How Did You Know You Were In Love?

I’m pacing around my bedroom at a manic clip, one night in January, ranting to my new beau over the phone – because I’m falling in love and I don’t know what to do.

“I want to say it, but I don’t know if we’re ready to say it,” I explain, my heartbeat skittering as fast as my words. “How do you even know if you’re really in love? Do I even want to fall in love in a long-distance relationship? How do you know if it’s too soon? How can you be sure you really mean it?”

I’ve been in love three times before and this is the first time there’s been an open dialogue about it. We’ve read the Wikipedia page for “love” together over the phone. We’ve said “I like you so much” and “I adore you” and “I treasure you” and alluded to the painful inadequacy of those phrases. We’ve lapsed into tense silences where one of us would ask, “What? What are you thinking?” and, both of us knowing the answer, the other would sullenly respond, “I can’t tell you.” “I don’t wanna say.”

Normally when I get to this juncture in a relationship, it’s a private stewing, an internal tug-of-war, an embarrassing call to action that I might or might not rise to meet. It’s never been out on the table like this before. And even now that it is, we still can’t say the thing itself. Or rather, we won’t. Not yet.

“I would rather say it to him in person,” I read to him aloud from my scribbly journal entry on the topic, “because it’s so weighty and I just think that would be the appropriate and right way to do it.”

“Yeah, it’s definitely better to do it in person,” he agrees, “because when you say that for the first time, you wanna touch each other. Real bad.”

A silence passes wherein we both imagine what that will feel like. How we will say it, and where, and then how we will touch each other, and where. I don’t have to ask him if he’s picturing it too. I know he is. And that makes me want to say it all the more.


The first time I fell in love, I was nineteen, and I knew because I simply wanted to say it. It felt natural. The same way I might tell a close friend I loved them, so too did I want to say it to my then-boyfriend. It wasn’t a sweeping passion or a roiling lust; it was a slow warmth that had gathered and grown over the two-plus months of our nascent sweet springtime romance. At first I wasn’t sure, and then at some point, I was. When I said it, in the dark in my twin-sized bed, he hugged me tight and said, “I love you too, and you’ve made me a very happy man.”

The second time was an unrequited accident. This man didn’t want me and I knew it; I knew it for an entire year or more, just like I knew I loved him. It took months and months for me to call it “love,” even to my best friend or in the confines of my journal, because love is embarrassing, messy; there is a permanency to it that makes it so much more of an emergency alarm than just calling it a crush.

But I reached a point where I felt chemically dependent on this man, mired in depression whenever he would leave and espresso-peppy when he was within reach, and that’s when I reluctantly began calling it “love.” Never to his face, never where he could hear it, but that’s what it was to me.

The third time, it built up like water in a dammed fountain. My introverted, reserved boyfriend played me hot-and-cold so thoroughly that I wasn’t sure I was allowed to feel love, wasn’t sure he’d accept my love even though he’d accepted me as his girlfriend officially. Hanging out at his apartment after lunch at his favorite ramen restaurant, I kissed him tenderly in bed, wanting intimacy, but he just wanted to play video games. I got so frustrated by him ignoring me that I announced I was leaving and did so, forgetting my ramen leftovers in his fridge.

The next day, I came back “for the food,” wounded and contrite, and cried into his chest as I mumbled, “I wanna tell you something that’s gonna make me cry even more: I love you.” He held me tighter and said, “I love you too. I’ve known that for a while. I just didn’t know if you were ready to hear it.” It was exactly the kind of backhanded, confusing comment I had come to view as normal in that relationship. Knowing me, I probably made some kind of “ramen-tic” pun.


When my current beau first told me he might be falling in love – by invoking late-night Google searches and Wikipedia trawls – I wasn’t sure how I felt on that front. “I feel like I should have more to say about this,” I wrote after relaying the episode to my journal. “Do I want to fall in love again so soon after getting my heart broken? Do I even feel like it could happen with this boy? (…Yes.) Do I feel safe getting to that point with a long-distance person who already has other partners? (…Maybe.)”

