on that than I am). We have now been "together" for almost four years. When we first met I was in the process of ending a very difficult, twenty-five year relationship. He knocked me to my knees. I seriously would probably have married him the second night we met (crazy yes...but true). He wanted sex, I wanted him. I had never done "just sex" or anything close. I think I didn't actually believe that was what he wanted because it was so foreign to me. For the first year or so, we saw each other rarely. If there was ever a sign of intimacy he was gone. It messed me up and stressed me out. More than a few wet pillows there. So I pretty much backed off...just figured best to lick my wounds and get on with life. Started dating again, making an effort.

After about eight months of no contact I had a question that I knew he could answer. I sent a text, figuring well, whatever...he answered. We started up again. The sex is great (for me too this is by leaps and bounds the best I've ever had and that is not easy to find). I really had to do some soul-searching. Am I willing (and able) to accept what is and enjoy it for what it is without wanting more? I find that to a large degree I am. I have found a place where I am comfortable. I have told him I do want more and if I find someone that I feel more is possible with then we will have to be finished. He does not like it that I date other men but since he does not wish to date me that is not open to negotiation.

I suppose this is a very long-winded way of saying that if you can find a place where your "relationship" makes you happy and adds to your life without making you crazy then you should continue. What you shouldn't do is hope for a more that is not there. Tell him the truth, be prepared for him to leave or to say that what you have is all that you will have. If he leaves, let him go. If he tells you that what you have is what you have, believe him and sit with yourself to find your own place. That may mean telling him good bye, it may mean accepting what is. Most importantly, there is no right or wrong way to tell him. There is nothing that will persuade him. You are in control of what you want. But sometimes the hardest thing of all is to figure out what the heck that is. Good Luck and don't forget, you don't need him to make you happy - only you can make you happy. Find that place.
posted by tkd1 at 7:15 PM on March 4, 2017

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