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Ms. Opinionated: My Boyfriend Is Still Friends With His Former F*ck Buddies

image of Megan Carpentier

Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't.

Dear Ms Opinionated,

I feel that sex is only valuable to me when I'm sharing it with someone I love and trust completely and I can't enjoy it when I don't feel that my heart is safe. It's something I only share with the person I'm with, and it distinguishes the difference between friendship and love for me. My boyfriend, however, has been with tons of women, and a couple of them were and are his best friends. He has told me that he would probably start having sex with them again if we don't work out. He doesn't really say anything inappropriate to them, and I don't think he'd cheat on me physically. But the fact that they remain so close makes me feel threatened.

The fact that he's done all the things with these fuck buddies that he does with me makes me feel cheated in a way. We go to the movies, go to dinner, come home, have sex, hold each other and talk, etc. All things he did with them, and yet somehow he says it's not the same to him and I don't understand. He leans on them emotionally and (when he's single) physically... It sounds just like a relationship to me. And just because he isn't actually having sex with them currently, I still feel like they might as well be because the intention/desire is still there, like they're just taking a break for a while and I'm part of the intermission. I feel like a joke to these girls because I want to think our relationship is special when they've had him this way for years. I feel like as long as he remains friends with these women, he'll never be truly committed to me. He says that it shouldn't bother me because he's not doing anything with them, that I should just trust him.

So what is the difference between a relationship with a friend and your relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend (aside from sex) that lets a boyfriend/girlfriend know that they have nothing to worry about? How do you explain it to them or make sure they feel secure? I feel like as long as he remains friends with these women, he'll never be truly committed to me. My boyfriend and I have worn this argument to the bare bones, but we still don't seem to understand each other.

[Adapted with permission from this comment, click through to read in full.]

Well, let me start by saying to anyone, including your boyfriend, that when your partner is even a little insecure about you being friends with people with whom you used to bump uglies, the appropriate thing to do even when specifically asked whether you would ever trip the light fantastic with them again if not in a relationship is to say, "No." It's never going to help, it's always going to cause problems and whose genitals with which you might or might not engage at some hypothetical later point were your current relationship to be over will be, at that point, none of your hypothetical-ex's business (unless it's a family member or maybe a good friend of their's) so it's sort of not their business now. Just shut your mouth.

Sadly, in your case, he's said it. So you need to deal (or not, as you decide). But let's break down the real problem: you two have very different conceptions of what sex means to each of you. And in some relationships, that's fine as long as the two of you have trust in one another and respect for one another's different points of view. But the fact of the matter is that you don't respect what he's done, you don't accept his point of view about what sex and intimacy mean to him in various circumstances and you don't trust either him nor his friends-who-he-used-to-bone. If you were writing me about your boyfriend not trusting you because of your sexual history and attempting to isolate you from close friends to make him feel more secure about your relationship, there wouldn't be much of a question about what you should do.

So, look: no amount of fighting about it going to change what he's done with other people and it's not going to change about how he feels about sex and the consistency of its relationship to emotional intimacy. And nothing he can say to you is going to make you feel secure about his friends or comforted about his personal morality when it comes to physical intimacy, because that sense of security is something you need to work out in your own head. Other than the foolish admission that he'd probably bone them again if single, by your own admission, you don't think he'd cheat on you, he doesn't behave in a more-than-friends way towards his former fuck buddies and he's told you that he's not interested in doing anything with them because he's with you. In fact, he has drawn boundaries with his friendly former fuck buddies: he doesn't fuck them! What you want is for him to cut off contact with his friends, which is totally unfair, in the hopes that you feel more secure -- but even if that works temporarily, it's no permanent solution to the bigger problem that his past in general makes you feel insecure about his commitment to your current relationship.

