I hear this term, Friends With Benefits, a lot. However, most of the time when this scenario is described to me it sounds like things are light on the friends side and heavy on the benefits. To me, this is a tricky combo. The reason I say this is because a friendship requires some commitment and some emotions. Yet benefits sound like a casual hook up that doesn’t include either of those two things. Can you really be friends and have no strings attached benefits? The concept is great but I’m not sure how well this works out in reality. I have an open mind, so I’m willing to explore the idea.
When I hear students talk about having a friends with benefits relationship it sounds more like a casual hook up with a friend of a friend (acquaintance) for a few weeks, maybe months. Maybe this is where the word “friend” comes in?? When I hear about students who have been really good friends with someone, but then sex finally enters the picture it usually ends up becoming a more serious relationship or the friendship ends in a very bad way. There is nothing casual about it. Usually this student is coming in to talk to me because they are depressed that it didn’t work out. They realize now they have deep feelings for the other person and having sex ruined everything.
So, obviously the term is frustrating to me as a counselor. I really think if you are going to enter into a Friends With Benefits type of relationship you should set some boundaries for yourself. The first thing is to be honest with yourself. Before entering into a sexual relationship ask yourself if you have feelings for this person at all. Relationships don’t stay static. They tend to grow. Frequent sexual encounters with someone you have feelings for is very dangerous ground. You will end up falling in love with this person and be very hurt if they dismiss your “casual” relationship and move on to someone else. I have students who become very upset with themselves because they knew what they were signing up for but were hopeful for a different outcome. They hoped casual sex would turn into a real committed relationship. Do not be delusional. Do not have sex with someone you have feelings for and pretend that you can keep it light and fun. At this point I do not call this “friends with benefits”, I call it, “please give me love if I give you sex”.
It is one thing to be sexually attracted to someone you barely know and hook up to fill the time between more serious relationships. If you are both on that same page it can end in a “no harm, no foul” way. If you suspect the other person has feelings for you I would put the breaks on starting a sexual relationship. It may be tempting to take advantage of the situation in front of you, but it can end in psycho stalker territory. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself in a situation that is very hard to untangle yourself from.
I only put that out there because I often hear students say “I didn’t realize they were in love with me”. They then go on to talk about how they feel bad about hurting this other person and now feel awkward when they see them around campus. I realize that some people can be good liars. You may have entered the friends with benefits relationship thinking the other person was on the same page. However, most of the time you get a vibe if the other person is really into you. Pay attention to the signals the other person is giving before you start getting naked on a regular basis. Life is complicated. Most of the time sex is complicated, even though most people would like it to keep it simple so they can have more of it without thinking of the consequences. If you at all suspect the other person has any feelings for you, walk away ASAP!
One other thing that I hear about in my office is concerning STI’s. Getting a sexually transmitted infection from a friends with benefits relationship can really mess up the whole casual vibe you were striving for. It also messes up trust and loyalty. If this person is a friend of a friend they are going to be more loyal to them than you. This is how rumors and hateful things get started on Facebook and texting forwards. You still need to protect yourself and use a condom when you enter any sexual relationship. Even if it is with someone you seem to know really well.
From what I can tell, Friends With Benefits is supposed to be fun and casual. To keep it that way, be smart. Be aware of what is going on with you and with the other person. If you meet someone else you really want to commit to or you find yourself becoming attached, be honest and disengage. Be prepared to have the other person walk away at any time. It is easier to let someone walk away when the whole point is to stay casual. If this isn’t you, realize it is okay to be on your own until you find something a little more serious.