But for all my hemming and hawing about being unsure, certainty whammed me over the head in the coming week. I’m a linguistically-minded person: I organize my thoughts and feelings by articulating them in words, as you may have noticed. So although I’d agonized about how to know love when you see it, ultimately I recognized it by what I wanted to say, and how often I wanted to say it. The words “I love you” stagnated in my throat when we talked on the phone, and buzzed in my fingers when I texted him. Maybe it’s simplistic to suggest, “I think I love you, therefore I do,” but I don’t know of a better barometer. There is no scientific test for love (well… romantic psychology researchers like Helen Fisher might disagree, actually) so for now, I know it’s true when it feels true and I want to say it. That’s good enough for me.


We finally say it on our third date. That sounds ridiculous, unless you know how many hours we spent on the phone between each in-person rendezvous. Long phone calls stretched four or six or eight hours into the night, entire emotional journeys of their own, with laughs and tears and phone sex and warm cuddly mumbles. We fast-tracked our relationship on those phone calls. We rushed toward love, exhilarating and good.

Our third date is a mottled mess of feelings: a tender kiss in the lobby of the Wythe Hotel, a collaring and sweet sex in our second-floor room, Italian food and philosophical discussions at Leuca, and hours of dancing to my favorite band at Brooklyn Steel. We cuddle in the Lyft back to our hotel late at night, and as we pull up, he says, “Can I show you the roof?” I nod, he takes my hand, and we get in the elevator to The Ides.

The bar is dim and ornate, like so many places he’s taken me, with a stunning view of the big beautiful city where I met this boy I think I love. We cuddle up in a corner booth, and he orders me a drink like he always does, and it feels so comfortable and cozy, like we do this every day. But we don’t, and that uncommonness feels cozy too.

At some point he goes silent and presses a kiss against my shoulder. “I wanna tell you something, but I’m scared,” he says. I didn’t see it coming, and also I did. I smile and hold him tighter because I want him to feel supported in this brave thing he is doing. I want him to land safely on cushions when he makes this leap. “Kate…” he says, slowly. I listen harder. “Kate, I love you.”

I say, “I know,” because I do; I can feel it radiating off him, have felt it over the phone and via text and just generally in my periphery, the sensation of being loved, the sensation of loving. I press even more of my body tight against his in that little booth and tell him, “I love you too.” We kiss and we touch and we laugh about how long this took us and how perfect it turned out to be.

The candle on our table casts a glow on his face that is as golden, precious, and ephemeral as this love I hope will last a long, long time.

Terrified to Run Into Your Ex? Here’s How to Deal…

‘Cause I know I am! [Laughs a joyless laugh that eventually peters out into sad awkwardness]

One of the ways my anxiety manifested, in the months after my last break-up, was a near-constant fear that I would run into my ex – on the street, in a store, in a coffee shop. This was exacerbated by the unfortunate fact that I moved into an apartment coincidentally near his, mere weeks after the break-up. Worst.

In working through this anxiety with my therapist, talking to friends about it, and journaling about it, I came up with a bit of wisdom on this. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if the thought of running into your ex terrifies you. It’s not much, but hopefully it’ll help you if you’re going through something similar.

What’s the worst that could happen? One of my best friends is a social worker, so she knows all the smart questions to ask me when I’m spiralling into anxiety – and she asked me this every time I mentioned this fear to her.

Here’s my personal “worst that could happen,” with regards to running into my ex: I could run into him while he’s with a partner of his, and while I’m rumpled/makeupless/depressed-looking, and they could both look at me pityingly and/or attempt to talk to me. This could result in me bursting into tears, which would, of course, make the whole situation even more embarrassing and pathetic.

Stating my “worst-case scenario” makes it clear to me that even if the worst happened, it wouldn’t actually be that bad. I’d get through it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve cried in front of someone it’s embarrassing to cry in front of, nor would it be the first time I’ve seen a former flame with their achingly gorgeous new paramour. I got through those other times. I didn’t fall into a chasm in the earth from pure and total humiliation. I’m still here. And the same will be true if I run into this ex, too.

