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I had casual sex, and my friends reacted pretty badly. Now what?

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morphobutterfly asks:

I'm a 20 year old girl, who's...well, I'm not going to say perfectly confident, because I do have some fairly major esteem issues, but I know my own mind, I'm independent & I'm not one to go with the crowd just because it's the "done" thing.

Three years ago a guy I was making out with on a regular basis, assaulted me sexually. While I escaped without being raped, it was a terrifying & traumatic experience. Needless to say it was a difficult time. I was a virgin when the assault happened, & because of this incident I was left wary of men, sex & romantic interactions in general. During the years since, a few of my good friends have expressed feelings for me, but given that I was not in the right state of mind to deal with any serious romantic situations, the fact that these guys were looking for the types of relationships that I'm not comfortable with, & also that I was afraid of ruining our friendships, I turned them down, explaining my reasons & repeatedly expressing how important their friendships were to me. All of these guys are still my close friends, & all have had relationships/flings with other girls since asking me out. I'm having a problem with them, though.

Joey replies:

morphobutterfly's question continued:

I've finally found myself in a place where I feel a lot more comfortable with myself, men & sex, & I felt ready to sleep with someone. I didn't have any love & rose-petal fantasies in mind; on the contrary, I felt that I wanted to do it without the drama of any major romantic implications - bluntly, I wanted a bit of fun, & this was something I had thought about, was & am comfortable with & feels right for me right now. So, I slept with a guy I know & had kissed before, &, while we get on & he's a good guy & we're attracted to each other physically, we don't have strong romantic feelings for each other, & we're both fine with keeping it as casual as we like.
After this guy & I had sex, I told one of my girl friends in our group that I had slept with him, & she later made a joke about it in front of the guys (ill-timed & thoughtless perhaps, but not malicious in the slightest), so they now know that I slept with this guy. One of them, who has had 2 serious girlfriends since expressing interest in me, got really mad at me, claiming I had "fucked him around" & had no consideration for his feelings, & that I had, for the second time, broken his heart. Another, who frequently has one-night stands & flings which we talk about, claimed he used to respect me a lot because I didn't sleep around & he thought that showed an independence & strength of character, but now his opinion of me has completely changed. He too told me that I had hurt him deeply by sleeping with a guy that doesn't have strong feelings for me while he had loved me & I had turned him down.

While I'm sorry that my friends are hurt, I'm not sorry for my actions, as I don't think I did anything wrong. I think my friends are being unfair & hypocritical. As one of my girl friends said, I think they have a bit of a "Madonna/Whore" complex about me - while they know me as confident & bubbly, they also thought of me as inexperienced & slightly vulnerable due to the assault, & now that I've broken that image, they've gone to the extreme & now view me as a slut, even though they, & indeed all of our group of friends, boys & girls, are far more experienced than I & have been sexually active, with a lot more partners than I, for years now.

While disappointed in their reaction, I don't want to lose these guys as friends, & need advice on how to fix this situation. Am I wrong, is their reaction completely understandable? From a guy's point of view, did it seem like I was intentionally hurting them? Is it melodramatic of me to say they're being absurdly sexist? How do I explain to them that I didn't sleep with this guy because I like him more than them, but in fact LESS? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated (especially from any lads who could help me understand their reasoning), & thanks for reading, I know it was a long one!

I want to say that it's pretty rare that we hear from people who sound so self-aware and confident, and who are able to voice so clearly what they want. And I'm saying this not despite the fact that you qualified your statement in the first sentence and conceded that you have some self-esteem problems, but BECAUSE you did that. No one has every little thing figured out. But knowing who you are and what you want, and being aware of areas that still need work is pretty darn great. So, be sure to give yourself the credit you deserve!

I'm also really glad to hear that you feel so confident about your choices, and that you're not going to let yourself be influenced by other people's talk. We live in a society where our sexual choices are constantly under the microscope, and everyone seems to have an opinion on them. It's easy, in that kind of atmosphere, to question yourself. But, for the most part, those people who are going to judge you and make assumptions about you are going to do that no matter what you do, and it's not your job to please them. It's your job to please YOU. So, if you've decided for yourself that, for now or always, relationships aren't for you, then that's how it is. The only thing that says about you is that you're not interested in relationships at this point.

