There was a brief period in college where I was having what might have been seen as a sordid affair with a good friend. It was great. We were part of a big group of people who all worked together, and were all attached at the hip. Weekend trips to the beach, late night drunken karaoke sessions. I would find myself belting the lyrics of Moulin Rouge’s most soulful duet from the sunroof of a car with an Oreo shake from Jack in the Box in my hand and my friends leaning out the windows singing backup. And, as if eating poorly and consuming trash media weren’t enough, I decided to add what would eventually become an emotionally disastrous relationship to the mix.
I honestly don’t even really remember how it started, but a few nights a week the two of us would find ourselves alone, in one of our rooms, and things would get steamier from there. At first, it was fabulous. The best part about this “affair” was that it was so casual. There was literally nothing beyond hooking up, and after the terrible breakup I had just gone through it was such a relief to have something easy with a friend I trusted so much. There wasn’t any interest in dating, so we could dispense with the awkward so-what’s-your-middle-name conversations. Hell, we already knew all those things about each other.
Come spring quarter, our entire group was moving off-campus and we were all deciding where to live. A piece of our little group organized itself and signed a lease on a fantastic party house off the main drag and got excited about a whole year of playing and dancing and late-night heart-to-hearts. This friend and I, still in the midst of our precarious relationship, found ourselves staring down a twelve-month lease. But we trusted each other, and were really enjoying our rendezvous. Wouldn’t it have been smart to take it a little easy once that lease was signed?
Because, as it does, the other shoe dropped on me. My friend-with-benefits met and fell in love with someone. Which, under any normal circumstances, I would have been absolutely thrilled about. In fact, I was thrilled, except for two tiny details, which ended up having not-so-wonderful effects. First, I was not actually told that things had changed in our arrangement until things were already underway with this other girl (which made me feel not totally valuable and as if I was being kept on the line just in case). Second, I didn’t get to choose. I felt like I was being broken up with when the whole point was that we weren’t dating. Oh, and bonus: she had the same name as me.
I must say, I may not have handled this situation perfectly. My entire feeling was, essentially, “Who the fuck are you to go and date someone else with the same goddamn name?” Really helpful, trust me. But I felt like I had been blown off. It is not very productive to dwell on feeling worthless. And then to have to spend months listening to her moan from their room (oh, the thin walls), and watch their stupid fights… I wasn’t envious of their relationship, I just hated having been rejected. I hated that I was second string. I hated that I was the one who didn’t get to decide when it was over (control freak, much?). I never said anything about this to any of my friends, benefits or otherwise, because our relationship was never more than physical: I never felt like it was my place to explore what had happened. I think things would have been better off if I had allowed myself the space to really work things out. Instead, I stayed angry for the entire year.
This wasn’t jealousy. By then, I was dating someone else, but unfortunately I’m not exactly the type to let bygones be bygones. Tiny forgivable offenses like not cleaning up the dishes turned into character flaws and major issues. I was hypersensitive about everything, and I played a major part in dividing the house. Because we were living together, there was no space to cool off, no opportunities to stop picking at the wound. Our friendship never really recovered.
All in all, the actual sexy-times part of this lasted about a month, maybe, but the effects were long-lasting: four years out, I don’t really keep in contact with this friend even though I am still very close with my other roommates. I really regret not maintaining that friendship, and the fallout from our not-actual-break-up-break-up. In the moment, there were really no downsides. We knew each other well, trusted one another, and could have a really good time. It was exciting and fun and we could ignore all the cliffs we were skirting. Until, of course, we teetered over the edge. Afterwards, it was all downsides. Awkwardness, uncomfortable feelings within our friend group, heightened tensions around quotidian issues.
Would I do it again? Probably. But this time around I would add a little more sunlight into the equation, and work harder to make things less awkward once it was all over. I would let go of my pride, and be open about how I was feeling. And maybe not sign a lease together.
Photo by Sara Slattery