Toyfriends: for when you can’t monogamy or relationship like a normal person.

Sean* and I live several hundred miles apart, yet we talk every day, Skype often, and visit each other as frequently as possible for sexy times. But we’re not dating. Good God, are we not dating. Sean is my Toyfriend: a person I have frequent (amazing) sex with, ceaselessly talk to, and love very much, but who is not my monogamous boyfriend.

Sean and I have been carrying on this relationship for upwards of three years. We started sleeping together my sophomore year of college. We were cast members in the same show, and one night—with the help of some encouraging words and pre-rehearsal booze—I worked up the guts to give him my number.

We didn’t become friends after the first time, per se. We more often acknowledged each other in public settings and occasionally shared knowing glances, but we travelled in different circles and didn’t go out of our ways to see one another if we weren’t getting sick-and-sticky.

When he told me he was seeing someone seriously and couldn’t carry on our affair anymore, I was totally cool.

“Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. I mean it was bound to happen to one of us. That was the nature of this relationship, right?”

He was impressed by my calm demeanor and felt reassured by my lack of rage or upset. And generally speaking, I was fine. I did go to my friend’s apartment to be sad for the rest of the day, but rejection always hurts regardless of the circumstances.

We were at it again a few months later once they broke up. When the school year ended, we went our separate ways, speaking only when we wanted some quality dirty talk or a filthy Skype session. But after we’d have our fun, he would stay on the line to talk to me. Virtual pillow talk.

Over time, we became so close that when I was having trouble sorting out my feelings for someone else I was regularly sleeping with though they treated me poorly, I called Sean. He said some really nice things.

“You don’t need that shit. You’re a catch, Meredith. You’re smart, funny, hot as fuck. He’s scum.”

A catch.

I bit my lip during most of that phone call.

We grew closer and closer, and our correspondences started to resemble those of people with civility. We were becoming friends and decided we wanted to keep this weird thing we had going. He lived in New York City. I lived four hours away in Ithaca, NY. But I had a car and there were buses and we would visit each other as often as our schedules and debit cards would let us.

Then the feelings happened. I noticed them when I couldn’t stop playing with his hands after sex; holding them, squeezing them, tracing my fingers along his thick but smooth skin. I couldn’t stop. I needed to touch him.

So I spilled my guts over Skype. I was shaking. I almost cried when I told him I feared I’d have to cut off communication if his feelings towards me weren’t at least a little romantic.

Thankfully they were, and we established rules for our new dynamic: we would be sexually open and emotionally exclusive. Therefore, we’d sleep with whomever we wanted, but since neither of us was looking for anything serious from anyone else, we’d still be each other’s “person.”

But we wouldn’t date. Neither of us could handle the financial or emotional toll of a relationship, and we each had specific plans for our lives that would prevent us from being in the same physical location for years to come. We were being practical.

This worked just fine until I met Doug*. He was a random internet find who turned out to be everything I wanted. I began to develop feelings for him, feelings I knew were different from the ones I had for Sean. A sinking guilt obsessed me as I realized I’d broken our contract: I’d fallen for someone else.

Sean and I agreed to a month-long temporary hiatus while our feelings for each other cooled off. Neither of us wanted to full on stop our more-than-friends-with-benefits relationship, but we couldn’t remain in contact while I was falling fast for Doug. It hurt Sean and made me feel like a cheating wench, regardless of the fact that I was doing just what he did to me all those years ago. It’s pretty awful regardless of which side of the pseudo-breakup you’re on.

The goal of the hiatus was to get both of our heads in such a place where we could resume speaking frequently and eventually be able to hook up again without feelings of betrayal or guilt. Meantime, Doug and I agreed to an open relationship; I made him fully aware of Sean’s role in my life.

I missed Sean horribly those few weeks. I cried through the first couple days, convinced I’d ruined everything and that he would never want to speak to me again. My hysteria subsided after about a week with the help of good friends and decent pot, and by the end of the month I was feeling balanced and good. Hopeful.

During the break, I was moderately successful in realigning my expectations of the relationship and consciously making a new place in my heart for Sean--a place of intense, long-term intimacy completely independent of strict romance or friendship. This is a (very) difficult, ongoing process that I’m still navigating through today. Especially since things with Doug crashed and burned pretty fantastically.

I still sometimes struggle with feelings of romance towards Sean, but I recognize that I can enjoy these feelings without acting them out in a monogamous relationship. What’s most important is our ability to talk to each other about our emotions, any day, any time, and openly acknowledge that we want each other in our lives. Which we do.

It’s a complicated relationship, to say the least. I consider Sean one of my closest friends. We talk more often than I do with my roommate. We travel literally hundreds of miles to be with one another.

But we lie to each other. In order to keep the jealousy levels at an absolute minimum, we cannot speak to each other about our other sexual partners anymore. When I was involved with Doug, I couldn’t talk to Sean about him at all. If Sean wanted to Skype but I had plans with Doug, I had to lie. And I know Sean lies to me, too. The lying will continue until one of us falls into a love that our lifestyles can sustain, a love that will most likely be with someone else. And when that happens, we will reconfigure our love for one another once again, somehow.

I wanted this to be a helpful article. I wanted this to be an advice column to predict and answer any and every question you have about Toyfriend relationships. I wanted this to be an exhaustive, cure-all for woes and worries. But all I can do is share my own story. I can’t offer wisdom or condolences because people are giant, vast, different worlds and you just have to know what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it.

What I can say is this: it’s messy business, hard work, and worth it. It works because I love Sean. It works despite the fact that I know this will end in some of the worst pain I can imagine. But love is pain and life is pain. You will hurt and be hurt. And you will be okay. Love who you can, when you can, how you can. Screw the rest.

*Names have been changed. 

Feature photo by Gilles Lambert/ VIA Unsplash