Do you really have anything to feel bad about? This is another question my social-worker friend posed to me, and she’s so right. She picked up on my feeling that it would be shameful for me to run into my ex – like I should hide from him, because the end of our relationship was somehow a failing on my part. But the thing is, it wasn’t! He ended the relationship, for reasons personal to him, and it wasn’t my doing or my fault. I have nothing to feel ashamed of. I can reasonably hold my head high if I do encounter him.

Even if you did do something wrong in your relationship, it’s likely by now that you’ve either owned up to it and apologized for it or that enough time has elapsed that both of you have moved on with your lives for the most part. If you feel you still owe your ex an apology, maybe you can reach out and issue that apology. But otherwise – why feel bad if you run into your ex? Why hide your face like you’re a pariah to them? There’s no reason for it!

Could you get away if you needed to? A friend reminded me that even if I did run into my ex and he did try to talk to me, I would always have the recourse of simply ignoring him and walking away. I would not be obligated to enter into that interaction if I didn’t want to.

If escaping your ex is an actual safety concern for you – i.e. if they had/have abusive tendencies and/or you think they’re upset enough with you that they might try something violent if they saw you – you could try using a safety app like bSafe whenever you’re in a neighborhood where your ex might be, and maybe consider some self-defense options if that’s your style. (Pepper spray isn’t legal where I live, and sometimes, when random men follow me down the street late at night, I wish it was…)

What would make you feel stronger? A lot of the cognitive-behavioral therapy I’ve done has focused on the practice of accepting the things I cannot change and changing the things I do have control over. In this case, that means figuring out what would help me feel less freaked out about running into my ex, and putting those measures into place.

I used to wear dark sunglasses and headphones when I had to walk in the direction of my ex’s place, so I could plausibly ignore him if I did see him. I’d put on clothes and makeup that made me feel strong. I’d often text a friend about my situation so I felt emotionally supported in what felt like a brave act. I’d listen to music that made me feel happy and badass. And for the most part, it worked!

Have you ever been afraid to run into an ex? How did you deal with it?

5 Monogamously-Minded Mistakes to Stop Making

I’m no expert on non-monogamy. Nope. Not by a longshot. Sometimes people try to interview me about polyamory and I’m just like, “LOL, don’t ask me, I’m a baby. Go talk to Samantha or Kevin or Tristan or somebody. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

That said, I have learned a few things – mostly from doing shit wrong, and getting hurt by other people who were doing shit wrong. I’ve noticed that a lot of polyamory slip-ups happen as a result of clinging (consciously or not) to a monogamous mindset. We can’t quite inhabit a healthily polyamorous paradigm if we’re still living at least part-time in monogamy-brain, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Here are 5 of the most common manifestations I’ve seen of this problem. If any of these remind you of something you’ve done, maybe it’s time to examine that and think about whether you’d like to change this behavior or thought pattern. I’m definitely not saying my way of doing poly is the only way or the best way, but I do think eliminating these behaviors would help most non-monogamous relationships work more smoothly!

Implying you’re in competition with your metamours. (Just so we’re clear, a metamour is a partner’s partner. So if I’m dating Ben and he’s also dating Sally, then Sally is my metamour.)

I once asked a partner how he felt about another guy I was seeing, because there had been some jealousy afoot. He responded – ostensibly jokingly – “It’s okay; I think I can take him.” Pro tip: do not threaten to beat up your metamour, even as a joke!! Not only did I not find this even remotely funny, it was also hurtful to me; I care about all my partners and don’t like to hear them disparaged. I set a boundary with that person that he was not allowed to talk shit about my other partners unless he believed one of them was being genuinely toxic/harmful to me. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable boundary to set.

