Befriending Your Best Friend’s Girlfriend and Resisting the “One True Sex Act”

by Lindsay Miller

I’m polyamorous, and live with my partner, and have a long distance relationship with someone I love dearly. I’ve been with my partner for almost three years, and we are in a very solid, happy place. My long-distance sweetie and I have had an intense Thing happening since this past April — so about five months, all of it online (we lived in the same town years ago, but have lived in different parts of the country for the last few years.)

Until this week, my sweetie had a primary relationship of their own. The breakup is, well, a breakup — messy, drama-ful, and rife with the mind-boggling emotional calculus of “had I only brought in the last bag of groceries last Tuesday, she’d still be with me.” It’s a roller coaster, and I’m somewhat insulated from it because of the distance, but it’s still hard to see them in so much pain, knowing there isn’t much I can do about it.

We’ve all been working hard on keeping good boundaries and communication open. But I’m wondering if you’ve got any of your patently good advice for supporting my sweetie from afar without getting burned out and exhausted?

I’ll open with a caveat: Poly issues are something with which I have zero first-hand experience, and some of the emotional subtleties here may be difficult for me to grasp fully. If you think I’ve missed something that should be obvious, jump down to the comments and let me know. I’m happy to learn!

That said, I think the question you’re struggling with is something many of us, poly or otherwise, have had to deal with in one way or another: How do you support someone you love through a life-altering loss?

For starters, try to be forgiving and understanding about a certain amount of what you might otherwise consider irritating behavior from your sweetie. People coping with loss (of a significant other, a job, a pet, etc.) can often be — there’s no other way to say it — astonishingly boring. You’ve already noticed the attention to obsessively revisiting minutiae from the past; there will probably also be whiplash-inducing mood swings (“She was the worst. I’m so much better off now. I want her back so bad!” over and over for an hour). You’re likely to find yourself having the same conversation on repeat, as the words of wisdom you dispensed yesterday are completely forgotten in the midst of today’s heartache. After the first eight or so times you listen to the same monologue about the ex’s flaws, you may be tempted to request that your sweetie kindly snap out of it already.

Instead, take a break — go for a walk, have dinner with your partner, read a chapter or two of your favorite book — and re-engage when you feel up to listening and being patient again. No one in the history of the world has ever gotten over a breakup because someone suggested that it might be a good idea. It just takes as long as it takes, and if you’re committed to riding this out with your sweetie you’ll need to be on board with having no control over how long that might be.

Second, if at all possible, don’t be the only person your sweetie is talking to about this. In fact, if you can arrange it, try to assemble a team of trusted family, friends, and loved ones to help them get through it. When you can’t be there in person, it’s nice to know there’s someone else you can call up and say, “Hey, they’re having a rough time today. Any chance you could swing by with a six-pack and a silly movie and help take their mind off things?” Being in communication with the rest of your sweetie’s team can also help to alleviate the feeling that you’re the one person responsible for their emotional well-being, and you need to come up with a solution right now.

Because the fact is, there is no solution. Nothing but time, some inconveniently timed crying jags, and maybe a few gallons of alcohol can make your sweetie feel better about this situation — so don’t put pressure on yourself to fix it. Be there for them as much as your own emotional resources allow, but understand that all you can really do is listen. Take a break when the strain starts to get to you; your sweetie will understand, especially if you can tag someone else in. You have two good relationships here. Don’t jeopardize either by putting too much of your energy into one that’s already gone bad.

I am a straight, attached, late-20-something lady with a lovely group of lady friends that, in the last few years, has added members due to new friendships and lost members (not really lost, just in the physical sense) due to moves to other places/ greener pastures. The core part of the group has been friends for around five years and for a while were all single and did the standard lady friend things (dinners, drunk brunch, hiking, getting the nails did, etc). Then, I started dating my SO. I abide by the lady code and was always careful to respect the difference between lady friend events and events to which the man-friend was welcome. He did the same, and we were generally (in my humble opinion) pretty awesome at managing the whole be friends with the SOs friends but don’t forget to hang out sans-SO with your friends thing.

