Toxic Friends: Should You Stay or Walk Away?
Tough Questions to Ask About Your Toxic Friendship
Many people find themselves trapped in toxic friendships because they don’t want to go through the painful process of ending it. They find themselves holding on to a small glimmer of hope that somehow their friend’s behavior will change and the friendship will get better. Of course there’s nothing wrong with hope and optimism, however; at some point the true facts about your toxic friendship must take precedence over the feelings and emotions that become obstacles in your perception of reality.
Let’s face it, if you have been in your toxic friendship for a significant amount of time and your friend’s behavior hasn’t changed for the better or has gotten progressively worse, chances are he/she has no intentions of changing it. Now that’s reality for you! So now what do you do?
You can choose to remain in the friendship and alter your own behavior to accommodate the needs of your toxic friend or you can walk away from the toxicity. Believe me; if you’re spending a lot of emotional time and energy on the drama of your friendship, it’s not even worth risking your mental health for the sake of your toxic friend. Remaining in an unhealthy friendship will most likely cause you more emotional harm than good.
2. What am I getting out of the friendship?
3. Does he/she treat me like I want to be treated as a friend? Am I treated with respect or does he/she treat me like crap?
4. Do I feel like I always get the short end of the stick?
5. Does my friend use and abuse the friendship and take advantage of me?
6. Do I ever have to ask myself the question, “Why do I allow him/her to treat me this way?”
7. Do I have uncomfortable/negative feelings about my friend and his/her behavior?
8. Is there reciprocity in my friendship?
9. Why do I continue to put up with my friend’s selfishness?
10. Does my friend consistently lie to me, do I trust my friend, is he/she loyal to me?
These are very important questions and your answers should not be taken for granted. My list of questions is by no means an inclusive list as you may have your own that you constantly ask yourself. Either way, write your questions down and answer them. If your answers are mostly negative; you might want to consider ending the friendship. Seeing your questions and answers in writing might help you decide whether or not the friendship is worth holding onto. Writing down your concerns may also serve as a personal reminder of why you might have to detoxify yourself from your friend. In addition, you may also want to write a list of pros and cons of your friendship. If the cons out weigh the pros, what other proof do you need to make you realize that the friendship may not be worth the continued efforts to make it work? You can’t change your friend’s behavior, you can only change your own. Are you willing to do that in order to save a toxic friendship?
If you would like to share your toxic friendship story, please visit my website at www.toxicfriendship.org and click on one of my survey links.
Deciding to end a close friendship can be just as difficult as going through the process of actually ending it; even if it’s a toxic one. So what do you do when you’re faced with the sometimes tough decision of whether or not to remain in a toxic friendship or walk away from it?
We all can take some of the sting out of dead-end relationships and trashed friendships once we understand that all friendships are not created equal. Looking back over the friendships of my own life, I can say with some degree of certainty that friends come in five basic brands: casual, temporary, seasonal, intermittent, and permanent.
1. Casual friend: That’s your touch-and-go friendship. The hello-hello kind, just one step beyond stranger or acquaintance. You exchange smiles every now and then when your paths cross, but that’s about it with casual friendship.
2. Temporary friend: As you will guess, this type of friendship is short-lived. It starts over nothing special, and it ends that way, in a relatively short period of time, though “temporary” could be a year or more before one or both friends call it quits.
3. Seasonal friend: This is friendship that was probably triggered by a special event, a moment of crisis, or a transition in the life of at least one of the two persons involved. It could be the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, a flat tire by the road, or any other event that marks a crisis or transition in one’s life. A seasonal friendship tends to come to an end when one or both persons get through that transitional period. The friendship has served its purpose, and it only makes sense to pull the curtain. If you try to force the continuation of such a friendship, you may actually strain the relationship beyond the pain of a broken friendship; you could make an enemy out of your old friend. It’s better to let go.
What hurts most about temporary and seasonal friendships is how abruptly they usually end. Often the person just cuts away without warning or explanation. You ask the person, “What happened? What did I do wrong? How can we work this out?” And he or she says, “Nothing. There is nothing to talk about. You did nothing wrong. It’s just time for us to go our separate ways.”
