I know that the word “lovers” makes many of us cringe. Up until recently, I subscribed to Liz Lemon’s philosophy that the only place the word “lovers” belongs is in between “meat” and “pizza.” However, I’m asking you to hold back your dry heaves & bear with me for a minute.
I few months ago, I was out for drinks with a few of my girlfriends. My friend started to tell the group about an acquaintance of hers who, after turning 40, decided to completely re-think her approach to sex.
“She old me she’s done with the booty calls, one night stands and “friends with benefits” scenarios of her youth. Instead she’s decided to take lovers” my friend explained to us.
What followed was a discussion about the nature of “taking a lover” and how exactly it differs from the other options mentioned above. As it was explained to my friend, “taking a lover” is about an arrangement between two adults that involves enjoying each others company – both inside and outside of the bedroom – without the binding commitment of a traditional relationship. Unlike being “friends with benefits” which requires a pre-existing friendship, having a lover simply means you enjoy having sex each other and sometimes this comes with the added bonus of some quality companionship.
As I sipped my whiskey sour and mulled this over, I couldn’t help but think all of this sounded incredibly modern and sophisticated – like something out of a French movie. (Cue moody accordion music and cigarette smoke.)
“I think that’s what I’ve been doing with The European” I shared with them.
The European and I met almost a year ago when I decided to try online dating again. The first time I showed my best friend a photo of this guy her reaction was immediate: “Wow, Simone – he’s so not your usual type.”
Aside from being tall and handsome, The European is pretty much the physical antithesis of the kinds of guys I usually go for: he’s distinctly Nordic looking with naturally white blond hair and blue eyes. He’ll probably hate me for saying this, but without knowing him, you might mistake The European for (gasp) a Hipster. If you need a visual, think Alexander Skarsgard with geeky on purpose Elvis Costello glasses.
With that said, there was something that drew me to his profile. Although he was born in Canada, he’d spent most of his life living abroad. Amidst the (literal) sea of guys you usually meet online in Victoria, The European seemed smart, sophisticated and well, different. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I also liked how his arms looked in one of his photos.
We exchanged a few messages and a few nights later met for a drink at a local Oyster bar. My first impression of The European was that he seemed very serious, bordering on austere. However, a few minutes into our drinks and we were laughing and bonding over our mutual love of electronic music and the band Disclosure. When he walked me home, he kissed me outside of my house. I liked his lips and how he gripped me in his arms – gentle, yet deliberate and wanting. We made plans to see each other again.
There was a second date – this time at a local brew-pub (which I was completely overdressed for in my new Rachel Roy dress & cage heels) – and another kiss. Unlike a lot of my recent dates who just wanted to talk about Crossfit, I liked that I could have actual intellectual conversations with The European. I was looking forward to seeing him again.
However, a few days before we were scheduled to meet up, I received a text from him.
“I’ve really enjoyed our time together so far, however before things go any further I should let you know that I’m in an open relationship with someone who lives in Vancouver. I’d like to see you again, however I understand if that’s not a possibility. I hope you’re not mad. Please let me know how you feel.”
I was surprised by the text, but not angry. After all, aside from a few goodnight kisses, nothing really had happened between us yet. Besides, I was also going on dates with other guys at the time, which made it feel like less of a big deal. I wrote back, thanking him for being honest with me and said that we can still hang out, even if it’s just as friends.
“I was hoping that you’d say that!” he replied.
A few nights later, we found ourselves back at the same brew pub. This time I decided to forgo the slinky dress, in favour of a comfy silk tunic top, ankle boots and my favourite leather motorcycle jacket. With everything out on the table, the vibe was a lot more relaxed. He told me about his relationship and how both he and his partner date other people. I told him about the other guys I was dating. I’d seen Fitness Guy a few nights before, and he listened and laughed as I told him the debacle that was our date/hook-up (“He has tribal tattoos. TRIBAL TATTOOS. I don’t understand myself anymore.”) We drank and laughed and drank some more. A few hours later, we ended up in bed, having the kind of sex that I’d been craving for months.
That’s how things began.
Since then, we see each other on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes we have sex, other times – like when I started dating Young Guy and wanted to see where it might lead or when I’m interested in someone else – we don’t. It’s actually during these times when we’re not having sex that I feel like our friendship has grown the most. I’ve discovered that under his calm & collected exterior, The European is actually a goofy, hilarious guy with a great sense of humour. Sometimes we just sit on my patio or at a bar & have drinks & hang out. Recently, The European shared with me this best porn sites list and introduced me the work of James Deen (my new porn crush.) In return, I shared with him my favourite guilty pleasure hip hop videos.
When it comes to sex, the European is very adventurous and open-minded. Even if this sometimes makes me feel a bit vanilla, there’s never any judgement – plus he’s always up for testing the latest bedroom gadgetry. Regardless of what we’re doing, I always feel safe and respected.
“How exactly is this different from having a Friend with Benefits?”
It just is. In my experience, being “friends with benefits” usually comes with it’s share of secrecy, taboo or (god forbid) shame. You’re friends, but you’re doing something you’re not supposed to (which, is kind of hot in and of itself.) You have sex together but it’s kept on the down low. You don’t go out in public as anything other than “just friends.” Sure, it’s nice to have someone to booty call when needed, however there’s always the possibility that things will get messy when one person decides that they want more or less from the relationship.
On the other hand, I don’t booty call The European. Whether we’re having sex or not, have set dates to hang out. Sometimes we stay in, sometimes we go out. He kisses me hello and goodbye in public. We sleep over and have breakfast together and laugh over inside jokes. It’s nice. Really nice.
“Aren’t you worried that you’re wasting your time on something that’s going nowhere?”
Not at all! In the past two years since my big break-up, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit dating different dudes and wondering – scratch that – agonizing over the age old question, “WHERE IS THIS GOING?” As I was telling a friend, one of the great things about hanging out with The European is that I never have to wonder where things are going… because they are going nowhere. It takes the pressure off and allows me to focus on enjoying the moment.
However, when I shared with The European what I told my friend, he said that “going nowhere” only works if you prescribe to the notion that all romantic relationships should be headed on a linear trajectory towards marriage or a monogamous long-term commitment. He makes a good point. I haven’t given up on the concept of monogamy, however spending time with The European has made me more understanding and accepting of the fact that there are other options; that above all, you have to do what works for you personally.
Sure, I eventually want to find someone that I can spend my life with – that would be really cool! However, do I want more from The European specifically? No. I’m actually really happy with how things are between us. I’ve been able to have hot sex with someone attractive that I actually thoroughly enjoy talking to. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty awesome. If we end up being friends, that’s awesome too.
“Aren’t you worried you’re going to get attached?”
I’m not actually. I think because everything has been out on the table since the beginning, it’s forced me to be realistic about our relationship. In fact, I’d argue that knowing The European has made me better at dating in general. As I mentioned before, I used to live in fear rejection, clinging to the people I dated until my fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dating the European has taught me how to hang on more lightly to the people I date. It’s reminded me to let things breathe and that not all relationships are on the same linear trajectory – and that’s OK. You can still appreciate people and experiences for what they are in the moment.
I’ve also learned that I can be with someone and have good sex, without needing to be in a serious relationship or feeling any kind of anxiety afterwards. Sex outside a relationship doesn’t have to be a throw-away experience. Casual sex can be fun and exciting but also full of intimacy and affection.
I know that in the not-so-distant future, our lives will take us on different trajectories – him back to his home country and his primary partner and me onto the next stage of my life. When that happens I know I will be grateful for the time that we spent together and the things I learned about myself. I already am.