Making Out Like a Bandit
My "friend with benefits" wants to pretend our hook-ups never happened. How do I salvage the relationship?
I am a female senior in college and am good friends with a guy I've known since middle school and all his roommates. He and I have become even closer over the course of our college years. Earlier this semester, we went out for a few drinks and ended up making out back at my apartment. We decided not to talk about it and to pretend that nothing ever happened. A few weeks later, we did the same thing. We tried to pretend nothing happened, but our relationship became so awkward that I began to think that it would never recover. Finally it did, but then we ended up sleeping with each other again. This time, I forced him to talk about it, and he decided that we should "just be friends." I agreed, and slowly things got less awkward and everything was great again. Until the other night, when I stayed at his place after drinking with him and his roommates. All the people I've talked to about it tell me that I should tell him we can't sleep together anymore and stick to it in order to save our friendship. But I feel like a pattern is developing here, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose my best friend.
—Friends With Benefits
A young man and woman get to know each other well, care for each other deeply, and then become physically intimate. It used to be that such a course of events often led to a state known as "falling in love." Now it's just seen as the way two members of the gang bum out everyone—including each other—because they suddenly are acting weird. I don't want to be one of those crones extolling how it used to be; believe me, there was plenty wrong with the dating culture of old. And I truly admire the way your generation is able to un-self-consciously make friendships across gender lines. But your letter is at the heart of what's amiss with today's hook-up culture. As you have discovered, there's been little benefit to you if "friends with benefits" describes meaningless and embarrassing sexual encounters. You may not want to acknowledge it, but it sounds as if your sexual intimacy has stirred romantic longings in you. That's a normal thing to feel, and it's painful if not reciprocated. This is why it's best if sex is more than just the way you tell you've finished a drinking game. According to sociologist Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up, once people who've only hooked up graduate from college, they do start dating one person at a time, but since some have never even been on a single date, they're as clumsy at it as high-school freshmen. If this young man is truly your friend, not just a buddy you've known for a long time, you should be able to discuss with him that this no-strings sex has hurt and confused you and that it's hard to pretend it never happened. This discussion does not require a quorum. And as difficult as having such a conversation might be, it will be good practice for that looming next stage of your life.
My wife is a prominent businesswoman who is heavily involved in the arts. I am an anti-establishment lawyer. We were invited to a business/social dinner, along with a big-time Republican and his wife, at the home of a local artistic director and his partner. I am a longtime acquaintance of the other four people through my wife, and they all know I am a strong Barack Obama supporter. George W. Bush's rating as president became a topic, and I said, "He's so bad, he got a nigger elected president of the United States." Everyone seemed to think it was funny except my wife, who kicked me. A kick usually suffices, but she has continued to berate me for the past week. I maintain that everyone present was intelligent and highly educated and therefore understood that nigger was meant ironically. She says nigger should never be used in polite company. Polite company bores me. Did I cross the line?
If you were my husband, you wouldn't be in the doghouse—you would have been given back to the Humane Society. You say "a kick usually suffices," so I assume your wife is frequently embarrassed by these outbursts of yours designed to show your disdain for her "establishment" colleagues and friends. What I find to be a bore, and a boor, is someone who thinks he occupies the moral high ground because he behaves rudely. Your remark was so appalling that I think you should send everyone a note saying that in a misguided attempt at topical humor you made an offensive joke and you apologize for it. And if you drop the adolescent attitude of rebellion, you'll find decent qualities in the people your wife associates with, and they will be pleasantly surprised to find the same in you.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.