A few months into my relationship, one of the group started dating a lady (heretofore known as LadySO). No one had any issue with her dating a lady — you do you, and all that. It was sort of a surprise, given her previous romantic interludes, but whatever. Once they started to get serious, the new ladySO would ALWAYS ATTEND lady friend events. Even when it was obvious that it was a lady friend thing, she would come. The friend would always invite her, even though I am generally certain that no one in the group (especially that friend) would tolerate my bringing my man-date around to these types of things.

Flashforward a yearish, the friend and her LadySO are still together, and going strong and doing the long-distance thing. We are coming up on our annual holiday lady friend event, and myself and another core lady friend are trying to decide if and how to specifically NOT have the ladySO in attendance. A few complicating factors: 1) the host of the party is now close friends with (and will invite) someone she met through the ladySO originally. 2) they are now long-distance so I feel slightly more sympathetic to the “we need to be together always” thing. We do, however, invite all SOs to the party after a certain time, so we’re not banning her forever — just until like 9 p.m.

Overall, this has sort of been a festering thing in the group, and it’s mostly not come to a head because the ladySO is sort of boring so it’s not like she breaks things and causes a scene or gets us kicked out of bars. It’s the principle — significant others are significant others, and it shouldn’t matter that hers is a lady.

Is this a problem for others? Am I being insensitive? I just want to have time with my lady friends.

It sounds like in all the time this has been a “festering thing,” no one has even attempted to broach the subject to your friend — am I wrong about that? If that’s the case, I’m you and all of your crew are partially responsible for this uncomfortable situation in which you find yourselves.

On principle, you’re absolutely correct: same-gender partners are not invited to friend-only gatherings. The point of a “lady’s night” is not to surround yourself with an indiscriminate conglomeration of ladies. It is to relax into a cozy cocoon of people you’ve known for ages, speak a language composed entirely of inside jokes, swap lipstick and/ or motorcycle maintenance tips, and not have to see anyone else holding hands. Gender is not the issue here, and frankly, your friend should have known better than to assume her partner gets a pass for being a lady.

However, she didn’t know better, and — here’s where this gets complicated — no one bothered to correct her. If, the first time she tried to smuggle a girlfriend into a friend event, someone had pulled her aside and said, “Yo, we like your partner but we want to spend some quality time with you alone. Next time, please don’t bring a date unless you know other folks are too,” it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. But since that didn’t happen, she probably figured it was cool: you all loved her significant other so much, she just immediately became one of the girls! Correcting that misconception a year or more later is likely to be awkward and lead to more hurt feelings than if the issue had been addressed right off the bat, because she (and her girlfriend) are going to feel like LadySO is being kicked out of the group, rather than not invited in the first place.

There’s not much you can do about this now, but keep it in mind for the future: The longer you wait to confront a problem, the worse it will be when you finally get around to it. For now, if you want to re-zone your friend gatherings as Platonic Only, No Smooching Permitted, you’re going to have to be direct with your friend: “We really like [LadySO], but we want to have some friends-only time before everyone’s dates show up. Can you tell her to meet up with us at 9 when [DudeSOs] are arriving? We promise to save the good wine for when she gets here! Some of it, anyway.”

I’m a lady in my mid-twenties with loving family, good friends, and an amazing boyfriend I’ve been dating just short of a year. Our relationship is solid and supportive on both sides. Things are great for us, except for one not-insignificant piece. Six months ago we decided together that it would be best to let my parents know that the boyfriend is trans. I was anticipating some worries and questions and weirdness for a while but my parents are caring and compassionate people and I thought it would all blow over soon. But it still hasn’t at all. They remain hyper critical of boyfriend and our relationship, but quietly so, so that I’ve felt uncomfortable talking about our relationship in general, especially when everything I say about it gets filtered through a panicky “Oh no, my daughter has become a lesbian” lens. Talking to them about bringing him to family Thanksgiving festivities ended with me in tears and them talking about my “alternative lifestyle,” insinuating that my boyfriend isn’t really a man and certainly not good enough for me and more or less forbidding me from ever introducing him to my extended family. They seem more concerned about what other family members and friends will say about them behind their back.

