Two years ago, I was at my favorite lesbian bar in Brooklyn when my friend Diamond said, "Hey, what's going on with you and Beth*?" Beth was a woman in my friend group, and we'd been having casual sex for about five months. All of our friends already knew that (because we weren't exactly shy about PDA), so I knew Diamond wasn't asking about our sex lives. After she asked a series of increasingly personal questions, I realized that Diamond was sent over on a mission from Beth, who clearly wanted more than casual sex. I told Diamond that I had no feelings for Beth and never wanted a real relationship with her. And then I went to the bathroom. I came back to all of my friends surrounding Beth while she bawled.
I didn't need hindsight to realize that I could have handled that situation better. I knew the moment I saw her crying. But I hadn't thought about how our casual sex arrangement would end, so I didn't have an exit strategy. And maybe I should have.
Without a breakup strategy in place, it was way too easy to hurt Beth. But it can be difficult to wrap your head around breaking up when you're in a friends with benefits situation. Because you're not really in a relationship. But sooner or later, the sex will end and getting out might not be as easy or painless as you think. Ghosting is an option, of course, but it's not the nicest option. "In general, if you've been having sex with someone, I think you kind of owe them a conversation," says Kristen Lilla, an AASECT certified sex therapist in Nebraska. "So they know what's going on, and you can explain that it's not personal, or you met somebody else, or you just don't see it going anywhere."
That's only if the person has been good to you, of course. You don't owe anything to anyone, but as long as your casual sex buddy wasn't physically or emotionally abusive, then it's nicer to explain why you want the sex to end. "Even if you had a one-night stand, send a quick text to say, 'Hey, I had fun last night. Good luck with everything,'" Lilla says. If the relationship was longer (like several months to several years), she suggests a face-to-face convo (yes, even though it's hard to reject someone to their face). Take your sex buddy to a public place, like a coffee shop or to lunch, and tell them that you want to stop seeing each other. It's easier than your place or their place because it's less likely that they'll "cause a scene," Lilla says.
As for what to tell them? Be honest, but choose your words carefully. If you want to stop the relationship because you don't actually like having sex with them, for instance, it's probably not great to say, "You suck at sex." Instead, say something like, "This isn't what I'm looking for." It's still true, but way less harsh.
So instead of letting Diamond relay my message to Beth, it would have been much nicer if I told her face-to-face that I loved having sex with her, but our personalities and our life goals were way too different to ever work as a couple. Maybe she still would have cried, but I wouldn't feel guilty about being immature.
*Name has been changed.