This problem can manifest in other ways too: self-pityingly joking that your partner probably likes your metamour better than you; trying to get your partner to admit your blowjobs are better than their other partners’; pouting when a partner opts to spend time with a metamour instead of you… It’s okay to feel your feelings, but you should process them yourself as much as possible, rather than looping your partner into a competition that probably only exists inside your own head. Their relationships with other people are not a threat to you – that’s the whole point of polyamory – and when you imply otherwise, you put your partner in a super uncomfortable position. Don’t do it!

Comparing your partners to each other. This is sort of the inverse of the previous point. If you don’t want your partners to feel like they’re in competition with each other, DON’T FUCKING COMPARE THEM TO EACH OTHER. EVER.

Sometimes there might be occasion to usefully elucidate the differences between your different dynamics, e.g. if you need to designate one partner as a primary and one as a secondary (hierarchial polyamory isn’t my fave, but it works great for some people). But putting any kind of value judgment on one partner over another – whether sexual, emotional, or in any other category – is not cool.

If you find yourself wanting to make an observation like “Partner A is more fun to have sex with” or “Partner B stresses me out less,” that might be a red flag about the overall well-being of the relationship. Or it might just be a signal that there’s an issue you need to address. Can you give Partner B some more explicit sexual instruction, or sit down with a Yes/No/Maybe list together to pep things up? Can you set some useful boundaries with Partner A so they aren’t, say, relying on you for all their emotional needs while you’re trying to spend quality time with another partner? Making unflattering comparisons is a sign that something needs rebalancing, somewhere. And it’s rude to communicate those comparisons to your partner unless absolutely necessary, because you will fill them with insecurity and doubt.

Only telling partners what you think they want to hear. Two weeks into my last relationship, my boyfriend started seeing someone else, but he told me he didn’t think it would get serious and that I would continue to be the “girlfriend” while this other person would just be his “lover.” I breathed a sigh of relief, which was, in itself, a bad sign; I was definitely still stuck in the paradigm that said anyone else entering his romantic life was a direct threat to me and our relationship. (I still feel this way sometimes, admittedly. It’s a process.)

Unsurprising spoiler alert: things did get serious with that other partner of his, and when I found out just how serious they were getting, it crushed me. I had believed I was “safe” from that kind of “intrusion” into our relationship, so I didn’t start processing that shift in our dynamic until it was already way too late. I’m not blaming my partner – I genuinely don’t think he knew things would unfold how they did – but if he had felt relationship-level feelings toward this other person right off the bat, I wish he would’ve told me that upfront, so I could have adjusted to it at my own pace and processed it in my own way.

Similarly, you shouldn’t tell your partner only bad things about their metamour (in an effort to make them feel better about themselves or more secure) or only good things (in an effort to be like, “See?! They’re not that bad!!”). Humanize your partners to each other. That means sharing the good and the bad, when relevant. (This process definitely benefits from metamours meeting each other in person, if they’re comfortable doing so!) Shielding someone from your true feelings in an effort to avoid hurting them usually just ends up hurting them more.

Using superlatives. Ohhh, this is a tough one for me! I didn’t realize this was a problem until there was a discussion about it in a poly group I’m in, and I went: Oh. Fuck.

Superlatives are words like “cutest,” “favorite,” “hottest,” “sweetest,” etc. I tend to use these a lot, in an affectionate way; I’ll call both my best friend and my brother “my favorite boy” (which is true, they are tied for the position of my favorite existing boy) or I’ll sometimes call someone “the handsomest” or “the cutest” when I’m flirting with them. I’ve been trying to be more mindful about this because it doesn’t really work once you’re in a poly situation.

A lot of language we recognize as “romantic” is rooted in a monogamous paradigm, and that includes referring to a person you’re dating as your “favorite [x]” or “the [x]-est” or whatever. This comes back to what I was saying earlier about comparing partners to each other: it’s a shitty thing to do, and also kind of misses the whole point of polyamory. My mom once asked me which of my two beaux I “liked better,” and I honestly didn’t even know how to answer that: I liked them both a lot, for different reasons, and also for some of the same reasons (their intelligence, humor, kindness, etc.) – so how the fuck could I pick a “favorite”? In poly, there should be no such thing. (Unless maybe you’re hierarchical and everyone involved knows that and is cool with that.)

