When you’re between relationships, the idea of having a friend with benefits can quickly become very appealing. It offers an outlet for your sexual urges, a safe and consistent partner you can trust, and doesn’t require you to make a commitment you might not be ready for.
But as appealing as it may sound at first glance, the no-strings sex that comes from this kind of relationship might not be as no-strings as it seems. You start to develop feelings, or you don’t set good boundaries, or the two of you have different ideas of what’s happening between you.
If you’ve never tried to be friends with benefits before, you might wonder if you can handle a physical relationship without any of the emotional connection or commitment of a real relationship.
That’s why it’s important to ask yourself some questions before you dive into a FWB situation. The honest answers to these questions might save you, or your friend, from heartbreak.
Why do you want to do this?
There are a lot of reasons that can prompt the decision to get into a FWB relationship. You might be physically attracted to a friend but know that you’re incompatible as a couple. Maybe you want to indulge your sexual urges but you know you’re not ready to start dating after a bad breakup. Maybe you want to use it to help you heal from bad experiences in the past.
Other than hoping it will get you into a real relationship with the other person, there’s really no wrong reason to have a FWB — as long as you’re honest about it with yourself and with them. But understanding your reason(s) can help you be sure that a FWB is the right thing to do.
Are you secretly hoping for more?
Sometimes you like someone and want an actual relationship with them but they’re not open to the idea right now. You might be tempted to settle for a FWB relationship in the hope that one day, they’ll magically realize they’re in love with you and want the real relationship you wanted all along.
I won’t lie: that could happen. But just because it could happen doesn’t mean it will happen. And if you go into the FWB relationship hoping for it to become more, you’re far more likely to have your heart broken than to get what you’re wishing for.
Think hard about how you feel about this person. If there’s even the tiniest spark of hope that you might one day have a real relationship with them, becoming FWB is probably not the best idea.
Can you understand and identify the boundaries?
Different people handle FWB differently. Some have sex and immediately get dressed and go their separate ways while others spend the night together. Some only have sex at the other person’s house, and others prefer the neutral ground of a hotel room. Some people schedule it the same way they would a date, while others are cool with sending a “U up?” text at 2 a.m.
This is where things can get tricky, because you and the person you want to be FWB with might have very different ideas about the boundaries. And it can be tempting to give in to what the other person wants even if it’s not as restrictive as what you had in mind.
Are you able to identify the boundaries you need to protect yourself and your heart? Are you able to understand why you need those boundaries and to insist on setting and enforcing them even if the other person wants something different?
If you decide to compromise, are you still able to keep clear boundaries around what kind of relationship it is and where it will and won’t lead? Or will that compromise lead you to start thinking this might be more like a real relationship?
If you’re unable or unwilling to set boundaries or can’t keep them clear, this is probably not the kind of relationship you should be in.
Can you separate sex from love?
Have you ever had a one night stand with a stranger? Slept with someone you never intended to date again? Hooked up with an ex that you couldn’t stand? If the answer to any of those is yes, were you able to enjoy it?
If you’ve done one or more of those things and never enjoyed it — or had significant regrets after — you may not be able to separate sex from love. At the very least, it could indicate that sex has more meaning to you than pure physical pleasure. Either way, it could be a good sign that a FWB relationship isn’t right for you.
If you’ve never done one of those things, it may be harder for you to know if you can separate sex from love. If that’s the case, start by examining why you’re considering a FWB. Was it your idea or the other person’s? If it’s your idea, do you have a specific person in mind, and if so, why them? What do you envision when you imagine this FWB relationship? Do you just see sex or do you see other things, like cuddling, going out with friends as a couple, etc?
If you’re not sure you can separate sex from love, it might be a good idea to give yourself an out by agreeing to a trial run and see how it goes.
Are you willing to risk the friendship?
Friends with benefits doesn’t always have to be a real friend. But many times it is. If not a friend, it may also be someone you see and interact with often, such as a neighbor, co-worker, or friend of a friend.
If your FWB isn’t a complete stranger to you, consider the ramifications of a failed FWB relationship on the friendship. Hurt feelings or embarrassment can both create an awkward distance in your friendship, if not end it entirely.
So before you hop in the sack, carefully think about how much the friendship means to you and what it would do to you if you lost it. If you can’t stand the thought of not being friends with this person anymore, you may not want to move forward.
A special word of caution when it comes to neighbors and co-workers: These circumstances tend to make it very difficult to get away from your former FWB if it doesn’t work out. It can also lead to hostile living or work environments, and in the case of a co-worker, major problems in your employment. Tread these waters with extreme caution.
Are you both on the same page?
You’re thinking FWB, but are they? Consent is a hot topic these days, and while we often talk about consent in the context of making sure a woman is consenting before sex, it can also matter when it comes to a FWB relationship.
Making sure that both people are thinking the same thing is a critical step to becoming FWB with someone. It’s easy to have conversations that dance around what you’re both really saying. Then you end up with one person who thinks they’re getting no-strings sex and the other thinking the sex is part of a bigger relationship.
Be clear about what you’re wanting. Don’t leave room for confusion, doubt, or misunderstanding. If you’re not willing to be upfront and say, “I want a purely physical, uncommitted sexual relationship,” then it’s probably not a good idea to be FWB.
Just as important, however, is ensuring that the other person not only understands what you want but wants the same thing.
Can you communicate openly about sex?
How often you’ll have sex, the acts you enjoy and the ones that are off-limits, and what you’re interested in exploring are all things you should be able to talk about openly. Without the security of a romantic relationship, some people can find it very awkward and difficult to talk openly about sex, though.
