Friend with Benefits...and Detriments

Dear Edahn,

I’ve read through your blog and advice columns and I think your advice is really authentic, clear, and helpful. I appreciate that you have a young perspective and tell things how they are without being too harsh or too coddling. I would love some advice on an issue that I’m really struggling with, it’s similar to some of the others I’ve read but would like some of your perspective. Thank you.

I’ve been seeing this guy off and on, mostly on, for two years now. I am 20 and he is 31 with a 13 year old daughter. We began our relationship as a “friends with benefits” deal. Gradually I’ve bonded with him more and more over time, assuming the role of friend and lover and girlfriend. I’ve invested a lot of time, advice, effort, compromise, favors, and some money into our “relationship”, but so has he. Although we have fun, and spend time together like a family, although he says I’m beautiful and great and would make a great mom one day, he doesn’t want to be my boyfriend. When asked all he says is that I’m too young for him. Could age be the only deciding factor in an otherwise fine relationship? The issue comes up once or twice a month and a blowup/ breakdown ensues, followed by a period of separation (just friends) and then by us having some kind of connection (either sex, a good time out together, a conversation) then we get back together until the next time he rejects me. We are fighting more and more frequently. It’s fast and intense and hurtful. I can tell he really cares about me, and I him, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter. He is my best friend and lover and I feel like I’m losing him.

I know what you may be thinking first hand. “Non-girlfriend relationships are just for fun, not commitment," “that sounds exhausting, you should break it off,” “look inside yourself for the answer, young grasshopper,” and other such ideas. And they are probably right, but just because you know you shouldn’t eat the chocolate cake, does not mean that you’re not looking at the plate 5 minutes later with chocolate all over your face, wondering what the hell happened. I know this is not the best situation, and I know that he may never accept me and that I should work on making myself whole before trying to be in a relationship, but I just can’t. I can’t make myself break it off with him when I care about him and his daughter as much as I do, not after all this time, and all we have been through. I can’t forget the images of him, kissing my face over and over, and the possibility that the experience could be repeated. It consumes me, this thing that feels like love, so much like love that I would settle for it in doubt that the real thing exists in my future. Some people don’t love, some people live their lives alone and end their lives alone and this terrifies me because I have so much of it to give and seemingly no one to give it to.

Any insights, answers, examples, comments, questions, would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

I'M SO SORRY, THAT'S a tough position for any person, especially a 20-something, to be in. 

I had written a long answer about making tough decisions and how to make them, but truthfully, if he doesn't want what you want, then what can you really do? There's no decision to be made here because you don't have any options. He's not interested in a future with you, but you can't take that personally, as a reflection of your worth or value. Just like you have a concept of your ideal relationship, he has his, and it includes someone that's closer to his age (and farther from his daughter's age). That's okay. We don't have to try and persuade him otherwise. Let's respect it.

You have so many feelings that are tied up in this relationship. It makes sense and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but it's going to make it hard to let go. Your feelings will keep seeking him out and attaching to him. They're like a charged magnet. Your strong feelings are the reason it's hard to see the situation for what it's worth and decide what's best for you--to acknowledge that the relationship has hit a ceiling and to move on. But I'm telling you that if you let go, stick it out, and grieve, the sun will eventually scatter the clouds and you'll know in your heart that this was the right move.

As a practical matter, if you keep breaking up and going back to him after sex or spending time with him, don't have sex and don't spend time with him for a long time until you fully recover (as a rule of thumb, wait half the time of the relationship). It's important that you give yourself time for your feelings to run their course so you can heal and move on and eventually find someone else to share your big heart with. I know that must be scary, trust me, but everything will work out just fine.