How I Transformed My Boyfriend Into a Booty Call

Is it possible for my boyfriend and me to extract the emotional attachment from our relationship, but leave the sex in place? We're certainly trying.

Ex sex is easy. Being friends with your ex is hard. Friends-with-benefits could go either way. But, as my ex-boyfriend and I are discovering, transforming a committed, romantic relationship into a sex-only situation is maybe the hardest of all.

What my ex-boyfriend and I have been doing lately is "knowing each other," as in, "I don't want to not know you." We've been cycling from total non-communication to emotionally draining mini-epochs of intense involvement, featuring much blame and revisionist narrative and nostalgic sex, until we agree not to talk for a while. Dating other people has not, so far, gone well.

My ex is, predictably, the good guy that just isn’t the guy. Old story, right? His life is well-planned and hard-won; he has a stable, do-gooding career. He doesn’t visit countries that Starbucks hasn’t staked ground in. He wakes up early. He likes TV. We're different.

I knew all this going in, but was too deliriously blinded by the extra-hot sex to really consider it. I’d decided I liked him when he used the word "verboten" correctly in a meeting we both attended. Not such a feat, really, but I'd already eye-rolled him for evidence of severe jockishness. He took me out for sushi; a few months later we were "serious." Soon after that, I de facto moved into his apartment. But a month into a solo trip to Central America, I realized it would never work. I called him from a dank hotel room in Guatemala and broke it off.

After a break-up, you're not supposed to choose “sex” over "friendship."

When you decide that you ultimately can't be with someone you’re happy with, and that even a good, supportive relationship needs to end, the break-up lacks a certain definitive quality. So does breaking up via international phone call when all of your winter clothes are still stuffed in his closet. When I got back we both felt due for a break-up breakdown, which essentially left us in this unsustainable, quasi-real relationship, which has turned out to be more taxing than any full-fledged break-up would be.

Sex was always a significant part of our relationship, payoff for the tremendous disparities in our lifestyles, behavior, even our approaches to sorting out these differences. We counted on sex to resolve fights and provide normalcy and assurance in what was sort of a complicated and alienating partnership, for the both of us.

But after a break-up, you're not supposed to choose “sex” over "friendship." Starting out that way is one thing, but becoming that way reminds us of our inability to make real relationships work. If we'd just broken up and properly moved on, we could ignore or forget about our mutual failure. But when you're facing each other, even if it's in a boozy doorway at 3 a.m., you really can't.

Still, we decided to try it. We met up with an unusual doggedness toward sorting this out. An hour and a cheek-kiss later, we’d begun recasting our relationship as a sex-only situation, effectively undoing the closeness that we’d come to.

This would require some counter-intuitive thinking and working backwards emotionally, and establishing new rules, tenuously held in place by our common will to salvage and amplify the one workable aspect of our history. I wanted this to be different than “ex sex,” which is mainly about short-term comfort and reassurance. That kind of sex is drama sex, sex charged with regret and self-flagellation. Transforming my ex into a booty call requires the buoyancy and enjoyment of any other just-sex agreement, and as such, requires both of us to let the other one go. Except, for real this time.

What’s possibly been toughest is the most average, boring stuff. There’s no room for workaday complaints and commentary anymore, and keeping those at bay is an exercise in uncomfortable, Rand-ian self-preservation. While I’ve struggled to channel my feelings and stresses and ideas toward my friends (and in one case, a promising suitor), my ex’s problem has been about forgoing the daily update emails and phone calls. In several cases I’ve had to remind him, implicitly or explicitly, that I don’t need to know, that I can’t know, his travel itinerary for the weekend, that we can’t meet for drinks first, that I will not open links that he sends me. Packaging these rebuffs with gentility and kindness may or may not succeed. Saying, "You know what, let's just skip dinner" can be hugely offensive if you're saying it to someone you used to happily and lovingly cook for, especially if they never wanted to break up at all.

But—it works. Sort of. The first night that I didn't sleep over was an actual triumph. The sex itself remains good, but it’s changed, particularly since the most unusual and experimental sex happened on lazy mornings. Moreover, the content of the sex is becoming familiar as “stranger sex,” increasingly narcissistic and results-based, rather than the kind you have when you’re falling into a singular life with the sweaty mass to your left. One thing that’s missing, thus far, is the angry hate-sex that a few minutes of arguing about CNN’s possible political biases would handily inspire.

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Transforming my ex has, more than anything, transformed my expectations of sex. I want fucking to fulfill its inherent promise—the one that lies a little deeper than getting off—of being enough on its own as a human utility to connect two people, even if its just in this one specific arena. If it, and we, can do this, it’ll be worth it. I hope.

Kate Carraway contributes to LA Weekly, Eye Weekly, and Nerve.com. She usually lives in Toronto.