Saturday, July 5, 2014

Friends with Benefits

by Jean Roberta

First off, I’m sorry I missed my day to post. All I can say in my defense is that since I’m not teaching a class at present, all the days of the week tend to run together, so that a Friday feels much like a Thursday or a Saturday. (Not much of an excuse, I know.)

The posts on friendship have been so good that I find it hard to add anything new.

There is a sentimental little round that I learned in elementary school:

“Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other’s gold.”

This is a noble sentiment, but it rarely seems to work that way until one has gained some maturity, i.e. this is not characteristic of friendships in elementary or secondary school.

Trying to mix sex with friendship seems especially messy, yet friendship (mutual trust and familiarity) seems like a much better basis for any relationship than romance, for lack of a clearer word (a sense that the other person is exotic, mysterious, different from oneself).

Friendship seems to be a theme in my most recent erotic stories that have been accepted for publication. In “Naming It,” which was recently accepted for Best Lesbian Erotica 2015, a gentleman-butch singer-songwriter comforts her old friend, a law student, after her fiancée (with whom she was about to move in) cheats on her in a public place. Law Student lets Old Friend comfort her with sex, but is much more squeamish about “naming” the friendship as something more serious. As she asks, “Who will I turn to if you let me down?” Old Friend swears that she won’t, but heartbroken Law Student (who has all sorts of legal schemes to deal with the ex-fiancee) wants to spend some time thinking about it. She demands that they stay apart for a month before meeting in their favourite coffee shop for negotiations. Old Friend successfully negotiates the waiting period down to a week, and chews her fingernails during that time. When they meet, Law Student sets out “ground rules,” and Old Friend complies. Law Student admits that she has actually loved Old Friend for years, but didn’t want to admit it.

I think of this story as a dark comedy. It has its roots in queer social reality: for people who primarily define themselves as lesbian, gay, or even bisexual, friends and lovers are usually drawn from the same pool of people. The clear division between potential “dates” (members of the “opposite sex,” those glamorous aliens) and “friends” (people like oneself, who can serve as confidants and advisers) that exists in most heterosexual romance stories isn’t as neat or clear for queer characters in fiction, because it isn’t that clear in real life. (The movie When Harry Met Sally is a heterosexual exception.)

In my story “Shelter,” which was recently accepted for Forbidden Fruit: Stories of Unwise Lesbian Desire, the two women were classmates as children, but they are hardly friends. One has grown up thinking of the other as Bad News, but for some reason, the “good girl” lets the “bad girl” take shelter in her apartment overnight. As the reader comes to know, the narrator has several reasons for doing this, some of which she is reluctant to think about.


I didn’t intend to open my door for anyone at 1:00 a.m., but I couldn’t resist looking through the peep-hole to see who was there.

Cheekbones, long nose, full lips, short dark hair, direct gaze, evil grin. Unmistakably Renee Sharp.

I opened my apartment door before I could stop myself. “You can’t stay here,” I told her, stepping back to let her in.

She accepted my unspoken invitation. “It’s good to see you too, Anna baby. I thought about you while I was away.” A year in prison hadn’t deprived her of energy. What was sex like in the joint? I didn’t want to think about it, but I wanted to know.

The woman was leaner than I remembered, more compact. She could take me down. I knew I should call the police, but I couldn’t do it.

“You don’t have to call the cops, girlfriend. I’m not here to steal your stuff or hurt you in any way. Unless—“ She let her sentence hang in the air while she looked down from my eyes to the thin cotton nightshirt that barely covered my naked breasts. I could feel my nipples jiggling with my breathing, and I buttoned my cardigan from top to bottom. Renee snickered.

“You don’t really want the cops to know I’m here, Anna. No one has to know you ever met me. In the morning I’ll be gone like a wet dream.”

“Renee,” I started.

“Friends call me Razor.” She pulled five chocolate-brown Canadian hundred-dollar bills out of the frayed pocket of her denim jacket and laid them on my hall table.

Oh my god. I still wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted from me, but she obviously thought I was for sale.

I was glad she had shut the door behind her, even though that meant I was trapped in my apartment with a criminal. “Razor-blade,” I said. “Mack the Knife, whatever you’re called now, I don’t need your money. Some of us have legal jobs.”

She grinned. I didn’t touch the stack of bills, and neither did she. “Well, could I get a drink in this fine establishment, Anna baby?”


