‘I’m in love with a man I’m having sex with but he doesn’t love me back’

At the start it was pretty casual, but about two months ago I realised I was falling for him

Dear Roe,

I’m a 24-year-old woman, and I’ve been in a friends-with-benefits relationship with a man for about six months. At the start it was pretty casual, but about two months ago I realised I was falling in love with him. I told him, but he told me he doesn’t feel the same and wants to keep it casual.

We continued sleeping together and since that conversation, we’ve had loads of fun on nights out with mutual friends, and have had really intense, vulnerable conversations, too. I feel like we really are perfect for each other.

I keep trying to figure out why he won’t take me seriously and I think it must be because I’ve had sex with him when we weren’t officially together.

Can I talk to him about this and get him to see that just because we’ve had sex doesn’t mean I’m not girlfriend material, too?

I just feel like I’ll never get over this because he’s not being clear and we keep seeing each other, so I’ll never get closure.

Oof. I think most people can relate to, remember and probably viscerally feel how painful it is to want someone who doesn’t want you back. It’s a horrible place, full of anxiety and obsessive thoughts and constant inner deal-making. If only I can come up with the perfect text message, they’ll write back. If only I can get them to open up to me, they’ll see that we connect on a deep emotional level. If only I can formulate the perfect intellectual argument for why they should love me, they’ll love me.

This doesn’t work. Initially, I was going to add “unfortunately” – but that isn’t accurate. It’s not unfortunate, it’s necessary. Because relationships built on one individual desperately trying to craft themselves into a person they think the other would love are not good, or healthy, or sustainable. Relationships are about truth, about loving and respecting each other for who and where you are right now.

And the hard truth of it is that he doesn’t love you, and you’re not respecting that.

You should stop having sex with him. You entered into a friends-with-benefits relationship because it was fun and uncomplicated, and now it’s neither. And I fear you’re confusing sex with some kind of currency, treating it as a way to keep him around, or as proof that he is interested in you – or worse, as evidence that he owes you romantic attention because you’ve had sex with him.

He doesn’t owe you love. He never will.

Step back

And you’re not perfect for each other, because he doesn’t want to be with you. And you can’t argue that away.

I understand that it’s particularly hard to get over someone when you keep seeing them, so step back from social occasions where he’s present, for your own sake. Make sure your social life is fun and distracting and not based around him. Tell a few of your mutual friends you’d prefer to have some nights out separate from him, or just quietly reconnect with some different folks until you get a bit more emotional distance.

I will tell you one important thing, however. Closure isn’t something you are given by another person. It’s something you have to build yourself. Everyone’s experienced at least one side of a rejection or a break-up where the rejected person has been given a clear reason for why the other person wanted out – and they didn’t take it, kept over-analysing, kept asking for one more conversation, one more chance. Often, even when we’re offered the bricks of closure, we don’t accept them. We refuse to shut up that entryway to hope; hope that one day, they might love you back.

Let’s look at your belief that maybe he doesn’t see you as girlfriend material because you’ve had sex with him. This doesn’t seem founded on anything he has said. It’s an argument you’ve created because it can be refuted; debated into non-existence with some killer feminist logic. And I’m a diehard fan of killer feminist logic – but your search for it here is making you overlook a concrete reason that he did explicitly give you: he just doesn’t love you. He gave you a brick, and you ignored it.

Bricks of closure

What you need to realise is that you can create the bricks of closure yourself. Even if you feel that this man wasn’t as clear as you would have liked, you still have the answers you need. You can tell yourself, “This particular person didn’t want what I had to offer, and that’s okay. Someone else will” – and you lay down a brick. You can tell yourself, “I kept sleeping with a man when it was no longer emotionally good for me. I’ve learned from this, and in the future I will only have sex with people when our expectations and feelings are aligned.” Another brick. “I told someone I loved them, and they didn’t love me back. It was hard, but telling them was brave. That bravery will serve me well when I do meet someone right for me.” Brick.

And maybe most importantly, “I’m 24. That’s so young. I’m definitely going to meet someone else who is utterly crazy about me. And look at all the lessons I’ve already learned – I’m going to be so ready for them. It’s going to be great.” The final brick.

Trust me, it won’t feel like an ending. It’ll feel like a beginning. Good luck.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She’s currently undertaking a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe

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