Given that the FWB relationship is essentially all about sex, it’s critical that you’re able to talk openly about it. You need to be able to talk about it before you start, of course.
But you also need to be able to have open discussions about what is and isn’t working once you’re sleeping together and any changes to what you’ve agreed to. And when your FWB relationship eventually comes to an end, you need to be able to talk about that too.
If you’re not able to have a clear, honest discussion around sex, FWB probably won’t work out very well for you.
Can you avoid feeling jealous?
One of the benefits of being FWB is that there’s no commitment and no strings. But this benefit can be a drawback if you’re the jealous type. Because there are no strings and no commitment, both people are still free to date and sleep with others (although some people do agree to exclusive sex in a FWB relationship).
Can you handle hearing your FWB talk about the person they went out with last night? Or gushing about their latest crush?
“Well, we just won’t talk about that stuff,” you might say.
But even if you don’t talk about it, you’ll still know that it’s happening. Can you handle that knowledge?
If you’re the type that feels territorial over people you’re dating or sleeping with, jealousy may be a big problem for you when you try to be FWB with someone. If monogamy is the only kind of relationship you know and you struggle to even date more than one person at a time without sex involved, you should probably skip the FWB relationship.
Can you have sex without wanting more?
This question is related to whether you can separate sex from love and avoid jealousy. Can you have sex without developing feelings and wanting more than just sex? Or do you start thinking you’re falling in love after you have sex? Do you feel like sex implies commitment? Or are you comfortable having sex then going home and not even thinking about that person again until the next time you see them — if there even is a next time?
The friend part of FWB implies a certain amount of feelings — liking someone, enjoying their company, appreciating their sense of humor, etc. But those feelings should be platonic.
If you see sex as a stepping stone to a more committed relationship, a FWB relationship isn’t likely to work out well for you. Particularly if the other person sees sex as just sex and nothing more, it could end badly.
Do you have a plan for protection and STD testing?
The no-strings nature of a FWB relationship means that avoiding pregnancy is a serious must. It also means that the risk of STDs could be higher, because both you and your partner could be having sex with others.
Therefore, it’s imperative you have a plan for protection from both pregnancy and STDs, as well as a plan for regular STD testing to ensure everyone’s health and safety. It’s a good idea to talk about this before you start sleeping together.
Decide what forms of protection you’ll use and how often you’ll both get tested. Talk about whether you’ll share the results of STD testing every time or only if something comes up positive. And decide what you’ll do if someone else one of you is sleeping with has an STD. Will you share details or just recommend testing? Will you say nothing until you’ve gotten tested yourself?
Work all of these details out before you begin so you aren’t taking unnecessary risks or blindsided by something later.
Can you be honest about your emotions?
For all that you might plan and prepare, and answer these questions confidently, you can still be surprised to discover your feelings aren’t what you thought they’d be. You might find you start falling for your FWB, that you don’t like no-strings sex, or that you thought sex with them would be better than it actually is.
That’s when you need to be able to be honest about your emotions. You need to be able to be honest with yourself and admit whatever it is you’re feeling. But you also need to be able to be honest with your FWB about what you’re feeling.
Now of course, this isn’t to suggest you should tell them they’re not that good in bed. You aren’t trying to hurt feelings or embarrass them. But you should be able to honestly say that the experience wasn’t what you thought it would be and you don’t want to continue, or that you’ve started developing feelings and think you should stop hooking up.
It’s also a matter of being able to be honest if you’re asked. Even if you haven’t given it much thought prior to being asked, if your FWB asks, you should be able to be honest about whatever you’re feeling about the situation.
Are you willing to talk about the end before it begins?
Before you dive headlong into a FWB relationship, you should discuss it’s eventual demise. Most FWB situations aren’t meant to last forever, even if they are long-term. The intention is often to have a sexual partner between relationships with the ultimate goal of finding the relationship you truly want to be in.
So you need to discuss that eventual ending. Does it happen as soon as you start dating someone you really like? Or do you keep hooking up until you become exclusive with someone else? Can you come back to each other between relationships if you’re both single or is this over for good as soon as one of you meets someone else?
And how will you end it? Do you tell the other person you’ve met someone? Or do you just say it’s not working anymore? Do you do it face-to-face or are you both okay with a quick phone call or even a text?
While you may not be able to plan for every possible scenario around the end of your FWB relationship, outlining a few ground rules before you get involved can help ensure a smoother ending — and one that allows you to keep your friendship intact.
Can you let it go and move on when it no longer works for you?
Whether it’s because you’ve met someone you want to date, you’re developing feelings for your FWB, the sex isn’t that good, or some other reason, at some point, one of you (or even both of you) is going to decide this situation is no longer working for you.
When that happens, can you let it go and move on?
If you would try to find a way to hold on to it, to “fix” it and make it work, then being FWB is probably a bad idea. It’s not a real relationship, and if you can’t let it go, you’ll be stopping yourself from finding the real relationship you ultimately want.
Even if you don’t think you want a real relationship and would be happy being FWB forever, you still need to be able to let it go if it no longer suits you or your FWB.
It might not be as simple as you think
Becoming friends with benefits can seem like a very simple solution to a frisky problem. And if you can handle it, it can be simple.
But it can also get complicated fast, whether it’s on your end or that of your no-strings partner. Answering these questions honestly can go a long way toward keeping it uncomplicated but it’s no guarantee.
If you’re in doubt, remember there are lots of solutions that don’t require another person — just some lube and maybe some batteries.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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