So try this thought exercise. You know what he hasn't done with his fuck buddies? Date them. Fall in love with them. Presumably argued until he's blue in the face that they need to trust him and that he wants to be and is monogamous with them. Attempted to make them feel secure by opening up about his past and how it relates to his present relationship and what he wants in his future. Considered the possibility, even though he dismissed it, of ending close friendships that provide him with a level of emotional support because they wanted him all to themselves emotionally and physically. Maybe they went out and did stuff like go to the movies, maybe they talked about their feelings, maybe they did so before and after they had sex here and there. But they weren't his girlfriend, and you are -- at least for now. That's the difference. And that's really the only difference he can give you, because he can't change the past, even if he wanted to. (And if he did, he'd be a different person and maybe not one you could love.)

The real deal is that you're quite uncomfortable that your boyfriend doesn't share your values about sex, and you're that much more uncomfortable that he has these close female friends with whom he does share those values and friendships of which you're not a close part. In fact, you've allowed that discomfort create a whole situation in your head in which they are conspiring against you, treating you as an "intermission" to their no-strings-attached bonefest and considering you a laughingstock, with no evidence. You don't even actually know if they'd ever bone him again, if they'll still be single (or single again) at some future point after which you two might have broken up, or what they think of you (other than, I assume, that you aren't very friendly, unless you're an Oscar-award winning actress). But in your head, they are waiting in the wings and rubbing their hands together like evil cartoon villains, just waiting to get back into your boyfriend's drawers.

Come on.

You need to get your head screwed on straight, or get out of this relationship for his sake and your own. You have your values about sex, and your boyfriend has his. You need to accept what he's saying at face value and given the evidence of his current behavior: that your relationship has meaning to him, that he is being faithful, that his friends-with-benefits situations with his friends were not Relationships no matter how you understand friends-with benefits, even if he's had sex in both situations and gone to the movies in both situations. You need to stop pressuring him to create enough distance with his friends for your peace of mind (is there enough distance for that?), because he's said he's not willing to and because it's hurting your relationship. And you need to consider that his friends are his friends for reasons that they might be (or might have been) yours, too, if you let your defenses down and thought about them as individuals rather than women-your-boyfriend-used-to-bang.

And then you need to look deep within yourself and separate out that piece of all of this which is the socialized understanding that women are in competition with one another for the supposedly scarce resource of men. His friends are likely not your enemies -- or, depending on how you've acted toward them, they didn't start out as your enemies -- and your boyfriend's ability to have close friendships with men and women isn't a sign that he has less intimacy to give you. Emotional intimacy isn't necessarily finite, and, in fact, being able to maintain long-term relationships that include emotional intimacy, even if it's not partnered-intimacy, with other people is a good sign of his ability to maintain an emotional intimacy as a partner.

At some point, only you can choose to feel secure. Only you can create a situation in which you feel like you have nothing to worry about. You need to stop focusing on how the circumstances in which he had sex differed from ones in which you would have and what that means about how he feels now, and start focusing on the present of your relationship and what you do have and what he's giving you now. And if you can't do that, it might help to find a therapist to help you tease out why you are so focused on someone else's past at the detriment of your combined present and future (and maybe where this paranoia comes from that people are laughing at you behind your back with no evidence).

I know all of this stems from you not wanting to get hurt. No one wants to get hurt but, at the end of the day, intimacy means giving someone else the ability to hurt you, and you can't control that. But at this point, you're creating a situation in which you're increasingly likely to get hurt because of yours efforts to control the minutiae of your boyfriend's other friendships to keep from getting hurt. You know that makes no sense, but the person who can stop it isn't your boyfriend, it's you.

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Photo credit: Kate Black, kateblack.com

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Comments

27 comments have been made. Commenting is set to read-only for this post.

I'm uncomfortable with your

I'm uncomfortable with your position that she can choose to feel secure. Like "silly woman, it's all in your head". You make a fair point that their values or needs around sex in a relationship differ. It sounds like a take it or leave it situation (and I would say leave it if you're feeling so shitty). But her insecurity may be valid.

