Friends With Benefits

by Telling Dad on December 16, 2011

Answering a “Shuck Me Some Wisdom” Request!

Dear Telling Dad,

I am a twenty-something year old woman living in the south. I think I have feelings for one of my best guy friends, but I can’t tell if it is because I ACTUALLY have feelings for him or if it is because I have dated a whole bunch of jerks and he is a genuinely nice, stand-up, good hearted, honest, handsome guy. Let’s face it, those are hard to come by and all southern girls are looking for it (and probably all girls in general). SO, do I really like him, or is he just the embodiment of what we are all looking for and since I have been single for far too long I am just a bit confused??

Thanks bunches!

Mixed Up In Memphis
_______

A: Dear Mixed Up In Memphis,

First, let me make sure I have all of your friend’s benefits straight:

- He’s nice
- He’s able to stand up
- He’s good-hearted
- He’s honest
- He’s handsome
- He’s the embodiment of what every girl in the south is looking for.

Second, allow me to assess your own situation:

- You think you have feelings for him
- You’re single
- You have a history of dating jerks.

Hmmm. I can totally see why you’re confused.

(By the way, it’s difficult to convey facial expressions in text but I totally just rolled my eyes in big giant saucer-like circles while accentuating the word ‘totally’)

The reason for such biting sarcasm is because this guy has probably been told his entire life that he’s a great guy, a great friend, and a great catch only to remain single as women such as yourself run around with jerks void of both appreciation and respect.

Taking myself back to my high school and collegiate days, I was just like this guy. You didn’t list his name so let’s just call him Scooter.

It sounds to me as though Scooter and I could be twins, aside from the whole handsome part. I was a total dork back then. Think…a zitty Napoleon Dynamite, but without the tater tots and bowstaff skills. If I can find some photos, I’ll show you just how accurate this description is.

I suppose my Ugly Duckling phase (which I hope to exit soon) is why your question strikes such a nerve with me. Up until my marriage, I was always the guy with a great personality and no dates. It started at summer camp at the age of nine and went straight up through college. Girls would say how much of a “catch” I was because I was so nice and so funny and so much fun, yet there I’d be, standing in bewilderment as they continued to date the jerks they swore they hated. Jerks they’d eventually complain to me about the next time they needed a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

I know it’s not universal, but I think the majority of teens and 20-somethings put far too much emphasis on looks. Granted, there has to be some level of attraction, but I’m not so sure the inner core of a person really matters to those with a sweet tooth for eye candy.

Fortunately for me, my wife Heather, who was a shade outside 21 when we first met at an airport, thought I was handsome. At least, that’s what she says. I think handsome is too strong a word. I’ll say, tolerable. My looks were tolerable. And it was my tolerant looks that bought me enough time to win her over with what really matters…the inside. And this is what you need to focus on.

It’s great that he’s handsome but I’d be more concerned with all the other benefits…the kindness, the honesty, the good heart. Looks fade over time, but a soul is forever.

Thank goodness my wife is one of those precious gems who realized this. For she still says she loves me, even as my hair migrates from my head to other parts of my body that have no business possessing sustainable follicles.

She still says she loves me, even though my six-pack has been replaced by the perception that my non-alcoholic self drank one too many of them.

And she still says she loves me, even as my bones, joints, and muscle fibers creak, groan, and complain whenever they sense movement.

She still says she loves me. Just as I am and just as I ever will be. THAT is what you need to pursue. And you won’t find it with a jerk.

So let’s break it down, shall we?

You say this Scooter guy is a handsome fellow. You say he’s wonderful inside and out. And you say he embodies what you and every other southern woman wants (screw the north, right? We just need someone to help us keep warm).

Even with all this, you still don’t know if you like him.

Trust me, Memphis. You do.

Maybe you aren’t swooning every time he walks by, or feeling nervous, warm, or flustered when he’s near, but you like him. To what extent remains to be seen.

Do you look forward to seeing him every day or is it just a pleasant occasion when it happens? Kind of like me and our mailman. I mean, I look forward to seeing him every day but I have no intention of ever asking him out.

Do you find yourself wanting to call him or hang out with him outside your shared circle of friends? Do you want to just grab him, throw him down, and smooch the bajeezus out of his adorably handsome southern charmed lips and face?