Relying on your romantic partner(s) for all your social and emotional needs. Dean Spade says that polyamorists should treat our friends more like our lovers, and our lovers more like our friends. This has been an incredibly important insight for me – so much so, that I should probably write a full blog post about it sometime. It’s essentially the idea that you shouldn’t put all your emotional eggs in one basket – both because that’s hard on you, and because it’s hard on the “basket” (your partner[s]).

A monogamy paradigm teaches us that your partner is your “other half,” that they should be there for you through thick and thin, and that whatever you need, you can get it from them. This is fine for the people for whom it works, I guess (although I don’t know who those people are; even deadset monogamists often run into trouble when they over-invest in and over-rely on their partner). However, I think it’s safer and more respectful for everyone involved if you view each partner as just one piece of your support network, rather than the entire network in and of themselves.

That’s the “treat your lovers more like your friends” piece, but I’ve found the “treat your friends more like your lovers” piece to be equally important. This is not about sexualizing your friends or making them uncomfortable! It’s about valuing your friendships as much as you value your romantic relationships, putting effort into keeping those friendships healthy and mutually fulfilling, and asking for support from your friends when you need it. My close friendship with Bex, for example, is a foundation that allows my other relationships to thrive. If I didn’t have that intense, reliable, baseline intimacy with them, I would desperately seek that type of intimacy with other, potentially less trustworthy people, which might get me into unwise romantic/sexual situations.

It’s important to note here that people don’t exist to fulfill your needs. They can, but that doesn’t mean they’re obligated to. View people as people, always, and not just in terms of what they can offer you. That goes for friends as well as dates.

What monogamous-minded trope/pattern/belief have you had to unlearn?

7 Mistakes Not to Make After a Break-Up (And What to Do Instead)

Break-ups are hard, and if you’ve just been through one, you’re probably inundated with advice right now. I find a lot of break-up advice is garbage, but some of it is actually useful.

In my mind, there are 7 things you absolutely should not do in the weeks and months following a break-up. Avoiding these behaviors, while difficult and often painful, will help you move through the grieving process faster. And that’s what we all want, right?

Clinging to hope. You know how the first stage of grieving a lost loved one is denial? Yeah, that’s totally a thing for break-ups too. You may have a difficult period of time during which you worry the break-up was a bad idea, deeply regret initiating it or taking the actions that led the other person to initiate it, and/or sit by the phone hoping your beloved will have second thoughts.

It’s okay to feel these things. It’s natural, in fact. But at some point, you will have to pivot toward believing the break-up was a good idea and is final. In trying to speed up this process, I’ve found it helpful to journal exhaustively about all the worries, regrets, fears, and false hopes I have surrounding the break-up – and then make a list of all the reasons it was a bad relationship and the person was unsuitable for me. Once that list is made, I always feel so much better about the break-up, whether it was my idea or not – and I also feel more clear-headed about what types of warning signs and incompatibilities I’ll need to look out for in my future relationships.

Suppressing your feelings. As with any type of grieving process, bottling up your emotions will just make them pop back up later at unexpected times, and often in unhealthy ways. It’s better to work through ’em while they’re fresh, so you can actually move the fuck on.

This might mean crying for hours or days at a time. It might mean telling the same story to various different friends 8 or 9 times until it starts to lose its sting. It might mean journaling for hours about all the ways your lost love wronged you, all the ways you feel you failed them, all the fears you have for your future. It might mean being unable to get out of bed for a few days because you can’t stop crying.

This all sounds scary and unproductive, maybe, but it’s actually very productive, because the faster and more thoroughly you get these feelings out of your system, the faster and more thoroughly you’ll be able to move forward with your life. So rage and cry and scream if you have to. Express your thoughts in writing or art or out loud. Explore all the many avenues of your pain. You’ll feel better on the other side.