Also...you're advising people to lie if they find themselves in a similar situation to the boyfriend? If you can't reconcile with somoene's truths, maybe you're not a good match. Would she actually feel more secure if he had lied? How would he feel about lying? What kind of foundation is that? There are those who would be okay with knowing he had and might again in the future have sex with his friends. He should probably be with someone who is actually okay with it.

I agree you are missing part of her issue

This women seems to have issue not really with the prior sex, but with the current level of intimacy he shares with his past sexual partners/friends. I would also want my BF to cut back on the emotional intimacy. Most romantic relationships evolve from that lovely cocoon that two will make. How can you ever hope to form that if still engaged emotionally with someone (he admits) you would still have sex with?
I get it. I would not go for that. I would say you do not truly respect my position because you are still doing the thing that I cannot accept. The difference is I would then leave the relationship if we couldn't find a compromise. I do not think accepting the shadow of other women would be OK for me. I would feel not like they were laughing at me, but like he was already thinking of his plan b. I don't enter a relationship casually. I wouldn't like a man who did.
I think trying to shame her into acceptance of his entrenched position is wrong. Maybe she should look at whether the reason these other women never became committed partners is that he has a history of leaving himself never fully committed.

I think you are right that

I think you are right that she had a problem with the level of intimacy. But she also just had a problem with the sex. fThe letter writer specifically said that sex is love from other relationships. " It's something I only share with the person I'm with, and it distinguishes the difference between friendship and love for me"

I've seen the letter writer's situation go two ways. I've seen women manipulated by boyfriends' constant flirtation with previous sexual partners. But I've also seen women stress out about their bf previous sexual partners, when those sexual partners were in no way a threat.

I think the point you make

I think the point you make about whether or not his former friends-with-benefits would actually fall back into the same sort of arrangement were he single again is an important distinction. He may say that he would, but would they? Having been in that sort of arrangement in the past, the first thing I make clear is that this is not a default status. I'm fine with it lasting as long as it lasts, but the moment he decides to give it up to pursue a relationship with someone else, we're done with benefits forever, because while I don't mind such an arrangement (i wouldn't agree to it if I did), I'm not just "the person you fuck when you have no one better to fuck."

In a similar situation right

In a similar situation right now, thanks for dissecting it. Helped to bring a peace of mind!

I'm uncomfortable too...

...with the assertion that this is all in her head. I don't think the problem is just that they have differing values regarding sex. I think the problem is that he has admitted he's just a step away from boning these women again. Those alarm bells are going off because she can't trust him.

That's not to say that he's doing anything right now, or NOT doing anything. That's also not to say she should tell him he has to give up his friends, or give him any other demands. But it's high time she decides if he's telling the truth or not, and if he's not, she should just leave now before the well-meaning people saying "You're paranoid" start saying "What do you expect?" when he asks for his benefits back.

Women get told all the time to trust their partners and to accept situations that just aren't tenable for them. It took me 20 years to realize that the people nagging me to not be jealous in my relationship were really more concerned about my clearly untrustworthy boyfriend's freedom than my well being. They also didnt know my relationship -I did. And those people were nowhere to be found when after he cheated in me (again), I finally listened to my own gut and let him go. Trust your gut - if he's not trustworthy, get out.

Completely co-sign this.

Completely co-sign this. Sometimes that fear is there for a reason.

YES

"Women get told all the time to trust their partners and to accept situations that just aren't tenable for them."

THIS. EXACTLY. YES.

I was interested in what the answer to this letter would be from Bitch, because girls and women are bombarded with the message that we shouldn't be jealous and we shouldn't make demands of our partner because we are. I remember seeing this same thing over and over again in Seventeen, Cosmo, etc. (when I read magazines like that) -- don't be that jealous, insecure girl! You have to work out your OWN problems, because that's all they are! (All this right next to an article about 10 signs he's cheating!)

And yeah, this (and any situation like this) has just as much to do with insecurity issues with one person as it might actually have to do with trustworthiness on the part of the other. These are things that individual people need to work out in their own minds and work on with their partners...but if something doesn't feel right, I happen to think that you have every right to communicate that and ask for your partner to not do that thing anymore. If they can't make that happen, then you discuss why. And sometimes, it's better for people to just go their separate ways.

