The Idea: A friend with whom one can also have some form of intimacy - anything from an occaisonal smooch to outright sex. It's the best of both worlds: a busom buddy with whom to chat, confide, drink, and shoot coke cans off the fence post as well as SEX without all the hassles of a romantic relationship.

Too-Often The Reality: A harrowing emotional freefall where two peoples' expectations are usually misaligned and someone is bound to get hurt. The worst of all worlds: a hurt friend and all the hangups of arguing about sex.

In order to have a successful “friend with benefits”, both of you need to have an almost crazed emotional obsession with another person. Therefore, you’re so focused on getting with this other person that you have no time to look at your friend as anything other than a) your friend, and b) someone who you can get sex from when you need it. My old best friend and I found that this formula works beautifully. While I was determined to get back an ex boyfriend, he was determined to snag this girl who toyed mercilessly with his head. In the end, we both got the other people, and went our separate ways… but I can say that he was one of the nicest “quasi-relationships” I’ve ever had—I could be myself around him, he made me laugh, and we got to have sex on top of it. No commitment. No smothering the other person. Just plain good human connection.

In theory, it’s a great idea. You get the best of both worlds (someone you can trust, talk to, spend your time with and laugh with, and you still reap the physical benefits of cuddling, kissing, sex, etc) and exclude the worst (there is no feeling uncomfortable because you WANT to kiss your friend, but you don’t want to make things weird, and you have none of the commitment that goes along with the typical male/female romantic relationship). You can spend the day together doing things you both enjoy and go home at night to cuddle/kiss/make love. It’s the perfect solution to commitment problems. It can save almost any relationship.

In reality, friends with benefits creates the feeling that either one or both parties are concerned with only the physical part of a relationship and don’t care enough about the other person to be willing to make a commitment to them. One or both parties will undoubtedly end up feeling used when they realize how their partner makes the time for the physical part of the relationship, but finding time for the friends part grows harder and harder. When the time is found for the friends part, it will either be spent with both parties feeling ill-at-ease or it will be spent on the physical part. The friendship will stop growing and, sooner or later, turn bitter. The attempt to save the relationship will miserably fail.

There are two main types of people that enter into “friends with benefits” relationships:

The first type is the person who wants and actively pursues this type of relationship. This person may think they are acting in both parties’ best interests but in reality they want the action but they don’t want to commit. Or this person may realize what they are doing and admit, at least to themselves, that they are merely trying to get as much play as possible. They get the action from one person and have absolutely no restrictions on how many other people they can do this with, or on whether or not they can pursue another relationship. At least one of the parties is this first type, but it is often both parties.

The second type is the person who passively accepts the “friends with benefits” relationship. This person will always end up feeling used. They will see that their partner wants the physical aspects of a relationship, but doesn’t respect them enough to make a commitment or treat them uniquely. This type is not always present in a “friends with benefits” relationship, and very rarely are both parties this type.

There are three typical scenarios in which people end up in “friends with benefits” relationships.

Scenario Number One: Two people are dating. Then, one of them (or sometimes both) decides that they like their partner a lot, but they don't like the idea of having a girlfriend/boyfriend. They want to be free to play the field, but they don't want to sacrifice their relationship (either because they still want the play or they truly care about the other party and don't want to lose them completely… it is often a mixture of both). So they break up with the other party amicably, promising to still be friends and go out, and things continue much as they did when the two parties were still a couple, with one difference —they are no longer committed to each other. This is probably the most damaging "friends with benefits" situation because the two parties are used to being each other's "one and only" and now any number of attractive variables are entered into the equation. When other relationships surface (or even the possibility of other relationships), jealousy and pain will be soon to follow. It is extremely difficult to maintain a strong friendship under these conditions. Both parties, if they truly want to save some of their relationship, are much better off being just friends.

