In preparation for writing this article, I forced myself to sit through Friends With Benefits and Two Night Stand and was about to rent No Strings Attached – but curiosity (not to mention impatience) got the better of me and I ended up just reading the film’s synopsis. And guess what? Yep, spoiler alert: all three films end the same way. Of course, everyone loves a “happy ending” (stop sniggering at the back of the class) but is there such a thing as a safe, stable “friends with benefits” relationship that leaves everyone emotionally and physically satisfied without ever either straying into romantic territory or causing a total friendship breakdown? Is someone always bound to ruin it by getting the feels or, conversely, deciding that it really doesn’t feel right bumping uglies with the person who also holds their hair back when they’re liquid-screaming ten tequilas and shares cheap pizza in their scuzzy PJs with them the next morning?
Combining friendship with sex
“Friends with benefits relationships (FWBRs) uniquely combine friendship with sexual activity but differ from romantic relationships in that they may be less likely to be exclusive or long lasting,” write Laura V. Machia, Morgan L. Proulx, Michael Ioerger and Justin J. Lehmiller in their study A longitudinal study of friends with benefits relationships. They asked participants to talk about where they wished their FWB relationship to go, before questioning them again around ten months later – referred to as “Time 2” – about what had actually happened. At Time 1, 48 per cent of those surveyed wanted their FWBR to remain as it was and 25 per cent wished for a romantic relationship to develop. 12 per cent of respondents wanted to keep the friendship and ditch the sex and a callous four per cent wanted to get their jollies and then part company forever. “Results demonstrated that a plurality of FWBRs transitioned into having no relationship of any kind at Time 2 (31 per cent),” Machia and co reveal. “Those who wanted their FWBR to transition into a friendship typically obtained that outcome (59 per cent), whereas those who wanted to transition into a romantic relationship did not (15 per cent).”
Maya, 34, had a one-night stand with a friend, Claudia, also 34, who she’d known since infant school. “We both agreed it had been a bad idea, but somehow it ended up happening again… and again.” Claudia refused to sit down for the “chat”, so Maya confusedly went along with the situation for six months before she finally realised that too many of their mutual friends had clocked what was going on and were assuming the women were a couple. “In the end, I just blurted out to the whole group that it was a casual thing and not to get excited. What I didn’t realise is that Claudia was really struggling with the fact that I was also seeing other people as she wanted a lot more! What she didn’t realise is that I wanted more with her as well, but had assumed that wasn’t a possibility. It took a long time to gain her trust, and she still berates me for the other ‘flings’ I had when I was with her as FWB, but I’m glad to say we’re now a couple. It just goes to show that communication really is key in any kind of relationship.”
Fantasy and role play
Max, 24, and Dan, 28, met on an online dating site and immediately felt a sexual spark when they met in person. “Dan introduced me to the world of kink, which was a real awakening for me. We agreed early on that this was strictly casual, but that we could still be good friends, and so far – two years in – it’s worked fine. We had a break of a month last year when Dan met someone who wanted to be exclusive, and naturally I was a bit disappointed, but that was all.” Dan came to Max’s house to vent about the failed affair and Max listened as any good friend would. “Max is a good egg,” Dan laughs. “It’s hard to explain but I think the pressure of a relationship would ruin the dynamic we have. Our sex life is all about fantasy and role play and an escape from real life. In a settled monogamous relationship, I’d be having sex in my socks with dinner stains on my t-shirt (if I wasn’t watching telly instead) but when I see Max I’m a perfectly groomed, gorgeous smelling, latex-bound alien sex slave! And yes, the latex bit goes for my penis too!” The pair have no plans to change anything.
Lizzy, 40, began seeing a non-binary friend of a friend a few years ago. “It was in every way your typical early dating pattern – we slept together on the second date, but that’s not unusual these days. They were complimentary, attentive and I genuinely thought I’d pop the ‘going steady’ question after about date number four. I was pipped to the post, however! As we shared a nice meal after the cinema, they turned to me and said ‘I love that I’ve met someone who doesn’t want a relationship – it’s so much easier!’ I got up, ran to the door and left the restaurant.” Lizzy rang the friend who’d introduced them when she got home. “She was very apologetic,” recalls Lizzy. “She said she thought I just needed to let my hair down! I told her that I’d rather be thinking about moving in or moving on by at least date six and she told me I was boring. I hung up.” Lizzy remains single but is resolute about getting to know her next potential partner before entering any kind of sexual relationship.
A valid choice
The concept of “friends with benefits” is certainly becoming more accepted by the mainstream, although naturally the usual jokes about bisexuals needing more than one partner, lesbians visiting IKEA/bringing a suitcase on the first date and gay men all going cottaging and catching horrible diseases still abound. Members of the LGBTQ+ community arguably have a responsibility to ensure that we don’t compound any of the problems we already have by feeding these stereotypes, but on the other hand, straight people do FWB too – and why should we care what they think, anyway? FWB relationships are an increasingly popular choice in our hectic, stressful world and as long as everyone is on the same page, and you keep checking in on one another, there’s no reason why some people shouldn’t consider them a valid choice.