Friends-with-benefits seems like the perfect setup if you’re not interested in being part of a couple: You get to have great sex with someone you feel comfortable with while skipping all of the trappings of a relationship. It sounds good in theory, but the reality is a little more complicated.
Friends-with-benefits is an iffy thing, especially if you want to remain friends after you’re done with the whole “with benefits” part. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on college students in FWB relationships found that the majority of people reported that they stayed friends with their former bed buddy after being friends with benefits, and half of them said they felt as close or closer with their friend afterward. Of course, that also means sex interfered with half of these relationships (and nearly 20 percent said they stopped being friends entirely), which isn’t so great if you actually like your friend.
That said, “people typically endorse liking friends-with-benefits relationships more than they dislike it,” says lead study author Dr. Jesse Owen, a licensed psychologist and chair of the Department of Counseling Psychology at the University of Denver.
If you’re interested in trying out a FWB situation and you have someone you think is into the idea too, here are a few things you can do to make this non-relationship a total success.
Make sure you’re both on the same page
If you’re hoping this arrangement will lead to an actual relationship or you suspect your friend is, do not pass go. “It all comes down to expectations, and that requires that both parties have their expectations aligned,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Should I Stay or Should I Go? Sure, it’s possible that this will lead to something more, but it’s highly unlikely, she says — and someone is going to end up hurt if you go in with this approach.
Maybe spending the night feels too couple-y to you or you know you’re going to want out if your bedmate starts to develop feelings — whatever it is, make it clear from the get-go what you are and aren’t OK with. “Every friends-with-benefits circumstance needs to be crafted differently,” Durvasula says.
Keep up the friendship
In Owen’s study, people who didn’t stay friends said that their FWB setup was more sex-based than friendship-based, so doing friends-type things that don’t involve your bed are a good idea. “If you engage in friendship behaviors as well, it strengthens the bond even if it doesn’t progress,” Owen says.
Being a good friend means having respect, mutuality, conversation, being there for each other and shared interests, Durvasula says. Otherwise, you’re just in a booty-call situation.
Be honest with yourself
Sure, it’s possible to go into this from a completely neutral standpoint, but it’s also possible that you might develop stronger feelings for your FWB in the process. “If one person is not being honest with themselves about actually romanticizing the FWB and wanting more, it can become tricky,” Durvasula says. So, if you start to develop feelings, it’s important to speak up. Your friend might share the same feelings, but there’s a chance they don’t as well. But keeping quiet only leaves you open to getting seriously hurt.
Don’t try to hide other relationships
If you start to become interested in someone else, you don’t need to broadcast the news, but you should come clean with your FWB if it progresses. If it’s truly a neutral FWB situation, your friend should be happy for you, Durvasula points out. Owen’s research found that FWBs did not go well when people lied or were deceitful, and you definitely don’t want to be the reason your friendship ended. By the way, if you want out of the FWB situation, Durvasula recommends talking about it in person. “If a friendship can be eked out or returned [to], then great, but be aware: Once you go to a FWB and it doesn’t work out, the sacrifice may be the friendship,” she says.