And you wanna go, “Say what? After all we’ve been through? After all these years and all the time we’ve invested in this relationship? This is it? This is how it ends? Can’t you remember? Have you forgotten?”
Sometimes it’s far worse than that. Your once-good buddy may start to slander you, starting and spreading the nastiest kind of gossip and rumor about your character, saying crude and cruel things about you. How more bearable it would be if the ex-friend would let you know why s/he ended the relationship. But you are left to guess from hints dropped here, there and yonder. You must get used to not expecting or getting any explanations. This world can be a jungle, and people can be the beasts.
The surprising thing to me, knowing a little something about human nature, is that we are often shocked when a friendship we thought would last forever suddenly shrieks to a terminal halt. Look at it this way: if the seed of your loins, the embryo of your womb can come into this world, eat your food, sleep under your roof and in your bed, play with toys that you bought or made, go to school on your dime or in your car, accept and enjoy your birthday presents and graduation gifts over the years, etc, and grow into adulthood only to abandon you and cut out of your life, as though s/he never knew you from Adam, why be astonished at all when a friend with whom you shared no blood link, suddenly or gradually walks away from your life? Welcome to the real world. Get used to it, my right-now friend.
4. Intermittent friend: “Intermittent” describes something that starts and stops at intervals. “Intermittent” means periodic. It means “on-and-off”.
Our family enjoys an intermittent friendship with one lady in particular. Let’s call her Lady. She is the Godmother of our daughter. We may run into her at the store or at some community gathering. My wife and I sometimes voice our mutual guilt for not keeping in touch more frequently with this dear lady. But she rarely touches with us either. Recently, I surprised Lady with a visit to her home; we talked and laughed for hours.
There is one time in the year that our family can bet on seeing Lady at our house: the evening before our daughter’s birthday (which happens to be our son’s birthday too). Her tradition for the last few years has been to come with an envelope containing a birthday card, which has money tucked in, the amount equal to the age of her Goddaughter. (She brings one for our son too.) Every time we meet Lady, whether on our doorstep, at her home, or somewhere in the community, it’s like we’ve just made friends with her all over again. This intermittent friendship is one of the most precious relationships we know of. Yes, it’s on-and-off, but we know it’s still there, and whenever we bump into Lady, the meeting proves that our friendship with her is still alive and well.
The really neat, or perhaps odd thing about this relationship is that neither Harriet (that’s my wife) nor I can exclusively claim Lady as “my friend”. Isn’t that weird? Lady is a friend to both of us, to Harriet and me. She’s “our friend”, our intermittent friend.
5. Permanent friend: Life hardly gets any better than a lasting, lifelong relationship with a true friend, with whom you are regularly in contact, like almost on a weekly basis, if not more regularly.
A permanent friendship may start while two students are in grade school. The ride never ends. One is there when the other lands his first job. One serves as maid of honor or best man at the other’s wedding. When one moves into an apartment or house of her own, the other is right there, or knows the day and time when the big move takes place. So on goes this rarest brand of friendship until the ‘ship’ veers by a hospital or some other sick bed, then finally reaches the harbor of a funeral home. From there, one still faithful, though frail friend, follows his buddy to say one last goodbye at a graveyard just outside of town.
Blessed is the soul which has one such jewel of a friend, a permanent friend, especially if that golden friend is someone outside of one’s family circle. But if you find a family member a permanent friend, you’d better take him or her. Life doesn’t churn up a whole lot of that brand anymore
I just heard last night the sad news that Jennifer Hudson’s mother and brother have been murdered in their own home in Chicago yesterday. I think this is just tragic and just so sad. I hope Jennifer has support from friends and family to help her get through this painful time in her life. One thing I know for sure Jennifer loved her family so much she always talked about her family supporting her entertainment career. I am praying for Jennifer Hudson.
Jennifer Hudson must be going through hell right now and I just hope she has the strength to carry on she loved her mother and her brother so much. I remember when Jennifer won the Oscar for “Dreamgirls” she made sure to thank her family for supporting her.
