Friends with Benefits: Does It Ever Work?

Another blog about relationships (or lack thereof) this week, but stay tuned for more travel themed fare in the coming weeks.

It seems a spate of movies have come out recently about friends with benefits like ”No Strings Attached” and even the upcoming film actually called “Friends with Benefits.” Granted, I haven’t seen either of these movies, but since they’re romantic comedies I’m assuming the couples get together in the end after realizing they truly love each other and want more than just sex. But, honestly, has that ever happened to anyone in real life?

Women often allow a “friends with benefits” situation to happen in the hope that it may awaken a guy’s deeper feelings for her. Unfortunately, it can often have the opposite effect and shove you permanently into the “not girlfriend material” category. And if either person has feelings for the other, (s)he runs the risk of getting thoroughly hurt. AskMen did an article about the pros and cons of friends with benefits and said:

“Tip: …if you want to give [the friends with benefits] thing a shot, remember the importance of honesty from the get-go. If one of you is going into this secretly hoping for more, then the problem of dishonesty arises, and that person is probably in for a nasty disappointment when it doesn’t play out that way. And trust me, nine times out of 10, [friends with benefits] never develop into anything more. It’s much more likely that just the opposite will happen.”

And on the flipside, what about the friendship? That same article found that the most successful friends with benefits are actually acquaintances rather than true friends. It’s easier in that case to walk away once the “relationship” has run its course. Overall, AskMen says, “Being [friends with benefits] can be fun and rewarding if both parties are clear that it’s only about sex. Otherwise, it’s a dangerous proposition.”

How do you know if it will work or become a dangerous proposition? The reason it falls apart so often is actually an interesting one. In 2008, a study found that jealous people are actually more likely to get involved in a friends with benefits relationship than those who do not view themselves as a jealous person. As Psych Central explains, “Perhaps those having sex with a friend wonder how many other sexual partners their ‘friend’ has and want to feel that they are ‘special’ and ‘unique.’”

So, ultimately, does the friends with benefits relationship ever work out well? I think it depends entirely on the two people involved. Ironically, the most successful ones I’ve seen are between people who have dated, realized they don’t work as a couple, and then continued to enjoy a physical relationship until time or a new person brought it to a somewhat natural conclusion. On the other hand, I’ve also seen lots of instances of women lying to themselves about being comfortable with the situation while secretly holding onto hope for more.

After reading some of the studies out there, I think the golden rule is to ask yourself three questions before ever getting into that kind of relationship:

  1. How important is this friendship to you and are you willing to risk losing the friend if things go badly?
  2. Would you be upset if you learned the other person was sleeping with someone else? If that would bother you, then don’t get physical. And, in that case, you should also take a step back to examine what you want from your friendship with or without sex, since you typically shouldn’t be jealous over a platonic friend dating someone.
  3. What do you expect to get out of being friends with benefits? The answer should be nothing, other than some hopefully fun nights. If you’re expecting anything else, then you’re headed for disappointment.
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7 Responses to Friends with Benefits: Does It Ever Work?

  1. Jeany Z says:

    This stirs lots of thoughts…It’s a topic that is usually ends up being painful/detrimental for women. 2 key downfalls women are too often guilty of: 1) As you stated, women always think they can change the situation…even if the guy makes it clear, the woman think she’s so special that she will eventually change his mind and win him over. We should never go in with that expectation. However, when you least expect it…it could work. I’ve definitely had a few FWB situations that turned into more. 2) Even when you’re in a real FWB situation, don’t turn it into a “at his beck and call”. If it’s truly a mutual choice, then be in control of the situation as much as the other person is. FWB doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat or disrespect yourself. Like you said – if you can’t handle it, don’t pretend, and don’t do it. Now if we only took our own advice… :)

  2. I was in a FWB situation once in college. I started developing feelings for him and told him. He didn’t want a relationship with me, so we called off the sex and stayed friends. It was awkward for a while, but we made it work. Then I got engaged, since we were friends, I invited him to the wedding. He told me later that he wanted to objectmt my wedding. O.O I think I would have killed him if he had.

    So… The honesty thing goes both ways. Had he thought at any point he wanted to date me, he should have said it rather than playing the stud card at the time. I’m glad things turned out as they did, but he really should have played straight IMO.

  3. Laura says:

    Good points, both Jeany and Seleste.
    Jeany – I’d add a caveat that FWB rarely turns into more. You seem to have a unique track record there. :-) Yes, it can happen, but more often than not it doesn’t, at least in cases I’ve seen.
    Seleste – I’ve been in that situation too, and I think it’s a far more common one. The FWB ends, but then once you meet someone new and aren’t available anymore, the guy suddenly realizes he misses you (or the girl in the reverse situation). Of course then the question is if he simply misses the sex or something more.

    That’s something I wonder about in FWB – how do you know if he considers you a friend and enjoys your company or simply values your sex life? Any thoughts, from anyone?

  4. Ava T. says:

    Great post! Thanks for discussing this very important topic!

    It got me thinking about conversations I’ve had with a number of men in their 20′s-50′s. Here’s what I’ve gathered from those conversations: “20-somethings” will publicly say they like FWBs, but actually they privately loathe those types of relationships and strongly prefer not to have them. They seem to prefer a series of committed relationships, even if short-lived–rather than a series of FWBs. “30-somethings” will avail themselves of a FWB but are actually looking for more, and seldom will an FWB become more because the “romance factor” is spoiled. “40-somethings” are usually already settled down or are between significant relationships and see the concept of an FWB as distasteful, so even if they are having an FWB-type relationship, they call it something else, such as “dating”. And “50-somethings” are likely to have only one FWB at a time and keep the relationship going for a very long time unless/until the FWB wants more–but, even then, this group is quite willing to maintain/resume just the friendship part if the FWB is willing to settle just for that.

    I think having a FWB is fine, but only if that is exactly what one wants. If one wants more, one should wait for more. If less, skip the WB part. When we say yes to something we are not really enthused about we might find ourselves in the wrong frame of mind to either recognize or be in a position to act on something right around the corner that might be exactly what we were looking for all along.

    All this said, I am glad that we live in an age where we can discuss matters such as this and decide for ourselves what we should do at any given moment!

  5. Bob W. says:

    Reminds me of bygone days when “open marriage” was all the rage. Didn’t work back then either. Exclusivity seems some how built in.

  6. Sam says:

    The loophole in this situation is that people change over time – their perspective, their outlook, their feelings. The y may go into a FWB situation in total honesty, but then have a change of heart. As everyone has rightly stated, keeping it open and honest the whole time is the most important thing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am in a so called FWB relationship, however the “I love you” has come out more than once from both of us, so is it really FWB or more than that? How do you really know?

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