The Second Scenario: Two people are friends. One (or sometimes both) of them decides that they like the other one more than just friends. Either the neutral party gives in and allows romantic action because they do not want to hurt their friend, or both parties decide they don't want to risk ruining the friendship they already have by going steady, so they agree to stay somewhere in between. This occasionally works out, but most often it ends in one party becoming so frustrated with their unfulfilling, borderline relationship that they leave in search of a more concrete relationship, leaving both parties upset and the friendship weakened.

The Third Scenario: Two people are friends. As they grow closer, they may or may not realize "something more" between them. One day, they find themselves in a "friends with benefits" relationship. It just happened; it was unprecedentedand inadvertent. These types of "friends with benefits" relationships have the greatest chance of working out for two reasons: 1) the parties do not have any preconceived notions of what their relationship should be like, therefore there are no hopes to be shot down or expectations to be disappointed; 2) these type of relationships tend to grow into committed relationships—the "friends with benefits" characteristic is merely a pretext for the feelings they are harboring inside.

In conclusion, "friends with benefits" relationships are, theoretically, a great idea, but rarely does the outcome satisfy the original desires of the participating parties.

I have found that each and every one of his relationships with women during college conformed to the pattern of "friends with benefits" aka fuck buddies. Explanations for this phenomenon, which has been detected in the lives of most if not all of my close friends living on the campuses of undergraduate universities around the country, may vary.

Speculation follows:

  • Time. College is taxing, and it is often the case that people simply don't have time for other people. Example: my first major relationship in college lasted for all of a month. She was an overachiever par excellence - a freshman chemical engineering major with neurology aspirations carrying 18 credit hours of coursework at a 4.0 level, a part-time job as a microscopy technician, etc. I was forced to schedule dates nearly a week ahead of time. The breaking point was when I had planned a Saturday morning hiking excursion followed by Saturday evening dinner and a movie. She hurt her knee during her daily morning two-mile run, and then breathlessly informed me about two hours before we were supposed to leave that her presence was required at work that night, as well as having to finish a twelve-page research paper on nanotechnology by Sunday afternoon. We broke up by mutual agreement five days later. By contrast, it was far easier to maintain the relationships that followed, given that the only planning necessary was a determination of when the girl in question's roommate would be out of town.
  • Culture. Thanks in part to the successes of the feminist movement, and in part to the general open-mindedness found on most college campuses, it's not really that frowned upon to have an informal relationship with a member of the opposite sex. While the infamous gender-based double standard remains - a man is a player while a girl is a slut - people of this one's generation can engage in mostly uncommitted sexual relationships without fear of social ostracism.
  • Fear of commitment. Nobody in college wants to be tied down, lest one has already found someone with whom they feel they can spend the rest of their lives. Needless to say, this is rare. So most people are still looking, still keeping their options open. Having a more informal relationship can satisfy the natural human requirement for emotional and physical intimacy without locking one in to the undesirable strictures of a long-term committed relationship.
  • Emotional fragility. Love can suck. People might want to avoid it, at least until they get all of their psychological shit in one sock. Example: Not unsuprisingly, three out of the four women with whom I had engaged in such a "friends with benefits" arrangement had, within the past six months, terminated an intensive romantic entanglement with someone they had known since high school (in one case, middle school). They were burned out on love. Or they just got burned: cheated on, lied to, whatever. My experiences with what this one thought was love ended similarly, and I was thus reluctant to experiment any further with such a dangerous unknown quantity. I believed that these women had been subject to similar experiences, thus rendering them temporarily unwilling or unable to engage in any real "relationship."

Friends with Benefits, in Four Acts.

Act I.

It all began late one night in Cameron's mother's garage. We kissed and I followed him down to his basement bachelor pad.
He took off my shirt and I promptly shut down everything.
I climbed off of him and sat next to him. I sat upright, hoping the severity of my posture would translate into something.

I said that we needed to talk.
I told him that we were not going to date and that there could be nothing emotional between us.
I told him that I was going to be gone most of the time.
If either of us wanted to see other people then this could end without hurt feelings.
I made him agree and then repeat these words back to me, almost like a pledge or ceremonial induction.

