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Heather Corinna replies:
I've done a bad, bad thing. I lost my virginity about a year ago in my sophomore year in high school to my ex. Since then I've slept with a couple more guys including my best friend, J (I guess that's better than using his real name). J was a virgin until we were "together," but I found out afterward that he's has feelings for me for a while now. To tell the truth, I thought we were just screwing around and getting drunk together, and then it lead to sex. Now he's all clingy, romantic and, "we should be together for the rest of our lives" kind of crap. I hate romantic. I want to be friends again but he sees us either as a couple or nothing. I'm so screwed. What should I do to make him my best friend again?
and Zooey also asks,
I had casual sex with a friend of mine and the aftermath here is getting a bit out of hand. We talked about having sex before we actually did so; however, I just broke up with my boyfriend and I made it clear that I wasn't interested in any emotional relationships. Last week my friend called me and asked if we could hang out. He talked about spending the night, but I made it clear that I wasn't comfortable with that. On the phone, he was very risque and started calling me sexy and goddess, etc. So he came to see me and we slept together. I went into it with the understanding that there would be no strings attached, that we would just be friends. But after the sex, he wouldn't leave me alone!!! I understand a bit of cuddling immediately after, but he took it to a point where I was actually uncomfortable with the level of intimacy. We went to hang out with a few other friends and he followed me around, trying to hold my hand and kissing my face while I was talking. He tried to touch me while I was driving even though I asked him to stop...and eventually my guy friends told him he needed to back off me.
What should I do here? I feel bad because we obviously miscommunicated, but when I asked him about it, he denied having any issues with our 'sexual encounter'. Obviously that's not true....and I'm a little creeped out now!
Here's what you both found out the hard way (and these guys may have found it out, too): no one can control their feelings, or what feelings they develop. If we know anything at all about like, love and lust, we know that all of those feelings can tend to take us by surprise and show up when we least expect them.
Certainly, all of us can control our behavior in regard to those feelings. But the feelings themselves? No can do: they've got a mind of their own. We can promise not to do a thing, but we just can't promise, or expect someone else to promise, not to feel a thing.
That doesn't mean either of you were supposed to be psychic, and somehow have known in advance that these guys who agreed to something casual would develop feelings. You probably couldn't have known that, and you're not responsible for those feelings, either. That also doesn't mean that these guys aren't responsible for themselves or their own behavior: they are, and if they agreed not to do certain things, even if they found out they wanted to do them, they could have chosen not to based on the agreements they made with you.
If and when you know that you need a 100% guarantee that a sexual partner will not develop feelings for you but still want to have sex? The only sound answer as far as I'm concerned is not to take a partner, but to masturbate.
I know that it isn't the same in some respects -- particularly if you are looking for something emotional from someone else, even if that thing you're looking for isn't a romance -- but I'd still say it's the only right answer in this regard. Making that choice instead of taking a gamble means you can have that guarantee and safeguard your wants and needs while also doing your part to help a potential partner take good care of their feelings, too. While we're not responsible for someone else's feelings, and I'd say it's patronizing to try and micro-manage them, I do think we still should do our best to be kind and do what we can to keep everyone's heart safe and sound.
It's also important to recognize that expecting anonymous sex -- and when I say that, I mean one-time sex where you want no strings whatsoever, and fully anticipate that afterwards you two will just say thanks-for-the-memories and vamoose -- with someone you know is a paradox.
These guys were your friends: you already had strings, so it's not reasonable to expect not to have any. One of them was a best friend, and on top of that, you were his first sexual partner. It's safe to say that for most people, their first sexual partner is going to be some kind of big deal. If you don't want to potentially be really important with someone, don't choose to be their first sexual partner. I'd also say that from the standpoint of being compassionate for other people that if and when we are going to choose to be someone's first, it's sound to say we should be even more prepared than usual to provide some ongoing emotional aftercare. If you want something incredibly casual, being someone's first time ain't it.
The other was saying he thought you were a goddess, Zooey, and wanting to stay the night with you. The ties were already pretty clearly there, even if they were not at the time, or didn't seem, romantic. They're a tie, and sex is another one. And if and when it feels like we can have complete control of a sexual situation in which there is more than just us involved, it's sage to step back, take a closer look, and realize that something might be amiss.
