I’ve been fielding a lot of blog questions recently about friends with benefits (FWB) relationships. Circumstances vary, but the situation usually plays out the same way: you get into a friends with benefits understanding with a guy, it seems like it might become something more, and then it ends with you getting hurt.
Why? For a lot of women, the friends with benefits relationship seems like a pretty good gateway drug: it offers the chance to test the waters with someone you already get along with, and see if there’s something more there. The focus is on the “friends” aspect of the deal: this is someone you really connect with, and secretly, maybe, you’re thinking the FWB relationship could be the gateway to true love — or at least to a steady, caring companion.
Guys, on the other hand, tend to be focused more on the “benefits” side of the equation. For a guy, a friendship with a woman he is also attracted to is never just that: there’s always some element of desire embedded in his feelings. It may never get acted on, but it’s there. When friendship becomes friends with benefits, that desire is triggered, and it becomes the driving element of the relationship. The friendship is still there, but the benefits are where the action is.
The FWB understanding looks like a great deal to most guys, too. We can act on our physical desires with someone we’re already comfortable with, without the additional commitments that typically come with that: communicating feelings, sacrificing our needs for someone else’s, constantly negotiating plans. For us, this arrangement isn’t a gateway drug: it’s the final destination. That doesn’t mean we don’t still care about the friendship, but it does mean that most of us are taking the definition at face value. We are looking to get benefits, with a friend — not something more.
To make this disconnect worse, neither side typically thinks about how the arrangement will end. Whether it’s eagerness to reap the “benefits” or openness to something more, both men and women have their reasons for leaving the end result open. The problem is, that open ending is usually an unhappy one. A guy will end up feeling pressured into a more committed, relationship-like situation that he didn’t sign up for, and end up walking away (or starting something up with someone else). Or you will feel like you’re not getting the care and consideration you need from someone you’re physically intimate with, leading you to deliver an ultimatum that results in disappointment.
So how do you respond to the prospect of a friends with benefits situation? Prevention is the best cure. FWB rarely works out, and your best option is to avoid it. If you are tempted, think about why. Do you secretly want a real relationship? Or are you just bored? If you know you can live without the guy (and the friendship), maybe this is right for you — but don’t expect more than the definition implies, and make sure you have the conversation about how it will end, not just how it will start. If you secretly want something more, and friends with benefits seems like a great way to attain that (or, even worse, the guy is the one who suggests it), avoid it at all costs. Worse than losing a friend, you may end up getting your heart broken. And that just isn’t worth the benefits.