I just hope Jennifer doesn’t blame herself for this tragedy it wasn’t her fault. Is this the price of fame? Why did this have to happen to such a nice sweet young woman? Jennifer Hudson seems so humble unlike some other young stars. I am a fan of Jennifer’s music and I love Dreamgirls. I went to IMDB.COM and I cannot believe some people are actually trying to blame Jennifer for this tragedy. How can people be so callous and pernicious?
My goodness, Jennifer’s seven year old nephew is also missing. It appears this is a domestic dispute and that the killer is Jennifer Hudson’s brother in law. Jennifer’s older sister Julia married a criminal and this guy is just a dirt bag that I hope rots in prison. Why did Julia marry a criminal? I sense there may be resentment between the sisters because of this tragedy.
Some people have said why didn’t Jennifer move her mother from Chicago’s South Side? Maybe Jennifer’s mother didn’t want to move and regardless crime can take place anywhere it doesn’t matter where a person lives. Of course, I know nothing about Chicago but I heard not all the South Side has a bad reputation. In fact, I read that Barack Obama only lives five miles away from Jennifer Hudson in a well to do neighborhood called Hyde Park and it is also in the South Side of the city.
I miss him I have to tried to be strong and confident to just forget about him but I can’t. I have been given advice to just “forget about him and move on”. I wish it was so simple but of course it is not. I had known this man for almost six years he has a very special place in my heart. We were just friends for most of the six years until we crossed the line and became more then friends this spring and summer. I guess we were always attracted to each other I wonder to myself “why did we cross the line?” We resisted the temptation for almost six years so why didn’t we just resist it even more? I guess I don’t have the answer to that one.
The last time I saw him was on October 1st 2008 because we weren’t able to meet on my birthday on September 26th. He was so sweet he bought he the Golden Girls seasons I and II on DVD. I was very surprised that he bought me the Golden Girls for my birthday.
Maybe he was just being nice? I guess I haven’t contacted him because I don’t know what to say to him. I guess he hasn’t contacted me because he doesn’t want me to read too much into it? Perhaps this is the reason he hasn’t contacted me? He is not very loquacious he seems to send messages through his actions and not words. I wish he would be more open with me.
If he has moved on to someone else this is fine this is a part of life that I must accept but I am tired of wondering “what if” and this is the reason I have written this blog entry. I just want to move on with my life.
He also bought me a small brass guitar that fits on my key chain on Saturday I lost the golden guitar and that sucks. I looked everywhere for the brass guitar and I can’t find it.
On October 1st 2008 we also watched the movie “Lakeview Terrace”. He paid for the dinner after the movie and drove me home and that was the last time I saw him. The Golden Girls is my favorite TV show of all time! I have finished watching seasons I and II of the Golden Girls. I now have to buy seasons three through season seven I am addicted to the Golden Girls!
However, I wish we had talked about the miscommunication between us. If we talked more openly on October 1st I could of had closure and moved on I guess. I wish I had the courage to speak more freely. I asked him “did you miss me” he said “I thought of you”. We didn’t talk about the real issues. He basically vanished after that day.
I have thought of many scenarios in my mind I thought about visiting him at his house but I immediately changed my mind because he is not out of the closet to his family. He is from a very conservative South Asian family.
I haven’t seen him in three weeks and the last time we communicated was via text on October 6th 2008. I admit that I do miss him but I don’t know what to say to him? I feel like I want closure though. I think to myself “why do I want to talk to him again? What will this achieve? What will contacting him accomplish? What will happen? Shouldn’t I just turn the page and move on?”
I feel that maybe I should try contacting him one last time. I dial the digits until I reach the last number I stop myself from calling him. I think to myself “well he’s not calling me so this must be the message the silence”. The silence could be the answer and I have to accept this?
I also wonder maybe he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore? Maybe he has already moved on? Maybe I should leave him alone? I don’t want look foolish or silly so I haven’t contacted him at all. Does he even care about me anymore? Maybe I am a distant memory in his mind? Maybe he just wants to move on with his life?
