It Is Scary to Care

My friend R recently started a no-strings attached, friends-with-benefits type of relationship with an old pal from high school. Having been through a hell of year and in dire need of a few (or many) orgasms, she agreed to release some tension with a person she’s always sorta had a thing for, but more importantly, someone she’s comfortable with.

Though R is in North Carolina and I’m in New York, we’ve maintained a close friendship – often sharing every intimate detail of our personal lives with one another, no barrier too gruesome or risqué to cross. And since both of us are rather open, our conversations tend to be a tad dramatic and almost always wildly entertaining. Since she’s been with the Sex Buddy, I’ve received phone calls and text messages, asking for advice and describing her romps.

But this morning, the chat I received was less about hanky-panky, and more about something far more intense than any hard-on or sexual dilemma: feelings. She claimed she almost hyperventilated before they spent the night together because she realized she was starting to like him, as opposed to just liking his down under action.

Maybe When Harry Met Sally’s assumption that men and women can never truly be friends is accurate or maybe it’s another indication that sex messes up even the most nonchalant courtships, or maybe it’s a truth that dates way past either of the aforementioned: it is scary to care.

There’s always that turning point in a could-be relationship where ends stop being loosely tied and emotions connect on a level that neither can prepare for. There is a period where you can place your heart on hold and enjoy the moment, until those moments increase, along with tension and the need to let your heart off the hook, and onto your sleeve. And that’s when brevity turns into the hope of longevity; and defining what you have or what you’re working toward starts to take over those crazy-girl parts of your brain, and thus, you find yourself hyperventilating while texting your friend.

Because when feelings develop, fears and questions come along with them: what if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if I get my heart broken? What if this is all too-good-to-be-true? How does he view me? What if he cares more and I end up breaking his heart? Is he seeing other people? Do I care if he’s seeing other people? Does he care if I am? What are we????

I don’t want to count how many times I’ve entertained these thoughts with different men at different points in our pseudo-relationships. I’ve laid in the arms of guys as they play on their Blackberrys, wondering if they were texting the girl they’d share the same bed with the following night. I’ve put off “The Talk” in hopes eventually the dude would beg me to be his forever and ever, and I’d never have to have a proper conversation defining what we were doing and what we were. I’ve held everything I felt, especially what I didn’t want to feel, inside for so long that without a notice, in the middle of a sunny, beautiful July afternoon, I inappropriately exploded a fury of frustration over Cobb salads and sangria.

And that’s the worse part about being scared to care – if you don’t let yourself do it, you’ll end up scaring the person you care about away. Or worse yet, scaring yourself so badly that you never end up caring in the capacity you’re capable of or that you deserve.

There is no denying that falling in love and willingly giving parts of yourself to another person is terrifying. I have a theory that to truly be in love with someone, you have to be not only brave, but be a tad crazy, too. No rational, independent person would place their trust, their heart, and perhaps their life and future in the hands of someone who has no tangible obligation to stick through the thick-and-the-thin with you. Being vulnerable isn’t a pleasant feeling, but if you can get through the initial pang that your heart could be ripped out of your chest – you’ll find something equally scary but comforting too. Or at least it tends to be comforting for me, anyway.

When you do put yourself out there, when you do allow feelings to grow, become stronger and more connected; when you give away pieces of your soul and place work into a relationship when it faces conflict, and when you take a chance on love – you don’t know if it will work out. You can’t predict and you can’t place your bests in a space where safety is guaranteed – but you can place a wager on yourself.

And if history does repeat itself, the fact of the matter is that even if you’re scared to care – you’ve been scared to care before. Even if you deeply in love and you notice how perfectly you match with someone else – you’ve felt that way before. And even if whatever you hoped for doesn’t come to be – you’ve been let down before, too.

So you overcome the fear. You fall in love. You revel in the magic. And if you have to, you overcome the heartbreak. Because no matter how scary it is to care, it is even scarier to never care again because you’re afraid of doing something…you’ve already done.

The Exclusively Nonexclusive Relationship

In a matter of days, Mr. Possibility returns from his overseas two-month business excursion. I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly nervous and maybe even more confused. Not by him, but by myself.

Since he’s been gone, there have obviously been some developments between us and certain things have changed. I have missed his company, but my life has also become increasingly busier and fuller. My career has started to grow, along with my group of close girlfriends and contacts. I’ve placed more effort on my running time, indulged in more brunching, and meeting a collection of new interesting people. Within the next couple of months, not only will I continue through this 12-step program, but I’ll also be moving to a new apartment, and at last, Spring will be here and all of this cold weather will be a distant memory.

Have I changed since the start of December when he caught his 10-hour flight? Absolutely. Do I still feel the same way about the possible relationship I thought we could have? I don’t know.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks really thinking, considering, and determining how I truly feel about whatever it is that we are, or we were doing. When I met him, I was at a point of complete self-discovery where I was determined to leave not only the past, but the bad habits I developed from old relationships and my own doings, far behind me. I had made a distinctive decision to be the captain of my own soul, to lead my life without worrying or stressing about men, and finding love –or even the chance for it – was miles from my mind or priorities. Instead, I was embarking on the journey of sincerely learning to accept myself.

