The idea sounds simple enough — you’re single and not looking for a relationship or commitment. You’d like to be physically intimate with someone, but you’re not interested in strangers and one-night stands. You have a friend with whom you’ve always shared a mutual attraction. This friend is also more interested in the physical aspects of a relationship. Why not become “friends with benefits” (FWB) — friends who occasionally engage in non-committal sex? Isn’t this the best way to satisfy both of your needs without having to deal with the “messier” parts of relationships?
Not really. Friends with benefits arrangements aren’t as gratifying and easy as they seem to be. And while some people can maintain casual sexual relationships, just as many can not. In the long run, the benefits of having a friend with benefits may not outweigh the costs.
Being friends with benefits isn’t less stressful
A common reason cited for participating in FWB arrangements is that there is less of the stress that comes with a traditional relationship. No need to keep in constant contact, no need to pay any special attention outside of the bedroom, and no need to deal with emotions.
But studies on FWB relationships contradict this idea. In fact, one study found that friends with benefits deal with the same issues that those in traditional relationships do — worries like one partner becoming more attached than the other or becoming jealous. These fears are well-founded since one partner does tend to develop feelings in a FWB situation. Those who describe themselves as jealous are, ironically, more likely to participate in a FWB relationship.
The boundaries are not clear
In the ideal friends with benefits situation, both participants would be certain of what to expect from their affair. However, this is usually not the case. FWBs often jump into the arrangement without clearly defining the limits. This makes the situation more difficult later on.
Even when the boundaries are clear at the beginning, they can become fuzzy. The partners may start out expecting the same, but one partner begins to hope for more, or wants to go back to being friends with no sexual contact. One partner may have secretly always wanted a commited relationship with the other person. They settle on the friends with benefits arrangement in hopes that it would evolve into something more. They may take what they can get at the moment, then realize they can no longer be simply a bed buddy.
Communication breaks down
In addition to having to deal with many of the worries that those in committed relationship do, friends with benefits comes with its own problems. One of those is the breakdown of communication. Where two people were once friends, the previously mentioned study found that as FWBs, they only discuss the physical side of their partnership. They are afraid to talk about anything else, especially the possibility of a committed relationship and their friendship outside of the bed. As a result, they don’t know how the affair is progressing and how the other feels about their relationship.
The likely result: friendless, sexless, and relationship-less
Only around 10 percent of FWB relationships evolve into long-term, committed relationships, according to research. Many end up breaking up both the friendship and the sexual relationship, and even more decide that they can no longer have the friends with benefits relationship. Even when a FWB relationship is maintained long-term, partners report less passion than those in traditional relationships. It turns out that being friends with benefits can be less than beneficial.
What are your thoughts on the friends with benefits relationship? Have you ever been in one or considered being in one?