If you answered yes, then you don’t just like him. You really like him. You just might want to temper the aggressive smoochy part until you’re confident he won’t file charges. But if you answered no, then perhaps you’re still walking that fence that separates Friendville from Relationshipville. Sadly for some, once they abandon Friendville for a stint in Relationshipville, they’re never welcomed back.

This in mind, you need to ask yourself if it’s wise to even pursue a relationship at the risk of losing what you already have and enjoy. Bridging that chasm from boy friend to boyfriend is a monstrous leap often wrought with danger and mystery. On the plus side, it can also reward you with a lifetime of emotional and personal fulfillment.

If you’re worried about dating your “friend,” understand that most wonderful relationships are rooted first and foremost in friendship. I feel blessed by the fact that Heather isn’t just my wife, she’s also my best friend. And I don’t mean this in some corny Hallmark Card kind of way. I mean it more in a “there is no one, and I mean no one I’d rather watch football with, go to a basketball game with, take a walk with, hit the town with, laugh with, clown around with, or share life with than her” kind of way.

No one.

Take it from me. If your soulmate isn’t also your best friend, you’re missing out.

I can’t tell you whether or not Scooter is “The One,” and thankfully you didn’t ask me that. All you wanted to know is if you really did like him or if he just embodied everything you’re looking for. Quite honestly, it’s pure semantics. It’s one in the same. In fact, if you were to really sit down to think about it, you’d see that you answered your very own question. You didn’t even need me!

If Scooter is even half the catch you say he is, you’ll want to cast out that line, hook him, and reel him in before someone else does. If he indeed embodies everything a southern gal could wish for, he won’t stay in that pond for long. So get out there. Catch him, filet him, gut him, and put him on ice.

(Not the most romantic metaphor, but hey, I’m working with fish here).

Oh, Memphis, even you opt against pursuing a relationship, tell Scooter I said “Hello.”

I feel like I already know the guy.

_______
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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

MrsTellingDad December 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

You were NOT an ugly duckling and you had plenty of relationships! Besides you had Dave…who needs all that other stuff when you are a Russian basketball player with such a great agent. But that is another story. :)

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Karen December 16, 2011 at 6:57 am

Wonderful answer! Perfect in fact. I found out how wonderful it is to be married to the loving, caring, stand-up guy whom the rest of the world might not find as attractive as some others. I’m happy no one snagged him early. Now I get to be with my best friend for the rest of my life.

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Meg December 16, 2011 at 7:43 am

This was a nice piece to read. I love hearing how much you two are so close after all this time. It seems so rare to hear about. Personally, I married my high school sweetheart, and in all, we’ve been together 26 years. I can’t imagine how life would be without him.

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Carrie December 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

I’m a southern girl. I married a jerk wad. I divorced a jerk wad.

It would be a dream to find a Scooter.

A really nice Scooter.

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Peggy December 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

“Looks fade over time, but a soul is forever.” That is classic! Great post!

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Debbie McK December 16, 2011 at 10:03 am

David Francey has a song called Broken Glass:

“When you hear a sound like broken glass
That’s my heart every time that girl walks past
When you hear a sound like the rush of wind
It’s just me catching my breath again”

If you feel like that, you definitely have “feelings”.

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Heather Head December 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Dear Miss Memphis. You and most of Western Civilization worry way too much about feelings. That butterflies-in-the-tummy, can’t-think-about-anything-else, heart-leaping feeling that people talk about as being “in love?” That is not love, folks. That’s just a powerful stew of addictive natural dopamines and related chemicals designed by nature to get you to make babies and produce the next generation of the species.

If you want to call that “love” then you might some day be lucky enough to bathe in chemicals that tell you to jump all over someone who’s a good match for you. If you’re REALLY lucky, that bath of chemicals will sustain you for up to two years in a delirious swirl of delicious emotion. But if you choose to follow the chemicals instead of your head, you’re more likely to end up throwing yourself at all the wrong guys who will treat you like trash. Oh wait. You already have.

But let’s go back to that remote possibility that some day your chemical bath will take you into the arms of someone worthy. For about two years it’s going to be beautiful.

