Here's the Thing: Letting Go of Friends And Benefits

A SWEETIE EXTRAORDINARE:

So, back in 2015, I started seeing a classmate of mine. We had both just graduated and were going to be in the same city for a bit over a year before moving on to uni. Everything became a bit more serious, I guess, when we would spend almost every day with each other and were sleeping together all the time. I had more or less moved in with her at that point, because of how often I was at hers. We had such great chemistry, and loved spending time together—same sense of humour, same interests, all that shit. I started catching feelings, despite both of us agreeing that it was just a FWB situation, strictly no boyfriend/girlfriend labels—this was made clear before we even started having sex. The first time that we did, though, she asked if she wanted to make it 'exclusive' so that we wouldn't be sleeping with anyone else. I responded saying that kind of defeated the purpose of it being fwb so we agreed no exclusivity. During the course of our year together, the dozen's of times we got drunk together, she said on numerous occasions that she was in love with me. I didn't know whether that was her being for real, or just drunken ramblings.

So, we were both going to uni—in the same city—but decided to end it so that we could get on with our own lives and have the whole uni experience, per se. That was all good. In uni, we see each other occasionally and hang out has friends—best friends even. She had a boyfriend—real awesome guy, I genuinely really loved spending time with him—but of course I was a tiny bit jealous. During uni, we'd go to parties together and despite having a boyfriend, she kept drunkenly trying to hook up with me again, which I would refuse (albeit a bit reluctantly) because I felt bad for her boyfriend. She invited me over almost any time that he wasn't in town and would ask me to stay over, and with only one bed in her uni dorm, she kept asking me to sleep with her. I did, and we spooned and everything and yes I realise that was kind of dicky of me but I wasn't thinking with my brain

I eventually left uni back to our hometown and we went on with our lives. We meet up when we can, mainly because I loved our friendship—the benefits aside, I really just enjoyed talking to her about everything. But whenever we meet up now, she just seems really distant, she barely starts the conversation so I have to pry everything out of her with. I generally feel like I'm the only one making an effort to stay friends. I assume she also wants to be friends still because she initiates the hang outs sometimes too, yet is still very quiet when we're together. Like, I want to be up to date in with her life because I know she's going places and I'm really excited to see her grow into her passions, but it's just hard to get her to talk about herself, if that makes sense. She talks about everything else though. And there are moments when we're together that go great, just like how we were before we were sleeping together. When we were really good friends.

After how hard it was the last time, I'm not sure if I'm bothered to put in the effort if it seems like she barely does. My therapist says to let it go for now and wait for her to reach out to me and see if I want to continue pursuing the friendship when the time comes.

So, am I wrong for being conflicted about trying to continue our friendship? Should I just cut it off or something? Am I looking into this too much?

SOPHIA:

You’re not wrong at all about being conflicted, but your therapist is more than spot on about what what you need to do, but I also think that you probably need to do some deeper digging into (aka admit to yourself) just how much you loved this person once.

It’s really, really hard to grieve the ending of things that were never defined because what feels like a massive, gaping hole to you sounds like nothing to others. Additionally, we all have these—frankly bizarre—notions of levels of grief and who belongs in them. As a quick example that I personally ruminate on often, which you have given me a perfect excuse to bring up, people tend to express more sympathy if someone has lost their spouse rather than their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, as if a marriage certificate universally connotes greater connection. There are people who have been together decades, maybe even have children together, who aren’t married, and as soon as someone says, “my wife died” instead of “my girlfriend died” it means more. The point of my weird tangent is this: labels matter because they contextualize for ourselves and give us “permission” to feel certain ways, or grieve in certain amounts. It’s why rational people with emotions often chafe a bit when they find themselves feeling possessive of someone they aren’t actually dating but have a crush on.

So now it’s your job to do some work (yay! work!!!!) to admit to yourself what the two of you had, which, unfortunately, will mean that you’ll have to admit that you lost something bigger than you previously thought. I think the two of you had something really great for a long time. It seems like in certain ways you both loved one another. You practically lived with her at one point! That’s not not a relationship, you know? It doesn’t have to be boyfriend/girlfriend labeled to be a loving relationship.

As for now, it seems like you haven’t done all the regular grieving that a person in a more traditionally defined relationship would do because you guys had a weird “downgrade to friends” model going on. So do that mourning, and then after that, work on letting go of the idea of her as a friend. I think a much bigger reason than you’d like to admit for this friendship is your guys romantic-adjacent history; you wouldn’t have included it in your letter to me if it weren’t a big deal to you. It’s not just for context, otherwise your letter would have gone, “I have a friend that I used to hook up, (we don’t any more), but we were really close for years. Anyway, when I meet up with her now she’s pretty distant blah blah blah…”

If she does reach out again to you, and you decide you want to meet up with her, I’d talk to her about it. Ask, “Hey, it seems like something is a bit off between us recently, what’s going on?” And then just stay quiet and let her fill the silence. The worst that happens is that she remains distant, which is already where you’re at.

This brings me back to types of grief we forget about: friend grief. There is a lot of space and built-in language in our world for sympathy and empathy for those who have been broken up with. There isn’t much for people who lose friends, which is often just as, if not more, gutting. Keep talking to your therapist. Let yourself admit how close you and this person were, and how sad it is that you possibly aren’t anymore, even if the language around these losses isn’t simple.