He then reminded me that we were two consenting adults and, upon my agreement, clumsily removed my bra.
As we were taking each other's clothes off, I felt a wash of calm power. I was finally participating in sex that was consensual.
Not that I had only been raped previously. I had never had sex that I genuinely wanted. I traded sex for love; or at least, I tried to trade sex for love. But now, in this moment, I wasn't getting an unattractive guy off in the hopes that he would love me. This was for me. This would be sex, not a transaction.

He wanted me more than I wanted him. I had the control.

Act II.

Everything, everything in my life it seems, changed the moment that we first intertwined our bodies.

For the first time sex was a good thing. Sex was beyond pleasurable. I didn't go into a dissociative state during the act. I didn't cry hysterically afterwards. The world didn't feel like a sinking, spinning hole about to swallow me. My soul was intact. I didn't feel the sharp pain from a freshly excised piece of flesh. The flesh I tore out for him, a sacrifice that I had all too willingly made in the past. All I felt was that glow and a soft bed underneath me.

A man respected me, cared for me, considered my needs and desires. It was like my prince had come.
My prince, of course, was a 24 year old ex-con living in his mother's basement with no driver's license, no car, no job and no real life plan. To his credit, he was taking a few online courses on video game design and helping his single mom take care of his special needs sister who needs full time, involved care.

I could go on for years about his wonderful qualities. He is by far the kindest, gentlest, most respectful, thoughtful, patient and loving man I've ever met. This translates into amazing insight and depth when he finally lets it surface. He is quiet, which makes his few words even more wonderful. He would do anything for anyone if they asked. (It's gotten him in real trouble.) He is practical and level-headed. We have sex in just our socks because he worries that my feet will get cold. (Cosmo be damned!) He doesn't ask me what I'm thinking when we lay together. He makes me calm. He is a presence of quiet strength and comfort.

But I think that knowing I didn't have to love him and that he didn't have to love me was what made him and the whole situation so amazing at first. I have terrible trust and attachment issues. I don't connect with people easily or well. I loved him, but only when we were together in bed. His bed became a refuge where I could feel the peace and love missing in my life. But I had the comfort of knowing that as soon as I rolled out of bed and found my scattered clothes, it would end. But I could easily forget him and then pick up where we left off weeks later. It felt like a superpower after a long a chain of co-dependent relationships.

It was obvious that he loved me.
The way he touched me, looked at me made it clear. Occasionally he would slip up and start to say things that you would only say to a serious girlfriend, just short of, "I love you." I would nip it in the bud.

He told all of our friends that "we were a thing" after our first night together. I was shocked to learn about this a few months later. He tried to take me on dates, but could usually be persuaded to get in bed instead. He always wanted me to spend the night. I always left. I knew that I had to enforce some boundaries if I was going to maintain the emotional separation necessary for being friends with benefits.

Act III.

This has carried on as a lovely FWB situation (more like girlfriend/boyfriend without the titles) for nearly two years now. But about a year ago we both moved to different cities and the relationship has been mostly a possibility rather than a reality.

About a month ago, I became bored and lonely, so I started looking for another man. I met a guy and went on a few dates with him. It seemed promising. After the second date with this dude, I texted Cameron to tell him that he couldn't count on me being in his bed during Thanksgiving break as I was kind of seeing someone else. He was offended that I had done this over text. I had obviously misjudged the gravity of the situation. I promptly called to apologize and talk further.

I was genuinely surprised at how affected he was. He doesn't show emotion often, yet he was slightly choked up.
He said that he wanted us to be more and that he regretted not making that move sooner. He asked if that would have made a difference.
I said no. I told him that long distance relationships are too painful for me to handle.
(I left out how I wanted to be sure he had gotten his shit together.)
I told him that, "I had never been that available to you, anyway."
(I'm still not sure exactly what I meant.)
He said that I was still welcome in his bed whenever and mumbled a sort of good bye.

Three days later, I went for my long overdue yearly gynecological exam.
That night the new guy dumps me via text.
(It was poetic justice, in retrospect.)

