Have you spent time online dating or IRL dating recently? If so, you have no doubt encountered people saying/typing/texting that they are exclusively looking for “friends with benefits.” I can’t count how many Tindr and OkCupid bios I have swiped past that included something along the lines of: “I don’t want a relationship right now, I just want to be FWB.”
It’s time to call bullshit on the phrase friends with benefits ― or at least how modern daters use it.
Friends with benefits is a lie, perched on the back of more lies; it’s lies and miscommunications and denial and half-truths all the way down. I get a migraine just from trying to parse this weaselly phrasing.
I am not against hookups, one-night or one-week stands, or a part-time lover whom you bang twice a month when they are in town for work. I want you, me, all of us to have fulfilling and fun sex whenever we are able. You can have sex with no or very few attachments as long as both (or however many) partners are consenting, self-actualized adults who are going into the bone zone with their eyes, hearts and minds wide open.
But none of that is friends with benefits.
People who use FWB in their profiles ― or IRL ― are trying to convey that they are down for sex with some kind of intimacy, but most definitely NOT a full-bore relationship.
But you can’t have an FWB without having a friend, and friendship is a relationship ― for many of us our friend relationships are the strongest, safest, sweetest bonds we have. Relationships are what keep you going back to your favorite deli guy, your grumpy barber, your former boss who is kind of terrible but at least he’s the kind of terrible you understand and can work around.
What you are implying when you say you don’t want a relationship with the person whom you want to stick parts of yourself into (and vice versa) is that they are not as important to you as any of the other hundreds of people in your life. Is the bond you make with your sex friend while lying under the duvet (or smooshed in the back seat of your Hyundai) any less meaningful a bond than the one you have with that one receptionist at the gym who always remembers your love of the Phillies?
I don’t think 10,000 would-be romancers understand the huge neon DANGER sign they are sending up by using FWB in talking about their dating life. They are signifying that they want to make all the rules, all the time, including when, where and how often sex is had and, most insidiously, how their sex friend should feel about that.
The only acceptable feeling for them is total chill vibes ― don’t expect them to put any emotional energy into anything they aren’t comfortable with at all times. And for super sure the other person cannot impose any of their own desires on them, or make emotional overtures. And even if you have a deep feelings convo after you smoke more weed than usual, everyone still has to be super cool about it because you aren’t in a “real” relationship, remember?
Let me give you two recent FWB examples from my dating life. Neither of these gentlemen callers were American and neither of them lived full-time in my city. This setup doesn’t lend itself to a traditional, full-on, monogamous relationship which works for me as long as we are both on the same wavelength and communicating our needs.
Pretty quickly in the first relationship, the dude (The Euro) let me know all he wanted was an FWB-type scenario. He also let me know I was not a priority to him. We would go out to drinks, sloppily make out (or just as often not), then he would disappear off to the parts of his life that he refused to discuss with me.
The Euro loved to come to my house in the middle of the afternoon, have a couple of gin and tonics and some sort of fooling around, and take a nap. And then leave unceremoniously, which isn’t what friends do. A friend doesn’t indulge in a week of sexy texting before he flies into your city from far away to then tell you he can’t hang out for the next four days with no further explanation. He made, changed and broke plans with ease ― I was traveling frequently for work at that time and more than once had scheduled everything out for him to join me only to have him cancel at the last minute.
The few times I called him on his behavior, telling him that I needed a bit more of the “friend” part of our relationship ― the part that was close, intimate and loving, the part where my priorities were as important as his ― he would always say he didn’t have any emotional room for me at the moment and maybe never would. I stayed tangled up in this shitty pattern for a few years because I liked him, I wanted to be closer to him despite every single way he showed me he was not my friend.
It ended, as all great relationships do, with us yelling at each other in a crappy bar in Williamsburg and then me crying in the gross bathroom before crying in a Lyft all the way home, alone.
The second case was a real FWB whirlwind. I had one unforgettable date with this man (The Expat). We had an immediate connection, banged it out and the same thing happened the next time he was in town. Then he sent me a WhatsApp message saying he really liked me but he just wanted to be “friends.”
So I told him sure, next time he came to town maybe we could get a chummy drink. Before his next trip, he asked if we could have a good old sex session when he arrived. All without asking me what I wanted, what being a friend meant to me, anything like that. (That hasn’t stopped me from hitting it with him. I’m garbage and he’s hot.)
Real, healthy, sacred and sublime FWB relationships can exist. You and your old roommate get a little tipsy at a local pub trivia night and go back to yours ― then decide you want to do that same thing every Wednesday night for the foreseeable future. Or maybe you never noticed that the pitcher on your softball team was sooo cute until you really noticed by making out in your car after practice one day. Those people are your Friends and you are giving them the Benefit of seeing your naughty parts up close.
The Euro and The Expat weren’t my friends just because they said that’s what they wanted from me. We aren’t friends if we have drinks and apps together once or if we go for a long walk in the park and talk about our therapists the first time we hang out. We still aren’t friends if we go home together the first time we meet because we’re extra-horny on a Tuesday night. We remain not friends though we may hook up each and every time we see each other ― in that case we are lovers or fuck-buddies.
We are friends when we have shared experiences and feelings, when I know you hate Perky Purple nail polish because of that one mean manager who always wore it; when we almost get kicked out of a comedy club because you can’t resist showing me an unsolicited dick pic and I scream; when you call me at 3 a.m. to cry over your long-dead cat because you know I will listen and cry with you. Friend relationships grow, morph and change, and maybe we end up in a more-than-friends relationship or maybe I end up dancing to “Halo” with your gay uncle at your wedding, happier than I ever thought I could be.
But that’s not what you are asking for, stranger looking for an FWB on the internet, so I declare that you get nothing until you expand your relationship horizons. No more dating FWB folks until they are fully realized enough emotionally to tell the difference between sex, friendship and all the other shades of relationship gray.
This article first appeared on HuffPost US Personal
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