Sex and the Ivy

The Costs of Friends With Benefits

Filed under: Dating/Relationships, Friendship, Hooking Up, News, Sex — Elle October 3, 2007 @ 2:32 am

Interesting piece in the Times about the first research study conducted about the friends with benefits phenomenon. Of 125 young adults, 60 percent reported having been involved in a FWB situation:

One-tenth of these relationships went on to become full-scale romances, the study found. About a third stopped the sex and remained friends, and one in four eventually broke it off — the sex and the friendship. The rest continued as friends-with-benefits relationships.

Further it found that the common thread in these arrangements was a fear of emotional attachment:

The relationships tend to have little romantic passion, but stir the same fears that stalk lovers: namely, that one person will fall harder than the other.

Paradoxically, and perhaps predictably, the study suggests, these physical friendships often occlude one of the emotional arteries of real friendship, openness. Friends who could once talk about anything now have an unstated taboo topic — the relationship itself. In every conversation, there is innuendo; in every room, an elephant.

Pretty spot-on, in my opinion.

During my time at Harvard, I’ve had six friends with benefits. I’m currently friends with five of them and still hooking up with two as of last week (though I’m determined to become “just friends” with one of the two and probably should break it off with the other one too). It can be on-and-off with most of the guys, and I’ve definitely revisited some old flames in moments of weakness/drunkenness. In fact, I recently re-hooked up with my first ever friend with benefits (from high school) after a five-year gap. We’ve been friends for so long after our initial experience that I’d almost forgotten about it altogether. Kissing him again was incredibly strange.

Personally, I don’t think that emotional elephant exists in my relationships, at least not any longer since I’m in the unique position of overanalyzing all components of my interactions with men in the process of writing about them. That makes it difficult to ignore the non-physical aspects of relationships and means I’m much more honest to myself about what I expect from certain people. Of the six FWB, I’ve had romantic feelings for 1.5 (the half being a guy I wasn’t entirely sure about) which is pretty safe if you ask me. As far as openness goes nowadays, I have no doubt my friends with benefits know where we stand. This article actually comes at a really opportune time since I’m feeling an ironic combination of commitmentphobic and hormonal. Time for a new pal?

So any thoughts on the study and the long-term feasibility of these relationships? Sixty percent of you guys should have interesting FWB stories of your own to share …

12 Responses to “The Costs of Friends With Benefits”

  1. Karl Says:

    What are the benefits of this study? I would have like to read the research grant requesting funds for this.

    Researcher 1: “We want to ask young people if they’re having no-strings-attached sex.”

    Researcher 2: “Shouldn’t we try to tackle this cancer cure thing?”

    Researcher 1: “Tuesday, we’ll do that Tuesday”

  2. Dating Blogfeeds » The Costs of Friends With Benefits Says:

    [...] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here [...]

  3. Jeff Byrnes Says:

    Karl:
    Valid, but I think they’re trying to understand a phenomenon that’s really only appeared in the last two generations, as I know my parents have no understanding of this sort of relationship whatsoever. As for me personally, I’ve had a few FWB, but none have ever turned into relationships, and most have been more along the lines of a fuck buddy than an actual friend, y’know?

    As for viability, I’d say that any relationship that actually has openness & trust can last however long the people involved want it to.

  4. Emily Says:

    My current boyfriend and I started out as FWB freshman year of college. Now we’ve been together for a solid year and a half and I’ve never been happier. There were some rough patches when we were still in the FWB stage (I fell for him, hard, earlier than he fell for me), but looking at the way things are now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. Jen Says:

    The problem I have had with FWB relationships is that once the “benefits” part starts, I begin to wonder why I was friends with them in the first place. All the quirks that I found cute or funny before are really annoying once sex is involved. An example of an FWB relationship gone sour is with a guy who I was friends with for two years. He was smart, funny, and just generally a nice, cool guy. Then we have sex and he starts egging on my orgasm like he’s playing fetch with a dog, “come on! come on girl! come on!” That ruined everything. We don’t sleep together anymore, and we aren’t friends. I don’t do well with friends with benefits relationships. I do much better with guys who I’m friendly with but I don’t hang out with them as friends. I call them when I’m bored and want sex and then I don’t have to see them until the next time. I don’t have to worry about ruining friendships

  6. Isabel Says:

    I have a somewhat odd twist on the FWB thing, since the only person I’ve ever thought of as, essentially, a FWB is in college a few states away from me. He was a friend of a friend I hit it off with on a conversational and attraction level. There’s definitely no elephant in the room with us–we are both clear on where we stand and we’ll make jokes about it and stuff–and there’s no fear of emotional commitment either, because he’s in an open relationship with a girl he is totally heart-and-soul devoted to (seriously, it’s adorable). I don’t know if I could do this short-distance, and though he doesn’t live that far from me I’ll never find out because he and his girlfriend aren’t open during the summer, but I dig it as it is.

    I think it’s interesting that there were so many variations on the outcomes of FWB relationship. I guess it goes to show that FWBs are like any other relationship: unique to each one.

  7. Valley Girl Says:

    I think the people apply the term “friends” in “friends with benefits” too freely. I think a more accurate title would be “acquaintances with benefits.”

    Of the FWB’s I’ve had, I haven’t wanted them as a true friend, as harsh as that may sound. I just wanted to ef them and leave. No hanging out, no cuddling. Neither did I want to chat with them on the phone.

    There have been occasions where one of us developed feelings or an interest beyond being FWB’s (I’ve been on both sides of the coin). My husband actually used to be a FWB of mine.

    So you see, FWB relationships can work out sometimes. And sometimes they don’t. And when this does, people just have to deal with it like an adult and get over it.

  8. SC Says:

    I think I agree with Valley girl.

    For me the FWB things have only worked with more casual friends. Most of my relationships have been Acquaintances with benefits, since I’m sort of monogamously challenged.
    But the only way you can be safe there is no elephant or that things won’t get too messy, is if the guy is just a casual friend(an acquaintance), not one you sit down and watch episodes of friends with all the time.

  9. Irish Says:

    I find this study interesting, and very much on target. I am an older wm, 52, currently involved with a young physician 36. This completely started out as a FWB situation. Over the years, I’ve done my share of dalliences, but this one has pretty much confused me. I was the one that fell hard. She did, too. Then, I think she decided that was not what she wanted, and has started distancing herself. It’s not Rocket Science to understand what will soon happen. Either I am too old to be in a FWB scenario, or the entire idea is not a phenomenon, but rather a dellusional idea.

  10. RG Says:

    I’m really impressed/baffled by some of the people who have commented. The book “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both” summed up my experience with FWB’s: they consist of young, confused girls too afraid to demand a relationship. But I guess everyone above must’ve just been good w/ distancing themselves emotionally.

    What’s always gotten me is how you can start out just wanting one thing, and feeling like the one in control and then one day you wake up and it hurts. You need the other person. Hasn’t anyone else struggled w/ this? Maybe everyone just has really good strategies for handling the “hormonal” phase.

  11. SS Says:

    Irish and I are two case examples that contradict RG’s comments. I’m 40 y.o. woman in an almost twenty-year-old FWB r-ship with a 40 y.o. man. I, too, agree that the study points its microscope in the right direction. I think the issue is how aligned the partners are in their sense of the obligations of “relationship.” If feeling passion means, “We should get married,” that creates a big problem if either party doesn’t want to get married. If feeling passion doesn’t have such an expectation attached, not a problem.

  12. Sybil Says:

    using this phenomenon FWB is just another way of one person saying you are good enough for now but, if something better comes along you will be gone. No fuss, just gone.

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