And then, as they always seem to do, a man came into my life. Not just any man at that, but a tall, attractive, and successful guy who made me laugh, who was intelligent and charming, and for whatever odd reason, we connected in a way that I don’t believe either of us could describe to give it its full merit. It wasn’t love at first sight, or maybe even love at all, but it was something. And even though I was concentrating so diligently on being a single gal, I also promised myself I’d never turn away from what could-be, just because I was afraid of what I may find.

However, I never got to the point where I wanted a relationship. Where I couldn’t stand the thought of being with anyone else. Where I wanted to introduce him as my boyfriend to my friends or my family. Where I felt the need to have “The Talk” with him that every man on this planet intensely fears (and women too, for the matter). Where I hoped to accept a relationship request on Facebook.

On the other hand, in keeping with the “no rules” rule – I decided to give myself sexual liberties. The power to free myself and my own thinking about when it is okay and not okay to have sex with someone. Before, I needed to be head-over-heels, practically in love, to even consider getting down to my skimpies. I needed to have commitment. Stability. The absolute, undeniable promise that this man did care about me, did have my best interest at heart, and I could rest assured that he’d be there not only the next morning, but next month, too. In all the times before Mr. Possibility, even when I sincerely had the desire to sleep with someone, I refrained to protect my heart, protect my number from going up, or maybe, just protect what I was afraid would break if I gave in.

But then, Mr. Possibility showed me that I don’t need a ring or a title to have an orgasm. Maybe, I just need to have a connection based on honesty with someone, know who they are as a person, and most importantly, trust that if something goes awry, I can still depend on myself to pick up the pieces, should anything shatter.

However, as liberated as I became as a single woman – I didn’t reach the point where I wanted to sleep with an additional man. Nor did I feel comfortable to balance two (or three or four) different beds. And when I discovered his explorations in other possibilities, I was sincerely hurt. I felt betrayed and like the hope I had in whatever we were creating was damaged. I had agreed to a no-strings attached relationship, even though I knew both of us were starting to tie our ends together. I had agreed to casual sex, even when both of our feelings were a little more serious. I had been an active, willing, and happy participant in a relationship that didn’t require or demand monogamy…until I discovered it wasn’t, in fact, sexually monogamous from his perspective.

Yet, even after knowing, I still didn’t want to be his girlfriend or set boundaries within the confines of a relationship. I just didn’t want him to do the deed with anyone else. Basically – I wanted an exclusively, nonexclusive relationship.

Is this a complete double standard? Am I fooling myself into thinking I’m capable of the friends-with-benefits relationship? I wasn’t the only one developing emotions, but were mine far stronger than his? Or is that sex just really does complicate everything? Or is it that defining a relationship places pressure on the developments of dating?

I will say there are genetic differences between men and women in many ways, and especially in sex. In my experience, men are able to jump more freely from woman to woman, where a lady has trouble shutting off feelings or projections from man to man. I could go into detail about the hormones released and the scientific studies, but I won’t.  I refuse to generalize every man and every woman, for I rather believe we’re defined more by being individuals than our genitalia. Regardless, getting naked – either emotionally or literally exposes you to someone else in the most intimate of ways. And with that intimacy, comes a certain level of trust. That faith, that reliability, regardless if its for a night, for a few months, or for the time your partner is across many oceans, needs to be nurtured to keep not only the possible romance (if there is one), but the sex, preserved and healthy.

Somehow, even with all of the progress I’ve made, all of the love addict qualities I’ve kicked to the curb with my Louboutins, I’ve discovered there are certain non-negoitables, particular charactertiscs and dare I say, moral obligations that a person makes to him or herself. And those, even in the span of progress can’t be compromised. I’m not sure how things will be when he comes back, how I will react to seeing him, and I’m positive we can’t just jump right back in where we left off. Though with possibility comes a hope for something more, it also opens up the opportunity to see what’s possible and acceptable for yourself. Maybe I don’t feel the need to have a boyfriend or to call Mr. Possibility my one-and-only, but when it comes to traveling the jungle of single sex, I’m more of a two-person safari gal. Perhaps he’s more of an explorer. Or we’re both somewhere in between, trying to decide what’s best for each of us. Or for the “us” we both thought there could be, or potentially still could be.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in his two month absence and all that’s happened in the weeks we’ve been connected only through technology and not touch – it’s that relationships, in their truest forms, are of course fleeting, but also indefinable. Monogamy may be easy to explain, but the interpretation changes as quickly as a polygamist’s bed. Cheating has all sorts of different levels and doesn’t just involved banging boots, but can encompass emotions beyond what we anticipated. Benefitting with a friend is dangerous territory, just like rebounding with a handsome stranger. The point between talking and dating, casual and serious, picturing the future and living it, and the time where a hard place comes into play and the rock goes on the finger – are all lines that are easily blurred.

Maybe, the only relationship we can truly have on our own terms, without compromising or bending the rules or our standards, is the one we have with ourselves. And even that one is also complicated, and is neither exclusive or nonexclusive. Because at times we open up ourselves to possibilities, and other times, we’re completely content with being in only the company of ourselves. But most of the time – we’re somewhere right in between, deciding which turn, which page, which road, to take next.

PS: Confessions of a Love Addict is considering a Q&A Sunday where Lindsay answers questions from your own stories about the journey of self-love (and the men along the way). If you’re interested, send her an email.