The Most Rewarding Relationship You Can Have Is Not Sexual
“We’ve worked on — and mastered — a different kind of post-breakup arrangement: We do everything together except bone”
My best friend is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. She’s smart, but not a know-it-all, which makes her curious and wide-eyed. She’s funny, but she never goes for the cheap laugh, which makes her surprising. She’s a knockout, but she doesn’t know it, so, yeah, she’s humble. She’ll give you the shirt off her back, but, boy, will she make you work for it (I owe her 60 bucks at the time of writing). She’s tough as nails, but if she breaks her own? Forget about it. She’s responsible, works harder than anyone I’ve ever met, takes nothing for granted, believes in me and doesn’t scare easy. She is, perhaps, the perfect girl.
Oh, yeah, she’s also my ex. We ended our traditional boy-meets-girl relationship over five years ago and have since embarked on something a touch more unconventional. Some exes continue their sexual dalliances long after they’ve split. Just because I hate the way you breathe heavily when you watch TV and you hate the way I peel an avocado doesn’t mean we can’t keep going down on each other, right? But because a total lack of sex was the reason we decided to end our relationship in the first place (more on that later), we’ve worked on — and mastered — a different kind of post-breakup arrangement: We do everything together except bone. We’re everything but f*ck buddies. Friends with different kinds of benefits. It’s our non-relationship relationship.
But before I explain exactly how this works, and how it’s changed our lives, here’s a brief history of how we got here.
We dated for almost a year, but it went by in a week. The honeymoon phase — which, for all you relationship neophytes, is the period when things still feel fresh and exhilarating (that is, the sex is still good) — was cut short when I moved to New York for a job opportunity.
Sure she visited me, but there was no denying that our relationship had been permanently stained by the “who are you going out with tonights?” and the “why didn’t you call me backs?” and the “when are you coming homes?”
When I did return home, things fit again, like a shoe in mud, but it was clear from the start that something was missing. The expiry date on our relationship had been accelerated, because that’s what long distance does. It stuffs everything into a vacuum and forces you to confront a top 10 list of typical relationship problems right here, right now. Communication breakdowns, questions about the future, jealousy and accusations, the measuring of expectations, trial breakups. These are issues that couples in more traditional relationships face one at a time, like pit stops on a cross-country road trip. They’re spread out and there are signs, so you see them coming. When I moved to New York, we had to confront them all at once.
“She became less of a girlfriend and more of a sister. I didn’t want to have sex with her, but if you dared steal her lunch money, I’d punch you in the mouth”
What was really only our seventh month together felt like our 70th. Baggy T-shirts, baggier sweat pants, television, snacks, bed, snacks in bed, rinse, repeat. We were like a box of matches left out in the rain: cold, soggy and devoid of any kind of spark. One week without sex turned into two. Two weeks became a month. One month became three. To this day, when I tell people that our relationship fizzled out after a whopping six months of no sex, I still get incredulous stares back, usually accompanied by a “Dude, what’s wrong with you?” And you know what? I didn’t know. I still don’t, really. I don’t even remember how it happened. I just recall a lot of quiet, awkward, fully-clothed nights in bed, followed by a lot of quiet, awkward, fully-clothed mornings. For breakfast: a lot of questions. For dinner: no answers.
Some have suggested that it was the long distance that did us in. Others speculate that this is just the natural way of things, that every couple stops being intimate at one point or another, and that it simply happened to us sooner than most. But what I tell myself, and what I believe to be true, is that as we became closer, I saw her differently. She became less of a girlfriend and more of a sister. I didn’t want to have sex with her, but if you dared steal her lunch money, I’d punch you in the mouth.
So after 180 days of abstinence, we decided to break up, but not because we hated each other. Quite the opposite, in fact. We just didn’t want to see each other naked anymore. I’ve always been in the habit of staying friends with my exes, but our friendship has evolved into something far beyond the random Facebook message, the friendly stop-and-chat and the catch-up drink. We’re tight. Very tight. I sometimes liken us to a real-life version of Jerry and Elaine, pop culture’s standard bearers for lovers turned best friends. But even they had sex after they broke up. Here, their pre-coital exchange from Season No. 2’s “The Deal”:
Jerry: “I mean, really, what is the big deal? We go in there. We’re in there for a while. We come right back out here. It’s not complicated."
Elaine: "It’s almost stupid if we didn’t."
Jerry: "It’s moronic."
They then set out to establish a set of rules (sleepovers are optional!) designed to allow them to bone on the reg, without the complexities that ultimately arise from dating. The internet, my unquestioned, unparalleled bastion of truth, calls this millennial condition the “non-relationship relationship,” a sexual relationship that outwardly appears to be a legitimate partnership but lacks commitment: casual sex. But what happens when the opposite is true? She and I are also friends with benefits. It’s just that our benefits include going to the movies, knocking back pints on patios, making dinner together and having a laugh. She satisfies my craving for meaningful female companionship, and I try my best to return the favor.
The smuggest couples often brag that they’re lovers and best friends, and that this is the way it should be — the key to a strong, everlasting union. I say no. Friends are, by definition, platonic, and the nature of friendship is distinctly different than a relationship between lovers. Friendship is uncomplicated, and sex, often, is anything but. This is why the whole friends- with-benefits" scenario is eternally doomed, because someone always ends up wanting more commitment from the other and getting emotionally trampled because of it. With sex removed entirely out of the equation, our relationship is completely devoid of such complications.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“For some reason, it’s hard for a lot of people to accept the idea that two people who used to date, and used to have sex, can still hang out without feeling each other up”
For one, I’ve been single since she and I broke up six years ago. Whether there’s a direct correlation between my unwillingness to commit to someone and my friendship with her is for someone who charges by the hour to determine. But if I want to call a girl on my way to work, or hang out with a girl when I’m feeling blue, or go for brunch with a girl when I’m hungover, it’s her, her and always her. I lack any real desire to form a meaningful connection with someone else, which invariably leads to a lot of casual sexual relationships with other women. So, no, mom, I’m not getting married. At least not anytime soon.
To the best of my knowledge, she, too, has been professionally single since our relationship ended, which leads me to problem No. 2: jealousy, often the biggest roadblock between you, your ex and a healthy friendship. To help slay the green-eyed monster, a mourning period should occur after the relationship ends so that any lingering emotional entanglement can untangle with time, healing’s greatest elixir. But for us, there was no hiatus, so when it came to seeing other people, we operated on a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. If she was seeing someone else, I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know.
Of course, there were times when my curiosity got the best of me and I went into full-on stalker mode). So when I did discover that there was someone else in the picture, something that occurred more than once, it initially made me uncomfortable. It made me panic. It made me want what I couldn’t have. As mentioned earlier, those irrational impulses erode with time.
Some like to speculate that I’m still in love with her, or maybe visa versa. Others refuse to believe that we don’t sometimes indulge our carnal desires during respective dry spells. For some reason, it’s hard for a lot of people to accept the idea that two people who used to date, and used to have sex, can still hang out without feeling each other up.
Today, our friendship is more airtight than ever. Gone is the drama that accompanies relationships and the trauma that follows a breakup. What’s left are two people, a man and a woman, who couldn’t make it work in the bedroom, but who are totally killing it everywhere else.