Frenemies with benefits: Can sex outlast the relationship?
› email@example.com 
I recently broke up with my girlfriend (I'm a woman). Everything had started out peachy and remained so until about a month and a half before the breakup. It seemed that our growing emotional intimacy triggered her childhood issues (neglect, abuse, you name it ... followed by addiction; she's now thankfully in recovery), and she started pushing me away, then moved on to heavy criticism and blaming. As an abuse survivor myself, I know the signs and can empathize, but I feel that I've worked through most of my issues with intimacy, whereas she is, in her own words, "scared of loving." Anyway, our sex life suffered greatly. I felt that I was giving a lot and not receiving much. I tried talking with her about all this, but she insisted that I was the one at fault for everything. Finally, drained and heartbroken, I left her. Since then, she's apologized and told me that she's working on changing her patterns (through therapy, support groups, etc.). And she wants a second chance.
I feel relieved to be out of a tense and draining relationship, but I also miss the good stuff we had (hot sex most of the time and friendship, if not emotional intimacy). I know I can get over this and find love (though right now sex is first on my agenda) with someone else. That said, could her willingness to heal (and treat me with respect) make it worth taking another stab at it? Also, if the sex and friendship worked for us but not the relationship, what are the odds that we could be lovers but not partners (we're both nonmonogamous)?
One from Column A ...
Oh, eek, I'm a little scared of your ex, to tell you the truth. I'll probably get in trouble for this but she immediately put me in mind of stories a friend of mine tells of working at an extremely PC community nonprofit and the way interns and other untested newbies would respond to a request that they do some oh, I dunno, I think they call it work? with a trembling lip and a defiant stance and a declaration that "I find that really triggering." "Oh, I'll trigger you, all right," my friend would think, but of course you can't say that sort of thing to that sort of person, you can only try to gently redirect them, like toddlers or puppies, if you don't want to be accused of being abusive and hierarchical and tool of the patriarchical and end up having to endure lengthy sessions with a mediator wearing chunky ethnic jewelry and many complicated but unstructured garments woven from colorful twigs and berries.
I can't really answer your last two questions, of course, because even if I had actual statistics to give you ("Blah percent of couples attempting friendship with benefits following a breakup ends up throwing kitchen implements at each other within six weeks, while only bleh percent of couples attempting friendship without benefits throws plates ...") they would still just be statistics: interesting to read, but more descriptive than predictive.
Just going by the fairly small amount of info I've got, I have to admit I'm doing a little preemptive cringing and ducking myself. Things just sound a little too fresh and volatile to go trying any tricks as death-defying as getting back together but not really, which is a pretty dangerous stunt no matter where in a relationship's history one attempts it. So while I won't lay odds or place bets, I'm happy to make a wild prediction based on nothing more than having a good head for these things: attempting to reassemble your former relationship minus what are arguably the most important elements (emotional intimacy, not to mention luv) is doomed to failure. Before you know it you will be "triggering" her again, this time quite possibly on purpose (I was tempted to add "and with a real trigger this time," but it wouldn't be tasteful). I think you'd do best to look elsewhere for sex and attempt friendship, cautiously if at all, with your ex. If you're meant to be together (by which I don't mean "fated," but merely "suited," in case you were wondering) you will find yourselves shifting back in that direction when you're ready. It's nice and all that she's "willing to heal," not to mention treat you with respect, but frankly, all you have is her word on that. She hasn't actually done either one so far, has she? And also frankly, you sound neither so hard up nor so desperately pining for her as so make it worth the probable unpleasantness. Exes are in some way the easy choice you don't have to go out and meet anyone, which for some of us anyway can be a powerful draw, but on the other hand you don't get anything better than what you already had and gave away, and usually with good reason.
I just wouldn't.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don't do that. Just ask her a question.