Every once in a while I have the distinct pleasure of listening to Love Lines. One night a woman called in to discuss her friends with benefits situation. Her lover/friend had acquired yet another tattoo of a woman on his body and it wasn’t of her. She was reasonably upset because, as the experts adroitly pointed out, “You’re in love with the guy. Admit it.” And so she did.
Dr. Drew and friends then went on to say that there really was no such thing as “friends with benefits,” that either a person was a sex addict if she felt nothing or was falling in love. That’s it.
I think I drove for another mile with my mouth hanging open.
Those are my options? Either I’m a sex addict or I’m falling in love with my friends with benefits? I have, let’s see, 4 right now: Jason, The Neighbor, Phillip, and Kevin. And since I’m adamant about keeping my emotions at bay with each of them (though, I admit to it being a struggle), then I am an addict.
I think this line of thinking is appalling. I have the drive (sexually and physically) and the means (I’m attractive and alluring enough) to get laid pretty much whenever I want. This does not an addict make. And, NO, I’m not in denial.
Let’s look at what is an addiction — in this case a behavioral, or process, addiction — most simply put, it’s maladaptive and persistent behavior. Is frequent sex with multiple partners always (and immediately) maladaptive and persistent?
The Love Lines folks appear to believe this means that anyone not in a monogamous, longterm, meaningful relationship who happens to seek out and enjoy sex with people would be considered an addict without further knowledge or understanding of the afflicted. And most alarmingly, that would be me.
But it’s not. It’s been a conscious decision from the beginning to help me explore my body, my mind, and to heal. I readily admit to using sex with men as a distraction and as a treat, but I have never felt badly about this; never regretted a single encounter; never felt guilty/low/ashamed. I’d argue that the sheer amount of pain I’ve felt regarding my divorce has upset my life in much more impactful ways than my sexual activities. While my pursuit of sex has been persistent behavior on my part, none of this has been maladaptive. It’s been a lifeline.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re connected, for sure, but why can’t I be allowed to be in pain and seek relief in any way I choose? In an adult way where I get contact and intimacy on my terms; where I feel like I’m in control of a part of my life that for so long was out of my control? Seriously. What is so wrong with that?
Of course, the experts would say I’m in denial, but that is far too black and white for my liking and it eliminates anything not mainstream and if I defend myself, then I’m automatically in denial. The whole “You’re so argumentative today!” and then the accused is painted into a verbal trap. He either has to admit to being argumentative or say he isn’t, which is argumentative, and thereby proves the accuser right.
I’m in denial about my feelings and really I’m falling in love with one of my lovers – gah. It’s true that I fight feelings for Jason and The Neighbor frequently, but I am scarred and terrified of a relationship. I’m not a fucking robot. I don’t want my feelings on the line right now, but I want to feel that amazing release that only sex can bring. I want to let someone in only as close as I want him to be. Is that pathological? I think that’s pretty fucking smart.
Is having friends with benefits detrimental? My therapist sorta hates it, but he also is in a strange kind of awe at my approach to all of this. He understands that this is a phase and that I’m wading through it on my terms. He trusts me. I trust me.
Why are these definitions so narrowly illustrated? Either I’m an addict because I seek pleasure without intimacy or I’m in love and in denial.
The one thing I’ll concede in all of this is that I haven’t really thought out what Step 2 is in these FWB relationships. With Phillip and Kevin it’s just pure fun and frolic. Phillip lives a million miles away and Kevin has a girlfriend, but I’ve made Step 1 with Jason and TN: I’ve entered an intimate friendship with them; there are no emotional demands on either of us other than mutual respect and integrity; no monogamy; it’s fun. They are what I’m looking for, but I am not what they’re looking for. I am their place holder.
That new revelation, more than being an “addict” or “in love”, is what’s been preying on my mind the past few days. They both want marriage some day and children. I can honestly say I will never bear another child; I might remarry. Jason is struggling with his feelings for me. He’s scared he may want more than I can give. TN likes to hear my other exploits because it reminds him of our situation and he can remain distant. I think he’d love me if I let him. What I realize is that I have set myself up to be left. I won’t leave because I have what I want…
So, fuck the whole idea I can’t have friends with benefits. I absolutely can, but there is a price. I will be left.