The most delicate relationship of the human race, the Friends With Benefits (FWB) dynamic has a fail rate of roughly 108%. He was leading her on; she ignored signs that he’d had real feelings all along; he didn’t tell her he was seeing other people. We’ve all been there.
I’ve had one FWB experience that didn’t result in someone getting hurt, or the whole friendship dissolving. Gina and I maintained a completely platonic friendship, hung out as such with all our mutual friends, and occasionally ended up at one or the other’s apartment. It was as simple as that. After a year or so like this (obviously it was put on hold if one of us started seeing someone) it sort of fizzled out, and that was it. It was what we both wanted at the time, and the friendship somehow, incredibly, never suffered.
In retrospect, I can point to some aspects of the relationship that were crucial to steering it clear of misunderstandings and falling-outs. Consider them my 10 Commandments of FWB:
1. Thou shalt not use FWB as a means to an end.
If you’ve secretly liked the person for a while, don’t convince yourself that casually sleeping with them will make them suddenly want to date you. It
probably almost definitely won’t, and you’ll end up resentful.
2. Thou shalt make the terms crystal clear.
It’s exciting at first when you completely unexpectedly end up in your friend’s bed – you joke about how all your friends would react, and then you go your separate ways and never mention it. But after that happens a few more times, you’re going to need to be adults and lay out what’s what. Is this what you both want?
3. Thou shalt talk about other dates & sexual encounters openly.
This is one of the most important for me. Right off the bat, you have to not make it weird to talk about being with other people. It’s a consistent reminder for both parties that you’re still friends. If you stop talking about your sex & dating life, things are going to get weird.
4. Thou shalt cuddle with caution.
Everyone has their own opinion on this, and I think that’s as it should be. Cuddling (before and after) can doom some friends, but not be a factor at all for others. So be honest about what it would mean for you, and insist the same from your friend.
5. Thou shalt keep the friends and the benefits separate.
So crucial! When you hang out as friends, you’re friends. It’s important to keep this intact as much as possible, so that if and when you stop sleeping together, you won’t have to awkwardly try to remember how to just be friends.
6. Thou shalt not stay for breakfast.
Many would say don’t even stay the night, but for some of us geographical and transportation considerations make that quite the inconvenience (3am wait for the G train? Not so much). For me, sleeping in the bed doesn’t do much, but post-coital breakfast the next morning? Danger zone.
7. Thou shalt embrace fluctuation.
If you’re sleeping together five times a week, and then it dies down or stops for a few weeks, don’t be troubled. She gets busy, he gets busy — totally normal, and probably why you’re not in relationships in the first place.
8. Thou shalt bear no new expectations.
I think there’s an instinctual expectation that if you sleep with a friend, you’ll start being treated differently than all your other friends, given first priority…that sort of thing. But if all you’re doing is adding a sexual component to a friendship, it’s wise to eschew those sorts of expectations. If it wouldn’t have been weird for her to invite Mark to the concert over you before you started sleeping together, it shouldn’t be weird now.
9. Thou shalt be discerning in which friends you tell.
Obvious, but very important (and often ignored). Things you avoid by doing this: jealousy, questions about prowess, rumors about prowess, and elephant in the room when your group hangs out because everyone knows the two of you are doing it but no one’s talking about it.
10. Thou shalt be interested in other people.
It might seem odd to force yourself to be interested in other people, but that is my recommendation. At the end of the day, we’re human. As much as we rationalize that “she’s just a friend” and “we’re scratching each other’s backs,” if you aren’t out meeting other people, or pining for that lost love in Toronto, your FWB situation is probably going to implode before you can say “My place or yours.”
Have you had a successful (or unsuccessful) FWB non-relationship? What made it work — or not work? Tell us in the comments.