I was honestly looking for a "feminist" answer to this kind of thing, but I think I'll stick by what I've come to figure out: if something doesn't feel right and you feel like shit all the time, GTFO.

I was honestly looking for a

I was honestly looking for a "feminist" answer to this kind of thing, but I think I'll stick by what I've come to figure out: if something doesn't feel right and you feel like shit all the time, GTFO.

Cosigned.

Yep. You are absolutely

Yep. You are absolutely right. I read Ms.Opinionated with caution because I know my little head will be saying "You don't agree with this???? Something feels weird? Fuck you, you're no feminist."

But I was SO pleased to find this letter written into Ms.Opinionated and this awesome discussion about this issue.

The letter writer says that

The letter writer says that she trusts him, doesn't think he's cheating or that he will cheat. Perchance you are projecting a bit?

I think this is a great post.

I think this is a great post. I understand how some people can be disturbed by being with a partner who is friends with previous "fuck buddies", and I admit I used to be the same way. But now to me it just shows that a man is capable of seeing women as full human beings that they want to have friendships with instead of seeing them as just booty calls or sex vending machines. It means they value women for more than the possibility of having sex with them. I don't expect everyone to see it that way, but it helped me.

I like your take on this.

I like your take on this. It's taken me a long time to get over jealousy in my own relationships and to realize that when a guy has female friends, it's usually a good sign.

I don't see how wanting to

I don't see how wanting to keep women around with whom he has admitted he would start fucking again if given the chance (read: he's "single" again) is seeing them as "full human beings" and not "sex vending machines." They could be sex vending machines he's afraid to get rid of because he wants to use them when he's allowed to again. The particular woman might be overly insecure, but it's her relationship and she knows this guy -- I would think she would be able to figure out if he sees these women as full human beings or just people he sometimes has a good time with, and she probably wouldn't be writing to this column if she thought "GEE my boyfriend sure is respectful to women! Look at all the women he truly cares about!"

For the record, I don't think

For the record, I don't think he should have said that at all. It was completely insensitive in addition to being stupid.

It, of course, is possible that he's just keeping them around because he's afraid to get rid of potential sex partners, but you really don't know that. It could be either. I don't see why someone would waste time pretending to be friends with multiple people just for the possibility of boning them again. But if the alternative is just fucking girls and never speaking to them again because you don't care about them as human beings, then I'll take the former. It is possible to have sex with people you are friends with and remain friends (not for everyone, of course), and to be friends with people you used to have sex with but don't anymore.

I should add that I don't blame this person at all for feeling insecure or jealous or whatever her emotions are. I don't blame anyone for feeling like that especially when they don't have casual sex, this is just my view on the matter.

I also take issue...

I agree with the commenters who have a problem with your assertion that this is something she should just "get over." This really feels like you're blaming the letter writer. Why does there have to be blame in the situation? I was on board with your argument that the two seem to have very different attitudes toward sex and that they need to decide whether they can reconcile those attitudes or not. That's good advice. Telling her that she cannot feel insecure because her boyfriend's past is so different from hers is not productive. Telling her to be open to working with him is.

Also, you tell the writer that "depending on how you've acted toward [the buddies], they didn't start out as your enemies." Why must you assume that she is the only one who could have acted badly? Perhaps some of this insecurity stems from actions on the friends' behalf.

You're right that she needs to act fairly and open her mind a bit, but I dislike the judgmental tone you take.

I think it's valid to remain

I think it's valid to remain friends with old lovers, but my partner felt like his ex-lovers were his "best friends" and that it would be very easy for him to pick things up with them again, that would make me feel uncomfortable, too. I would want to know why he never had a more serious relationship with these woman, and why they stopped having a sexual relationship. Maybe they had a thing based on mutual attraction but some key incompatibilities made them unsuitable as long-term partners -- like she wants kids, he doesn't. Or maybe she's too busy with her career for a serious boyfriend and he doesn't mind a more casual thing but prefers a committed partner. That would make sense to me and satisfy my need to understand the difference between his casual relationships and a more committed one. But if there's no satisfying way for him to explain the differences between these relationships, then maybe he really is keeping something from his girlfriend.