I have thought about calling him but I change my mind over and over again. I wonder will he even respond? Will he ignore my phone call? I guess this is the reason I haven’t contacted him because I am afraid.
I have thought about sending him a text message but then I wonder will he simply “delay” his response? Will he even respond at all ? Should I bother trying at all? I do miss him though but I don’t want to be a bother to him. He has a lot of friends anyway I guess he cares more about them then he does about me.
I feel like I am in a state of flux right now trying to move in the right direction and create a new path for my life. I am just not interested in blogging right now. I need a break I think I will return or I might delete this blog. I wonder if anyone likes my blog and reads it anyway?
Of course, I don’t want to admit the truth but it is obvious that I am tired of this guy’s emotional games and it seems he isn’t interestred in me anymore. I guess this is life. I am also tired of his bullshit all the smokes and mirrors. He doesn’t love me and I don’t need someone in my life that is vague.
I also realize he loves attention from gay men he has admitted this to me. I remember he told me a few times there is a South Asian guy at the local university that is interested in him. He claims he isn’t fucking this guy but he is just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. Obviously something is going on between them or between him and someone else. But hey that’s his issue right?
When I told him that he should not “lead” the other South Asian guy on he said “so what it is not my fault if he doesn’t understand I just want to be his friend.” But when I told him it wasn’t right for him to “lead” the other South Asian guy on he said he “loves attention and it is “just fun”. But is it right? I believe it is not right to play with another person’s feelings and emotions. It is not right to lead another person on. I wouldn’t do that to someone I cared about. I should of looked at the warning signals and the red flags sooner.
He said once during a phone conversation “I am not perfect.” However, he admits he is manipulative. The question remains why does he act like this? Is it because he has low self esteem and not enough self worth? Perhaps he feels the “need” for attention from gay men to validate himself because he doesn’t have high self esteem? Whatever that’s his issue not mine. I guess he contacted me in late September early October not because he cared about me but because he wasn’t getting enough attention from another man. And I guess once he got the attention he wanted from the other guy he vanished.
I know he doesn’t care about me because I haven’t heard from him in almost a week. I have tried in the past to keep in contact with him but it wasn’t until last week Monday I realized he was just stringing me along. He sees this as just “a game” to play with my “feelings and emotions.” Of course I view this as disrespectful and I won’t put up with that shit anymore.
Yes, on October 1st I saw him and he took me out for my birthday. Although, I must mention my birthday is actually September 26th but that’s not the point. It was nice seeing him on October 1st but it also was bittersweet because we did not talk about the “real” issues between us. What is he so afraid of anyway? I hate making assumptions but I am guessing he was “afraid” of hurting my feelings telling me he met someone else. I don’t know? What I do know is I am sick and tired of the guessing game.
On October 1st I met up with him at the subway station and he gave me my birthday gift seasons I and 2 of the Golden Girls! I was so surprised because the Golden Girls is my favorite television show! The Golden Girls is very camp so that’s why I think the show is very popular with gay men. The jokes are just so funny and hilarious.
We went back to his cargo van to talk and he gave me a golden guitar that I put on my key chain. I think the gifts are wonderful and very thoughtful because he knows the Golden Girls is my favorite sitcom! Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia have a special place in my heart. The program is hilarious. On the second season DVD there is an episode called “Isn’t it Romantic?” it is about Dorothy’s old friend Jean she is a lesbian and she tells Dorothy she is in love with Rose. I swear that episode is my favorite Golden Girls episode ever! I laughed so hard whenever I watch this episode. The episode “isn’t it romantic?” won an Emmy award because the episode dealt with the sensitive issue of lesbianism in such an honest way without being homophobic. Remember the Golden Girls was a hit in 1985 that was a long time ago!
We watched the movie Lakeview Terrace the Samuel L Jackson movie at 7:00pm it was very predictable and not that great a film. After the movie he said “you are in charge what do you want to do next?” So I said “okay let’s go downtown to Frans on College street and eat.” He paid for dinner I thought that was sweet and he drove me home. We danced around talking about the unresolved issues between us. I wish we had used that oppportunity to talk it was first time I had seen him in over a month.