And one last note before we move on to the situation you wrote about. I just wanted to check in with you about your sexual assault. It sounds like you already know this, but it bears repeating anyway: What happened was not your fault and you did nothing to bring it on yourself. I also wanted to make sure you're aware that, even though you're feeling better by now, there is no need to work through a sexual assault on your own. You absolutely deserve all of the help you can get. So if you haven't done so already, you might want to think about looking into counseling. If you're at college, you can check if they provide any services for survivors of sexual assault, or talk to someone from the mental health services on your campus.

Alright. Now let's talk about what happened.

You've said that you don't think that you did anything wrong, and before I say anything else, I want to say that I agree with you. You did absolutely nothing wrong, and it's these guys that are out of line here, and not you. I know you already know that, but it can be good to hear that from someone else, too. So, no: you did nothing wrong. In fact, it sound like the way you handled this was very honest and compassionate.

Who we feel an attraction to, or a romantic interest in, is not something that we can control. Further, figuring out what sort of a relationship we want and need, and acting in accordance with that, is pretty key in having happy, healthy relationships. What all of this means is that, sometimes, we'll feel an attraction to someone who doesn't return it. Or, we'll feel an attraction to someone who we know wants a type of relationship that we don't want. Or someone that we really like as a person will voice an attraction to us that we don't return. Etc. There are any number of situations where, for whatever reason, a relationship just isn't in the cards. That sucks for the person who really wanted that relationship, for sure, but that's just sometimes how life goes, and it's something everyone has to learn to deal with.

If and when that happens, when someone expresses an interest to us that we don't return, or when someone wants a type of commitment from us that we're not ready or willing to give, then really the only way to handle that gracefully and compassionately is to be honest with that person. We don't owe that person anything, except honesty. Even if they're a close friend, even if they're someone we really like platonically, even if they're someone who would be a great fit for us, even if they offer us the kind of relationship that we know others expect of us: if we don't return those feelings, it's not fair on anyone involved to pretend otherwise. We cannot control our feelings, but we can do our best to handle them responsibly.

When these guys approached you, you weren't interested in seeing them, for a bunch of reasons. You weren't attracted to them, you weren't looking for a long-term commitment, and you had some serious life stuff to deal with, first. And the thing is, you didn't even have to tell them any of that: a simple “I'm flattered by your interest, and I'm glad that you're being honest with me about this, but unfortunately I don't feel the same way about you” should have been enough. But you went above and beyond.

So, again, this isn't about anything you did wrong. You weren't into these guys, and you told them, and that was that. Their disappointment and hurt was their responsibility, and theirs to handle. They obviously handled it pretty badly, since they ended up letting it out on you again, which they had no right to do.

You're not being melodramatic at all in calling their behaviour “absurdly sexist”. They went on to have other relationships and sexual encounters with other people after you turned them down, yet accused you of betrayal when you went on to be with someone you were interested in. That smacks of a pretty huge double-standard.

It also seems like they felt entitled to you, in some way. As though they didn't really realize your sexual agency (and still don't, in some way), and what they feel betrayed by isn't that you didn't chose them, but that you did something that they didn't expect of you, because it came from a part of you they hadn't acknowledged before.

I'll be frank. Someone who calls you a slut because you chose to engage in casual sex is not a friend. Someone who loses their respect for you because you've chosen to be sexually active in a manner that was safe and responsible is not a friend. Someone who lashes out at you at all simply because you're making sexual choices that they don't agree with is not a friend.

You've said that you want to repair these friendships, but I'd really question whether people who are as unsupportive as that are really people that you want to keep around. They're blaming you for something that you didn't do, and expressing some views in the process that are pretty profoundly disrespectful and sexist. I know it can be hard to accept something like that about people you consider friends, especially if you do feel responsible in some way for their feelings.

If you do want to talk to them again, you'll want to make sure that you stick to your guns, and that you make it clear to them that you will not accept that kind of judgment from them. If these people are really your friends, then they should be able to accept your choices, even if they are hurt by them. If they cannot respect you, and if they continue to be so judgmental, then you'll really want to reconsider whether these are friendships worth saving.

I know it would really suck for you to lose those friends, but it sounds like you've also got some really supportive friends, and I hope that you can turn to them to support you in this. I also hope that you don't let this hold you back, and that you continue to be so kick-ass and confident!

I'm also going to leave you with a few links that you might find helpful:
Supermodel: Creating and Nurturing Your Own Best Relationship Models
Reciprocity, Reloaded
Yes, No, Maybe: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist

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