Auntie SparkNotes: I Broke Up Badly with My Friend-with-Benefits
I am writing to you because I have hurt my best friend deeply and I am unsure of how to repair the relationship.
My best friend, who we will call Ben, and I were friends with benefits from the start of our friendship. I am 22 and he is 24. We always understood that we were best friends first and that the physical aspect was secondary. However, the physical aspect was very important to both of us as I lost my virginity to him and we also did things that he had never done before.
After a year of friendship and also sex with Ben I started to date someone new. After it became clear to me that New Guy and I were going to be exclusive, I felt that I should tell Ben that we would not be able to continue the friends with benefits side of our relationship.
This is where I messed up badly. I did not think at all about how to talk about this with Ben or how Ben's feelings would be affected. Ben and I were Facetiming because I was traveling for two weeks and he jokingly said something about having sex when I get back. I then immediately said "We won't be doing that anymore." I cringe and feel terrible now that I think about how thoughtless and mean of a statement that was. Ben's face dropped and he said he had to go and then hung up. At the time, I didn't think too much of it as Ben oftentimes is abrupt when ending calls. It was only when I got back from my trip and saw him in person that I realized how deeply I had hurt him and how different things were between us.
He said that he felt that I did not think about how important the physical side of our relationship had been to him or that his feelings mattered when having this discussion. He is completely right. If he had done the same to me and ended that aspect of our friendship so suddenly and without any sort of discussion I would be incredibly hurt. I apologized profusely for hurting him and told him I understood completely what I had done but he said he does not know if things will ever be repaired. Ben told me he feels that I do not value our friendship, which is the closest friendship either of us had ever had. I value my friendship with Ben more than anything else in the world. He has been there for me and I have been there for him. Ben says he will still hang out with me and our other friends (all of whom were Ben's friends first) but how we talk and interact will be different. Do you have any advice on how to make things better?
Well, yes. Yes, I do. But unfortunately, Sparkler, that advice wouldn't be directed at you; it would be directed at Ben, in the form of some pointed questions about why he's dealing with a totally survivable moment of disappointment by blowing it up into an Intergalactic Incident of Disproportionate Butthurt.
Because geez, dude. Could you have finessed your delivery of the no-more-sex edict a little bit more? Sure, and that's why it was right that you apologized for your bluntness. But where things go off the rails in this scenario is not in your brief and immediately-regretted misstep; it's in the part where Ben decided it was a friendship-ending offense, and accused you of failing to value your relationship, all because you told him too directly that the "benefits" part of your FWB arrangement had officially reached the end you both had to know was coming eventually. The entire point of these relationships is that they can end casually and amicably when one of you finds someone you actually want to date. (And, uh, what does it say about his view of your friendship that he was so ready to shut it down as soon as it didn't involve sex?)
Of course, this is not to say that there's no charitable explanation for Ben's behavior. There are certainly reasons why a person might react this way that don't come down to a raging case of sexual entitlement, and I'm sure that his complaint about your failure to consider how important your physical relationship was to him was much less obnoxious in context than it is in my imagination (where it sounds an awful lot like a grown man whining, "But don't you understand that I neeeeeeeed to have sex?!") So what you can do, if you want to, is to stop taking at face value some of the ugly things he's accused you of, and instead ask him why he's decided that your friendship has to die on this particular hill: "I realize I could have handled this better, but it's incredibly wrong of you to accuse me of not valuing our friendship just because I don't want to have sex with you anymore, and I find it shocking that you would. If that aspect of our relationship was so important to you that it was going to create an irreparable rift for me to end it, then you should have told me so."
Try an in-your-own-words version of the above, and see what he says. It may be that Ben was more emotionally invested in the more-than-friendly aspect of your relationship than he cared to admit; it may also be that he always thought he'd be the one to call it off, and that he reacted in an ugly way to being denied the upper hand. Just remember that while you deserve a chance to defend your character, it's still his prerogative to want space, whatever his reason for doing so. And in fairness, while the way he's gone about it leaves something to be desired, it is not actually unreasonable for him to draw some boundaries where it sounds like they were sorely needed. You guys were really pushing the limits of your "friendship" in a way that was a) not especially healthy, and b) totally unsustainable in the event that either one of you wanted to have an intimate relationship with somebody else. Ben is wrong to be framing the change in your relationship as a punishment for the way you hurt his feelings, but the changes themselves are right and necessary. And even if things get better between you—and with time, they probably will—they will still be different, and that's for the best.
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