Hollywood clearly has friends with benefits on the brain. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher recently FWB-ed it up in No Strings Attached, while Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do the horizontal naked hug in the cleverly titled Friends With Benefits. But the problem, and I hate to issue a massive spoiler alert here because I’m sure you didn’t see this coming ten miles away, is that these movies never depict actual friends with benefits. The friends always fall in love, and “boyfriend and girlfriend with benefits” just sounds kind of redundant.
Personally, I’ve always thought a true friends-with-benefits situation—one where both parties are on the same page, everyone gets what they want, and it doesn’t turn into a full-on relationship or a cataclysmic meltdown—was an urban legend. I, for one, have never attempted such an arrangement (at least it never was in my mind). In my opinion, mixing friends and sex is like mixing hydrogen and oxygen: explosive. A quick poll of my friends doesn’t turn up any evidence to the contrary. Still, the daydream persists in our social consciousness. Clearly, it’s an idea so tempting we’re not willing to give up on it.
Hypothetically speaking (of course), under what circumstances could a friends-with-benefits situation work? Are there certain situations where it’s not merely viable but preferable? How about …
1. … you’ve just gone through a breakup. You aren’t quite emotionally ready for a new one, but boy howdy, you’re ready physically. It’s also nice to feel attractive again.
2. … you’ve just lost someone important in your life, and your grieving process requires your full emotional attention, but the thought of a little physical companionship is comforting. They do say weddings and funerals are the best places to get some.
3. … you’re kicking ass in your job, and you literally have no time to nurture a real relationship. You have just enough time and energy, however, to booty-call your friend for a little FWB TLC.
4. … you’re traveling with someone, or you’re with them for a short, defined period of time, and while you get along and find them attractive, you don’t necessarily see a realistic (or desirable) romantic future with them. But when in Rome …
When looking for the perfect conditions to take on a friend with benefits, it boils down to time and emotional availability—or rather a lack of either in both parties. The two main risks are: a) one of you develops real feelings while the other doesn’t; and the sometimes related b) one of you breaks it off, whether because you’ve met someone or are just bored or your itch has been scratched, and the other is offended.
Concerning the latter risk, perhaps it’s best to set a predetermined expiration date on your “benefitting.” Whether the deadline is arbitrary (after one month) or circumstantial (when this trip ends), it allows both of you to bow out gracefully without having to explain why you’re ready to move on. And it minimizes any awkwardness in the relationship post-FWB.
Concerning the first risk, it seems both parties in the friendship with benefits need to be in a place where a relationship is not in the cards—period. It can’t just not be in the cards with one another. And, as always, honest communication is key.
We’ve all heard the cautionary tales, or perhaps we’ve lived them. There are dozens of reasons why a friendship with benefits can go quickly and irretrievably wrong. But we all need a little fun and comfort now and then, and let’s be honest, would you rather get it from that rando on PlentyofFish.com or from a trusted and dear friend? Who knows? Maybe it will work. If it does, let me know.