I have tried talking to him. I recall a few weeks ago on a Thursday night I called him and he said “don’t diagnose me”. I wasn’t trying to make a “diagnosis” I was simply trying to find out how he feels. It is so frustrating trying to talk to a man that simply will not open up about his feelings. Does he have a heart of stone I wonder? Does he not have feelings or emotions? He acts so cold sometimes this is one of the reasons I have given up. I want a man that can open up to me, that doesn’t play bullshit games, that is honest and gives frank clear answers. I am tired of this bullshit.
It has taken me a while to understand this is just a “game” this push and pull bullshit. I am sick of it.
He is not out of the closet and his family doesn’t know that he is gay. He has become very involved with a South Asian group at the local university and that consumes a lot of his time. Since I am not South Asian I am guessing he is utilizing the South Asian group as a way to find support. I do recall in the summer he told me that his father has suggested he wants him placed in an arranged marriage with a woman. He told me his family has not found a bride yet so I guess that’s good news. The point is his family is definitely thinking about marrying him off to a woman in the next few years though. I have been given advice to not worry about this that it has nothing to do with me. Of course I care though about him.
It is so strange because I have known him for over five years but since we crossed the line of sin from being “just friends” to “dating” to “not dating” he has become more reticent about his feelings towards me. You would think knowing someone for over five long years that he would be comfortable enough to tell me how he feels. I guess he was just being “nice” taking me out for my birthday. Of course he didn’t have to but I guess he wanted to. The point is he vanished for a few days after I saw him on October 1st. Why did he bother to show up at all? Was it guilt? Was it because he wanted to? I wonder?
My sister said to me “why do you like him? What is so special about him anyway?” My sister says he is a “waste of my time” and he is “not honest.” She also says “you can do much better Orville. ” Maybe my sister is right? What is the point anymore?
He is all about “signals” and not about “frank clear answers”. I understand now I have to discern from his “actions” of being silent that he is keeping his distance from me. I haven’t heard from him since Monday October 6th. I am so tired of this push and pull bullshit. I have to move on I have had enough.
The point is I think he should have the guts to talk to me in a public place and tell me how he really feels. But perhaps the silence is the real answer. What is the point of making assumptions? I haven’t contacted him since he contacted me Monday morning via text because I feel like “why should I?” “What is the point anymore?” I can’t stand the “delayed responses” and all the bullshit. I can’t stand contacting him wondering “when” he will respond. I think it is so rude to take two fucking days to respond to a text! It is total bullshit! I don’t like playing games, and I prefer frank clear answers.
In early September he said does not want “a committed relationship”. He believes a “committed relationship” means monogamy. I have never been “monogamous” to anyone in my life ever. I never asked for a “committed relationship” from him either. All I have acknowledged is that I have feelings for him. We did go out with each other but he has issues with intimacy.
I am still trying to get my own life together. I honestly believe he has a fear of getting close to another man he has conflicts with his own homosexuality. And that’s a red flag right there. I realize I do need to be with someone that is totally comfortable with being gay. He sometimes changes the topic when this emerges but I honestly believe he is not accepting of his sexual orientation. So maybe it is the best that I never contract him again. Again what is the point? I am so tired of moving in circles.
The gay male community is a strange place where gay men value our sexual freedom. It is hard for some straight people to understand. I never stopped him from having sex with someone else the point is I couldn’t anyway right? I think he has a fear of intimacy though. I know it is hard for some women to understand but there is a difference between “love” and “sex”. “Love” is an emotional plus a physical connection two people have for each other. In my mind “sex” is a physical connection and attraction it is about a physical release. I can have “sex” with someone without being “in love” with the person. However, I cannot just have an “emotional connection” to just anybody that’s just not the kind of person I am.
