Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

‘Friends With Benefits’ Not Working

DEAR NATALIE: I have a "friend with benefits." We have tried to keep things as uncomplicated as possible, and it was working really well until recently. One of his siblings suddenly died in an accident. He and his family are devastated. But, because of the nature of our relationship, I have pulled away, fearing that we will complicate things if I get too involved. He told me the other day that I was being "heartless" and "cold." I was just trying to give him space and not make it worse. I don't want to lose him as a friend, but I don't want to get sucked into a relationship with him, either. How can I be there for him without that happening? -- Lost Benefits

DEAR LOST BENEFITS: These are those times in life when you should change your Facebook status to "it's complicated" because it is. While you may have hoped for an easy non-relationship (with all of the perks and none of the problems), the reality is life is messy. I understand why he called you cold and heartless, considering that you are pulling away from him in one of the most vulnerable moments of his life. But I see how you are trying to distance yourself as to not complicate things further. Your best bet -- if you want to salvage any type of relationship with him moving forward -- is to be there for him emotionally right now, but not physically. No more late-night hangouts until things have settled down. If he needs a shoulder to cry on, make it clear that you care about him but don't want him to think that you are anything besides ... well ... what are you exactly? If you want to be physically intimate with someone, you have to be prepared for the emotional intimacy that comes along for the ride (no pun intended). So take a physical step back but answer his texts and calls because what he needs most right now is a friend ... not a lover.

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to nbencivenga@post-gazette.com or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)