Advice

Miss Information: How do I turn a friend with benefits into just a friend?

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Dear Miss Information,

I’m having trouble discussing my fears about the future with my girlfriend of two years. I recently began a graduate program in California, and the plan was for her to come out here when I moved. Now the plan is for her to join me as soon as she can. Right now she’s stuck on the East Coast, in a city she didn’t grow up in and a job that wasn’t what she expected. She’s given up a lot to be with me and I can tell that she’s unhappy with her current situation.

I’m really scared that by asking her to leave her friends and job I’m putting an impossible strain on the relationship. It was only when I got out here and realized how much support I have that I understood how hard it would be for her without any other really good reason to be here besides me.

My girlfriend seems to think I don’t miss her, which isn’t true — I’m just really busy with and excited about my new program. But we tried to talk about it recently and we both got really upset.

In my enthusiasm for our relationship (and probably a fair bit of cowardice), when she said that she wouldn’t join me if she didn’t think we were eventually going to get married, I didn’t say, “I hope so but who knows.” This is a promise I want to make, but we’re both in our early twenties. I don’t know what the future holds. She says she won’t come out here if I’m going to be non-committal, and I don’t want to lose her.

I’m worried that if it doesn’t work out, five years down the line, I will have ruined our young adulthood. I know that this is a conversation I need to have again with her, but I have no idea how to talk about this with her or what to do about the obstacles we face. — Confused, Dumb, and Far Away

Dear Confused, Dumb, and Far Away,

No one’s going to ruin anyone’s young adulthood. You cannot predict her future, your future, or the collective Future. Therefore, you cannot deliberately flub half a decade. What constitutes “ruining,” anyway? It’s all experience. Your only responsibility is to make the best decisions you can based on the information you have available.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, so all I have to do is make the best decisions I can? Where did you crib that from, ‘Chicken Soup for the Half-assed Advice Columnist’s Soul?’  Thanks a bunch, Miss Information.” And I realize that answers don’t come easily, especially in times of transition and long-distance relationships. But here’s some good news: you only have to take on half of the load you’re currently carrying. Right now you’re doing her worrying for her — how she’s doing now, how she’ll do in the future, her friends, her career prospects. Yes, all of that is tied to you on some level, but it’s her responsibility at the end of the day. After all, she could move out there to be with you and then fall in love with some random dude or get a job offer hundreds of miles away. Then it’d be your heart that gets broken. Don’t underestimate her autonomy or impact.

That said, you have an important task in front of you, which is to express your doubts and concerns. Which is really, really difficult to do. No one wants to say something to someone they love that could put them at risk of losing the relationship. But here’s the deal — it’s something you absolutely have to do and a risk you absolutely have to take. Look at it this way: if you don’t do this, and you keep your mouth shut and continue with this wishy-washy routine, you have a good chance of losing her anyway. You don’t have a duty to fulfill her every need or make her every decision, but you do have a duty to be as honest as you possibly can.

There may be solutions you haven’t thought of. She could move to where you are, but get her own place. You could agree to up the frequency of cross-country visits at your expense if she’ll wait a little longer to figure the problem out. Think about what feels comfortable for the both of you, not what’s most linear or expected. It would be lovely if she came out there and you two moved into a nice little bungalow with a Boston terrier and two names on the mailbox, but sometimes you have to compromise your romantic ideals if you want to stay together.

Dear Miss Information,

For the few months that my boyfriend and I were broken up, I had a pretty much perfect fuck-buddy — way too emotionally messed up and slutty to be boyfriend material, but fun to hang out with and physically attractive. My boyfriend and I are now trying to work things out and I haven’t fucked the fuck-buddy since then, and don’t desire to. But I’d still like to be friends with him because I still think he’s a cool person and because we will surely run into each other (we share some friends and interests). I haven’t talked to him yet about why we aren’t doing it anymore, and I’m nervous about how I should broach the subject. I don’t think he’ll feel hurt — after all, he never expressed a desire for us to be more than just casual — but he’s also extremely guarded when it comes to relationships and would do anything to avoid feeling vulnerable. I know it’s unrealistic to think we would become best friends, but I would be sad if we never hung out again. Is it possible to turn a fuck-buddy into just a buddy? — Friend Without Benefits

Dear Friend Without Benefits,

It’s possible, but I’m having a hard time seeing why you’d want to, given the situation. Turning a fuck-buddy into a plain-old buddy usually requires that you be in a stable relationship. When you’re still “trying to work things out,” it’s way too easy to get in an argument and go running to the fuck buddy for solace in the form of ill-advised makeouts.

And this isn’t just any fuck-buddy. He’s someone you were seeing for a specific period: during a breakup with your current boyfriend. He’s not the “lifer” kind of fuck-buddy, who’s seen boyfriends come and go — you can’t be sure how he’s going to behave. The connection’s still recent.

Add to that the descriptors of “physically attractive,” “slutty,” and “fun to hang out with,” and you’re shooting yourself in the vagina, it seems. Befriending him is like going on a diet and then filling your fridge with bacon because it was on sale. I’m not saying you’re doomed to give in to temptation, I’m just saying it won’t be easy.

Shared interests and friends are nice, but you can find those with just about anybody. Before proceeding, ask yourself whether it’s worth risking your fragile baby chick of a relationship with your boyfriend. Maybe it would be wiser to wait three months, six months, a year. By then, your relationship with your guy will be stronger or it’ll be over completely. You can come at the friendship from more balanced, secure footing.

If you’re determined to stay in contact with the fuck-buddy no matter what I say, I’d arrange a meeting at a neutral time and place. Tell him you’re seeing someone and so you need to put your physical relationship on hold. It’s got nothing to do with him and everything to do with you and the person you’re seeing. Give him a few examples of how that might play out, what will change and what won’t — no more flirty late-night texts, but you can still play on the same team for pub quizzes. Once you’ve gotten that out, let him share his thoughts or sit there in awkward silence, and contact him again after he’s had a few days to angst on it.

The worst thing to do would be to continue with the silent, slow fadeout. If he has issues with being vulnerable and trusting people, it will just make his wounds that much deeper, not to mention ruin the chance of any repeat business if things don’t work out with you and the BF.