I don’t know totally what I want but what I do know is that I can’t just be his “friend”. I admit it I lied to him I told him a few weeks ago we can be “just friends” but I can’t “just” be his “friend” I have feelings for him. I wish I didn’t have feelings for him but I do. I honestly wish I did not have feelings for him because I don’t understand him anymore. I feel that he has changed.
What I don’t understand is why did he go all out for me for my birthday and then vanish? It doesn’t make sense? Why spend so much money on the Golden Girls DVD seasons 1 and 2? Why did he get me the golden guitar key chain at all? Why did he spend money to pay for dinner? Why did he drive me home? Why did he vanish? Why did he bother at all? Seriously, if he didn’t care about me it doesn’t make things easier for me to understand what is going on? Perhaps the silence is the real answer the truth about how he really feels about me?
I am so tired of making “assumptions” of wondering “why” so I have given up on him that’s it. It has been almost a week since I have heard from him and I just have to tell myself he is gone forever and that I must move on. I don’t like this vanishing game he is playing it is irritating and annoying. It is also very immature as well.
October 1st was the first time I had seen him in about a month. I asked him if he “missed me” he said “I thought about you.” When he parked the car by my house I extended my hand to give him a handshake and he gave me a hug.
I contacted him the Saturday on October 4th because I felt it was right to thank him for the gifts via text. He did not respond until two days later Monday morning on October 6th. He says in the first text that he had “forgotten my cell phone at home by mistake when I was at the fair.”
I just don’t believe him I find this very lame excuse and very hard to believe. The reason I say this is because he always has his cell phone on him. He has a best friend a girl and she has been his best friend since he was nine years old. I doubt very much he would ever “forget” his cell phone and not a day goes by that he never contacts her! It seems to me this girl is “his life” he is very excited that she attends the local university. I asked him on October 1st if he is “in love” with her. Maybe that’s the reason he is so conflicted about his sexuality it seems to me maybe he is bisexual or something it seems to me he loves this girl. He would never “vanish” from her life for over a week but he treats me this way. He would “never” not make a day go by not “contacting” her but he treats me like a second fiddle.
Of course, his best friend the girl is a higher priority in his life then I will ever be. I understand and accept this. I cannot compete with the girl I know I will lose she is his best friend she is basically his life it seems. I just think it is so lame for him to lie to me telling me he had “forgotten” his cell phone at home. He must be lying it makes no sense. He loves his cell phone! So I wonder why would he lie to me? What is the point of lying at all? I bet he talks to the girl every single day or texts her every single day yet he treats me with such disdain.
However, I never asked him for his reasons for the delayed response. I realized that moment “what is the point anymore?” It sucks because I have known him for so long but this is not what I want. I don’t need this heartache and this pain. I don’t need this anymore. I know it hurts right now but I realize I must maintain my vow to never contact him ever again it just isn’t worth it.
I don’t need someone in my life that is vague, evasive, and full of smokes and mirrors. I don’t need a vanishing man that suddenly appears and disappears without giving a reason. I don’t know what’s going on in his life because he hasn’t told me. Of course I care about him but I have to think about myself here. It will be tough letting go but what point is there? He doesn’t love me it is obvious through his actions, through not contacting me. It is so easy to text, e-mail, and call. Yes, I have tried to reach out to him but I have done enough. I can do no more.
I have given up on him maybe this is for the best. I am not happy about the decision I made last week Monday but I have to do this. I understand he will never change no point in trying to make a man change.
There is no point for me to try to be “in contact” with him when he doesn’t make the effort to be “in contact” with me. I accept the fact he is gone. I am tired of his emotional games, I am tired of the rollercoaster of feelings and emotions. I am sick of his bullshit. I have had enough. I am sad but I guess it is a part of life. I thought we had a “connection” I guess I was just kidding myself. What is the point moving in circles over and over again? We have nothing anymore he is gone. I have to accept this and move on with my life.
My favorite radio program is the American radio show Michel Martin’s “Tell Me More”. NPR is an American public radio network. NPR is important because it is inclusive of people of colour. Sometimes when I listen to Canadian radio I notice issues I am concerned about and issues that are imporant to me are ignored.