And then reality is going to hit–because your body can’t sustain the onslaught of chemicals forever. They wear off. And then it won’t matter how many butterflies you counted, how many love letters you penned, or how many moonlit nights you spent pining: When those chemicals wear off, you’re going to notice the warts. And the snores. And the whiny undertone in the voice. And the fact that he leaves suds on the dishes when he puts them in the drying rack. And it’s all going to drive you crazy and you’re going to wonder what in sam hill you ever saw in him.

And if all you’ve ever based your faith in is that chemical stew we love to call being “in love,” you’re going to think it’s all over with. Maybe you’ll even begin to believe you never “truly” loved him.

Here’s my suggestion, Miss Memphis. Instead of worrying about whether there’s a chemical stew of infatuation brewing below your friendship, get your head straight about what love is–and what it is not. Figure out whether your friendship is the sort that can last a lifetime and whether you can build a relationship together on trust, respect, and a willingness to work together.

Commit on that basis, and the love will come. It may not be butterflies at first, but even those will come. A wise woman once told me “feelings follow.” They follow because they are merely chemicals, turned on and off by our thoughts, which are in turn controlled by our actions.

Choose your actions and your partner well, commit to respect and to being respected. Decide that you will work through the rough spots and always have each others’ backs. Think loving thoughts.

That is the recipe for true love.

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Jessica Meats January 4, 2012 at 7:18 am

While I agree with some of what you say, I think the butterflies are important. I think you need both. You (and TellingDad) are absolutely right that you need friendship for a long term relationship to be successful. Just about any relationship that lasts is founded on personalities matching and giving a solid foundation of friendship.

But there are lots of people I’m friends with who I wouldn’t have a relationship with in the sense that’s being discussed here. I’ve had one serious relationship in my life and that was with a guy who, even after we’d been living together for more than a year, could make sweet gestures that would bring all the butterflies back. That was why he wasn’t just a friend.

I remember a conversation with my sister about the guy she’s now living with. Her comment was that he still gave her butterflies when she thought about him (that’s actually what she said). She’s never been short of friends but the guy she’s serious with is the one who is both a friend and a source of butterflies.

So I absolutely agree that you need friendship, but I disagree about the fact that the “in love” feeling isn’t required.

Britt W March 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm

To Jessica, the biggest issue with those butterflies, is, yes, it’s so fantastic to feel that, but what happens when they wear off? What’s left. Will the person understand that there is still love after the butterflies are gone? I actually have a friend who is 1) so addicted to the “butterfly” feeling that it is ruining EVERY SINGLE RELATIONSHIP she has had in the past 4 years. She keeps says, “Well, I don’t think I love him anymore, I’m not getting the butterflies and the “spark” anymore” Younger people these days just don’t seem to understand that the love is still there, it simply needs to be cultivated, like a garden. Real love is seriously hard work, and it is so important that two people find friendship somewhere in those butterflies. I was one of those people, trust me. I even went through separation and almost divorce, because the “spark” wasn’t there at that time, but somehow, amazingly, our friendship and mutual love for our son saw us through that stage, and we’re back together, and working on the real stuff again.
I’m just saying, foundation through the “butterflies”, It really is just chemicals.

Amanda December 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I just wanted to say to Miss Memphis, that if she decided to “date” Scooter, just know that I did that with a Scooter (who wasn’t for me really) and while it didn’t work out, he and I are still friends. We aren’t best friends like we were before we dated, and while it did make us grow apart, we are getting close to being good friends again.
(Also, this friend and I weren’t friends for a very long time, and we were best friends for an even shorter time. So it didn’t help that our friendship wasn’t super strong before we tried to date. )

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Amanda December 16, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Whoops! I meant *this friend and I were friends for a short amount of time. Realized that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense once I posted it.

Karen C December 17, 2011 at 7:06 am

What is it with women who always seem to sift through diamonds and only find coal?
As much as it would be nice for Memphis to enjoy a meaningful relationship, I somehow suspect her head will turn for the next bit of rough that comes her way and the diamond will be cast aside. Again.
And we don’t want that.
It was hard enough watching my son go through that stuff, but I am delighted to say the wait was worth it and he now has the most devoted partner/wife/friend I could wish for him.
When they married she made my heart leap with two statements:
they had a morning wedding because she wanted to be married all day, not wait all day to get married, and
her father lifted her veil when he brought her to the altar because she wanted her husband to see her face when she made her vows.
Is she a keeper or what?
Proud Mum and MIL

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Viperid December 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I can *so* empathize with Scooter, and younger you. It sucks.