Self-isolating. Now, I am writing this from the privileged position of having lots of social supports in my life, so your mileage may unfortunately vary. But keeping to yourself during an emotionally difficult time is never a good idea.

Reach out to friends, family, and any kind of therapy professional(s) you see regularly, if applicable. Tell them what’s going on. If it feels like too much work to notify people individually, you could put a general message on your social media channel(s) saying you’re going through a tough time and would appreciate some support.

If you know specifically what types of support you tend to need when you’re sad, it’s helpful to note that, too. There will be some people who want to help but aren’t quite sure what to do. For example, when I’m sad, I find it helpful for friends to take me to comedy shows, since that distracts me from what I’m going through – and I also find it helpful for people to bring me healthy meals and remind me to eat enough food and drink enough water, since my capacity for those things diminishes significantly when I’m depressed. Whatever you need, try asking for it – you might be surprised by who offers to help.

Maintaining contact with your ex. Oh, the prospect of it feels so delicious. Whether the text you want to send is a tender olive branch (“Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and I hope you’re doing okay”) or a barbed thorn (“I’m fucking furious you would do this to me”), even the idea of reaching out to your ex can give you an evil little dopamine boost. There will be moments when it’ll seem like a very good idea – but it isn’t!

Do what you have to do to avoid breaking the cone of silence. Tell a friend what you wish you could tell your ex, just to get it off your chest. Write in a journal about it. Change their contact name in your phone to “DON’T DO IT” or block their number entirely. (I used a different messaging app to talk to my ex than I did for my other friends, so when we broke up, I put that app in its own far-away folder on my phone entitled “NOPE.”) Make a list of all the reasons it would be ill-advised to contact them, and refer to your list when the urge strikes. Ask yourself, “How will I feel after I send this text? If they answer? If they don’t answer?” Not great, probably.

There are a few valid reasons to text your ex in the aftermath of the break-up – to arrange an exchange of material goods, for example (see below) – but pouring your heart out to them is not one such reason. Someone can’t effectively comfort you if they’re the one who broke your heart, nor will it make you feel less guilty to talk things out with someone whose heart you recently broke. It just doesn’t work that way. Don’t do it!

Keeping mementos. This, too, is awfully tempting. Whether you want to keep their stuff for sentimental reasons (“Oh, but he got me this teddy bear for our one-month anniversary, and it was so sweeeet!”) or for bitter, petty reasons (“If you wanted me to return the gold bracelet you left here, you should’ve thought of that before you cheated on me, Silvia!!!”), it’s probably a bad idea.

Gifts they gave you are okay to keep, if you genuinely like the objects themselves and not just the emotional meaning with which they’re imbued – but you might want to tuck them away in the back of a closet or give them to a friend for safekeeping for a while, just so they won’t constantly trigger difficult emotions while you’re trying to get over what happened.

As for stuff that isn’t actually yours to keep, you should arrange a time to exchange possessions with your ex as soon as possible. The sooner it’s off your hands, the sooner you can stop thinking about it – and about them.

Jumping back into dating. Break-ups can unleash an avalanche of feelings: inadequacy, undesirability, hopelessness. Like an alcoholic sleuthing out some “hair of the dog,” you might be tempted to hop on Tinder or OkCupid and hunt for your ex’s immediate replacement. There’s a reason “rebounding” is such a ubiquitous practice!

I’m not saying this is never a good idea. For example, I had a one-night stand with a stranger five days after my most recent break-up, and it kind of reminded me that sex isn’t always that great so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I took some time off sex and dating. But for the most part, I think it’s usually best to abstain from these behaviors for some time while you recover.

During that self-instated celibate period, give some thought to what you’d like to get out of your next relationship, what kinds of sex do and don’t fulfill you, and how you can tune up your love-and-sex behaviors to make them overall healthier and better. When you do eventually tiptoe back into dating, you could try some experiments to see if doing things differently produces different results – for example, what happens if you write what you’re looking for very clearly in your online dating profile instead of hedging with “chill,” non-committal vagueries? What happens when you put off sex until the second or third date? Or, alternatively, what happens if you listen to the desires of your body instead of your brain for a while? You might be surprised what you learn.