“Tell Me More” is on www.npr.org and it is an amazing show. Every single Friday there is a segment on “Tell Me More” called the Barbershop where black, Asian, and Latino men discuss politics, pop culture, race issues. Friday’s discussion was mainly about John McCain calling Barack Obama “that one”.
Here Is The Link:
Robin Thicke’s new CD “Something Else” was released last week I haven’t gotten the chance to listen to the album yet. However, I will say this Thicke’s 2006 album “The Evolution Of Robin Thicke” is excellent and I was so the album went platinum.
I think Justin Timberlake receives more press perhaps because he is a bit younger, he was the lead singer in the teen pop group. However, Robin Thicke I believe is much more talented. Thicke is also a producer and songwriter he has worked with Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, and other artists. Thicke is also true to the R&B genre he reminds me of Marvin Gaye. Timberlake I believe is more of a pop/soul artist he is more popular but I don’t believe he is as solid a singer as Robin Thicke is.
By Diane Mapes
We met outside the Queen Anne post office. Bob (as I’ll call him) was a thirtysomething personal trainer, new in town, recently divorced, and inspired by the day’s crisp sunshine. After a few minutes of pleasant chitchat, he handed me his card; not wanting to be found guilty of the infamous Seattle slap-down, I quickly reciprocated. Two hours later, Bob called.
“I really enjoyed talking to you,” he said. “You seem bright and funny and friendly. I was wondering if you’d like to get together sometime for … ” A drink, a movie, dinner, my mind skipped ahead.
“For, um, I guess most people call it friends with benefits,” he said.
My mind tripped over an assumption and fell flat on its face.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “We’ve known each other all of five minutes and you’re calling to ask if I’ll have sex with you?”
“Well, we’d have coffee first,” he told me cheerfully.
Today’s dating scene is about as easy to pigeonhole as the color of paint. Sure, there are plenty of traditionalists out there, but there are many others who don’t date so much as hang out or hook up (AXE, which makes male grooming products, even named Seattle “the best city in America for hooking up”).
Some rely on what I’ll politely call “bed buddies” to get them through the lonely times. Others turn to their friends or neighbors for that occasional cup of sugar. But Bob’s proposition seemed curious even for these bi-curious times. When, I wondered, had friends with benefits turned into strangers with benefits? What exactly was going on Out There?
That was fun … next!
Alan, a 44-year-old SGG — single guy with goatee — who described himself on his Craig’s List ad as “thoughtful, funny, creative and articulate,” seemed a good place to start. Recently out of a seven-year marriage, Alan was looking to enjoy all the benefits of dating (including safe sex), but with a variety of women at once.
“I guess I’d call this open dating,” says Alan, who, like others for this story, asked that we not use his last name. He has corresponded with about 20 women in the past two months, many of whom have passed on his commitment-free philosophy. “The natural expectation seems to be that you date as a first step to being in a relationship. What I’m referring to is endless dating. We can have a relationship as friends, but I don’t want to be tied down.”
The irony, of course, is that as a poet, chef, musician and artist, Alan appears to be the perfect candidate for romance. Even his first Craig’s List date reads like out a page out of the hipster’s handbook of love: They met at a coffeehouse on Broadway, went to “The Dukes of Hazzard” at a local drive-in to neck, then watched the sun come up over breakfast.
But instead of coming home and penning a sonnet to his new lady friend, Alan came home and started e-mailing other women. Some of whom he’s now seeing — on the nights he’s not seeing his drive-in date. And they all know about each other.
“Right now, I’m only dating three women,” he says. “Well, kind of four.”
The new rules?
Confusion seems understandable. After all, dating — along with matching tote bags, sex and commitment — has changed dramatically over the decades. Fifty years ago, a single woman would sooner hide out in a darkened apartment than let her neighbors know she didn’t have a Saturday night steady. These days, she’ll post her picture on AdultFriendFinder or Lavalife’s “Intimate Encounters” section to find a no-strings sex partner for the night.
