Friendships are wonderful things. It has been said that friends are the family you choose, rather than the family fate or biology bestow upon you. Friends are there for you when you're down, celebrate with you when you succeed, and sit with you when you grieve. There are some cases, though, when friends teeter over into something a little bit more than has traditionally been the case, and you find yourselves in bed together. Now what?
What Do Friends With Benefits Do?
What does "friends with benefits" mean? The term friends with benefits (FWB) is nebulous in its creation; it does not have a distinct origin, or a definitive point of creation, but has entered into the English lexicon. As most people know, this term is used to describe a type of friendship that does not cultivate a romantic attachment, but still maintains friendly behavior-spending time together, spending time with mutual friends-with the addition of a sexual relationship. This term can describe many different arrangements, some of them less prone to problematic behavior and results than others.
Although there are some general guidelines, most people follow when flirting with a friend, and proposing an FWB relationship, the exact rules, and boundaries for these relationships vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. The only true rule within this type of relationship is the absence of the expectation of a romantic relationship, or a furthering of the FWB arrangement.
Friends With Benefits: Advice
FWB relationships might begin organically, but they may also come after a period of deliberation and discussion. While there may be something to be said for the spontaneity of an organically-developed FWB situation, there is also a greater chance of someone getting hurt if two friends simply begin sleeping together; one person might think it is the start of something new between you, while the other is just glad to have had a partner for the night. If at all possible, try to begin any arrangement like this with a careful discussion of expectations, wants needs, and boundaries.
If, however, the FWB relationship has already started, with nary a conversation in sight, take the time to have a conversation. It might be painfully awkward and riddled with heavy silences and pointed glares, but it might also be an easy-going, simple conversation, where the two of you either come to an agreement or decide not to pursue anything further.
In either case, broaching the subject is a necessity. Sexual relationships can grow rocky, confusing, and painful very quickly, regardless of the genders or ages involved, and failing to have a compassionate, considerate discussion of where the two of you see the arrangement going, or what you hope to get from this type of relationship could spell trouble for everyone, whether that means getting your heart hurt, or simply not having boundaries adhered to that you feel absolutely must be in place.
Friends With Benefits: Rules
Friends with benefits often have a simple set of rules in place. These can differ across couples, but some basics should at least be discussed before entering into this kind of arrangement. These include:
1) Sleeping and Dining Arrangements
Do you and your FWB sleep over at one another's houses, or do you require separate sleeping quarters? Do you have breakfast together, if you do share a bed, or do you slip out of the door quietly and without a fuss? While it may not seem like a big deal, having drastically different ideas of what should occur following a tryst could quickly spell trouble in benefit paradise. Knowing what you expect of your FWB-and what they can expect of you-keeps the relationship easygoing and smooth.
2) Communication Needs
Do you and your FWB communicate regularly, or ease off of casual conversation? Do you discuss politics before going to bed, or offer a quick "hello!" before hopping into your birthday suit? Are sexual encounters expected to be brief, or do both partners get to experience orgasm during your time together? Again, these might not be questions you'd necessarily ask a new girlfriend or boyfriend, but the nature of your relationship with an FWB is quite different from that of a significant other. Nailing down what you expect in terms of communication, frequency, and duration can all help the two of you make sure you are on the same track, and that neither of you is feeling frustrated, restless, or uncared-for.
3) Dating Habits
Are the two of you allowed to date while you are sleeping together? If one of you starts dating someone seriously, is that automatic termination of your arrangement? Different couples will have different rules about sexual encounters, so knowing where the two of you stand if one of you starts dating is important. It is also important from a practical perspective: if you are having sex with your FWB, and they begin having sex with someone else, you are being exposed to someone new-a situation that may usually involve plenty of questions and testing to determine how best to go about practicing safe sex. Practicality is king in a friend with benefits arrangement.
4) Possible Termination Protocols
How will you come to an agreement if one of you wants to break the relationship off? There are countless reasons an FWB relationship might meet its end: someone might start dating a new partner, and need to let go of other sexual encounters, someone might feel the relationship is getting too close, and some might simply feel that the two of you have run your course, and nothing more needs to be said (or done). Whatever the reason may be, knowing what the protocol is should one of you want to stop having sex is important, as it makes sure you are both on the same page, you are both free to speak your piece, and you are free of any discomfort or resentment to maintain your friendship.
Friends With Benefits: Dangers
Not every FWB is destined for gloom and heartbreak. In some cases, two people sincerely enjoy having a sexual relationship but do not have an interest in a romantic attachment. In these cases, the FWB might go just fine. In many cases, though, FWB relationships go awry because one (if not both) of the people in the relationship develops feelings for the other, and express an interest in wanting to move toward a romantic relationship.
FWB relationships might also go amiss because one person in the relationship has attachments elsewhere, and that attachment grows jealous of the relationship. Some FWB partnerships might start when both people are single, and persist into new relationships. If the new relationship finds out that the FWB is around, it could create plenty of contention between everyone.
These relationships can also struggle if one person wants to terminate the "benefits" part of the relationship or any reason, and the other one does not. Mutual termination of a beneficial relationship can close amicably, and a typical friendship can resume, but you do risk the loss of a friend if you want to let go of the benefits and your friend does not, or vice versa.
You've Slept With Your Friend-Now What?
The first step, after you've slept with a friend, is to talk. You cannot know where you or your friend stand if you do not go about communicating your position and asking for theirs. Communicating is the foundation of absolutely every relationship in existence, including a relationship that can seem as confusing and strange as a friend with benefits arrangement. Communicating what you wanted from your encounter is the first talking point, and deciding what to do next grows organically from there. If you do not want to continue a physical relationship, say so-with kindness as compassion. If you want to try a physical relationship, added to your friends, but without romance, say so. If you are interested in something else entirely, say so! And give your friend space and opportunity to do the same.
After this discussion is had, you can create the framework for the particulars between the two of you; some people will have specific ideas for communication, sleeping arrangements, and the possibility of other relationships, and some will prefer to keep your relationship largely open-ended, and free from a lot of rules and expectations. Ultimately, the goal is to create a mutually satisfying relationship that fuses friendship and sex, without the pressure and commitment common to a romantic relationship.
If you struggle to stand up for yourself, ask for what you want, or communicate, and you've found yourself in a situation you are uncomfortable with, do not hesitate to reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. Being able to sift through what you are thinking and feeling, and gaining the perspective of a third party can both do wonderful things for your clarity, and can help you determine what you would like going forward. The therapists available through ReGain.us offer online therapy, which can be easier to navigate in situations you might consider delicate or embarrassing and may be able to help you sort through the aftermath of sleeping with a friend.