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valmg @ Mom Knows It All December 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I’d be more concerned with all the other benefits…the kindness, the honesty, the good heart. Looks fade over time, but a soul is forever.

So true, you said it perfectly.

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MC December 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I’m with Heather Head. I get sick of my contemporaries allowing their relationships to die because they think if it’s meant to be it won’t require any work. While that isn’t what Memphis is asking it does seem to fall into the same category. If the attraction isn’t there on some level then it’s not there, some things cannot be forced or compromised. However we often can’t see the forest for the trees. Poor Scooter is in the “friend” bin and can’t seem to jump.

Memphis needs to ask herself what DOESN’T work for her. For example I found through trial and error that I couldn’t date a guy smaller than me. It dug up self image issues. Perhaps there is something like that she just can’t put her finger on.

Ultimately, though. I don’t think it’s an either/or issue. If a romantic relationship is something worth persuing then do it slowly. Commit to being single and simply be open to the possibility (if being without a guy that long is a problem, then that’s a BIGGER problem). Hang out in smaller groups or just the two of you a few times without the pressure of a date. Do not kiss or become physically intimate, just see if you are compatible on a bff level. If you are, and you find him physically attractive then you can take it to the next level.

All of this, of course, assumes he’s into you. Perhaps that’s where your confusion is. Maybe he’s not interested enough to be casting his line your way.

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Jess December 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm

You know, the number of times guys have told me “women only date jerks” is starting to irk me. Yeah, half the population of the earth only date jerks (eye rolling). The way I figure it, people who say this must just hate most people – which is fair, but it does make the term “jerk” awfully broad. If you think %99 of people are jerks – then what are the chances of your friends NOT dating jerks.

So here are a few things to think about:
1. If you have a friend who is female telling you whenever there is an issue in her relationship – of course you’re going to think the guy is a dick.

2. Men and women both make mistakes in early (especially high school aged) relationships in terms of what they do and what they put up with.

3. So called “nice guys” (just saying – no one is without faults) often lack confidence. Confidence – more so than looks – can effect your ability to get dates.

4. The term “jerk” is a form of cognitively distorted thinking called “labeling.” You are making people less than human with this term. Its. . . not good.

5. Everyone is a jerk when you break up with them.

Lastly I should add that the girls question is legitimate. The main problem seems to be that the guy is a FRIEND of hers. She is feeling vulnerable and lonely and is thinking about totally changing the nature of that friendship in irreversible ways and possibly ending up never talking to this person again. I know – its happened to me pretty much exactly that way. And the “nice guy” turned out to be a jerk (see #5).

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Tonja December 28, 2011 at 11:50 am

Wow!!!

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Aaron May 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I just finished helping to put on a conference for singles between 27 and 42 in which we had a little north of 1,000 participants and wouldn’t you know it I just stubled on this post and it’s comments. I gave out a lot of advice, but I wish I had read this before this last weekend.

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Tara June 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Damn, I love your writing. And your humanity. And your humor. And the fact that you are crazy about your wife. I’ve only been blogging for a year, I hope the people who read my ramblings feel the way I do when I read yours.

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Chris February 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’m with Telling Dad on this one. Would you rather have a best friend forever or a best friend that will inevitably fade out of your life as you get married to another guy and start your own life?

I’ve let 2 of these best friends go myself and regretted it. 1 of them I haven’t spoken to in years. In the other, I lost the deep level of friendship that makes her a close friend (as she handed that over to her husband).

When you or they get married, you can not longer go to them for a shoulder to cry on. You can’t keep the same level of relationship that you had before. When you leave them in the dust, you can also leave the depth and magnitude of your relationship in the dust with them.

Maybe Telling Dad can comment on this. Do you now share the same relationship with all the girls that used to cry on your shoulder?

From experience, I’ve learned that as hard as it can be to lose a best friend, I would rather try and fail, then never try and wonder what might have been.

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