Idealizing your ex. It’s oh-so-easy to do. The grass is always greener on the other side, and the lover is always perfect once you can’t have them anymore. Don’t succumb to this illusion!

One of the most devastating parts of any break-up, for me, is the period when I still think I’ll never find anyone better. “He was so smart, so funny, so charming,” I’ll groan. “I’ll never meet anyone else who’s that compatible with me, who understands my kinks that well, who ‘gets me’ that much!” It’s valid and normal to feel this way for a while, but eventually, you’ll realize – or you’ll have to force yourself to realize – that this just isn’t true.

I find it helpful to combat this line of thinking by reminiscing on the past. Before you met your ex, there was probably at least one other instance when you believed you’d never meet someone great again. And then you met your ex. So it stands to reason there are lots more wonderful people you’ll meet in your lifetime. Plus, as you evolve and grow, the type of person you’re looking for will change, too. Your ex may be an ideal match for the person you just were, but they won’t be as good a fit with the person you’ll become next!

Make a list of your ex’s flaws if you have to. Or ask your friends what they disliked about your ex. (They probably kept this stuff to themselves while you were dating, so they might be extra excited to unleash a torrent of salt about your former beau now that they’re allowed to.) Do what you have to do to remind yourself that your ex wasn’t perfect – they weren’t even perfect for you – and there will be even more fabulous cuties in the future!

What do you like to do to get over a break-up?

The 10 Commandments of Successful Friendships-with-Benefits

My first-ever sexual relationship was a friendship-with-benefits. So you would think I’d be better at that type of arrangement than the average person, since FWBs have been part of my sexual menu for literally my entire sexual career.

Nah, man. I wish. I have fucked up FWB situations in all manner of ways: I’ve fallen in love with fuckpals or turned the other cheek when they fell for me; I’ve undervalued them, or else heaped all my sexpectations onto them; I’ve ended things unceremoniously or not at all.

These are easy mistakes to make, because we don’t have clear social scripts for how FWB relationships (or, as I sometimes like to call them, “copulationships”) are supposed to go. However, these days, I have a rotating roster of occasional fuckbuddies, all of whom I adore – so I’m feeling much more motivated to do things right. Here are ten guidelines I think will serve you very well in copulationships of your own…

Only do it if you both want to. You’d think this would be obvious, but it isn’t always! Sometimes, people agree to a friendship-with-benefits because they think they have to. Maybe they want a romantic relationship with the other person, and think being their FWB is the closest thing they can get. Maybe they like their friend as a friend, and don’t quite know how to turn down the offer of sex without also severing the friendship. Maybe they’re just not a casual-sex type of person, but feel a social or societal obligation to pursue it anyway.

Before entering a FWB situation – or while the formation of a new one is still recent – give some thought to your reasons for wanting it, or not wanting it. Ask your pal how they feel about the situation as well. As in all things sexual, you cannot overprioritize clear, ongoing, informed, enthusiastic consent!

Set clear boundaries and expectations. You might think everyone shares your exact definition of “friend with benefits,” but they don’t! It’s important to hammer out what each of you expects from the other, and from the friendship in general. Emotional support? Seeing each other weekly or monthly? Are you seeing other people, and if so, are you going to tell each other when you do? Are certain sexual acts off the table, because they feel too intimate for a casual relationship, or for some other reason? If you run in the same social groups, are you okay with people knowing the two of you are sleeping together, or would you rather keep it on the down-low?

All of these factors can complicate a FWB sitch, so it’s best to figure them out before they become a problem. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, ask. Better to risk seeming a little uncool and find out what’s up, I say.

Ask for what you want – and encourage them to do the same. One of the best things about casual sexual relationships is that the stakes are lower, so you might find it easier to be frank about your desires. If they’re fucking you, presumably they want you to have fun and feel good – so ask for the specific things that would accomplish that! This could be anything from a small adjustment in technique to “Wanna put this huge dildo in my ass?”