This has been insanely hurtful and confusing for me and incredibly hard (but necessary) to talk about with my dude. The only glimmer of hope for me — and I have to take them at their word on this — is that they say that they want to do better. I know that acceptance takes time and that I’ll have to let them go at their own pace to a certain extent, but I also refuse to put my life on hold while I wait for them to get comfortable with things. Boyfriend and I are planning to move in together eventually and I know this will throw them for a loop. I want to help them, if I can, but I’m at a bit of a loss. Are there any resources out there for them? Any ways to say “y’all need to get your act together” while still maintaining a relationship?

Why would you take them at their word about wanting to do better when they’ve shown no actual signs of doing better? “Better” is not banning your boyfriend from Thanksgiving. “Better” is not panicking about what their friends and family will think — and, as an aside, how do they think their friends and family are going to find out about your boyfriend’s gender history? Because outing your boyfriend is definitely 300 percent not doing better.

Listen, I understand that family is complicated and things take time, but they’ve had six months. If six months isn’t long enough to find the acceptance in their hearts, it’s at least long enough to figure out how to fake it in polite society. They know they’re causing you and your boyfriend pain, and they know (or claim to know) that they’re in the wrong, so the appropriate thing for them to do is shut up about it already, and fake basic decency until they make it. If they haven’t done so, it’s because they either don’t care how much they’re upsetting you, or they haven’t quite given up on the idea that they can harangue you into breaking up with your partner and finding a nice cis guy to settle down with. Either way, it’s time to lay it on the line for them: This relationship is not going anywhere, and you will no longer be giving out As for effort. If they want you to believe that they mean well, they need to start acting right.

This means they can look for their own goddamn trans* resources, because Google exists and even parents know how to use it. It means they can make an effort to get to know your boyfriend and include him in family events. It means they recognize that acceptance isn’t something you sit around and wait for, something that comes unbidden and suffuses your soul like enlightenment and meanwhile everyone sits around waiting patiently while you continue to be a dick because, well, what can you do, acceptance just takes time! Girl, no. Acceptance is something you get up and do. You accept people by treating them like they are acceptable.

Frankly, I’m not sure you maintaining a relationship with your parents is actually for the best right now, because it tells them that you’re willing to put up with their transphobia and misgendering of your partner, and thus that their hurtful words and actions have no real consequences. Despite everything, though, they are your family, and if staying in touch with them is worth the hurt it causes you, feel free to continue ushering them down the path toward not being such juiceboxes. Just don’t inflict their presence on your boyfriend until they’ve proved that they’re ready to sit at the big kids’ table. You have the right to put up with as much as you want to from your parents, but it’s not fair to insist that he do the same.

So, for most of my adult life I identified as a lesbian, and only ever dated and sexed up women. Then about two years ago my attractions went through a pretty jarring seismic shift. I lost interest in women and developed an alarming interest in men. Judging by other letters you’ve gotten, this is familiar territory. After a lot of processing and some fooling around with a male friend which confirmed that my interest wasn’t just confined to the realm of fantasy, I decided I’d like to fuck men for the foreseeable future. I’ve been working through my angst and dissonance about this, and I’ve reached a place where I’m comfortable with myself. So, cool.

Except for one niggling issue. I really don’t like penis-in-vagina sex. My libido may be aimed at men for the time being, but I still see myself as more of a top than a bottom in bed, and I still have the same taste in sex acts — I think oral and manual sex are aMAZing and I get basically nothing out of being vaginally penetrated, though I’m happy to penetrate my partner if that’s what they’re into. This was perfectly acceptable as a lesbian, but I suspect the straight world is going to be a whole different ballgame.

