I first heard the term “friends with benefits” the summer I was 13. I was spending the day at my friend’s pool—a country club my family didn’t belong to—and we were munching on cheese fries when we heard some older boys talking about some older girls, their “friends with benefits.” In my 13-year-old mind, the concept made perfect sense. I mean, there I was snacking on country club food that my parents weren’t paying for with a good friend of mine whose parents were paying for the aforementioned fries. Clearly, she was my friend, and I had the gratuitous benefit of swimming in her pool and eating snack bar fries. Didn’t this mean I had friends with benefits?
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that FWB was about more than free french fries. The phrase came up repeatedly in high school and while I had yet to have my first kiss, I couldn’t fathom the fact that many of my peers were DTF* with no strings attached. This concept became all the more evident when I entered college and my first year dorm became a chummy, hormone-infused community with just about every other room housing residents who were eager to become FWB with members of the other halls.
For the first two years of college I was in a steady relationship—one I now realize I sustained longer than I should have because of my unwillingness to enter singlehood as it pertained to college. I saw from my peers, my hall mates, even some of my best friends, that “dating” in college really wasn’t dating at all. In fact, “dating” at the college level meant going to frats, drinking too much, stumbling home on the arm of the guy from your psych seminar, potentially spending the night together in his twin bed, then coming home and resting up to do it again the next weekend. No matter what went on in that twin bed, I knew I wanted no part of it. And I still don’t.
If I had to find a reason for my aversion to one night stands and casual hookups, I suppose I’d blame my parents, Catholic Sunday school, and Judy Blume—all of whom, despite my best efforts to resist, impressed upon me good morals and a conscience the size of Texas. When my third grade Valentine kissed me on the cheek, I told him he was stupid because we weren’t in love yet.
When I re-entered the college “dating” scene (which I insist on delineating in quotation marks in order to highlight the sheer irony of such a word used to describe college relationships), I was terrified—so much so that I texted my roommate in a panic one night relaying my fear of hooking up with random guys at parties, having copious amounts of casual condom-less sex, eventually dying of an incurable STD, poor and alone like a 21st-century Fantine, casting shame upon my household and causing my parents to relocate to Alaska or some equally remote location in order to resume a semi-normal lifestyle. Her response: “You’re an idiot. Go to bed.”
I admit I was a bit dramatic upon entering singledom. In reality, the state of being single wasn’t so much agonizing as refreshing. I had more time to invest in my friendships, didn’t have to worry about shaving my legs on Valentine’s Day (or any day, really), and accumulated perhaps too much writing material. It wasn’t hard to be single. Luckily, I wasn’t bombarded with potential suitors—gentleman callers making themselves aggressively available against my whim. Instead, I got to know a lot more guys as friends with no romantic interests, no complications. In fact, I felt so content with my friendships that it wasn’t until I was set up with a mutual friend that I began to think about falling in love again.
Naively, I saw this guy’s appearance as a sign. He came out of nowhere, interrupting a year-long unrequited crush I’d had, and I thought he might be what I hadn’t been looking for. He laughed at my jokes, bought me dinner, and shared my affinity for chicken parmesan and tiramisu. Eventually he came to visit for a weekend, bought me dinner, and we kissed. Unsure of where the relationship was going, but hopeful it would go somewhere, I continued talking to him for two months as I became increasingly interested in this guy who—it seemed—was so interested in me. He wasn’t.
The next weekend we spent together we kissed some more, held hands, and again he bought me dinner. Afterwards I anticipated a romantic evening, a bottle of wine (with or without live orchestral music playing softly in the background and rose petals strewn about the premises), and a passionate conversation during which we’d define the relationship and run off into the sunset together. Or at least chat over a plate of pizza rolls and figure out the next couple of months. Needless to say, the weekend didn’t go as planned and we parted ways with him confessing he wasn’t interested in much more than hooking up and me mumbling, “Well, have a nice life.”
I was devastated, but what hurt more than the fact that romance never materialized after two months of talking was the fact that I couldn’t define our relationship as anything more than a hookup. I mistakenly assumed that I was immune to casual hookups as long as I was aware of who I was kissing and what he expected. I thought I’d never join the league of girls in my first year dorm who could kiss once and move on as long as I read the situation and was guarded and cautious. I thought I could protect myself from what I knew would inevitably lead to heartache, but I couldn’t.
I’m incapable of keeping it casual. I wish a few thrilling hours at the bars or a single kiss after a party didn’t make me want something more. I wish dances didn’t leave me wondering if he’ll text first or if he was as nervous as I was. I wish I didn’t have my grandmother’s antiquated view of courtship and I wish I didn’t use the word “courtship” to describe the ideal start to my next relationship.
I also wish I didn’t start most conversations with my male companions by repeating a pun my dad made three weeks earlier or by talking about my obsession with the circus. I wish I didn’t mention Friends or my dog’s fat lumps or how I tend to have first and second dinner at least twice a week. But just like dreaming of hearing “God Only Knows” the next time I exit an airport terminal no matter how unlikely it may be, these quirks are what make me who I am and I’m not willing to change that for any guy.
Whoever the next one is, I hope he’s a romantic. Or at the very least I hope he’s willing to share his country club membership and cheese fries.
**It should also be noted that it also took me an embarrassingly long time to learn that DTF is not a colloquial phrase for “Down to party,” but quite literally means “Willing to f*ck”.