As always, be prepared to accept a “No” if that’s their answer, and try not to take it personally. Likewise, you should encourage them to open up about what they’d like you to do – it’s important to be a good sexual partner, even if the situation is casual!

Talk about any feelings that come up. Learn from my mistakes: if you develop romantic feelings for your FWB, it feels like the best thing to do is hide that fact from them. But everything will just get worse over time, and then you’ll have massive emotional chaos on your hands instead of a small blip of a crush that could’ve been nipped in the bud.

Personally, I think that if either party begins to have romantic feelings for the other, it’s best to take a break from sex – and maybe even from seeing each other – until that situation is handled. That can feel difficult bordering on impossible, but trust me: it’s better than full-on falling for your fuckbuddy. You do not want that. It is a mess. Communicate and come up with a solution before you get to that stage, if at all possible.

(Pro tip: this was a chronic problem for me until I met my current main FWB, who is emotionally monogamous to his primary partner and who is also just not the type of person I’d want to date, personality-wise. It can be difficult to find someone who you find sexually attractive, enjoy spending time around, and have no romantic desire for whatsoever, but trust me, it is possible. If I, a severely crush-prone sap, could do it, I believe almost anyone can.)

Keep putting in the effort. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have to try to “impress” your FWB, because they’re not a romantic partner. But that’s a bullshit attitude. They’re your friend, and they’re sharing a sexual experience with you. They’re worthy of your respect and good treatment. If you don’t think so, why are you sleeping with them?

Make sure your sheets are clean when they come over. Shower and groom yourself appropriately. Don’t rush them out the door when you’re done. Treat them like a hot date you’re trying to impress, even if they’re the goofy pal you’ve seen laugh beer out their nose a dozen times. Be worthy of the experiences you’re sharing; they may be casual, but they’re not worthless.

Value their mind, not just their body. If you’re both cool with an “wham-bam-thank-you-fam” arrangement, that’s a different matter. But at that point, they become less a friend-with-benefits and more just a booty call. Keep up with their life, their hopes and dreams, their ups and downs, if they seem to want to share that stuff with you. A solid friendship will make the sex better, too!

Be respectful and polite. Don’t be late to your meetups if you can avoid it. Don’t cancel plans at the last minute unless you absolutely have to. Answer their texts in a timely manner when you can. You know, like… a good friend?

Be a friend, even when times are tough. I’ll never forget the time my FWB came over a week after I’d gotten dumped, and told me, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough week. You don’t deserve that. If you just wanna cuddle and talk tonight, I’d be totally fine with that. I don’t want to rush you or pressure you into anything you don’t feel like doing.” Admittedly, I wanted him to fuck me, too – but that was partly because he’d shown his true colors as a genuinely good guy! With this simple speech, he proved he viewed me as a person, not just a series of holes to fuck.

It can be awkward to try to emotionally support someone who you usually only see naked, sweaty, and grunting – but it’s nice to offer. They might not take you up on it, but they’ll probably feel better about the copulationship knowing it’s with someone who has their back.

Cultivate compersion. Incase you haven’t heard, compersion is the term the polyamorous community uses to describe the opposite of jealousy: it’s the feeling of being happy for a partner’s romantic and/or sexual happiness with other people.

Assuming your friendship-with-benefits isn’t monogamous (and most aren’t!), your fuckpal will probably date and/or bang other people while seeing you. They may even end things with you to pursue something with someone else. While this can be painful, it’s also an opportunity for you to hone your compersion skills. I have even found FWB situations to be excellent practice for navigating jealousy in my serious romantic relationships. It’s a win-win!

If it’s over, say so. Don’t ghost or fade away; it’s weak and rude. If you’ve been fucking someone consistently for a while, you owe them an explanation if that has to stop. End it like you’d endeavor to end a romantic relationship: politely, compassionately, and definitively. Don’t leave them wondering why you keep canceling plans or won’t answer their texts; you’re better than that.

Have you had successful friendships-with-benefits? To what did you owe their success?