“A lot of my friends will do hookups or casual sex,” says Emily, a 25-year-old educator who recently became single again. “But that’s not for me. I guess I have a little bit more respect for sex. I think that you should be in love instead of sleeping with someone you don’t care about.”
Alan, of course, claims he does care about the various women he’s sleeping with — he just doesn’t care about them that way. And both he and Bob (whose candor still has me wondering whether I should shake his hand or slap his face), are completely up-front about their lack of romantic interest. But do we really want that kind of honesty when it comes to our so-called love life?
“If somebody has no intention of looking for someone special in their life and just wants sex for fun and pleasure, isn’t it better that they tell you up front?” says Pepper Schwartz, University of Washington sociology professor and author of “Finding Your Perfect Match.”
“The honesty may be a little difficult to take, but it might hurt less in the long run.”
Buddies and booty calls
Ah yes, the long run — that thing so many singles are thinking about when they head out into the dating trenches. But today, there are lots of short-runners out there, too, whether by choice or by circumstance.
“Sometimes you realize you just can’t be in a relationship with someone,” says Marie, a 34-year-old bachelor girl who works in the beauty business. “A guy could be totally hot and then he opens his mouth and immediately you know he’s not a good fit.”
Selfishness, poor self-esteem, a refusal to settle — there are dozens of reasons we end up in the bedroom with someone we don’t necessarily want to take home to Mom. Some people simply don’t have a capacity for true intimacy. Others just can’t turn down an easy opportunity.
“A few years ago, I met a guy and we went out on a couple of dates, but we just didn’t click,” says Mary, a 36-year-old technical writer. “But I knew he was available to sleep with. And I have to admit there were some lonely cold winter nights when he would call and I’d drop a hint and 20 minutes later, he’d show up at my door.”
Mary acknowledges the buddy system may have worked better for her than for her buddy, who eventually began to grouse about the inequities in their relationship. But in the caveat emptor world of casual sex, is it our responsibility to look after our lovers’ hearts along with our own? Or is it enough to just “be honest?”
“He knew I didn’t want anything more — I was clear about that — but I was the one who should have refrained,” she says. “In retrospect, I was playing with fire.”
Neither Mary nor her buddy were seriously burned, and both have since moved on to respective long-term relationships. But Daniel, a 35-year-old Seattle sales associate, didn’t fare as well. After six months in a friends-with-benefits arrangement (the pair did everything together, from working out to waking up), he broke the cardinal rule of the casual relationship and fell in love.
Shortly thereafter, his friend started dating someone else. Not only was Daniel left without a buddy or any benefits, he didn’t even have the satisfaction of a decent breakup.
“I’m moving away from the friends-with-benefits arrangement,” he says today. “There’s always one person that ends up getting hurt. And I don’t want to be that person or be the person doing that to someone else.”
Rules of un-engagement
Herein lies one of the flaws of the buddy system. Spend one too many nights with your beneficent friend and you may develop feelings for them, a huge no-no in the upside-down world of buddydom.
How do people get around this? On Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine had a set of rules: no sleepovers and no next-day phone calls. Others have found it helpful to limit their bed buddies to people they could never date — someone too young, too old, or too unsophisticated for public consumption. Still others simply hook up (safely, one hopes) with a new buddy every time they need some company.
Whatever the case, most singles agree these arrangements are short-term.
“You can’t have friends with benefits forever,” says 25-year-old Emily. “It’s based on sex instead of a deeper connection.”
That missing connection may be the real downside to the buddy zone. After all, no one can exist on a diet of devil’s food cake forever; after awhile, you fail to appreciate what a sweet treat it truly is. And so it goes with our sexual appetites. Stay in the zone too long and you may become jaded, then contemptuous, and soon, your lovers become nothing more than disposable sex partners, or “DSPs,” as one of Marie’s friends calls them.
Pepper Schwartz refers to this as “the subtle danger” of the buddy system. By adopting a strictly utilitarian attitude, “you can become more cynical and less romantic about sex,” she says. “It becomes a question of whether you’ll be able to have a transcending experience with the person you love, or if sex will be mechanical and utilitarian even then.”