Suffering through a breakup and other misunderstandings of ‘almost relationships’

‘Friends with benefits’ and ‘fuck buddies’ have their advantages and drawbacks. Making intentions clear from the beginning and not creating false expectations are two keys for avoiding a bitter end

Ventajas e inconvenientes los ‘amigovios’ y ‘follamigos’
"The problem resides not in the type of relationship, but in the people and their issues," say the experts we consulted.Hinterhaus Productions (Getty Images)

Literature has already informed anyone who would listen about the lights and shadows of furtive, illegal, clandestine, unequal, incomplete, non-consensual, informal and nameless loves. Works like Anna Karenina (Tolstoy, 1878), The Regent’s Wife (Clarín, 1884), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D.H. Lawrence, 1928) and The Lover (Marguerite Duras, 1984) have delved into the dizziness and pain of such relationships, which are now socially acceptable but no less painful. The figure of the friend with benefits would not be enough for a literary epic; but, unfortunately, in some cases they are enough to generate anxiety, distrust and even hatred toward the opposite sex (in the case of heterosexuals) and the occasional visit to a psychologist or sexologist, to try to understand what happened and avoid repeating it.

Armando, a 32-year-old from Argentina, has been involved in an “almost relationship” for over a year, and it is difficult for him to get out of it, despite having sought the help of a psychologist. When the Buenos Aires native met Clara, a college classmate and friend, she already had a partner, but they broke up one day. “She told me about it and, seeing her so depressed, I tried to cheer her up, I helped her as much as I could and, as we lived nearby, we started to meet more often,” he says. His feelings started to become something more than friendship and he decided to express them to her. “I remember that she listened to me in silence and when I finished she thanked me for my sincerity, but she did not say anything about it. I interpreted that silence to mean that she did not feel the same way about me, and I made up my mind that it would not go beyond friendship. However, one day when I was very sad, she came to my house and, after lunch, she suggested that we go to the bedroom to take a nap together and, in the end, we made out,” he says. “We became friends with benefits, although there wasn’t much of the latter. She always emphasized to me that we were not serious and encouraged me to go out with other girls, and we presented ourselves as friends to our colleagues,” Armando continues. “We went out more and more, we made many plans together; Clara met my friends and my parents, and vice versa. Inside me, there was the hope that things would go better, until one day she told me she was going out with a guy. I had a hard time and decided to walk away and end the relationship, but the more I distanced myself, the closer she got. She would send me a message asking me how I was doing and telling me that she was sorry that I was having a hard time, or she would ask me something about school or my studies. Later on, she would even tell me that she didn’t like her partner that much anymore and that she was thinking of leaving him, which gave me new hope.”

Armando’s on-again/off-again relationship, along with the uncertainty of the friend-partner unions, the unequal feelings on both sides and Clara’s attitude, could end up bothering even the most even-keeled person. Curiously, many of those who enter into this type of relationship see them as a barometer of their own tolerance and modernity (not in the case of our student), but ultimately end up going over to the conservative side, which declares that the only place for happiness as a couple is a serious long-term relationship.

“The problem lies not in these types of relationships, which are just as good as any other, but in the people and their problems,” says Gloria Arancibia Clavel, a psychologist and sexologist based in Madrid, Spain. “You have to have a certain maturity to embark on this type of interaction without getting hurt. But, in addition, there are many people who are fooling themselves and deep down, what they want is something more serious. Yet they compromise because they like the other person and think that this is the way to get started or to reel him/her in. And, of course, when it doesn’t work out that way, there’s frustration and suffering.”

Not all people are able to handle the “almost something” with joy, passion, affection and humor, understanding the limits and putting a happy ending to the relationship, which will be remembered as something ephemeral but beautiful. To begin with, as noted by the sexologist Raúl González Castellanos, also an educational psychologist and couples therapist in Madrid, “sexual relations always create bonds, whether we like it or not, and the more satisfactory they are, the more we will be hooked.” He adds: “Blame it on phenylethylamine, the ‘neurotransmitter of love’ that creates addiction; and oxytocin, ‘the hormone of affection.’ It’s not easy to escape chemistry, and what almost always happens is that one partner feels it more than the other, and that’s when the mismatch begins.”