It sounds like this couple is going to keep having the same fight over and over again. Maybe the letter writer really is being irrationally jealous, and everything is on the up-and-up, and I agree that it's not okay for her to ask her boyfriend to completely cut off contact with his best friends. But it sounds like will be hard for her to ever be happy with this situation, and I think there are plenty of men out there who have more firm boundaries with their exes and who share her values around sex.

I think that all of the

I think that all of the answers Ms. Opinionated gave were on point from a psychological standpoint...... if life were as simple as a self help book cure-all. Nevertheless, emotions and feelings are not always completely rational when it comes to love and intimate relationships, and can't always be wrapped up neatly with a tight bow on top. As far as what this woman needs to work on, once again, Ms. Opinionated is indeed right - yet I don't believe the response needed to be so stern and accusatory. This woman was reaching out to make some sense of an ongoing argument, and I don't think she wasn't bashing her partner, per se. Likewise, her boyfriend/spouse has some emotional responsibility to her - no matter if her feelings are not entirely based on solid psychological footing - because relationships are about compromise. If he wants to be with her, and this is something that (no matter how 'correct' it is or isn't) he must deal with, than he must come to a decision -- find a balance that words for them both -OR- end the relationship. Personally, I think this woman is very much in love and all that came before her bothers her. It's difficult for her to think of the man she loves with other women, and it is an inner turmoil. All of us, as human beings, must cope with the fact that our partners had other romantic affairs before us (even if it was just a crush), but I DO believe that if one member of the relationship is constantly surrounded by "friends" of whom they know their partner was once lovers with, than this is not healthy either. That would be a source of stress for the most secure of people, especially if you're a visual thinker. I think that Ms. Opinionated had very valid advice, but I don't believe it needed to be presented so harshly. I think this woman was asking an honest-to-goodness question and wanted an honest-to-goodness answer, but if she *is* feeling a little depleted right now (out of sheer exhaustion from cyclic arguing of the subject), this response would no doubt make her feel even worse. I think as a partnership, both counterparts need to respect the others feelings and find common ground they can work with together or hit the ground walking; but I see a lot of problems with this situation and their pretty much shared down the middle, 50/50. I went through a similar situation with my fiance, only I was this woman's boyfriend in our scenario. We have both given & both taken until we both felt as though we came up with a solution we could live with, without resentment of any kind. If she is important to him, her feelings will be, and visa versa. When it comes to emotions, all the therapy-talk in the world won't squelch the funny things passion makes us do, say, and feel. She deserved some empathy with her counsel.

Nailed it!

This is a delicate situation and I think you perfectly differentiated between the things the OP is able to control and those she is not. I see a lot of commenters taking umbridge with the idea that the OP should take responsibility for her own emotions. I don't see you telling her to buck up and tighten those bootstraps. Instead, I see you telling her to take the first step, which is recognizing her own possessiveness and insecurity, and then to prepare for the next step, which is either deciding to stay with the guy and work with a therapist to overcome her insecurity, or dump him and find someone who better fits her expectations.

Megan, I really admire your wisdom. Today's post makes me admire you even more!

Why beat a dead horse?

I think that women are socialized to hang onto any slim chance of a serious relationship for dear life; even after it becomes clear that she isn't really compatible with her partner. A key part of having a successful (focus on quality vs longevity) relationship is sharing a basic set of values.

Obviously, in this case, each person has a profoundly different world view. No matter how much longer they stay together, it's pretty clear that whatever they had originally is now over. Your life-box-of-skills should include knowing when to give up and move on to something healthier for both partners.

I look forward to reading

I look forward to reading Bitch every day, but I'm sorry to say I roll my eyes when I see these columns.

Why?

Why?