Obviously, when what you want is casual sex, it's going to feel safer for many people to choose someone who isn't a total stranger. As to whether or not it is actually safer, it's a bit of a tossup. After all, rape happens much more often with someone known than with someone unknown, but you also will likely have some idea about a person's sexual history, health and what they're like when you have known them in another context over time. I'm not saying, by any means, to go run out and have sex with strangers. I'm not saying not to, either, since it's just not my place to tell anyone what context sex is best for them in, and I know from life and my work how much that varies for all of us. What I am saying, though, is that while in some respects it certainly is safer to have sex with a friend, and it can happen that friends do just fine with casual sex, in another respect, it's pretty darn loaded, and has the possibility to be anything but casual -- or safe -- for one or both people involved.
It may even have been, with one or both of you, that in some sense, you did have some idea that they had or may develop feelings for you, and that was some of the appeal -- not because I'm saying you secretly want romances you're clear you don't, but because if we know someone may have feelings for us, that makes getting rejected less likely. It may have felt like you'd be more likely to be in the driver's seat than you would with someone unknown or less known. It may have made it feel a bit safer in the case either of you did change your minds and want a romance.
I also want to make sure that certain ideas about gender or gender roles aren't at play here.
In other words, I'm wondering if the idea or expectation that guys are less likely to want a romance, or to tie those feelings in with sex isn't part of why both of you are so surprised, or went into your trysts with the idea that you could be assured your male friends wouldn't develop romantic or other feelings with sex. Both these guys, right now, are probably struggling with more than just their unexpected romantic feelings.
For certain, men are often culturally encouraged to be more emotionally detached about sex, and a lot of men have been socialized to present themselves that way as a means of defending their masculinity. But those cultural ideas about gender and gender roles often don't play out in reality, as both of you probably already know for yourselves, since the flipside of that is that women are supposed to always want romance with the sex we have, and to always come to sex wanting a romantic relationship. Realistically, men are not any more or less likely than women to develop romantic feelings or emotional attachments with sex, though it can be a lot tougher for them to discover and deal with those feelings, especially in any context where a) they feel they aren't supposed to and/or b) the expected script is flipped, where when they do develop them, the women they want a romance with don't want one back. Men also often struggle with declining sex, so some will agree to conditions they really don't want or like if sex is on the table.
I often observe, particularly with heterosexual people, it seems it take a while to really "get good at" male/female friendship. That's unsurprising to me since so often we're socialized from a very early age to view opposite-sex people solely or primarily as romantic prospects, rather than as friends. Think about how even the littlest kids' opposite-sex friendships are so commonly presented by adults as budding romances: "Aw, little Joey has a girlfriend!"
For many people, navigating and managing opposite-sex friendship is tricky. Often enough, young straight men and women will have opposite-sex friendships with people they do have feelings for in the hopes that friendship will lead to something more. I get letters all the time from guys worried they will ever by in "the friend zone," and from girls and guys who try and cultivate friendships with folks they like who aren't currently available or romantically interested in hopes that friendship is a way in to being on a waiting list. Often enough, that desire isn't spoken because of the possibility of rejection, being made very vulnerable or of blowing a shot to one day have the wanted romance. Generally, I'd suggest treating male/female friendships when you're young and straight with kid gloves, figuring they are probably more fragile and tenuous than you think, and that it's often a possibility someone is harboring romantic feelings or desires they don't yet feel able to cop to.
All of that said, if and when you introduce the idea of casual sex to someone you're already in some kind of relationship with -- like a friendship -- and you want to be as assured as you can that it can be okay only within the context of that relationship, it might be best to let it simmer for a little bit before you act on it.
Talk about it more than once, and ideally not at a time when either of you are chomping at the bit sexually. If you find yourself in a setting where you're staying up all night together, and you're feeling chemistry, why not spend that night talking all night about what you're feeling first? If you're both on the same page, for real, after a long talk like that and after seeing how you both behave after acknowledging those feelings, it's not like you won't have a chance to revisit that chemistry again. Don't negotiate sex when you or your potential partners are drunk, or when your judgment is otherwise questionable, such as when you're bouncing off a recent breakup. At times like those, if you're thinking about sex, do yourself and a partner a favor and acknowledge those feelings, but take a raincheck on them for another time, when you're physically or emotionally sober.