For background, I have only had penis-in-vagina sex with one partner (not my dude friend.) She was trans, and even though I was already starting to develop an interest in cock at the time, I did not enjoy PIV with her. When I was first dating women, I didn’t like being penetrated at all because it hurt too much. After a long time, I’ve reached a place where I can enjoy being fingered, but it’s still only a pale shadow of the pleasure I get from clitoral stimulation. Having my vagina pounded by a cock just feels intrusive, weird, mildly painful, and boring.

Also it tends to leave me with painful menstrual-type cramps the next day. This has happened even when I’ve tried masturbating with dildos, so I’m pretty sure it’s not the fault of my partner. Finally, I’m terrified of pregnancy, and I suspect that will make me even more tense during PIV, even with birth control. At least with my trans friend I didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant.

So, I guess my question boils down to: how ridiculous are my preferences? Do I need to just suck it up and learn to tolerate penis-in-vagina because that’s what you sign up for when you’re a woman who wants to sex up men?

But assuming I’m not being unreasonable, how should I approach future relationships? Are my preferences so offbeat that I need to pack it up and move to the kinkster scene? Or should I just meet guys I like in real life, and, if things progress, casually mention my preference for oral/manual (and pegging-if-he-feels-like-it) sex like it ain’t no thang? Even though I know in the straight world, that’s very much NOT what comes standard?

And isn’t it grossly unfair that a sex act that a majority of women can’t even orgasm from gets treated like the One True Sex Act?

First of all, this wasn’t really the point of your letter but I thought I should mention that some trans women can (and do!) knock people up. The chances get lower the longer she’s been on hormones, but if you don’t know for sure (and you don’t want to get pregnant), err on the side of using protection.

It is, indeed, ridiculous that we as a society have come to define “sex” as penis-in-vagina, while all other sex acts are relegated to foreplay — and the number one thing we can do about this insidious misinformation is simply ignore it. If you don’t like to be penetrated, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have a happy, healthy, and satisfying sex life enjoying all of the numerous exciting things naked people can do to and with one another.

That said, you are unfortunately correct that straight men tend to be especially inundated with the “sex = penetration” message, and that most of them will expect it out of a romantic relationship. You should probably be prepared to discuss it more than casually when you’re starting to get serious with a dude. Bring up your preferences when you can tell that things are heading in that direction, but before the pants come off, and be ready to explain. Watch carefully for people who try to circumvent your boundaries — any guy who tries to talk you into something after you’ve clearly stated your disinterest is not someone on whom you should waste another date. It may take some trial and error, but you’ll eventually find someone who either shares your predilections, or is so into you that foregoing P-in-V seems like no sacrifice at all. If you want to explore the kink community as a way of broadening your potential dating pool, go for it — the guys you meet there are no less “real” than the ones you’d encounter in any other social circle!

Finally, although you should in no way feel obligated to partake of any sex act that doesn’t sound like fun, it strikes me that there could be a medical explanation for why you find penetrative sex so uncomfortable. Plenty of people don’t care for P-in-V — I’m one of them — but for most of us the feeling is more, “yawn, let’s do something else” than, “OW OW FUCK OW.” The fact that it leaves you with painful cramps the next day could be indicative of a problem, not just a preference. Most medical advice dealing with pain during vaginal penetration carries an irritating undertone of “let’s get you fixed up so you can have normal sex like a normal person,” so it’s understandable if you’d rather steer clear and keep having awesome, enjoyable, stress-free sex the way you like. However, if you ever do decide you want P-in-V to be on the table again (be sure to clean the table before and afterward), talking to your gyno is probably a good place to start.

Previously: The Glittery Fountain In the Sky, Staying Closeted For Your Career, and Lesbian FOMO

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her?