I think a lot of people are

I think a lot of people are missing the point. He's not flirting with them, she doesn't think he'll cheat and they're his closest friends. How would you feel if someone you were seeing made you choose between him/her and your friends? While I think the reply is worded a little harshly and it's doubtful that the letter writer actually needs therapy, if she's not comfortable with his past, sorry, but that is her issue, not his. He can't change the past and shouldn't have to give up his friends. At the same time, if what she wants out of a relationship is bone-crushing, horse-blinder monogamy, well, she shouldn't have to feel bad about that either. It sounds like they're just not suited for one another and both should move on. If either party has to alter their beliefs in order to be in any kind of relationship with another person, it's just not gonna work.
Also, I would recommend every person on the planet read this book called The Ethical Slut. While it's officially about polyamory, it's really just an exercise in respecting your partner as an individual instead of a piece of property and is easily applied to monogamous relationships (or fuck buddies, or whatever you have going on) as well.

ALSO my boyfriend's best

ALSO my boyfriend's best friend is an ex-girlfriend who is a smart, funny, gorgeous, Swedish, model/future doctor and I love her to pieces. You -can- train your brain to not react to jealousy.

I completely agree with

I completely agree with everything you've said, including the recommendation! This guy has done nothing wrong; perhaps admitting he'd hypothetically have sex with these women in a theoretical future scenario was stupid, but so is the question. The meaningful question is whether he would have sex with them in the current, non-hypothetical situation, and the answer is no. The importance of monogamy is in the choice people make to only sleep with one person, not in their suddenly, magically not being attracted to anyone else. The fact that he's choosing to be faithful, that having her as his girlfriend is more important to him than sleeping with those other women, is what matters.

What we have here are a lot of assumptions and speculation on the part of the letter-writer. I think she needs to get clearer, possibly with the help of a therapist, on what she wants her boyfriend to do and whether her expectations/desires are reasonable and appropriate. Not having sex with other women? Yes, totally. Changing the past and giving up close friends? Not so much. Also possibly on her understanding of romantic relationships - she seems to believe sex is the only difference between friendship and romance, and that worries me. Then she needs to figure out whether she can live with the stuff that can't be changed, because it's impossible or because it's unfair to ask. If she can't then it's time to move on to someone who's willing to pretend she's the only one he wants and possibly has left a trail of emotionally-mangled ex's in his wake (she wouldn't know, because she wouldn't know any of the women he'd been with previously).

Frankly, while I'm never in favor of shaming, I think some harshness was called for here. This woman is endangering her relationship and she needed to hear that, and to hear how ridiculous some of her speculation sounds from the outside. Where I come from, when someone forces you to choose between them and another person, you choose the other person. If the harsh advice she gets here keeps her from making ultimatums and helps her see things more clearly, and thereby hold onto someone she cares about, then that's worth feeling hurt or maybe even judged by a stranger.

As a side-note, it could be just me and my experience, but straight people seem to have a lot more of these problems than gay ones. I know a lot of queer people (of all genders) who are friends, even best friends, with their ex's and no one makes such a fuss. What's up with that?

"Well, let me start by saying

"Well, let me start by saying to anyone, including your boyfriend, that when your partner is even a little insecure about you being friends with people with whom you used to bump uglies, the appropriate thing to do even when specifically asked whether you would ever trip the light fantastic with them again if not in a relationship is to say, "No." "

I disagree with this whole-heartedly. Basing your sense of security on a lie is a doomed prospect. All those behaviors that she perceives and worries about would still be there, there little cues that communicate the intimacy he shares with these women emotionally, only when she asked about them, he would lie to her. That would not make a person feel more secure, it would just make them less able to identify why they feel insecure. I agree with the commenter who said if you can't accept a person's truth, you're not a good match.

The rest of this article, like pointing out that she's borderline trying to isolate him from his friends, etc, is spot on, but that first bit bothers the hell out of me.

This is possibly the most

This is possibly the most unhelpful advice you could have given this woman. You pretty much sound like her boyfriend.