You know the conflict when you’re starting to catch feelings for someone but you’re distracted by being torn between wanting to rip their clothes off to let them wreck your gait for the next week and worrying that doing so will destroy any potential for you both to build something real and sustainable?
I was recently discussing this struggle with an old friend who mentioned wanting to keep her strictly-platonic booty call in play during the first stages of a new relationship with a different guy to temper her overwhelming sexual urges so she could have the patience to really get to know this new guy before having meaningful sex with him.
Speaking from experience, I encouraged her to try this tactic so long as her burgeoning romance was still non-exclusive and the guy hosting her d*ck appointments was still okay being a side piece.
I’d say we should file this strategy under “Unpopular Opinions,” but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve seen evidence that I’m not the originator of the practice by a long shot. It’s time to get rid of the taboo and talk about it frankly.
Monogamy and our infinitely-varied, often-fluid individual sexual natures are complicated and nuanced to say the very least. I’m not here to debate the difference between polyamory and straight-up cheating (it’s about consent and communication, y’all), and obviously, I understand that for many people, sex is a sacred act that requires allegiance to one partner. It’s wonderful if the latter applies to your personal preferences, but this article isn’t for you.
PLEASE NOTE: This only works if you and your side piece are on the same page from the start. Neither of you can have unresolved feelings about the other, and no matter how barebones or utilitarian your no-strings-attached situation is, you’d better make sure to communicate your intent so things don’t get messy.
The last thing anyone needs is for everyone to end up alone and heartbroken just because nobody bothered to check in on each other. This means that if you’re still sleeping with your ex or anyone else who may have had romantic feelings for you, it’s time to let them go — for real this time.
However, if you’ve got a noncommittal just-for-sex-and-not-much-else agreement going with someone, you don’t have to automatically ditch them just because you’re starting to fall for someone else entirely. It’s not like you two haven’t been using each other for sexual releases before now; the only difference is that at least one of you has a specific source fueling that drive.
In the meantime, you get the luxury of taking some extra time building trust and easing into things with someone you really care about before getting physical, instead of jumping into the sack with them too fast and wasting time worrying that you’ve messed things up.
This potentially precarious situation obviously requires a little extra work and consideration. Make sure to check in with both partners to verify nobody is expecting exclusivity. And while you don’t have to disclose the details of either relationship with the other party, you don’t want to accidentally hurt anyone because of something simple like crossed wires.
Similarly, this dynamic cannot go on forever; a few months is all you really need to build up to a romantic relationship and decide where to take it next, even if it’s long-distance. Don’t keep your side piece around long enough to become a distraction in and of itself.
Most importantly, if you’re trying this unorthodox method for building momentum with someone you really care about before throwing in a physical element, be sure to check in with yourself, your happiness, and your feelings for each partner so you don’t end up playing yourself. This can work, but only if you’re honestly able to compartmentalize sex with different people in drastically different emotional dynamics.
Simply put, if you can’t handle raw, impersonal sex with one person and love with another, protect your heart, get yourself a great vibrator, and don’t waste another second attempting this sort of balancing act.
Likewise, if you’re okay having a side piece, but you’re not okay with anyone else having one, you need to pump the brakes. It’s okay if this is not for you, but honesty to yourself here is key.
If you think you can swing it, though, the rewards are pretty great. If you’re getting your sexual needs met elsewhere while trying to figure out feelings with New Bae, you’re giving both of you a chance to build something solid instead of a lust that will fizzle once the passion gives way to day-to-day mendacity.
Just be sure to cut clean ties with any friends with benefits early enough to recharge your batteries and let some anticipation build before you and your new beau finally make magic together. After all that work, you both deserve nothing short of fireworks.
Elizabeth Z Pardue is a creator and polymath based in the South. Her words have appeared in Huffington Post, Time.com, XOJane, Ravishly, and in a bunch of Letters to the Editor columns.