Holding feelings inside

To avoid this awkward problem in almost relationships, the person who begins to develop stronger feelings tends to keep those sentiments inside to avoid suffering; ignoring that he/she will also repress passion, pleasure and the art of letting go, which are essential for enjoyment. Calls, caresses, dates, displays of affection and passion are then rationed, as if our upcoming sexual assignment did not involve feeling, without heeding the warnings of our prudish and pessimistic mind.

Not everyone is equipped to handle 'almost relationships' with joy, passion, affection, humor while understanding their limits, giving the relationship a happy ending, and remembering it as something ephemeral but beautiful.
Not everyone is equipped to handle 'almost relationships' with joy, passion, affection, humor while understanding their limits, giving the relationship a happy ending, and remembering it as something ephemeral but beautiful.Thomas Barwick (Getty Images)

“The paradox is that, ultimately, no matter how much we shut off our feelings, we will suffer just as much or more,” Arancibia points out, “because we will not have given ourselves permission to enjoy, to let ourselves flow in the relationship, and this can also create a dangerous pattern for future relationships. Feelings go freely and we should not put limits on them, but, deep down, it is a problem of fear of abandonment, of loneliness. We have been given the message that you will not be able to cope with life alone, it’s better to be in a couple; and that has been reinforced in women much more, which is why we do many things we do not like in order to avoid breaking up.”

In Raúl González’s opinion, the people most prone to this type of relationship fall into three groups: those who are prone to fall into scoundrel love, those who are addicted to falling in love, and those who are allergic to commitment. “In scoundrel love, there is a lot of passion, few plans for the future and, often, we are attracted to our opposite (the case of the bad boy). In short, it is a sexual attraction, pure chemistry; although over time someone can get hooked. The second group is addicted to the hormonal cocktail that makes us fall in love. [They] are perpetually chasing this feeling and, when things cool down, they cut and run. The third ones only want to keep the good things about their partner; they value their own independence and do not want to give it up for the many problems that come with stable relationships. Those with an insecure attachment may suffer the most in this type of relationship. They are vulnerable, afraid of being rejected, highly influenced by others’ opinions, and often hide their partners for fear of what their friends or family might say.”

Suffering less

When Armando looks back, he confesses that he should have ended the relationship when he realized that their interests were not the same. “But, as they say, hope is the last thing you lose,” he says. The lack of closure is another characteristic of this type of encounter; there’s no beginning and no end.

“We are not dating, but we broke up” is another of the consequences of the thousand and one misunderstandings of people in “almost relationships."
“We are not dating, but we broke up” is another of the consequences of the thousand and one misunderstandings of people in “almost relationships."Thomas Barwick (Getty Images)

“When you decide that you’re going to eat a steak or a piece of cake, or smoke a cigar, even if you know it isn’t good for you, if you’ve made that decision, do it without regrets and enjoy the moment, and tomorrow you can back to your diet,” González says. “You should not be eating cake and thinking about how you are going to get fat, because that way you only retain the bad things, both the remorse and the calories. Something similar happens with this type of relationship, you have to know what they are and where they lead us; that’s why I recommend that before starting one you make your intentions very clear, put all your cards on the table so that no one creates false expectations. And, if things change, then let the other person know,” the sexologist advises.

“We are not a couple, but we suffer during a breakup” is another one of the consequences of the thousand and one misunderstandings of people in almost relationships, which never have a clear ending that one can mourn properly. “This is another of the most common problems: very few people allow themselves to suffer and cry on a friend’s shoulder, because the most likely response is: ‘But you’re stupid! Didn’t you tell me he was a fuck buddy? What’s with all the drama? Was he your longtime boyfriend?” notes Arancibia. “Homosexual couples seem to handle this type of relationship better, maybe because they’ve had a harder time and developed more tools. Resistance really helps you to break free.”

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