- Being in a friends-with-benefits relationship can be tricky.
- We talked to someone in one to get some tips.
- Set expectations with your friend.
- Decide with them how much you’ll share with others.
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A friends-with-benefits relationship, or a friendship with physical intimacy, might sound fun in theory since it has all the perks with no strings attached. You don’t have to spring for fancy dates, send flowers on Valentine’s Day, or meet the parents. It’s sex minus the complications.
But if the hook-up is not handled correctly, things can turn sour pretty quickly.
Vanessa* (name changed for privacy), 23, an aspiring marketing professional, originally from South America, is a huge fan of the arrangement. She has been in one committed relationship in the past but has engaged in four casual relationships with friends and found the lack of constraints much more refreshing.
“One thing that I never liked about relationships was the pressure I always felt came with it,” she explained. “There just seems to be so many rules and more chances of people getting hurt. Friends with benefits situations are just so much simpler for me.”
Vanessa gave INSIDER a closer look into her experience as a serial friend with benefits (FWB) and had a few tips to share.
Establish the rules before anything else
One of the major keys to navigating a successful FWB relationship, according to Vanessa, is making the ground rules clear before taking the plunge. You don’t necessarily need to draw up a contract but having some guidelines will help keep everyone on the same page.
It varies by pairing, but there are a few questions that can get the ball rolling.
“Should I sleep over? Should I kiss you the morning after? Should we have breakfast together? Are we allowed to sleep with other people? There are many more questions but the point is to do as much as possible to reduce confusion and awkwardness. I don’t want things to get weird,” Vanessa said.
Don’t go in expecting this to turn into a relationship
Before agreeing to this arrangement, make sure that you understand this is physical and nothing more. You need to have a good grasp on your feelings and intentions if you’re considering going down this path. And definitely do not enter this agreement hoping to change minds.
“Don’t try to use this as some sort of trick to end up in a relationship with a friend you have feelings for,” Vanessa warned. “If I suspect this might be the situation, I will talk to my friend and evaluate my own feelings or I might just end everything on the spot. But it’s best not to put anyone in that position.”
Make sure to check in occasionally with each other
Even if you start out with the best of intentions, the fact of the matter is that feelings can change and people can get hurt. Regular check-ins with your friend with benefits are part of what Vanessa calls emotional responsibility.
“I like stepping back for a moment to make sure my partner and I are still in sync because I really want to avoid anyone getting hurt or even giving out mixed signals,” she said. And this is not just limited to the other party. If you find yourself wanting to spend extra time with this person or getting too attached, it’s time for some soul searching.
Decide how much you want to share
One of Vanessa’s FWB partners was a classmate in a pretty small study abroad program. Eventually, people started noticing and peppering the two with questions about the nature of their relationship. They were pretty up front but kept the nitty gritty details to themselves.
“I made it clear to him that I didn’t mind people knowing that we were in this sort of friends with benefits situation, but I felt it was very important to keep our privacy,” she shared.
Of course, not everyone is as forthcoming so decide what you are comfortable putting out in the open and what you prefer to keep under wraps. And be sure to have that conversation before someone inevitably catches one of you sneaking out of the other’s bedroom. That’s a pretty awkward moment to be put on the spot.
- Flickr/Joshua Ganderson
Maintain respect for each other
One of the advantages touted in the movie “Friends with Benefits” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis was the ability to be a lot more open and vocal in the bedroom, ostensibly because the pressure is off in a casual relationship. While that kind of setting may encourage sexual experimentation, your partner needs to be on board too. Consent is non-negotiable, no matter what kind of relationship – or lack thereof – it is.
“Just because the relationship is chill you cannot do whatever you want to do in the bedroom,” Vanessa said. “It’s still another human being on the other side who may not be down for just anything.” This level of consideration needs to be extended to social situations as well.
“I think some people have it mixed up,” Vanessa explained. “For example, if I’m at a party with my friend, I don’t want to see him making out with another girl. Some people might take that to mean that I have deeper feelings for him. No, I just find it weird and would prefer not to see it. And as a friend, I would like to have my feelings respected.”
It’s probably best to keep things purely physical
It might sound a bit cold, but keeping things as simple as possible is how Vanessa has successfully managed to handle the FWB life.
“There was this friend I was seeing. I probably only saw him once a month,” she said. “Right after we had sex, I usually had to leave. So we didn’t have time for pillow talk or cuddling. It was just the basic ‘Hey, do you want some water?’ But our relationship worked because of that. It was strictly physical. On the other hand, I went on weekly dates with another and we texted several times a day. Things got a bit complicated and it did not end well.”
Always use protection
- Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images
“I cannot stress this enough: Whatever and whoever you do, use protection,” Vanessa said. “For me, this is sex 101 and non-negotiable. Always, always, always use a condom. Even though it’s a friend, it’s not fine to have unprotected sex.”
The relationship should maintain its original form
Though you may feel closer to them now, Vanessa said that keeping the friendship dynamic fairly close to what it was before is an important step.
“If it’s a friend that you talked to once a week, don’t start randomly texting with them throughout the week just because you had sex,” Vanessa advised. And the opposite applies as well. “If he is a really close friend who I speak to every day, I’m not going to change that because we’ve been intimate. You basically need to operate like the sex never happened.”
Be a friend
Sure it’s a casual hookup but it’s still taking place between two people who presumably have a genuine affection for each other and a high level of trust. And that trust should never be violated. Vanessa admits that she learned how painful this could be the hard way.
“I was seeing this guy who wound up telling me he was developing feelings for me. Then I found out he was chasing after a friend of mine behind my back,” she disclosed. “I wasn’t hurt because I had feelings for him but because he wasn’t honest enough to just tell me to wanted to move on to someone else. If nothing else, honesty and the ability to be open are critical in these arrangements. A friend should never be shady.”