What do you think are the odds that these two establish a friendship?

I’m sure this subject will continue to intrigue me for years to come.


  1. This thing you're talking about (the difficulty of distinguishing between potential dates and potential friends) has plagued me my entire life, and I'm excited that you've been dealing with it directly in stories. It's really awesome to hear about the BLE and Forbidden Fruit acceptances—the TOC for both is sounding better and better!

  2. Hi Jean-
    You said-

    “Make new friends, but keep the old,
    One is silver and the other’s gold.”

    This is a noble sentiment, but it rarely seems to work that way until one has gained some maturity, i.e. this is not characteristic of friendships in elementary or secondary school.

    That set me to thinking about childhood friends. Sure, we had good friends who stuck around for years, but I also remember thinking, even at the time, that some of those early friends that we just hung around for a few days, or a few weeks. Then, who knows what happened to them? Others, we were 'besties' for a year or two. As I mentioned a few days ago that the depth of our friendships can sometimes be defined by that element.

    Could it be this is how we mold our own definition of ourselves? Do we weed out who we are by who we hang with? Do we whittle away at those who don't mesh with us in a natural process?

  3. Now, after reading the excerpt, and on to your question, I can imagine Anna keeping Renee on the side throughout their lives, going there whenever Anna's darker fantasies need to be more than fantasies. Seems Renee could be more, shall we say… more sure of her own personal requirements? (or not, down the road) Anna would have this secret life to balance a more mediocre existence. Or perhaps another type of contrast to her day-to-day life.

  4. "Friends with benefits" is a natural for this topic, and you certainly do it justice.

    Sounds like a terrific story for the Forbidden Fruit theme. I'll get to read it in my own contributor's copy when it comes. And the BLE story, too, as it happens. Looking forward to both.

  5. Jean, your post was worth waiting for! I can't wait to read both of these stories.

    The friends/lovers ambiguity works in the opposite direction when you're straight. If you're a woman, you can't help but wonder whether your male friends actually think of you in a sexual way.

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  7. Thank you, Annabeth, Daddy X, and Lisabet. You are all so reliable! The first time I tried to post a comment here, it disappeared. (Apparently the computer is not my friend today.) I love the option of "It's complicated" on social media sites that allow people to choose "I'm single," "I'm married," or "I'm in a relationship." When I look around, I suspect it's more complicated for most people that it was in more rigid times/cultures in which everyone was expected to marry a member of the "opposite sex" by a certain age, raise children, and socialize with a circle of relatives and married friends. Increased chances to form unusual or non-restrictive relationships also offer more chances to be exploited or hurt. (Years ago, I had what I thought was a friendship-with-benefits with a man who seemed to be separated from his wife and living alone. I learned that he was commuting from his family home, complete with 3 teenage daughters, to the small city where I live and where he stayed in a small, cheap apartment during the week over the winter months to avoid driving on the ice more than necessary. I also learned that he thought of himself as a good family man, married to a good wife & mother. He seemed to think I was trash because I was sexually available to him, AND because I had a daughter of my own, born when I was married.) I included a negotiation scene in one of my stories because I think this is a good idea when entering a new relationship or changing the unspoken rules.

  8. Just a side note about the disappearing comments, Jean. I've been having huge issues with that on Blogger lately, to the point that I make a copy before hitting publish. As far as I can tell, my stuff is more likely to disappear when I sign in after arriving at the page, but whatever's going on, it isn't cool.

    (And, case in point, it happened to me just now while trying to post this).

  9. That song you quoted was taught to my daughter and me as the Girl Scout song. I was her troop's leader for 8 years, beginning in kindergarten.

    I believe that it's possible for men and women to be platonic friends, but one will always want more out of the relationship...usually the man. And the woman will be the one who chooses to let him get "so close but no closer". Myself, when I was younger, I'd put men into lists: one side was friends, guys I hung around with and depended on for friendship and support. Sometimes I slept with them in a one-nighter kind of thing...mostly not. The other side was guys I wanted to have sex with, but I didn't want or expect anything else from them. At that time, having a close friendship with a man I was fucking was way too much intimacy. No one was allowed to be THAT close to me.

    Years later, when I met my husband, I told him I was happy we'd not met years earlier, when I'd have shagged him then split. When we met we were both ready for a real relationship, based on my important 3: passion, respect and friendship.


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