Sex tends to change things, and that's something we just can't control or expect others to control. Those changes aren't always bad, mind you, but more times than not sex is going to change an existing relationship or dynamic in some way. If you want a platonic friendship to stay a platonic friendship, you've got to keep it one. That isn't to say that there's something wrong with friends having sex together when it's what both people want, nor that some people can't do that and still do just fine as friends. But the results can be really unpredictable: if you're not down with that unpredictability, best just not to go there.
Love'em, what I'd suggest you do is take some time and space for yourself, and provide some for your friend. Before you do that, let him know that you didn't have any intention of starting a romantic relationship or of either of you winding up with hurt feelings. Since he's clearly feeling a love-buzz, I'd suggest you not go on about how much you hate romantic or how you think what he's expressing is "crap." While it's totally fine for you to feel that way, it's not going to be a kind thing to express to him. Make clear that you don't want that kind of relationship with anyone right now, and what you want with him is to go back to your friendship. Were it me, I'd personally also add how much you value it, and that you're pretty scared it seems to be at risk right now. Then give him some room to talk and express how he feels. When he's been able to do that, I'd then ask for a few days or weeks -- whatever you feel is best -- apart for you both to sort this out in your own heads, and set a time to meet up again to talk after that to see how you're both feeling.
I would be prepared for him to tell you that he doesn't want a friendship right now, but wants a romance. It may be that it takes longer than days or weeks for you two to get back to a platonic friendship, because it sounds like he's going to have some big-time heartbreak to nurse. Since he's your best friend, and the one hurting here, surely you can give him some time and space to work those feelings out.
Zooey, as with the other poster, I'd also suggest you make some space after having a conversation with this guy. I would suggest doing that yourself, rather than having male friends do it for you. While I understand asking for help if you were feeling harassed or physically unsafe -- in which case it's wise to do so -- I'd just be aware that it's humiliating enough to get rejected, but to have others pile it on is pretty harsh. If you don't feel comfortable talking to him in person, you could talk by phone, but it's you who needs to do the talking, not your male friends.
You say he's denying his behavior, so you're going to need to be pretty specific, making clear that you don't want any continued sexual or physical relationship with him, nor a romantic relationship. I don't think you need to do a mea culpa here about miscommunicating, because I don't see that you did. I do think you -- and this goes for you, too, Love'em -- need to clarify what your boundaries are, then step away and give everyone some breathing room. If either of these guys just won't respect your boundaries, then you're going to need to sever these friendships, period.
It may or may not turn out that either of these guys is interested in friendship anymore, or aren't for a good, long while. If they were valued friends, that's going to hurt, but it is what it is: they get to do what they need to to take care of themselves and their hearts. Just like both of you get to decide what kinds of relationships you do and don't want, so do they.
In parting, please know that these kinds of experiences are often how we learn how to work all of this. We can read books, ask someone for advice, but often, we do learn by fumbling and stumbling and by making mistakes, or just having things we thought would go one way go very differently. People get hurt sometimes when we interact, be that sexually or otherwise, and sometimes, even when we do our best to try and avoid that, it still happens. Now that you've both had these experiences, you're likely going to walk out of them knowing more than you did before: that's good. It sucks when live-and-learn involves hurt feelings and fractured friendships, but I don't see that anyone here was a bad person or a horrid friend, nor that the two of you are somehow totally responsible for what happened just because you were the ones who initiated sex: everyone involved bears responsibility.
Again, sex and other ways of getting close to people always presents risks of positives and negatives, and how things go is always, to some degree, going to be something we just can't entirely predict or control. That given, it's just a matter, through your life -- and sometimes with great experiences, and other times with lousy ones -- of learning what your best choices are based on what you want and need, and what situations are more or less likely to best meet those wants and needs, for you and for others.
Here are some extra links to grow on: