S/He Really Did Want to Be My Friend…
…But I only wanted to sleep with him/her.
Listen. I know the headlines.
They will outlive all of us for sure:
“Men don’t want to be your friends—they only want one thing.”
I bought it for a long time. I’m here today to tell you that I bought it because I wanted it to be true.
I am here to confess that I regressed on a bunch of perfectly good friendships with men, and a few with women, because sex was what I wanted.
Sex. Nothing else would do. Why? I thought sex was the only kind of love I could count on.
I recently noticed that a male friend of mine from way back liked something I posted on Facebook. I felt a twinge of regret. Will he and I ever truly be friends again? Likely, if I tried, we would. If I apologized for my fanatical behavior, he’d say he’s long ago forgotten it. After all, he’s married with two kids now. I’m happily married to a woman now. This guy, he was always cool, kosher with my oddness. I’m lucky.
I’m writing a memoir about my early sexuality right now, and I’ve been focused for so long on how my obsessions went wrong with the wo/men I did wind up bedding. However, it wasn’t until this week that I realized there’s a league of guys and gals who protected me—or tried to protect me—from myself. They didn’t sleep with me because they actually didn’t want to sleep with me. Or, they did want to sleep with me, but saw I was confused. Regardless of their intent, their offerings of genuine intimacy, affection or goofy connection haven’t, in the forever term, passed me by, even if the relationships are long gone.
So here’s an ode to the ones that got away*—the girls and guys who really did want to be my friends, whether or not we wound up sleeping together. Let this be a reminder to own our biases and preferences and neuroses; our obsessive need to be needed that gets in the way of non-sexual connections. Contemplate your own personal men and women who were/are sincerely interested in just one thing: being your friend.
My neighbor when I was a little kid. I wanted to play doctor with all of its sexual exploration implications. He just wanted to play with me. I was his only friend. He was willing to play any game—house, school, even if it wasn’t the GI Joes he liked best, though I’d play those with him, too. Anything but messing around. He liked me. A lot. Just not like like, before either of us even knew what that was.
When I asked my mom how to teach me, “I love you,” in three different languages so I could wow him with just how much I cared for him, he replied with a poem he wrote entitled “Filio,” Greek for “deep friendship/ platonic love.” He really, really wanted to be my friend and I really, really wanted him to be my boyfriend. I just didn’t get it.
She liked opium. I liked her. Conveniently, she was never interested in me unless I was taken. Yes, she was manipulative. We were teenagers. I was also manipulative. I broke off numerous relationships when she intimated that we might hook up. We slept together on her tiny bed in a closet, but it always stayed chaste. The friendship thrived on the sexual tension. Once it was clear I wouldn’t get her, I left.
She dated my high school boyfriend when I went off to Europe and he went off to college. I was still obsessed with him, even though we’d pretty much broken it off. When I came back from Europe, I obsessed over them both. Pretty much the entire time we were friends, all I could think about was how to get her to be my girlfriend. I even got a tattoo for her. She was devoted to me—as a friend. When she and I did mess around a few years later, it pretty much ended our friendship. So much for getting what I wanted.
We got along famously: lots of jokes, intellectual connections, vegetarianism, travel, Buddhism. I bought a queen-sized futon at age 19—I was so sure that he would sleep with me and be my boyfriend. He never did, though I skirted the subject a lot. I spent an entire evening talking him into the idea that we were “in a relationship,” while on a vacation with Kent who did want to have sex with me.
I convinced Kent I was with Murphy while we were on vacation. A couple of years later, when Kent and I were both lonely and single, watching Futurama episodes to fill our desperately empty post-college days, I instigated us hooking up. It was awful. So awful I planned a romantic trip to Europe for the both of us (to try and make it better). He spent the whole time not having sex with me and not really talking to me. I developed an allergy to myself and he left early on his own flight home.
We messed around exactly once and I practically acted like that made us married. Even though he lived in another country. I did want to be friends with him, only I wanted someone to want me more. More than to have yet another male friend who really appreciated me but didn’t want to be with me.
We fell in crush at camp in our mid-teens and kept up a correspondence for years after, back when letters were the only overseas option. My letters all focused on how we would be together again, how much I loved him, how much I thought about him. His all focused on his daily life: what his village was like, who his friends and family were. He was building a relationship on solid ground. I was building mine out of thin air in the blue and red envelopes that went back and forth every day for a few months, sporadically for another few years after.
I am actually still friends with Tyrell, really good friends. He’s the only one I am still close to. Here’s likely the reason why: Tyrell was the first one to say to me, in my mid-20s, “I really actually want to be your friend. Why do you want something else from me? What else do you want? Can’t you really enjoy being friends with me?” This marked the beginning of the end of my obsessing over wanting just one thing.
We met in my late 20s. I so enjoyed spending time with him, flipping through art magazines and playing Sufjan Stevens albums, that I kept trying to push him to sleep with me. Then we would really be close! One day he appeared at my house and told me that he felt so much towards me in a way he never had with anyone else. He said he could finally understand what “Namaste” actually means: “The sacred in me sees the sacred in you.” I cried, he cried, but I dropped him. His utter appreciation of me just wasn’t enough. A year or so later, both really drunk, when I was about to leave on a long trip, he seduced me. The sex was sloppy, awful and lame. We were never close again after that.
A wonderful, incredibly hot Buddhist who had hooked up with a friend of mine previously. I went for him like bee to honey once they were no longer together. How perfect: a sexy Buddhist! We’ll make a great long-term couple! That’s the thing. I never wanted just sex. I wanted love. Commitment. But I only knew how to get it through sex. We slept together and the sex was hot. We should have just hooked up once and left it at that. He tried to stop me from train wrecking the situation (cue mindfulness), but he couldn’t cease my obsession. Only flashbacks from sexual abuse from my past did that.
That, and meeting my lovely and patient wife. My real cue that we should be together is one I ignored in the past: I wasn’t obsessed with her. The sex was—is—great. Our connection was—is—strong. I could keep an even head around her. She would have in the past fallen into a whole other set of folks: people I rejected because they wanted more from me, but I only wanted to be friends with them.
The inverse of the dynamic I had with all those not-lovers above.
How did it change? Eventually I made a commitment to notice when I was doing the predictable—going for someone that, as a good friend once told me, was my type: “emotionally unavailable.”
What would happen, I wondered, if I went for someone who was available?
What happened is that I married someone whom I love and whom loves me. We are friends, and lovers. Both.
*Names have been changed to protect these noble souls. While they were/are not all perfect, I am, after all, honoring them here.
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Ed: B. Bemel