Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: I think I’m in love with my friend, although I don’t want to touch them.
Nicole: They definitely do not know what they want. Also, I’m taking as my starting point that the LW is not asexual, based on the fact that he’s used to/seems happy with experiencing regular sexual desire in his other relationships.
Danny: I feel like there is some unacknowledged contempt in this letter!
Nicole: I do not actually get contempt from it (and he did want to emphasize his turn-off around her smell wasn’t a question of cleanliness). I think it’s challenging to explain “I don’t want to have sex with this person, but still really like them” without sounding a little mean. I think most of this is definitely just backlash from being in a rough spot with his partner, so that anyone of the right gender he has intense emotional conversations with could easily become intimate. The only thing I read as possible contempt is “she is not physically affectionate with anyone,” which is weird.
Danny: what do you see as the gender makeup of this situation? Because the letter is gender neutral but I found myself assuming the letter-writer was female and the friend male, although I’m not quite sure why.
Nicole: Straight man letter, my read, woman object of affection, but it could just as easily be a woman! If they want to work things out with their current partner, then it would probably help to cut back on these emails, even if they’re no longer daily. And if they don’t want to work on their relationship, they can certainly ask and see if their friend returns any of these feelings. But without a physical connection, it may not be work kicking over the can for.
Danny: Right! There is clearly something else going on here, because if things were really 100% as you described them, you’d just have a great friendship. Like, you do have to figure out what you want to do here. Because if you were entirely clear on not wanting to sleep with or be at all physically affectionate with your friend, I’m not sure that you’d have a problem! You could just … be friends.
Nicole: I sure hope they figure out a better way to do so before talking to the object of their affections! (If they decide not to work on their current relationship and pursue this instead.)
Danny: right! it’s sort of like, “Should I figure out whether it’s worth investigating my sort-of attraction to my friend?” without any clarification on what the rough patch is.
Nicole: Physical feelings can build, obviously, but they’ve known each other for years.
I do find it funny that they think they’ve invented the idea they might be emotionally connected to someone they don’t want to bone. There’s a note of “SURELY this is unique in human experience, how would we explain it?” That’s a friend, buddy!
Danny: ”I’m awkward in a way I can’t really explain when I’m around my friend and their partner but I’m definitely not jealous” is not quite it, I don’t think. Although yes, as you say, it is certainly possible to experience romantic feelings decoupled from sexual feelings, and it is possible to experience jealousy or possessiveness over friends that does not necessarily mean you want to bone and/or marry them.
Nicole: I definitely think this is about emotional intimacy and finding a new place to put it, and they would be better suited to think and talk about their existing partner than this friend. However, they have literally nothing to say about their partner? There’s no “I love them/I’m generally happy with them/we have a strong physical connection.”
Danny: I think the next step you gotta take here is some introspection! What are the nature of these dreams? Why do you find yourself attracted to this friend more when things aren’t going well in your life? Does some part of you see them as a safe backup for you if you’re not getting everything you want in your sex life?
Nicole: Everyone loves being the backup person! It’s like the friend who fades out when they get a boyfriend and then comes back.
Danny: And everyone loves finding out that their partner is half-heartedly entertaining other options during a rough patch! What do you want from your friend, if not sex? Do you want an exclusive emotional commitment? Do you want them to leave their partner for you? If you don’t want to have sex, are you okay with them having sex with other people while living being committed to you? What kind of sex do you think you’ll feel comfortable having with a partner you’re committed to emotionally but not physically, given that that’s not an arrangement you’ve had before? It’s not clear what you want to ask of yourself, of your partner, or of your friend, and so I think that’s your big next step.