The next morning the doctor's office called.
They told me I had Chlamydia. I had only slept with Cameron since my last exam, which both came back totally clean and was done about 4 days before we started sleeping together.
I called him to tell him that I had Chlamydia, I got it from him, and that he needed to get tested/treated.
(He had it before he slept with me. I know he never slept with anyone else, despite the lack of stated exclusivity.)
I cried.
I cried on the phone.
He had never seen or heard me cry.
I told him I regretted all of it - which I did.
He said that hearing that I was seeing other guys "crushed" him.
Both of us wanted to say more, but we are both pretty closed off emotionally.
(I also cried because now I was the kind of girl who gets STDS, but I didn't tell him that.)

I then went out with two more guys over the next 2 weeks.
The last guy and I nearly had sex. Had I let him take off my pants, we would have been there.
But I kept feeling his hands and looking at his face and feeling so disappointed and almost repulsed.
It felt violating. I wanted Cameron. I didn't want anyone to touch me except for Cameron.

I tried those men to see if I could fill that void that Cameron left.
I can't.
I have realized that I love him. And it's making me crazy.
I feel more like myself when I am with him than when we are apart.

The problem is that Cameron is potentially not totally capable of forging an adult life himself.
Things may have changed over the last year. Maybe our time apart has been long enough for him to find his stride.
He left his mother's home. He now works, takes some college courses and lives with a few roommates. He is living off of loans, but he is doing it himself, I suppose.
He will be perfect as soon as he grows up.

Act IV.

So, it's been 2 years of the best sex of my life. It's been 2 years of fighting my feelings for him. It's been two years of something glorious. It's been two years of walking a tightrope.

I would say the FWB thing worked out.
But now, how does it all end?
I think about him nearly constantly now that I know no other man will fill this need.
(I wish I could apologize to those boys I used as guinea pigs.)

I've made arrangements to go visit Cameron for 4-5 days next month during fall break.
Here's my plan:

(1) I will evaluate how much his life/outlook has changed. (I expect to be happily surprised as he is employed, living with roommates and taking classes.)
(3) I'm going to try and make him my boyfriend. This shouldn't be too hard; it's what he's wanted all along. The hardest part will be getting both of us to admit to emotions.
(2) I'll break the news that by this time next year I'll be moving across the country for graduate school, probably to California.
(This will permanently end our relationship unless he moves with me, I get rejected by almost every school I apply to, or one of us gets enough money to buy hundreds of plane tickets.)

If life were a rom-com, his lack of strong ties to his fledgling adult life would allow him to follow me to grad school next year.

I daydream about him going with me and sharing an apartment in graduate housing. We will be poor and so very happy. I don't want kids and he lives very modestly, so as long as he can pay his half of rent/bills then we won't have any money issues. He is so laid back that I think even my most intense furies couldn't create a genuine, serious fight.

I wonder what would happen if I suggested that he come with me.
I'm still shocked that I love him.
At the beginning I knew that I wouldn't, which was the appeal of the FWB arrangement.
But, I love him.

And if I had to pull a moral out of this story, it would be this: you will never stay just friends with benefits.
It's messy: late night kisses, embarrassing karaoke performances, unspoken yet overwhelming feelings, sex beyond comparison, hurt feelings, STDs, and logistics management to rival UPS.

edit: It's now three years since it all began and it's amazing to revisit this. We became an official couple on the Boxing Day after this write up was published. We dated intensely and seriously. We met each other's family and I made salami with every living member of his family in the traditional manner. I got accepted to my first choice of graduate school and was offered a TA position, which I accepted without hesitation. I invited him to move with me and it was understood that I would carry the burden as my career is taking off. He declined rather ungracefully. He was unemployed, taking only online classes from a school with a nearby satellite campus, his lease was about to expire, and had no reason not to go. It turned into a week-long, messy break up full of tears and yelling. I know that my family has not really forgiven him but is somewhat relieved. I cannot imagine how things were on his end. I'm considering starting dating again, but it seems daunting still.

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