Man-boy problems

We have great sex and he is my friend, but why won't he fall in love and be my boyfriend?


Cary Tennis
June 11, 2003 11:16PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Right after 9/11, I met a man-boy hybrid and fell instantly in love with him. He had a girlfriend but dated me anyway. (He claimed it was in the end throes.) We slept together several times and then decided just to be friends. It was somewhat mutual; I couldn't deal with his relationship (guilt) and he couldn't deal with the fact that I was starting to get attached to him.

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Over the months our friendship grew and grew -- we spent many hours on the phone, and although we rarely saw each other, we became extremely close. When we would spend time together it was always a bit awkward, remnants of the past attraction, one that had been fairly intense. He would later tell me that these awkward energies were wholly mine; he claimed to not be attracted to me after the initial dating period. This always hurt my feelings, because I continued to want him in more ways than one. Eventually he left his relationship, but things never evolved in a romantic way with the two of us. Rather, the friendship continued to grow, and we both talked about others we dated. Neither of us dated anyone seriously during this period, although he dated a lot more than I did. I guess most of these "dates" were more hookups than anything else.

Last fall I met someone, and although I wasn't very into him, I started sleeping with him right away, not my style at all. It was a pretty tepid thing, although we continued to date casually for about a month. But my feelings for man-boy had never stilled. Then, about a month and half later, out of the blue, my "friend" made a pass at me, and we had sex. Incredible, mind-blowing sex. For me, totally emotional sex. It had been building for a few weeks, I guess, perhaps because I was a bit more confident due to the new guy. And maybe he was a little jealous that someone else had my attention, even a little bit. Man-boy went for it, and I heartily obliged.

This has become a regular thing, fraught with fights and bad feelings, but we can't seem to stop. We've tried to stop on numerous occasions, have each promised to be good, but we cannot be in one another's presence right now without taking off our clothes. The problem, for me, is that he does not want to date -- he only wants to sleep with me and be my friend. My best friend, at this point, but nothing more. Friends with benefits. He has said this openly and often. And it destroys me, but I keep coming back for more. Because the sex is good and because I want more than anything else to feel connected to him. And he continues to vaguely talk about dating other women, although I don't think he's done so thus far.

The worst part is that he claims to love me as a friend, to cherish how good I am to him, to believe that I'm smart and attractive and kind and all the best things. I cannot understand how this boy could want to be my best friend and my lover but not my boyfriend. What is this disconnect? Aren't boyfriends and girlfriends essentially a blend of friends and lovers? I know that he has deep intimacy issues, is a bit of a sex addict, and has cheated on every single one of his past girlfriends. He's told me all the stories, in great detail. (I know, I'm after a winner here.) But he has had girlfriends, and he claims to have been able to love them properly and without ambivalence. So it's just me. He just can't seem to fall in love with me. He sleeps with me, holds me, desires me, comes to me for advice, tells me his deep, dark secrets; but I'm just a friend. I just left his apartment last night, after amazing sex, and cried the whole way home.

I know I am destroying my self-esteem, that this is my own form of addiction, and that I'm worth far more than this, but I can't seem to stop. I can't imagine my life without him in it. I am 30 years old, and I want a real relationship, not this fuck-buddy business. I know that I have a tremendous amount to offer to a man that would be willing to accept my love. Every time I try to say goodbye, he charms and squirms his way back in, because he doesn't want to lose me, either. And yes, I'm in analysis, had an absent father, and know this is the reason I long for elusive men. I believe that there is a wonderful man out there and that I, too, am wonderful and deserve to be his mate. I just don't know how to detach from this toxic thing I'm in. I am still holding on to hope that my man-boy will come around, because in many ways we are perfect for each other. I need some rope. And some hope.

No Benefits

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Dear No Benefits,

The planes struck the towers, we were all knocked unconscious, you awoke and there was that man-boy, and you fell in love with him. His presence seemed to reassure you about life after the ripping open, the birth of reality, the wounding of the fatherland. But, like life, he was uncontrollable.

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Now you demand that he come to heel. But he is intransigent.

You want to bring him to heel because, you think, only if he is brought to heel will you be assured that you are the special one. I think you are the special one, but you don't feel like the special one because you think the special one has to be the girlfriend. But if you were the girlfriend, he would cheat on you and leave you. Why would you want him to do that? Why would you want him to make a commitment he can't keep? That's what your father did.

This young man does not want to be a boyfriend, and who can blame him? A boyfriend enjoys neither the security and status of a husband nor the freedom of a single person. His role is that of a supervised child. And though you call him a man-boy, I think he is a man who is simply struggling to retain his manhood and yet be truthful about his indiscretions. Perhaps he is indeed also a sex addict. Or perhaps he is simply fortunate and talented enough to get as much sex as he craves.

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Did you notice that in your letter you talk from the heart until the last paragraph, when your tone changes and you say I'm in analysis, I have an absent father, self-esteem, addiction, toxic this, toxic that, elusive ... as if -- what? -- to display the totemic jargon of psychology, as if I were a psychologist and not a more or less typical writer with typical writerly problems, including the crankiness and impatience of a man trying to carve his initials into a rock before the sun goes down? Did you wish to show that you are a good and thoughtful person, not a tramp? to preempt my judgment by declaring yourself already guilty? It makes me think there is a part of you who is fiercely authentic and knows what she is doing, and there is a part of you who stands back and judges, performing her good-girl role for the world.

If your trouble is that there are two of you, the one lusty, passionate, hungering for the real, and the other brittle, judgmental and aloof, then I can understand why you are suffering. It's not about your love for this young man, really -- that's all good and true and real -- it's about your insistence that a man play his part according to the rules. Perhaps your anger at your departed father and your profound disappointment arise here: If you can involve yourself with the most difficult man there is, and tame him, make him stay, you will have solved the riddle of the absent father. You will have gained control. You will have mastered the "stay" command.

"Stay!" I say to the dog, and she sits and waits. "Stay!" I say, and she wanders off. "Stay!"

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You don't have to be with this man, of course. It's not as if you could not see what he was about. But you have put yourself in his orbit for a reason: He's trouble, but he's authentic. Authenticity may matter to you more than any amount of pain, as presence, no matter how painful, may matter more than absence, however bearable. I can understand that. I'm the same way. I would rather life be real than pleasant. And perhaps, again, the absent father is present by his absence: This boy, for all his faults, is at least flesh and blood.

So things are, in a way, as they should be.

It's true that it may end and you will be sad. But there's not a thing in the world you can do about that. It wouldn't make any difference if he agreed to be your boyfriend. He would still leave you if he's going to leave you. He would still cheat on you if he's going to cheat on you.

You can live in the world as it is. It can be enough. It takes courage, but I think you have that.

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Cary Tennis

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