I have some pretty cute and sexy friends with benefits. The benefits are varied- some of them can cook, others really enjoy going to cheesy kids movies, others will record stories for me to listen to when I fall asleep. And yeah, sure, some of them I have sex with, but I've been learning that as benefits go, that is, for me, one of the least important.
See, I am a big fan of the friendzone. I have a large circle of acquaintances- my friendzone is probably the most permissive zone, and the widest net. It's filled with people from "folks I get together with regularly for activities" to "folks with whom I share my most personal self, and who share that with me". Maybe it's a holdover from my Livejournal days, but I like having different friend groups with different levels of disclosure, so I can have different discussions and gain insight from a range of perceptions.
Living in the Bay, I have sometimes felt weird about my choice to have a very solid friendzoning policy. It seems like the cultural norm is to say, "well if I get along somewhat with them and there's any spark at all, why not fuck instead of platonically hanging out?" When I first moved here, I felt much the same. Especially as a fat woman, I was quickly made aware that if I wanted to have any social or sexual capital, the best way to gain it was through sluttery. I hadn't had a lot of experience being desired in any way, so I wholeheartedly threw myself into what I believed to be sex positivity- I went to loads of play parties, experimented with various roles, and slept with anyone who didn't turn me off. I had a lot of dates (I looked back at my LJ and saw some weeks I had a date for every day!), and for a time, that felt like closeness, and friendship, and community.
Eventually, though, I realized I was limiting myself when the only intimacy I trusted these friends with was sexual. And, worse, I felt lonely all the time. I didn't feel like I had anyone I could call when I was having headweasels, because to talk to these casual lovers about unsexy things might ruin the seduction. Unless a party I was going to involved sex, the likelihood that I wouldn't see these new "friends" was pretty high- and because of that I didn't always feel like I was valued outside of being an available potential sexual partner. Or, sometimes, a logistical manager, someone with useful resources who would do it for free because I was naive and thought our friendship went both ways. I began to have a sinking feeling that the people I was calling my friends did not feel the same about me when they never reached out. "They're just busy" started to ring false when years went by without them even initiating a Facebook poke.
It was incredibly rough, for a while. I withdrew from the various communities I was a part of. I lost myself in relationships instead. I went to parties but found myself dissatisfied with the small talk and the lies of "we should hang out sometime". I felt lost.
I moved to London, and felt isolated for about 6 months. I didn't know how to make friends if I wasn't fucking them, but I also knew that I didn't want to keep trying to forge friendships using a method that had left me so disappointed. Trying to figure out what to do, I gravitated, again, to the kink and sex party communities. But this time, the people I bonded with shared other interests- queer studies, feminism, performance, sex work politics, really weird porn, pop culture, the history of medicine. And the people who became my friends, who I still consider some of my deepest friends now, were just that- friends. People I could count on. With a couple of them, we'd try making out, just to see. Often we'd end up laughing and saying "nope, definitely not" and continuing to be friends. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a community... and they were all happily in the friendzone.
It was WEIRD. For a while. But when I moved back to California, I knew I wanted my friendships to be different. I had tasted the joy of being around people who really SAW me as a complete and flawed person, not some sort of sexy persona or potential conquest. Strangely, in the stiff upper lip culture of the Brits, I had learned how to embrace my tender, vulnerable self. I knew, then, that I needed to totally change my approach.
"You make time for what you care about", an ex said to me a long while back. I repeat that to myself now, when looking at my schedule, or making plans with lovers. I now make sure to balance time spent with sexual partners with time spent with friends. I've made quality time with people I'm not fucking more of a priority, having tea or putting together craft days or playing minigolf. If I feel like going to a sex party will be a chore, I no longer feel pushed to go because it's the only time I'll see my "friends". I no longer invest significant energy in the projects of people who never step up for my work. I've learned, as Maya Angelou would say, to "never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option".
I have learned to be grateful for my friendzone. While I enjoy my friends with benefits, too, valuing the friendship over the sex has been incredibly healing for me. Sometimes it still feels like a rarity in the Bay, to have people close to you that you get along with and think are attractive and don't have sex with regardless- but while my bed may be empty most of the week, my heart is fuller than it's ever been.