I’m a 33-year-old nurse in a five-month “friends with benefits” thing with a doctor co-worker. I am only 18 months out of an abusive 10-year relationship and wanted something fun and light. We get along well, but he rarely asks me ahead of time about getting together. I know he has a busy schedule, but this bothers me. He will do anything I ask (give me a ride, buy me a coffee if I work late) but doesn’t make kind gestures without being asked and doesn’t talk about his feelings or inquire about mine. My biggest issue is that he doesn’t compliment me. He once said his friend asked him how he got such a beautiful woman. But that’s it. The crazy thing is, he doesn’t even possess the qualities I want in a partner! Are my feelings here simply because he’s here? Can I learn to separate my feelings from what we really have? –Help, STAT

I bet the doc doesn’t have patients show up at whim: “Hi, I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d have a physical.”

It’s understandable that you’d like a little more formal scheduling to your casual sex, but remember that the guy reads X-rays and MRIs, not minds. When you need medical attention – or certain attention from a certain medical professional – you need to make that known, same as you would with a friend: Don’t be so available on a moment’s notice and also ask him to make advance plans. (Enough with this “Undress and put on a robe; the doctor will be with you shortly.”)

Although the reasoning department of your brain keeps telling you that you should be friends with benefits, there you are jonesing for girlfriend benefits (flattery, little prezzies, and all). Anthropologist John Marshall Townsend explains that women evolved an emotional alarm system to read whether a man would be a good provider and to compel them to seek cues of commitment. Some women feel especially emotionally connected to their partner following orgasm, probably due to the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin, although the most conclusive research is on rats and prairie voles, and your ability to send email suggests you are neither. Regardless, Townsend’s surveys on casual sex showed that even when women fully intended to use and lose some himbo, many would wake up the next morning and find themselves longing for more from a guy they knew they wanted nothing more from.

An apple a day…mainly keeps the creditors away from the apple growers. To keep this doctor away, let on that you’re longing to use him as a boyfriend instead of just for sex. The thing is, this seems like exactly the right time for you to have exactly the wrong man. Having your sex life staffed up can help you avoid any temptation to get into a relationship, and you can instead figure out and fix whatever led you to be in a 10-year emotionally abusive thing. You may ultimately find casual sex too upsetting, but understanding where your feelings are coming from might help you intellectualize your way out of letting them rule you. Regularly reviewing all the ways this guy’s wrong for you is another way to put the meaningless back into meaningless sex. Remember, the only aisle you should be walking down with him is the one between your bed and your dresser. 

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